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Islamic Extremists Attack the West in Many Countries

The murder of three American Baptist missionaries by an Islamic extremist in Yemen Dec. 30 highlights the growing threat to Americans living in other parts of the world and the increasing worldwide clash between the followers of Islam and those of traditional Christianity. The killer claimed he shot the Americans because "they were preaching Christianity in an Islamic country."

by Melvin Rhodes

After Sept. 11, travel inevitably was not to be the same again. Domestic flights require passengers to allow more time before departure. The same is true for international flights. Instead of being asked to be at the airport two hours ahead for an international flight, I was now advised to be there four hours ahead, because of increased security measures.

These include random and thorough searches of passengers and their personal effects. During 2002 I flew from Detroit to Ghana in West Africa five times. It seems that I am frequently put through one of these random searches. This could be because I look particularly suspicious, but I doubt it. It is likely it has more to do with political correctness. Political correctness makes it impossible to target young Middle Eastern-looking males (the most likely terrorists).

There is no direct flight from Detroit to Accra, the capital of Ghana, so I must change planes in either London or Frankfurt, Germany. Increased security at these two airports is noticeable. Transit passengers cannot enter the airport without going through a security check. On one recent trip, I was picked out for a random search on three out of four possible occasions.

Less security is visible in Ghana, but this hasn't always been the case. During former periods of military dictatorship the airport always had many armed soldiers around. As this always made visitors uncomfortable, it is not the case today, now that Ghana has returned to civilian rule. However, this does not mean that Ghana is immune from the world's problems.

Increasing conflict in West Africa

To the west of Ghana lies the former French colony of the Ivory Coast, independent since 1960. Once the most stable and prosperous nation in the region, today the Ivory Coast is in the middle of a civil war between the Muslims of the north and the Christians of the south. Government in the country has long been dominated by those in the south, which has been greatly resented by those in the north. The continuing conflict has driven many Americans and other foreigners out of the country.

Other countries in the area have been caught up in this. Citizens of Burkina Faso and Mali, both predominantly Islamic nations, have been attacked by Ivorian southerners and have had to leave the country in the tens of thousands. Refugees have fled into neighboring countries, including Ghana. The Lincoln School in Accra, the school for the American community in the capital, almost doubled its enrollment one weekend in September with the arrival of about 300 schoolchildren evacuated from an American school in the Ivory Coast.

Ghana has long rolled out the welcome mat for refugees. Many came in the 1980s from Liberia, the next country over from the Ivory Coast going west. Liberia, founded by emancipated American slaves in the 1820s, went through a particularly gruesome civil war following one of the most violent coups in African history. Neighboring Sierra Leone (again, moving further west) experienced its own civil war in the last decade, ended only by the presence of British troops sent to aid their former colony. French troops are now in the Ivory Coast. Interestingly, the French, who long opposed the United States sending troops into Iraq without UN approval, dispatched troops to the independent Republic of Ivory Coast without consulting any other nation.

Liberia and Sierra Leone are also caught up in the international war on terror. The leaders of the two governments are accused of helping al Qaeda, effectively enabling considerable money laundering to take place using the diamonds that could make the peoples of both nations wealthy, but instead benefit only the few.

It is not only the countries west of Ghana that are now in turmoil. To the east, Nigeria, the most populous African nation, regularly experiences conflict between Muslims and Christians. The Miss World contest, due to be held in Nigeria, had to be moved to London when Muslims rioted and killed over 200 Christians to protest the presence of the contest in Nigeria and comments made by a "Christian" journalist suggesting that Muhammad would have approved and even taken a bride from among the contestants.

The Islamic-Christian fault line runs through Africa, from west to east. In the east, Sudan has long experienced civil war between the Muslims of the north and the Christians of the south, many of the latter having been taken away as slaves by the former. I am reminded of this almost every day, as my home city in Michigan has taken in over 100 Sudanese "boys" orphaned by the war and left to roam the countryside in armed gangs scavenging for food.

Now Kenya, too, has been affected by this on-going conflict between the world's two biggest religions. Americans woke up on Thanksgiving Day to hear that a terrorist bomb in the Kenyan Indian Ocean resort of Mombasa had killed a number of Kenyans and visiting Israelis. Although not a holiday in Kenya, the hotel lobby was filled with arriving Israeli visitors on Hanukkah vacations when the terrorists drove a truck carrying a bomb into the hotel. A few moments earlier, a departing Israeli plane had been fired at with missiles carried by terrorists, who narrowly missed the plane.

