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What's Behind Today's Worldwide Wave of Terrorism?

Passenger jets blown out of the sky, suicide bombings that deliberately target innocent civilians, men who shoot fleeing children in the back—what do these horrors have in common, and why?

by Scott Ashley

Much of the world has been shocked at the sheer brutality of attacks in the most recent wave of terrorism affecting several countries.

On the evening of Aug. 25, midair explosions rocked two Russian passenger jets minutes apart. Two female suicide bombers had smuggled explosives onto the planes; 89 passengers and crew died in the blasts and resulting crashes.

Less than a week later, on Aug. 31, two suicide bombers blew themselves up on buses in the Israeli desert city of Beersheba, killing 16 others and maiming or injuring 102. The death toll would've been much higher if the quick-thinking driver of the second bus hadn't witnessed the first explosion and immediately opened the doors of his bus—allowing some passengers to scramble out before the second bomber turned it into an inferno.

That same day in Iraq, a terrorist group murdered 12 Nepalese men working as cooks and cleaners for a Jordanian company. The terrorists beheaded one man, then lined up the others and shot them in the back.

The next day, Sept. 1, some 40 to 50 heavily armed terrorists, some of whom were women wearing explosive belts, seized hundreds of teachers, parents and children at festivities marking the first day of the new school year in Beslan, Russia. Some of the attackers shouted "Allah Akbar"—"Allah is the greatest"—as they invaded the school.

Two days later, Sept. 3, an apparently unplanned explosion—thought to be the accidental detonation of one of the women's explosive belts—triggered an assault on the school by Russian troops. In the bloody gunfight, explosions and firestorm that followed, more than 330 hostages—more than half of them children—were killed and hundreds more injured. Many were shot in the back as they fled the school, running for their lives.

On Sept. 21 and 22, Iraqi terrorists beheaded two U.S. civil engineers kidnapped in Baghdad the previous week. Grisly videos of the murders were posted on an Internet site. Several weeks later a third civil engineer taken hostage at the same time, a native of Britain, was similarly murdered.

In a particularly cruel attack, 35 children and seven other Iraqis were killed Sept. 30 in a series of suicide car bombings. The first suicide bomber detonated his explosives at the conclusion of a ceremony marking the opening of a Baghdad sewage—treatment plant. As dozens of children and other onlookers gathered to look at the wreckage, two more bombers drove into the area and detonated their explosives-packed vehicles, causing massive casualties.

On Oct. 1, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a Shiite mosque in the Pakistani city of Sialkot, killing 31 people. Six days later, a remote-controlled car bomb exploded during a Sunni Muslim religious gathering in Multan, Pakistan, killing 40 and wounding more than 100.

At about 10:15 on the evening of Oct. 7, blasts from an apparent combination of two explosives-packed cars and a female suicide bomber collapsed a wing of a 10-story hotel at an Egyptian Red Sea resort, killing 34 and injuring more than 160. Among the dead were a dozen Israelis, nine Egyptians, nine Russians and two Italians. Shortly after, car bombs at two nearby camping areas killed four other vacationers and workers.

On Oct. 22, a bus carrying mostly female Iraqi Airways and Civilian Aviation Ministry workers to their jobs at the Baghdad international airport was attacked by men armed with machine guns and grenades. At least four women were killed and more than a dozen severely wounded.

What do they have in common?

These are only some of the attacks and gruesome murders that have horrified much of the world in recent months. What do these events have in common? All these brutal murders were carried out in the name of religion—specifically one religion, Islam.

Yet from the media coverage of these events, one would have considerable difficulty discerning this simple fact.

Author Daniel Pipes, Mideast analyst and member of the U.S. Defense Department's Special Task Force on Terrorism and Technology, in a Sept. 7 column observed that the Western media "generally shies away from the word terrorist, preferring euphemisms.

"Take the assault that led to the deaths of some 400 people, many of them children, in Beslan, Russia, on Sept. 3," he wrote. "Journalists have been deep into their thesauruses, finding at least twenty euphemisms for terrorists."

He then went on to list some of the euphemisms journalists and editors used of those who brutally massacred innocent schoolchildren: "assailants," "attackers," "captors," "fighters," "gunmen," "hostage-takers," "insurgents," "radicals," "separatists" and "activists."

