Every August I take a small group of young people from North America to Ghana, in West Africa, to help with an annual summer camp sponsored by the United Church of God, the publisher of this magazine.
This year our journey was set to begin on Thursday, Aug. 10.
That evening we were all due to fly from various cities across the United States to London's Heathrow Airport. From there we would all be going to Accra, Ghana, on the same plane. There was only one exception, a young lady who was already in Europe visiting family would meet us in Ghana.
On that particular Thursday morning, I began my day by watching the world news on BBC America, a cable channel available throughout the United States.
The first item of news immediately caught my attention. London's Heathrow Airport was in chaos due to a terrorist scare. More than 20 suspected terrorists had been arrested, thought to be part of a plot to blow up 10 to 15 passenger jets headed toward U.S. cities, planes all set to depart from Heathrow.
If successful, the carnage could have been considerably greater than on Sept. 11, with a death toll estimated to be in the thousands.
Historian Niall Ferguson wrote in the London Sunday Telegraph Aug. 27 that, if successful, such an attack could have triggered a civil war in Britain ("Imagine the Bombs Had Gone Off: How Would Britain Have Changed?").
What it did trigger was chaos and confusion that continued for days. Out of our group of five young adults from America who passed through Heathrow, one was delayed for 24 hours while the other four did not see their luggage again for 10 days or more. In the case of one, the luggage was returned to the United States and never made it to Ghana.
Needless to say, the whole incident was a great inconvenience for us and for countless others.
Restrictions on the contents of hand luggage left tens of thousands of businessmen and women unable to take laptop computers or mobile phones on board with them. I knew I couldn't take any liquids on board with me, but was surprised to have a magazine and newspaper confiscated.
Is history repeating itself?
Such is the age in which we live, one changed dramatically in the last five years—and likely to change even more dramatically in the years ahead!
The terrorist scare came only 13 months after the London terror attacks on the city's transportation system, attacks that left 56 dead.
Around the time of the anniversary of those attacks, a number of British papers polled Muslims. The results revealed that a significant percentage of British-born Muslims, most of them children of immigrants from developing countries, are supportive of the goals and methods of radical Islamic terrorist groups.
Unsurprisingly, The Sunday Telegraph's front page highlighted the fact that 53 percent of Britons now see Islam as a threat to their way of life. Not radical Islam, but Islam itself.
Winston Churchill III, a member of the British parliament and grandson of the famous World War II leader, warned on the BBC World Service on the anniversary of the July 7 bombings that this threat from radical Islam is growing, not just in Britain but throughout Western Europe. Demographic trends show a rapidly growing Muslim population in many countries, including the United States, while native Brits, Germans, French, Spanish and Italians are all in decline.
His stark warning reminds us of the first Winston Churchill, who 70 years ago persistently warned the British people of the growing threat from Nazi Germany, a threat most people wanted to ignore.
While Germany rapidly rearmed as it built up its industrial might following defeat in World War I and subsequent economic upheavals, Churchill's was a lone voice across the English Channel warning that the rise of Germany posed a grave threat to Britain and its empire.
Sadly, Churchill was proved correct. The Second World War was the result, a war formally declared on Germany by British Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain on Sept. 3, 1939. Less than a year earlier, after meeting with German Chancellor Adolf Hitler in Munich, Chamberlain had infamously assured the world of "peace in our time."
Although all the nations of the British Empire and Commonwealth, a quarter of the world's people, entered the war on Britain's side almost immediately, the United States stayed out of it until the Pearl Harbor attack 27 months later. The Japanese attack on the U.S. Pacific fleet on Dec. 7, 1941, brought America into the war as a combatant.
But in reality, this worldwide conflict actually began much earlier, with the Japanese invasion of China in 1931. It could even be said that the defeat of Germany in World War I and the subsequent peace treaty made World War II inevitable. The rise of fascism in Italy in 1922 was another stepping-stone toward war in Europe.
While Churchill kept up his warnings during his "wilderness years," most people remained oblivious to what was happening in the world around them and to the growing threat to their peace and security.
As it was in the 1930s, so it is today, 70 years later.
Once again, huge numbers of people seem to be in denial of the growing threat to their peace and security, this time from global jihadists who are determined to bring about a clash of civilizations between the West and Islam, with the ultimate goal of forcing everyone on the planet to accept Islam. And Islam, we might remind ourselves, means "submission"—submission to the will of Allah.
