Dr Patrick Sookhdeo
This paper is published to promote discussion of a vital issue in the contemporary Church. It is not intended in any way to impugn the Christian integrity of any of the people or organisations whose views are considered or critiqued.
Introduction: The impact of 9/11
Since 11 September 2001 (9/11) there has been a sea change in relations between Islam and the non-Muslim world, fed by the fear of a cataclysmic clash of civilisations and a war of religions. The devastating attacks by Muslim terrorists from al-Qaeda on the USA evoked not just condemnation of the violence but also a wave of sympathy for Muslims around the world, with Christians and many others in the West pointing out that most Muslims had nothing to do with the 9/11 attacks and asserting that their religion is peaceful.
The leaders of both the US and the UK governments, George W. Bush and Tony Blair, began to re-define the nature of violence and the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. They concluded in effect that there was no such thing as Islamic terrorism and that al-Qaeda was a heretical strain of Islam, a "virus" that had to be isolated, defeated and eradicated from mainstream Islam. Government policies in the two countries sought therefore to strengthen the institutions of Islam, driven by the rationale that the Muslim community should be brought into the mainstream wherever possible so as to prevent its radicalisation.
9/11 was followed by invasions of Afghanistan (2001) and Iraq (2003), both part of the so-called "war on terror". The Muslim world believed that the West, in particular the US, was attacking Islam. The West on the other hand, led by Bush and Blair, increasingly asserted that there was no war on Islam but only a "war on terror", with the terrorists now increasingly defined as "criminals". This claim led to Western governments' effectively legitimising Islam as a valid religion, whose values are shared by Judaism and Christianity, and which they therefore regarded as for all practical purposes the same religion. The alleged legitimacy of Islam was promulgated within both the US and the UK and also around the world in order to discourage Islamic violence.
The unfortunate use of the word "crusade" by Bush alarmed Muslims, who already believed that the war on terror was being fought by an alliance of the US government, Christian fundamentalists and Christian Zionists against Islam. Evangelical Christians were in a quandary, as they were labelled both by Muslims and by the Western media as fundamentalists bent on fighting Islam and were treated as the Christian equivalent of al-Qaeda. Many evangelicals responded by distancing themselves from the governments of their countries and their policies and by efforts to reach out to Muslims with gestures of peace and goodwill. As we shall see, these included active engagement in interfaith dialogue with Muslims and cooperation with Muslims in specific projects.
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Editor's Note: I find it interesting how often the Orthodox Church's response is ignored. Orthodoxy has so much to offer to the discussion about radical Islam. Many Arab Christians are Orthodox.