Dr. Pipes concludes: ". . . The multiple euphemisms for terrorist obstruct a clear understanding of the violent threats confronting the civilized world. It is bad enough that only one of five articles discussing the Beslan atrocity mentions its Islamist origins; worse is the miasma of words that insulates the public from the evil of terrorism . . ."

"Not all Muslims are terrorists, but . . . almost all terrorists are Muslims"

Most Western reporters and media—for reasons of political correctness and in some cases because national laws ban admission of unpleasant realities as hate speech—are unwilling to admit the common source of so much terror. However, some Muslims are themselves speaking out against the horrors being perpetrated in the name of their religion.

Abd Al-Rahman Al-Rashed, general manager of Al-Arabiya news channel and former editor of the London daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat, made some startling admissions in a commentary in the daily titled "The Painful Truth Is That All of the Terrorists Are Muslims." His piece, translated into English, appeared in The Telegraph (London) Sept. 5. He wrote:

"It is a certain fact that not all Muslims are terrorists, but it is equally certain, and exceptionally painful, that almost all terrorists are Muslims.

"The hostage-takers of children in Beslan . . . were Muslims. The other hostage-takers and subsequent murderers of the Nepalese chefs and workers in Iraq were also -Muslims. Those involved in rape and murder in Darfur, Sudan, are Muslims, with other Muslims chosen to be their victims.

"Those responsible for the attacks on residential towers in Riyadh and Khobar [in Saudi Arabia] were Muslims. The two women who crashed two airliners last week were also Muslims . . . The majority of those who manned the suicide bombings against buses, vehicles, schools, houses and buildings, all over the world, were Muslim.

". . . In a different era, we used to consider the extremists, with nationalist or Leftist leanings, a menace and a source of corruption because of their adoption of violence as a means of discourse and their involvement in murder as an easy shortcut to their objectives.

"At that time, the mosque used to be a haven, and the voice of religion used to be that of peace and reconciliation. Religious sermons were warm behests for a moral order and an ethical life.

"Then came the Neo-Muslims. An innocent and benevolent religion . . . , that calls murder the most heinous of crimes, . . . has been turned into a global message of hate and a universal war cry.

"We can't call those who take schoolchildren as hostages our own. We cannot tolerate in our midst those who abduct journalists, murder civilians, explode buses; we cannot accept them as related to us, whatever the sufferings they claim to justify their criminal deeds. These are the people who have smeared Islam and stained its image.

"We cannot clear our names unless we own up to the shameful fact that terrorism has become an Islamic enterprise; an almost exclusive monopoly, implemented by Muslim men and women."

"All of them are Islamic acts"

Mundir Badr Haloum, lecturer at a Syrian university, penned a column in the Lebanese newspaper Al-Safir (Sept. 13), similarly acknowledging that Muslims are behind virtually all worldwide terrorism and calling for major reforms in Islam. Following are excerpts from his piece:

"Twelve Nepalese citizens are slaughtered —Islam. A metro station is bombed—Islam. Civilian aircraft crash—Islam. A school is taken and the souls of 50 children (are lost) for the soul of (each) terrorist—Islam. A bus is bombed here, a railway train there, and before that there were hospitals and theaters, etc. . . . all of them Islamic acts.

". . . Islam is in the names of all of the organizations that decapitate using knives, all the while saying the Fatiha (the first chapter of the Koran, said as a prayer) before the slaughter. The victims are butchered in the Islamic way . . . Christians, Buddhists, and Jews . . . After all, they are only infidels, fuel for the blaze, enemies, or potential enemies, or the friends of enemies, or their neighbors, and so on . . .

"Ignominious terrorism exists, and one cannot but acknowledge its being Islamic . . . Islam is in need of true reform. Islam's need (for reform)—or, to be precise, our need for Islam's reform—is not less than the need for reform in the Arab political regimes . . . This is the need for people who are capable of fearlessly acknowledging that terrorism nests within us as Muslims and that we must exorcise it . . . Unfortunately, the meaning of delay is more death . . ."

Religion of war or peace?