When did World War III begin?
Military historian Max Boot sums up the sobering situation today, five years after Sept. 11, 2001: " Iraq is slipping deeper into the blood-red waters of civil strife. The Taliban is resurgent in Afghanistan. Hizballah is crowing in the wake of Israel's inconclusive attacks. Hamas runs the Palestinian Authority. Iran is drawing closer to acquiring nuclear weapons. Osama bin Laden and his top deputy, Ayman al-awahiri, continue to taunt the West with messages of defiance, as jihadist cells from London to Lahore plot fresh attacks" ("It's Not Over Yet," Time, Sept. 11).
Newt Gingrich, former speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, wrote in the Sept. 7 issue of The Wall Street Journal: "Five years have passed since the horrific attack on our American homeland, and, still, there is one serious, undeniable fact we have yet to confront: We are, today, not where we wanted to be and nowhere near where we need to be" ("Bush and Lincoln").
Interviewed on The Journal Editorial Report on Fox News Sept. 2, Amir Taheri, former editor of Kayhan, Iran's largest daily newspaper, was asked if current developments were a prelude to World War III.
His response was that World War III actually began in 1979, when the Iranian revolution overthrew the pro-Western shah of Iran and replaced him with the anti-Western, theocratic Islamic Republic of Iran. Ever since, Iran has devoted itself to the spread of militant Islam and the defeat of "the Great Satan" (the United States) and "the Little Satans" (Britain and Israel).
Prior to World War II the world saw plenty of warning signs of what was coming. These included the rise of fascism from 1922 on, Japan's invasion of China in 1931, the Italian invasion of Abyssinia in 1935, the German invasions of the Rhineland (1936), Austria and Czechoslovakia (1938), government-sanctioned attacks on Jews, not to mention the rising rhetoric of the antidemocratic forces in the nations that would soon form the Axis Powers.
But people in the democratic West wanted to believe all would be well and ignored the warning signs.
We've seen the same pattern since 1979 with the rise of radical Islam. The 1979 seizure of the U.S. embassy in Tehran and the holding hostage of dozens of American diplomatic personnel there for 444 days in direct contravention of international law, the founding of Hezbollah and the blowing up of the U.S. Marine barracks in Beirut in 1983, the first attempt to bring down the World Trade Center 10 years later, attacks on U.S. embassies in Kenya and Tanzania in 1998, the attack on the USS Cole in 2000, and then the 9/11 attacks all clearly show the jihadists' intentions.
It certainly didn't end there. Since then attacks have killed or injured more than 410 in Bali, Indonesia, in October 2002; 2,200 in Madrid, Spain, in March 2004; 340 in Beslan, Russia, in September 2004; 750 in London in July 2005; another 150 in Bali in October 2005 and almost 1,000 in Bombay in July 2006. This doesn't include countless smaller attacks or plots disrupted before they could be carried out.
When did World War III begin? In the minds of the radical Islamists, the global jihadists, it clearly began a long time ago!
In this global conflict, the West remains at a disadvantage. One reason for this is the deep cultural and political divisions that exist in many Western nations. Jesus Christ observed in Matthew 12:25 that a house divided against itself cannot stand: "Every kingdom divided against itself is brought to desolation, and every city or house divided against itself will not stand." With this in mind, clearly the West as it is cannot win the current conflict.
America clearly divided over radical Islam
Mr. Gingrich observed that the United States has divided into three factions. There are those who "try to find some explainable way to avoid reality while advocating return to 'normalcy,' and promoting a policy of weakness and withdrawal abroad." A second group believes that the threat is very real but that America can handle it.
Drawing a parallel with the crisis confronting Abraham Lincoln in the Civil War, Mr. Gingrich shows that victory for the Union was not achieved until President Lincoln chose the third course: "Lincoln agonizingly concluded that a third faction had the right strategy for victory. This group's strategy demanded reorganizing everything as needed, intensifying the war, and bringing the full might of the industrial North to bear until the war was won."
In other words, Mr. Gingrich was saying the struggle against radical Islam should be the United States' number one priority.
Few in the West fully realize the religious element involved in this conflict. As Karen Armstrong, a recognized expert on fundamentalism and the author of a number of books on Islam, put it on a Canadian television program last year, "In the 1960s everybody thought religion was passé," a thing of the past. "Now at the beginning of the 21st century we see that nothing is more important!"
