In August 1998, the U.S. embassies in Nairobi, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, came under violent attack by a then little-known terrorist group—al-Qaeda. Although its leader, Osama bin Laden, issued his now infamous “World Islamic Front for Jihad against the Jews and Crusaders” in February of that year, no one imagined the consequences. The death and injury toll was considerable—301 dead and more than 5,000 injured—but the bombings did not betray their significance.
The truth is, they started a worldwide war of terror.
The world did not realize it until the next major battle three years later. This time the number of dead was 10 times as great, when in a twin “airline missile” attack on the World Trade Center, this shadowy enemy murdered innocent people from 80 nations in a period of minutes (the other attacks were directed toward the U.S. government and military).
The world was at war again.
Just as at the outset of previous world wars, not all nations realized what was happening or joined the battle at the same time. And, over two years later, some still waffle over their allegiances.
Bin Laden’s name and al-Qaeda were associated with the 9/11 attacks within hours. It was shocking to learn that a lone, ill-defined terrorist cell had been able to strike at the heart of the world’s only superpower. But it was inconceivable to the point of defying sanity to think that al-Qaeda would draw the entire world into a protracted war.
To this day, many do not believe a tiny army of fanatics could have pulled off the 9/11 attacks. A recent poll of German citizens revealed that a startling 20 percent of its people believe the U.S. government engineered the attacks on its own people (“German Disbelief Over 9/11,” CNN, July 24, 2003).
The attack slapped the United States to wakefulness, leaving not only dead and wounded, but also inflicting a draconian injury to its economy estimated at a $2 trillion loss.
“Good vs. evil”
U.S. President George W. Bush began speaking of the battle as “good vs. evil,” with the “good” being democratic nations and the “evil” being what he called “global terrorism.”
There are two ways to understand “global terrorism”: (1) terrorism on a global scale and (2) terrorism against the globe, that is, against the world. While the first definition is no doubt what the president initially had in mind, the passage of time gives us the benefit of hindsight. We now know that both definitions apply.
The struggle pits the world’s nations against a radical Islamic group whose wispy but deadly tentacles know no national boundary.
Bin Laden had been a low-level leader among freedom fighters in Afghanistan who opposed the occupying Russian forces. Once the Russians were ousted, he turned his attention and passion against the government of his native Saudi Arabia, seeking to “purify” his country of the “corrupting presence” of the United States. (The United States maintained a continuing military presence there after the 1991 Gulf War.) The royals were in no mood for a rabble-rouser and ordered him out of the country, revoking his citizenship.
He returned to Afghanistan and began organizing former freedom fighters into his private army, a military tool that could enforce his religious vision. He was the man for the moment, giving voice and modern identity to a type of religious terrorism that has waxed and waned since Muhammad’s days.
A monster child
Bin Laden’s brand of radical Wahhabism was a suitable mate for the Afghan government, controlled by the Taliban. State-sponsored Islamic terrorism on a massive scale was the monster child of that ideological marriage.
Perhaps the U.S. government would have been more effective in responding to the 1998 embassy bombings had then President Clinton and his administration not been distracted by scandal. If so, maybe al-Qaeda would have died an infant. That’s a question for history.
What bin Laden financed and led in some fashion (many believe that he does not have the intelligence or the charisma to be the singular leader of the group) now has a life of its own. U.S. intelligence believes that al-Qaeda will continue to be a major threat, whether bin Laden lives or dies. The monster child is grown and is alive and well.
Al-Qaeda is suspected to be involved in the “battle for the peace” in Iraq. Demonstrating its capacity to carry out operations in more than one country at the same time, it bombed two synagogues and the British consulate in Turkey last month, killing dozens and injuring upwards of 750.
As is typical of terrorism, no one knows who the next target is. The U.S. intelligence assessment is stark: “The Al Qaida network will remain for the foreseeable future the most immediate and serious terrorism threat facing the United States. Al Qaida will continue to favor spectacular attacks but also may seek softer targets of opportunity, such as banks, shopping malls, supermarkets, and places of recreation and entertainment.
“Al Qaida will continue its efforts to acquire and develop biological, chemical, radiological, and nuclear (CBRN) weapons. We judge that there is a high probability that Al Qaida will attempt an attack using a CBRN weapon within the next two years” (April 17, 2003, report from the U.S. ambassador to the UN, emphasis added throughout).
Chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear
The Central Intelligence Agency’s report “Terrorist CBRN: Materials and Effects” (May 2003) provides us with more information on the possibility of CBRN weapons: “Al-Qa’ida is interested in radiological dispersal devices (RDDs) or ‘dirty bombs.’ Construction of an RDD is well within its capabilities as radiological materials are relatively easy to acquire from industrial or medical sources. Usama Bin Laden’s operatives may try to launch conventional attacks against the nuclear industrial infrastructure of the United States in a bid to cause contamination, disruption, and terror.
“A document recovered from [an] Al-Qa’ida facility in Afghanistan contained a sketch of a crude nuclear device…
“A simple explosive RDD consisting of a live-shielded container—commonly called a ‘pig’—and a kilogram of explosive attached could easily fit into a backpack.”