One can easily see the anguish in the courageous admissions of these sincere, thoughtful men. They have seen their religion used as an excuse to slaughter innocent men, women and children in many countries on several continents. They have seen some practitioners transform their religion from its relatively peaceful practice of more recent centuries into an aggressive, violent movement.

The Koran, Islam's holy book, does contain passages advocating peaceful relations and coexistence with others. Muslims point to passages such as these to argue that Islam is a peaceful religion:

"We have created you from a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that you might get to know one another" (49:13, all quotations from the Dawood translation). This passage exhorts reaching out to others to seek understanding.

"There shall be no compulsion in religion" (2:256). In other words, force should not be used to convert others to Islam.

"Fight for the sake of [Allah] those that fight against you, but do not attack them first. [Allah] does not love aggressors" (2:190). This is generally understood to mean that Muslims may not begin hostilities and should not attack noncombatants.

". . . Whoever killed a human being, except as punishment for murder or other villainy in the land, shall be regarded as having killed all mankind; and that whoever saved a human life shall be regarded as having saved all mankind" (5:32).

Killing and the Koran

Yet the same Muslim holy book includes passages exhorting violence and warfare toward non-Muslims.

The last passage quoted above goes on to say: "Those that make war against [Allah] and His apostle [Muhammad] and spread disorder in the land shall be slain or crucified or have their hands and feet cut off on alternate sides, or be banished from the land. They shall be held up to shame in this world and sternly punished in the hereafter . . ." (5:34).

"When the sacred months are over slay the idolaters wherever you find them. Arrest them, besiege them, and lie in ambush everywhere for them" (9:5).

"Believers, make war on the infidels who dwell around you. Deal firmly with them. Know that [Allah] is with the righteous" (9:123).

"Fight against them until idolatry is no more and [Allah's] religion [Islam] reigns supreme" (2:193).

"Muhammad is [Allah's] apostle. Those who follow him are ruthless to the unbelievers but merciful to one another" (48:29).

The answer to why beheading has become a preferred method among Islamic terrorists for executing hostages is found in Sura 47:4: "When you meet the unbelievers in the battlefield strike off their heads . . ."

Suicide bombers look to Sura 47:7, which they believe promises paradise to those who give their lives in the service of Allah: "As for those who are slain in the cause of [Allah], He will not allow their works to perish . . . He will admit them to the Paradise He has made known to them."

Islam against the world

How can these fundamentally different views expressed in the Koran be explained?

Many scholars who have studied the book have concluded that the passages encouraging peaceful relations were written earlier in Muhammad's lifetime, before he had gained a considerable following and peace was to his and his followers' advantage. The passages exhorting violence and war, they believe, were written later, after he had grown militarily strong and could impose his will on those who otherwise would not follow his new religion.

Regardless of whether this view is correct, militant Muslims can find plenty of passages in the Koran (such as those cited above) that they believe command warfare against the infidels—i.e., all non-Muslims. They also find in those passages justification for such heinous acts as beheading hostages and carrying out suicide bombings.

These views are not isolated. A Pew poll in several Muslim countries earlier this year found that about half of Pakistanis felt that suicide bombings carried out against Israelis and against U.S. troops in Iraq are justified. In Jordan and Morocco, two other Muslim countries in which polling was conducted, more than two thirds thought such suicide attacks were justified.

Another major factor in such widespread acceptance of terror methods is the worldview of many Muslims. Bernard Lewis, professor emeritus at Princeton University and author of more than a dozen books on the Middle East, explains this view in an article that appeared in the September 1990 issue of Atlantic Monthly:

"In the classical Islamic view, to which many Muslims are beginning to return, the world and all mankind are divided into two: the House of Islam, where the Muslim law and faith prevail, and the rest, known as the House of Unbelief or the House of War, which it is the duty of Muslims ultimately to bring to Islam.

"But the greater part of the world is still outside Islam, and even inside the Islamic lands, according to the view of the Muslim radicals, the faith of Islam has been undermined and the law of Islam has been abrogated. The obligation of holy war therefore begins at home and continues abroad, against the same infidel enemy" (emphasis added).

A new cycle of history under way?

