Chuck Colson

As we approach the fourth anniversary of the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the obvious question is: What, if anything, have we learned since then? We have learned a great deal about the threat posed by radical Islam, but not enough about what gives it its vitality.

Before September 11, 2001, most Americans had never heard of Osama bin Laden or al Qaeda. While they may have known about the existence of Islamic terrorism, they thought that it was something that happened “over there,” not here at home.

Well, that has changed. Americans not only understand that bin Laden and others mean to do us great harm, but most of us—save a few political figures—also recognize that our war on terrorism is part of a larger, global struggle. And understanding the threat posed by extremist Islam requires us to understand how Islam as a whole differs from our worldviews. While the vast majority of Muslims mean us no harm, there is something about Islam that lends itself to the extremist worldview that produced September 11.

As Pope Benedict put it, back when he was still Cardinal Ratzinger, “The interplay of society, politics, and religion has a completely different structure in Islam” than in the Christian West. The Koran “insists that the whole order of life be Islamic.” These differences make attempts at compromise or appeasement, at best, unproductive and, at worst, folly.

The vision that fuels Islamist activity derives energy from a seemingly unlikely source: the West’s own spiritual poverty. Ratzinger, who has been involved in interfaith dialogue with Islamic leaders, sees a connection between “the great moral crisis of the Western world” and the “reawakening” of the “Islamic soul.”

The West’s “moral contradiction” left it incapable of “preaching a message of morality.” All it had to offer the rest of the world was “know how” and a “few remains of some modern ideas of enlightenment.”

By contrast, Muslims could say, “We know who we are,” and as they look at the increasingly secular West, they could say that their “religion stands the test.” The West’s moral and spiritual exhaustion, coupled with Muslim economic power that came with petro-dollars, made dreams of an Islamic revival possible.

Chuck Colson

Chuck Colson was the Chief Counsel for Richard Nixon and served time in prison for Watergate-related charges. In 1976, Colson founded Prison Fellowship Ministries, which, in collaboration with churches of all confessions and denominations, has become the world's largest outreach to prisoners, ex-prisoners, crime victims, and their families.
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