Al-Qaeda may also use biological weapons.
“Both 11 September attack leader Mohamed Atta and Zacharias Moussaoui expressed interest in crop dusters, raising our concern that Al-Qa’ida has considered using aircraft to disseminate [chemical and biological] weapons.
“Analysis of an Al-Qa’ida document recovered in Afghanistan in summer 2002 indicates the group has crude procedures for making mustard agent, sarin, and VX…
“Initial skin contact with mustard causes mild skin irritation, which develops into more severe yellow fluid-filled blisters. Inhalation of mustard damages the lungs, causes difficulty breathing, and death by suffocation in severe cases…
“Sarin…and VX are highly toxic military agents that disrupt a victim’s nervous system by blocking the transmission of nerve signals” (ibid.).
It is almost impossible to defend against the production of some chemical weapons. Ricin is a good example. It “is a plant toxin that is 30 times more potent than the nerve agent VX by weight and is readily obtainable by extraction from common castor beans. There’s no treatment for ricin poisoning after it has entered the bloodstream. Victims start to show symptoms within hours to days after exposure, depending on the dosage and route of administration” (ibid.).
A fight to the death over principle
In some ways, the objective of the war is terror itself, invading the sanctity of a free nation and destroying its sense of security. But there is a broader objective.
The objective in this world war is not to invade and conquer land, but rather to invade and conquer a way of thinking. The president of the United States was right in declaring it a war of good vs. evil, that is, a war of principle. It is a war between the wild-eyed definition of Islam that Wahhabism sponsors and Western-style democracy, with roots in Judeo-Christian teaching.
Wahhabism is rapidly igniting passionate support for its goals in the dried grass of poverty in the Islamic dictatorships and monarchies, in the few Islamic democracies and in Islamic minorities throughout the democratic world.
But is the democratic world ready for an ideological war? And is it equipped to fight it?
The answer to the first question is no, for nations bicker and squabble over which nation is in charge. Jealous resentment of the United States on the part of a slowly maturing EU is painfully obvious. Most notable among those more willing to argue over who will lead the column than who will join it are those historical rivals of each other, France and Germany. Russia cannot make up its mind whether it is friend or foe, so much like the scorpion and the frog, à la Aesop.
Clearly, the world’s democratic nations do not yet recognize their common threat.
China, whose ambition to be the next superpower is thinly veiled indeed, also feels no threat. If anything, it sees the present world conflict as an opportunity to advance its own interests.
In light of all of this, the answer to the second question must also be no. How could the world be equipped to fight a war of principle when its leading powers cannot agree on the simplest of principles?
The United States seized the lead for several reasons. Most obviously, it absorbed the initial assault, not just on its interests, but also on its soil. Also, it continues to protect its interests by taking the war to Iraq and seeking to defeat the enemy far from home, if possible.
But many American citizens firmly believe that the main reason the United States took the lead was due to the leadership of a principled man, President George W. Bush, who clearly saw this as a war of ideology. Shoulder to shoulder with him is British Prime Minister Tony Blair. The American president said from the beginning that this is a fight to the death. He repeats that mantra nearly every time he speaks, showing he is up for the battle.
America and Britain not up to the challenge
But is the nation he leads? Americans’ interest in matters of ideology or principle is ever shrinking, in reverse proportion to its ever-expanding appetite for self-indulgence and entertainment. Americans responded with historic fervor at first, but the World War I patriotic song, “The Yanks are coming and we won’t come back ‘til it’s over, over there” is rapidly giving way to a whine: “When is it going to be over, over there?”
A USA Today /CNN/Gallup Poll released Nov. 19 shows a country nearly evenly divided on its approval for going to war in Iraq, and “most are unconvinced that the war has made the United States safer from terrorist attacks” (Richard Benedetto, “Poll Finds Splits Over Iraq to Be More Even: 55% Disapprove of U.S. Management of the Situation,” USA Today ).
Political correctness keeps authorities from zeroing in on the core issue of Wahhabism vs. the West with its Judeo-Christian roots. Saudi-sponsored Wahhabi schools operating within the United States have been widely publicized. But the government is loath to speak against them directly, in spite of the fact that the Wahhabi philosophy wants nothing less than the total end of all things Judeo-Christian. The reason? The United States walks the tightrope of combating Wahhabi terrorism and avoiding destabilizing Middle Eastern governments in order to maintain a fragile peace.
That’s a political decision the United States and Britain will lament.
In spite of the fact that the United States and Britain owe their glorious histories to the God of the Bible (see our booklet, The United States and Britain in Bible Prophecy ), both avoid fully embracing Him and His laws. Indeed, the basis of much of the powerful hatred within a large sector of the American people toward their president is a dislike for the fact that he is a man of obvious Christian convictions.
In other words, the United States and Britain are pulling their punches in this war of principle. Our peoples turn to God when we hurt, but we are getting over the hurt of 9/11. Continuing to fight in Iraq only reminds us of what we would prefer to shut out.
Meanwhile, the other side, in part led by al-Qaeda, presses forward with nothing to lose. Who would have thought that such a war would be so difficult to sort out—or that so few could topple so many? —WNP