Al Qaeda and Converts to Islam

Chuck Colson
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Posted: Apr 28, 2004 12:00 AM

Anyone who has flown since September 11 has experienced the heightened security put into place as a result of the attacks. Most of us have adjusted to the new realities. And we?re not the only ones adjusting. The people responsible for the heightened security?al Qaeda?have also adjusted.

After September 11 officials stepped up their scrutiny of people seeking to enter the United States  bearing passports from Middle Eastern and Central Asian countries. While civil libertarians and Muslim-American groups protested, al Qaeda adapted.

As Robert Leiken of the Nixon  Center wrote in the New Republic, Osama bin Laden is replacing Muslim immigrants in his operations with Western converts to Islam. It?s easy to see why: ?European nationals with European passports and faces? are less likely to arouse suspicions among American officials. What?s more, most Western Europeans aren?t required to obtain visas before traveling to the United States.

We saw a glimpse of this tactic in the case of British convert Richard Reid, the ?shoe bomber.? More recently, a French Muslim convert is alleged to have ties to a suspect in the Madrid bombings. And, as Leiken tells us, there?s potentially a lot more where these two came from?that is, Europe.

That?s because Europe has seen the rise of what are called ?protest converts? to Islam. As the French scholar Olivier Roy put it, these young people convert for the same reason that American kids get multiple tattoos and body piercings: ?to stick it to their parents [or] to their principal.? Just as Europeans in the 1970s ?went to Bolivia or Vietnam,? these kids convert. It?s a way ?of identifying with a Third World  cause.?

Al Qaeda targets these people. ?They are full of rage, and they want to prove themselves.? They?re eager to ?show other Muslims their worth.? And al Qaeda is only too happy to oblige them with radical imams publicly preaching violence and martyrdom, as articles in the New York Times this weekend underscored.

Remember, too, that this tactic isn?t limited to Europe. In prisons across America, thousands of inmates have converted to Islam. And, as I?ve said on previous broadcasts, the extremist form of Islam has found its way into our prisons as well. While the vast majority of converts have no interest in joining al Qaeda, September 11 teaches us that it takes only a few to pose a horrendous threat. Just take a look at the case of Jose Padilla, the American, who was converted in prison and accused of plotting to detonate a ?dirty bomb.?

So, even if authorities find a way to cope with European converts, there?s still the problem of the home-grown variety.

These developments remind us that, whether we admit it or not, we are in a clash of civilizations with the Islamic world. That doesn?t mean that we are at war with every Muslim. What it means is that there?s something about Islam that poses a potential threat to our security and our way of life. If you doubt that, ask yourself whether you can imagine a graduate of Prison Fellowship?s full-time prison program setting off a dirty bomb.

We need to pray that our leaders can adapt to this frightening new reality. And we need to remind them that a religion where proving ?your worth? consists of killing civilians shouldn?t be called a ?religion of peace.?


For further reading and information:

Patrick E. Tyler and Don Van Natta, Jr., ? Militants in Europe Openly Call for Jihad and the Rule of Islam ,? New York Times, 26 April 2004 .

Robert S. Leiken, ? Fair Game: Al Qaeda?s New Soldiers ,? New Republic, 26 April 2004 . (Available to subscribers only; you can get a 30-day free trial.)

Isambard Wilkinson, ? Fearsome dilemma of Spain?s Muslims ,? Telegraph ( London), 17 April 2004 .

Charles Colson, ? Evangelizing for Evil in Our Prisons ,? Wall Street Journal, 24 June 2002 .

Charles Colson, ? An Unlikely Blessing ,? BreakPoint WorldView, September 2002.

Jim Tonkowich , ? Ten Things We Should Have Learned Since September 11 ,? BreakPoint Online, 20 September 2002 .

BreakPoint Commentary No. 040316, ? An Ill Wind from Spain .?

BreakPoint Commentary No. 030303, ? Blues from Allah .?

BreakPoint Commentary No. 040415, ? Terrorism and War .?

Anne Morse , ? The Pot and the Kettle ,? BreakPoint Online, 30 April 2003 .

Wendy Murray Zoba, ? Islam, U.S.A. ,? Christianity Today, 3 April 2000 .

Timothy George, Is the Father of Jesus the God of Muhammad? (Zondervan, 2002).

Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong: Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response (J. Paul Getty Museum, 2002).