One Mile Away From Terror

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One Mile Away From Terror

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I was sound asleep in my hotel room in Amman, Jordan, the night of Nov. 9 when suddenly the door flew open and a hotel employee screamed, "Emergency, sir, please evacuate, now!"

I hurriedly threw on my clothes and started out the door when I thought, "I don't know if I'll get back into this room." I turned back and grabbed my U.S. passport and my airline ticket; we were scheduled for a 10:30 a.m. departure the next day from Amman to Chicago. After nearly four weeks on the road I wanted to be sure I could leave the country.

The entire Le Meridien Hotel was evacuated into the street where we were given blankets to ward off the chill of the night air. Names of guests were read off to account for everyone while we huddled in small groups. Around us we could hear the sound of sirens and see ambulances rushing by. Military personnel and police cordoned off our street and began a search of the hotel. There was a report of an abandoned car that contained some luggage being removed from the hotel entrance.

For the longest time we did not know what had happened. There was no smoke or fire in our building; we suspected a bomb threat, given the "neighborhood" we were in. Finally, the hotel manager told us that bombs had gone off earlier at three American-owned hotels, killing dozens and wounding hundreds. Our hotel was being swept for explosives.

Close call

I realized then how close we had come to being victims of one of the many terrorist attacks that rock that part of the world. But for the grace of God, our hotel could have been picked as a target. On my way to dinner that same night, I had passed a large banquet going on in the hotel ballroom. Was it a wedding, like that targeted at the Radisson SAS Hotel just a short distance away?

Just a few days earlier I had been at the Le Meridien with over 200 people, mostly Americans, observing the biblical Feast of Tabernacles, something unusual in an Arabic country. Did the small band of Islamic terrorists scout our hotel during that week as a potential site for their insane act? How close had we come to being their target?

Sixty-four people lost their lives that night, and more than 100 were wounded in the bombings of three American hotels. Most of the victims were Jordanian Arabs. The greatest carnage was at a wedding where the blast killed the fathers of both bride and groom. Jordanians were shocked at these first-ever suicide bombings on their soil. The attack was a blow to Jordanian security services, which had been very effective in breaking up past plots by other extremist groups.

Jordan's King Abdullah II condemned the attacks, describing them as "criminal acts conducted by stray, misleading groups." He vowed that such acts would not deter Jordan from assuming its important role in striving to combat both terrorism and those who advocate violence.

Ironically, a Jordanian, a former small-town thug, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, organized the attack. Until three years ago Zarqawi was nothing more than "a small man, with a small group, in a small jail," said Jordanian journalist Abdallah Aburomman, who spent three months in prison with Zarqawi in 1996. But that has changed since Iraq has become the center of terrorist activity in the Middle East.

Before this attack Zarqawi had popular support within Jordan, according to unofficial polls that indicate up to 70 percent approved of his terrorist activity in neighboring Iraq. Jordan has a high percentage of Palestinians among its population and there is more than a little anti-Israeli sentiment.

But Zarqawi's popularity has not survived last month's bombings. Within hours of the attack, thousands of Jordanians took to the street shouting slogans of support for King Abdullah and denouncing Zarqawi.

"The Amman Message"

The act was obviously meant to destabilize the pro-Western monarchy in this progressive Arab state. On Nov. 18 Zarqawi released a statement, saying attacks in Jordan would continue, and threatening to cut off the king's head. He said he was targeting Jordan because it serves as a "protector" for Israel, helps the U.S. military in Iraq and has become a "swamp of obscenity," with alcohol and prostitution in its tourist sites.

King Abdullah has worked hard at projecting a peaceful face of Islam to the world. In November of 2004, he released "The Amman Message," a short essay portraying the more peaceful sayings of the Koran and expressing his desire to prevent further marginalization and isolation of Islam.

"The Amman Message" is addressed to "the public, our brethren in Muslim lands and in this whole world." It reads, "We are aware of the danger and challenges the Islamic Nation is facing today in this difficult juncture of its course. Evils threaten its identity, incite disunity, tarnish its religion and assail its tenets; they attack fiercely the very message of Islam. Some who attack Islam imagine it is their enemy. But it is not their enemy. Others, who claim to belong to Islam, have done gruesome and criminal acts in its name.