The missile attack is particularly worrying for travelers. My family and I lived through a terrorist war in Rhodesia/ Zimbabwe 25 years ago. A major turning point was the downing of two full civilian aircraft by hand-held missile launchers. Technology today is much more sophisticated and the threat of further attacks of this nature is very real.

Middle East a continuing risk for visitors

Just across the water from Kenya lies Yemen, another country no longer safe for visitors. The deaths of the three missionaries followed attacks on tourists, the attack on the USS Cole in October 2000 and one on a French oil tanker (which terrorists thought was American) in October 2002.

Moving further east, throughout the Gulf, the threat of terror is constant. Above the Gulf there is Iraq, whose leader wants to destroy the West. Neighboring Iran is where Islamic fundamentalism first reared its ugly head in 1979, with the overthrow of the shah and the seizure of the American embassy. Suicide bombings continue in Israel, with Americans and other Westerners among the victims. In Egypt and Jordan, Westerners have also been killed.

East of Iran are Afghanistan and Pakistan, both hotbeds of Islamic extremism. Pakistan's President Musharraf remains a U.S. ally in the war on terror, but recent elections have given the country a more radical religious government. Westerners remain unsafe in the country, where Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl was kidnapped and murdered and a van, full of French workers, was blown up. Attacks on Christian churches in Pakistan are frequent, with another one just a few days before the Yemeni incident.

Next to Pakistan is India, with a Muslim minority that is actually the second biggest Islamic population in the world after Indonesia. Conflicts between Muslims and majority Hindus are increasing in frequency. The disputed territory of Kashmir has seen increased conflict, but so have other parts of India.

Nor are visitors safe in the world's most populous Islamic nation, Indonesia, where a powerful bomb blast killed almost 200 tourists (mostly Australians) Oct. 12 on the predominantly Hindu island of Bali. Apparently, Americans were the targets. Americans have also been targeted in the Philippines, where Islamic forces are rebelling against the national government.

"Wars and rumors of wars" (Matthew 24:6) were prophesied by Jesus Christ to be a major area of concern at the time of "the end of the age" (verse 3). Interestingly, false religion was prophesied to precede these conflicts: "For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am the Christ,' and will deceive many" (verse 5).

American interests threatened

So what should Americans and other Westerners do? Reading the above, many will conclude that it's not safe to go anywhere, so it's best to stay at home.

Such reasoning overlooks the fact that there are dangers at home, where American big cities pose greater dangers than many international destinations. Now there is the additional threat of more terrorism following 9/11.

But staying at home also ignores a reality of the post-World War II world—that America's dominance of various regions of the world requires an American presence. Not just a military or diplomatic presence, but also the presence of businessmen, missionaries, aid workers and visitors passing through as tourists, stimulating the local economy. Together, all these people give America influence and promote diverse American interests.

My wife and I have three children. They are all now in their 20s, but when we lived in Ghana, they attended the American school. Without us and other Americans working there for churches and aid organizations, the diplomats there would not have been able to support an American school. Their children would have had to be sent overseas to attend boarding schools. Even with our children, there were only just over 100 students in the school. (There are now over 400, reflecting Ghana's return to stability during the '90s.)

American businessmen promote U.S. business interests overseas. If they live in a country, they will naturally do more business than if they simply pass through. This can help create jobs back home and can increase profits for U.S. investors. Already many businessmen around the world (and diplomats) have had to send family members home to be safe. If things get even more dangerous, they themselves will return to the United States and business will go elsewhere.

As Americans are driven out of countries around the world, others move in. During the '80s, when the Americans and British were forced out of Ghana, Libyans moved in along with people from other radical countries. A great deal of attention was given by the American media to the events of Sept. 11, and rightly so. Often overlooked are incidents overseas where Americans and people from allied nations like Britain and Australia are killed by Islamic radicals. Yet these too are a serious threat to American interests. It seems as if the terrorists realize this and are deliberately targeting U.S. interests overseas where they have little to fear from American retaliation.

But these incidents, almost daily now, are very much a part of the continuing war on terror, an international conflict that will dominate our lives for years to come. WNP


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