War At Islam?

Within hours of the attacks on the Pentagon and WorldTrade Centeron Sept. 11, President Bush and other U.S. and western leaders were explaining that though we found ourselves in a state of war, that war was not with Islam.

Ten years later, we’re still confused about who our enemy is.

If you have any chance of winning a war, you must be able to identify the enemy.

Are we at war with Islam? Most definitely not.

But, Islam is at war with us.

In fact, Islam has been at war with the West, with Christianity, with Judaism – indeed, with the entire non-Muslim world – ever since the days of Muhammad. This struggle, more than any other, has defined history for the last 1,200 years.

Americans don’t understand this because they don’t know their history. In Muhammad’s era, Islam swept through the Arabian peninsula to conquer the Middle East. Its armies then marched on Europe, Asia and Africa. In the late 15th century, Columbus was exploring new trade routes because Islam’s armies controlled the land routes to the East. He accidentally discovered America. In the late 17th century, Islam’s armies were at the gates of Vienna.

For the next 300 years, Islam’s imperialist ambitions faded. But it is quite clearly on the rebound today.

Enriched by oil wealth, Islam is expanding in every direction – through Africa, through Asia, through Europe – and even in the United States where it is said to be the fastest-growing religion.

Can Islam defeat the West?

Certainly not in any conventional militaryconfrontation. But that is not the goal. This is asymmetrical warfare. The beauty of this conflict from Islam’s point of view is that the West can’t even identify targets, can’t even clearly identify the enemy.

America has troops in well over 100 nations. They are stationed all over the world to provide peace and security. Yet, in truth, America can’t adequately provide security “1,000 yards from the U.S. Capitol after nightfall,” as Paul Weyrich and William S. Lind of theFree Congress Foundationwrite in a new paper, “Why Islam Is a Threat to America and the West.”

We are vulnerable tocontinuedterror attacks. But these attacks are not designed to defeat us militarily. They are designed to break our will. They are designed to sow seeds of confusion in a culture that has already lost its own religious underpinnings and moral framework. They are designed, in Marxist theory, to “heighten the contradictions of capitalism” – or, as another generation of communists explained it, to “bring the war home.” That was how we lost a war to little Vietnam.

The West has little chance of prevailing in this contest without understanding who the real enemy is.

Am I saying all Muslims are the enemy? Of course not. Were the people living in communist countries during the Cold War our enemies? Not really. The evil regimes that victimized their own people as well as their neighbors were the enemies. The same is true in Islam today.

We must understand in the West today –whetherwe live in the U.S., Israel, the United Kingdom or elsewhere – that Islam reflects a vastly different worldview from the one that established western civilization. If we try to understand Islam as some sort ofextensionof monotheistic Judeo-Christian philosophy, we will fail to see the truth.

The truth is that western civilization faces perhaps its greatest test at the hands of Islam today. We don’t understand these people – and, not understanding them, we try to give them what we think they want, what we might want in a similar situation. This is how Israel has been led down the primrose path in itsnegotiationswith the Arabs.

It’s a war. And, for Islam, the negotiating table is just another theater in that war.

Every day, around the world, if we look for them, we see disparate, seemingly unconnected reports of attacks by Muslims on non-Muslims. We see them in Israel. We see them in India. We see them in Indonesia. We see them in the Philippines. We see them in Sudan. We see them even in the U.S. and Europe.

People are dying – lots of them. In fact, more Christians are being persecuted today than ever before in the history of the world – even under the Romans. Most of those attacks come from Islam.

What we need to understand is that these attacks are connected. They are coordinated. Islam is on the march, again. The only question iswhetherwe see it, acknowledge the reality of it and figure out an adequate response before it’s too late.


Why Do We Need Religion?

Why religion? In the face of pogroms and pedophiles, crusades and coverups, why indeed?

Religious Americans have answered the question variously. Worship is one answer. Millions gather each week to acknowledge their higher power. The chance to experience community is another. Healthy congregations are more than civic clubs. They are surrogate families. The opportunity to serve others also comes to mind. Americans feed the hungry, clothe the naked and house the homeless largely through religious organizations. Yet as important as community, worship and service are, I am convinced that religion’s greatest contribution to society is even greater.

Religion makes us want to live.

Viktor Frankl’s revealing research in the Nazi death camp at Auschwitz led him to a startling conclusion. It was not the youngest, strongest or even smartest inmates who tended to survive. It was those who had found meaning in their lives. People, it turns out, need a reason to live.

For Frankl, that meaning wasn’t necessarily religious — although one could argue that anything that deals with a person’s deepest concerns is in a sense “spiritual.” What Frankl was talking about could be found in deeds — in the handful of individuals who shared their meager rations with others and went about encouraging their fellow prisoners. But meaning could also be found in attitudes — particularly in the ability to face suffering with dignity and grace. As Frankl expressed it: “Man is that being who invented the gas chambers of Auschwitz; however, he is also that being who entered those gas chambers upright, with the Lord’s Prayer or the Shema Yisrael on his lips.”

A building block

Man’s search for meaning — whether in a Broadway penthouse or the darkest corner of hell — is the most basic building block of a successful life. Without a sense of purpose, many people will simply shrivel up and die, whether figuratively or, in some cases, literally.

I suspect that in postmodern America, the need for meaning is as great as ever. While our ancestors were too busy fighting off starvation to worry about such things as self-actualization, today’s Americans live lives of relative ease. Higher education, a shorter work week and regular vacations have enriched our lives but have also provided abundant opportunity to consider whether our lives have meaning and purpose. The result isn’t all that encouraging. Millions suffer from depression. Millions more escape their lives through drugs and alcohol. Far too many give up the struggle altogether and commit suicide.

Alas, many of us have discovered purpose for our lives through religion. Inside America’s churches, synagogues, temples, mosques and ashrams, we wrestle with the great questions of life. And with due respect to my atheist and left-leaning friends, most of those questions are not amenable to the scientific method.

Why are we here?

What does it all mean?

How should we then live?

These are the things that matter most. Not whether Pluto is a real planet or the atomic weight of carbon is 12 or 13. Even Nietzsche recognized that if one can answer the why of life, he can cope with most any how.

Frankl came away from Auschwitz convinced that there are two basic types of people: decent ones and indecent ones. Some are stronger in their disposition than others, of course, but basically we are decent or indecent. Here’s the interesting thing. Decency and indecency do not fall along national or political lines. There were decent Nazi guards just as there were indecent inmates.

Living decent lives

The same is true of our congregations. While we teach justice, forgiveness and love of neighbor, no doubt, there are indecent souls among us. Even indecent congregations. Not all religion is good, and no person is sicker than a person who is sick on religion. Don’t just think of Osama bin Laden here. I’m also talking about the fearful, guilt-racked, shell of a human being that can result from a fundamentalist Christian upbringing. Good religion, as the great humanitarian and Nobel Prize winner Albert Schweitzer put it, is always “life-affirming.”

Here’s the point: I think religion makes it easier to be decent. The positive core values, mutual accountability and constant striving for self-improvement help one to be a better person. And I want to be a better person. Not because I’m afraid of God. Because I’m grateful for another trip around the sun and, like a good house guest, want to leave this place in better shape than I found it.

There is a lesson here for America’s clergy: Keep your eye on the ball. It’s not so much about this doctrine or that, Mass or the Lord’s Supper or even Ramadan or Yom Kippur. It’s about purpose, meaning and whether I ought to get out of bed in the morning.