A View from the Afghan Border

  After the September 11 terrorist attacks, I dismissed those responsible as simply anarchists. Serious Muslims, I argued, don't frequent strip joints and bars. I was wrong. My eyes were opened in a conversation at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary board meeting with fellow board member Christie Wilson, III. Christie grew up in Afghanistan where his parents were missionaries and he continues to be active in ministry to Muslims. On September 11, Christie was on the Afghanistan/Pakistan border. He heard about the attacks in the home of a Muslim friend who was watching the television coverage. Christie saw and heard the reactions of Afghans and Pakistanis firsthand. Some were deeply sympathetic. Others danced for joy in the streets. We are seeing, said Christie, a major power struggle within Islam with serious implications for the entire world. There are, he said, two main sects within Islam -- the Sunnis (the 90 percent majority), and the Shi'ites. After the death of Mohammad in A.D. 632, four rulers, or caliphs, divided the leadership of Muhammad's religious state. Sunnis believe that all four were legitimate. Shi'ites believe that only one, Ali, was the legitimate successor. The result is a deep schism within the Muslim world over Islamic law and spiritual authority. Radical Sunnis -- including bin Laden, the Taliban, and the terrorist network -- are now stirring up unrest in the Arab world and beyond. Bin Laden is not engaged in terror for terror's sake, but is cultivating his role as the leader of the radical Sunnis. Bin Laden's plan is to arouse anti-Western passions and bring radical elements to leadership throughout the Muslim world. In an October 7 broadcast, bin Laden said, "I tell them that these events have divided the world into two camps, the camp of the faithful and the camp of infidels. . . . Every Muslim must rise to defend his religion." The moderate Sunnis in places like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Jordan, and Kuwait could be deposed by an uprising of radical groups who buy into bin Laden's utopian vision of a single, unified Islamic state. If bin Laden can stir up firebrands in those countries, he can topple them. He will then consolidate power among radical Sunnis which will be the next step to an all-out Muslim jihad against the West. The Islamic worldview denies the sinfulness of man, which gives rise to utopian visions: If man is corrupted by society, then those who come to power can create the perfect society by strictly enforcing Islamic law. I hasten to add this is not a view most Muslims hold, but make no mistake, bin Laden is seeking to change that. If bin Laden succeeds, the consequences for the world would be catastrophic. This is, as President Bush said, a war with very high stakes. And this is why the president has built a coalition of support for the U.S., including moderate Muslims. The stage is being set by bin Laden, however, for a major confrontation between the West and Islam. He must not be allowed to succeed. Christians need to understand these issues, which is why I'll be talking about them over the next several days. And we need to pray that our sovereign God will protect the cause of liberty and freedom, that we will triumph over these new tyrants just as freedom and liberty triumphed over Hitler, Stalin, and the other tyrants of the twentieth century.


Chuck Colson



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