This worldview explains why a majority of today's ongoing wars and civil wars around the globe involve Islamic expansion against non-Muslims, or Muslim extremists pushing for their version of Islam over that of more moderate views. It also helps explain a combination of circumstances and forces that appear to be leading the world into what some characterize as a third world war.

Many historians and scholars also point out that Islam may well be simply returning to its earlier aggressive roots and once more challenging the West for supremacy. If so, it wouldn't be the first time.

In the seventh century Muhammad and his successors, through persuasion and force, spread his new religion from Mecca and Medina throughout the Middle East and across North Africa through Spain. To the east, Islam spread across south-central Asia to India. Within a century, one of the largest empires in the history of the world had been created.

As Islam advanced, Christendom, in the form of the Byzantine Empire (or Eastern Roman Empire), retreated. Eventually Islam's spread was halted near Paris in the Battle of Tours in 732, a century after Muhammad's death.

For several centuries, as Europe remained mired in the Dark Ages (due in part to isolation by hostile Muslims on its borders), the Islamic world built the world's most advanced civilization, leading the world in culture and science. This was Islam's golden age, an age to which many Muslims aspire to return.

Reacting to the Muslims' hold on the biblical sites in the Holy Land and capture of Jerusalem in 1076, the First Crusade was launched late in the 11th century. European Crusaders recaptured Jerusalem in 1099 and held it until 1187.

During the same century a second great wave of Islamic expansion spread the religion even further, across Central Asia, India, Turkey and sub-Saharan Africa. Muslim traders and merchants spread it even further—to China, Indonesia and the Malay Peninsula.

The Turkish Ottoman Empire brought a third, smaller wave of Islamic expansion. The Ottomans destroyed the Byzantine Empire once and for all with the capture of Constantinople in 1453 and spread Islam into southeastern Europe—setting the stage for long-running conflicts between Muslims and others in the Balkans.

Now, as some observers point out, we may be seeing the beginning of a new period of Islamic expansion fueled by resentment of Western prosperity and decadence and funded by billions of petrodollars. Its goal is nothing less than the establishment—or proper restoration, as they would view it—of an Islamic empire that will again dominate the world.

Of course, standing in its way is the United States and its Western allies. Their leaders' greatest concern is that Islamic leaders or terrorists may choose to back up this wave of expansion with nuclear arms or other weapons of mass destruction (as possessed by Pakistan and eagerly being pursued by Iran and, until recently, Libya).

An acquaintance told me of a recent trip to Tehran during which he'd seen several enormous murals on the sides of large buildings. One huge painting, several stories high, depicted an outline of America with massive nuclear explosions going off all across the country. Rivers of blood were pouring from the bottom of the area of the United States.

The mural graphically expresses the desire of some Iranians and other Muslims. We shouldn't expect to see the end of terror attacks anytime soon.

How will terrorism end?

Jesus Christ, when asked by His disciples about the signs of His second coming to earth, responded with a chilling warning: "For then there will be great distress, unequaled from the beginning of the world until now—and never to be equaled again" (Matthew 24:21, New International Version). He also spoke of "wars and rumors of wars" and peoples and nations rising up against each other (verses 6-7).

An intriguing prophecy in Daniel 11:40-45 reveals that "at the time of the end" a leader from today's Islamic lands, called here "the king of the South," will rise up and defy the West.

He will provoke a European invasion of the Middle East that ultimately will bring the world as we know it to an end. The book of Revelation shows that it will lead to a conflagration of massive armies and weapons of mass destruction on an unprecedented scale. Jesus Christ will intervene just in time to spare humankind from annihilation.

Only then will the world see an end to terror. In that day, when false religion and murderous, oppressive philosophies are no more, "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11:9).

At that time, as Micah 4:3-4 tells us, mankind at last will be free from the scourge of terror: "Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more. But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid . . ." GN

Recommended Reading

Why is the long-troubled middle East such a focal point of Bible prophecy? Believe it or not, this area, focal point of the world's three great monotheistic religions and source of the lifeblood of the world's economies—oil—will ultimately impact the entire world. How will these things play out? What should we be looking for to happen in this region? You need to read our eye-opening, full-color booklet The Middle East in Bible Prophecy. A free copy is waiting for you.

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