Britain's security chief is warning that al Qaeda is planning "mass casualty attacks against the West." Andrew Parker states: "My sharpest concern as director-general of MI5 is the growing gap between the increasingly challenging threat and the decreasing availability of capacities to address it." More people than ever before share his concern today.
Earlier this week, French officials mobilized 10,000 additional troops to boost security in their country. In the wake of the Charlie Hebdo attacks, an estimated 3.7 million people (including 40 world leaders) took to the streets to show solidarity with the victims. The Obama administration has announced that it will host a Summit on Countering Violent Extremism next month. German leaders are asking if Muslims want to or are capable of integrating into their society. Many Jews in France are worried for their safety.
Who is responsible for the escalating terrorism we face?
Shortly after the Paris attacks, Ayaan Hirsi Ali published a fascinating op-ed in The Wall Street Journal. A fellow at the Harvard Kennedy School, Ms. Hirsi Ali hopes that "perhaps the West will finally put away its legion of useless tropes trying to deny the relationship between violence and radical Islam."
She points to "The Quranic Concept of War," written in the mid-1970s by Pakistani General S. K. Malik. The jihad "bible" of radical Muslims, it claims that victory for Islam depends on striking terror in the soul of the enemy. Those who attacked Charlie Hebdo were convinced that their terrorism defended Islam against infidels and apostates.
Some take this fact to mean that Islam is to blame for those who commit atrocities in its name. Others claim that the same logic could be applied to medieval Crusaders who tragically slaughtered Jews and Muslims in the name of Christ. Here's the difference between Islam and Christianity, in my view: the Enlightenment.
From the mid-17th century through the 18th century, the Enlightenment "swept away the medieval world-view and ushered in our modern western world" (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy). One result was a separation of church and state that kept each from unduly influencing the other. While many have taken this separation too far today, seeking to divorce faith and culture, Enlightenment thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson saw a free church in a free state as the ideal. Unfortunately, radical Muslims argue just the opposite, seeking to impose their version of sharia (Islamic holy law) on all. Until the Muslim world experiences an Enlightenment-like shift in its worldview, terrorism to impose a radicalized version of Islam will continue.
What can Christians do? Let me suggest three ways we can pray. First, intercede for Western leaders to confront the jihadist threat with courage and honesty. Second, pray for God to protect those who are targets of further aggression. Third, ask God's Spirit to escalate the spiritual awakening advancing in the Muslim world today.
The head of MI5 is right: we face an "increasingly challenging threat." But Christians can take heart: "he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world" (1 John 4:4).