It is precisely because the West does not take religion seriously that it is at a distinct disadvantage. There is a failure at the deepest level to understand radical Islam.
Historical continuum of conflict
Pope Benedict XVI caused a furor when he touched on this during a visit to his Bavarian homeland on Sept. 14. He quoted a 14th-century emperor who said, "Show me just what Muhammad brought that was new and there you will find things only evil and inhuman, such as his command to spread by the sword the faith he preached."
The Byzantine emperor's words turned out to also be quite prophetic—Muslim forces destroyed the Byzantine Empire in the following century, taking control of the capital city of Constantinople in 1453, extinguishing the Roman Empire in the East.
Islamic forces continued to expand after that conquest. In the following century they reached the gates of Vienna in the very heart of Europe. In two attempts to take the city they were repulsed by a multinational force of Europeans united by a common Catholic faith.
This was not the first time that the Church of Rome was a significant factor in fighting Islamic expansionism. In A.D. 800 the pope crowned Charlemagne Holy Roman emperor. Charlemagne's grandfather, Charles Martel, had defeated Muslim forces at the gates of Paris in 732, exactly 100 years after the death of the prophet Muhammad.
Only a revived Western Roman Empire seemed able to unite the Catholic nations of Europe against both internal and external threats. Three centuries later another pope, Urban II, called on the Catholic countries of Europe to launch a "crusade" to recapture the Holy Land from Islam, a massive effort that led to two centuries of conflict between Catholic Europe and the Islamic world.
No country or organization on earth has had more experience battling against Islam than the papacy!
Following the pope's comments in Bavaria, a spokesman for the Pakistani parliament warned of a "clash of civilizations" between the West and Islam along the lines of earlier clashes between the two that have taken place down through the centuries.
A world-shaking conflict to come
Believe it or not, the Bible also warns of this, a coming clash between a revived Roman Empire, a military and political alliance that Scripture refers to as "the Beast," and "the king of the South," a leader who from all appearances will emerge from the Islamic world.
Revelation 17 shows that the Beast power, a successor to the ancient Roman Empire, will come about very rapidly: "The ten horns which you saw are ten kings who have received no kingdom as yet, but they receive authority for one hour as kings with the beast. These are of one mind, and they will give their power and authority to the beast" (Revelation 17:12-13).
The same chapter shows that the Roman church will be heavily involved in this final revival of the Roman Empire (verse 9).
In the Old Testament book of Daniel, we read of a clash between this power, called "the king of the North," and "the king of the South." Daniel 11:40 reveals that "at the time of the end the king of the South shall attack him; and the king of the North shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, horsemen, and with many ships."
In the same month that the pope made his comments on the nature of Islam, a significant European presence was once again taking shape in the Middle East at the request of the Israeli and Lebanese governments. Following their recent monthlong conflict, a UN-sponsored peacekeeping force is being deployed in southern Lebanon with the aim of preventing Hezbollah from attacking Israel and averting another conflict between Israel and Lebanon.
"It's Europe's moment in the Arab-Israeli arena," says former U.S. ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk, who now heads a Washington, D.C., think tank ("Just a Moment, or Possibly More," The Economist, Sept. 2).
In a further sign of a buildup toward greater conflict, "the extraordinary buildup of European naval and military strength in and around Lebanon's shores is way out of proportion for the task the European contingents . . . have undertaken: to create a buffer between Israel and Hizballah . . .
"It is linked to the general anticipation of a military clash between the United States and Israel, on one side, and Iran and possibly Syria on the other" ("'Lebanese Security' Is the Pretext for the Naval Babel Around Lebanon's Shores," www.debka.com, Sept. 4).
Implicit in this commentary is the fact that Europe and America continue to be in disagreement over the Middle East.
Clearly there is great danger of the continuing conflict between the West and Islam worsening yet further.
Christians know that the prophesied end-time events center on the Middle East. They can also be reassured by the fact that ultimately there will be peace in this area and throughout the world. A central focus of Bible prophecy is the coming Kingdom of God (Mark 1:14). Jesus Christ is set to return to save humanity from itself (Matthew 24:22).
The "Prince of Peace" (Isaiah 9:6) will return to firmly establish His Kingdom. He will "judge between many peoples, and rebuke strong nations afar off" and "they shall beat their swords into plowshares" (Micah 4:3). In the coming Kingdom of God, we will see an end to the constant conflict between Islam and the West. GN