"The message that is under attack is the message of tolerance, revealed by the Almighty to His prophet Muhammad, God's prayers and salutations be upon him, and carried after him by his orthodox successors and household members: a message of brotherhood and humanity; forming a righteous religion that embraces the entire sphere of human life, upholding what is good and forbidding what is wrong, accepting of others, and honouring all human beings."

The document makes an explicit statement against terrorism. "On religious grounds, on moral grounds, we denounce the contemporary concept of terrorism which is associated with wrongful practices wherever they come from—including assaults on peaceful civilians, killing prisoners and the wounded, unethical practices such as the destruction of buildings and ransacking cities. These despotic attacks on human life transgress the law of God, and we denounce them . . .

"No human whose heart is filled with light could be an extremist. We decry the campaign that portrays Islam as a religion that encourages violence and institutionalizes terrorism."

Several passages from the Koran are cited to support their claims of a peaceful religion that shuns violence and cruelty, but the document does not cite portions of the Koran that encourage attacks on the infidel unbeliever. It is those statements that have helped breed today's generation of extremists who are set on reestablishing an Islamic caliphate in all lands once controlled by Islam.

The tie to Abraham

"The Amman Message" contains one thought in particular that people of the region should consider: "Islam's principles also provide common ground among different faiths and peoples. The origin of divine religions is one, and Muslims believe in all messengers of God; denying the message of any of them is a deviation from Islam. This furnishes a wide platform upon which peoples of different faiths can meet together, with respect for others' ideas and faiths, and act in common in the service of human society."

I was introduced to this theme by Akel Biltaji, an advisor to King Abdullah, who addressed our group of convention goers. Citing common points between Islam and Christianity and Judaism, such as the common ancestor, Abraham, Biltaji used the cities of the region where Christ, Elijah, Moses and Muhammad visited and traveled, to show that they form a "biblical road map to peace," if only the differing parties could focus on them.

Imagine if all the warring factions in the Middle East would look to the common ancestor they all recognize, Abraham, and begin to travel the road he blazed in his time in the region. Then we might begin to see progress toward a lasting peace. Jew, Christian and Muslim recognize Abraham as a "father," indeed the father of the faithful.

Abraham followed the command of God into a new land and a new faith when he left his home country and his father's house to go to a land that God showed him. He received God's blessing for walking before Him in a new way of life (Genesis 12:1-3 Genesis 12:1-3 [1] Now the LORD had said to Abram, Get you out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father's house, to a land that I will show you: [2] And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you shall be a blessing: [3] And I will bless them that bless you, and curse him that curses you: and in you shall all families of the earth be blessed.
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Sadly, these three great faiths (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), which claim Abraham as their ancestor, have strayed from his example and practice. Generations of tradition, error and deception have created religions that Abraham would not recognize or identify with today. It is no wonder we fail to see any representatives of these faiths forging peace along the pathways of the Middle East today. Their historic legacies have created the cultural, religious and political divide that presently exists.

What is needed is a new religion, one unlike those we see on today's scene. A new religion that models the one lived by father Abraham and his descendant, Jesus Christ. It would be a faith that writes the way of God on the heart, a more permanent way of life. "This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, says the L ord : I will put My laws into their hearts, and in their minds I will write them" (Hebrews 10:16 Hebrews 10:16This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, said the Lord, I will put my laws into their hearts, and in their minds will I write them;
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). Abraham looked for a city whose foundations are built by God (Hebrews 11:10 Hebrews 11:10For he looked for a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God.
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). It is a city to come one day when Jesus Christ, the Messiah and Prophet, returns in all His glory.

Not until we see Arabs look upon Israelis as brothers, and Israelis look upon Palestinians as brothers, will we see a breakthrough in the peace process. Until the day we see all parties walking along this "biblical road map," we are not likely to see a permanent peace settlement. We will see more suicide terror attacks like those in Amman. More suffering and anguish will affect Israelis, Arabs and Christians.

I was only about a mile away from the November bombings of Amman. It is as close as I ever want to be to such an attack. God speed the day when terrorism ends and no one feels its horror any longer. WNP