Do You Know What You Believe?

In October 1999, I spoke in Abu Dhabi at a conference on the 21st century sponsored by the United Arab Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research. The audience was composed almost entirely of Moslems; soldiers, scholars, imams and government officials from throughout the Persian Gulf region.

After futurist Alvin Toffler delivered the keynote address Zbigniew Brzezinski, former secretary of state in Jimmy Carter’s administration, discussed the future of the nation state in the 21st century and the chairman of the board of the British Broadcast Corporation talked about the role of the media. My topic was, “The Future of War.”
Accordingly, I posited a future in which international terrorists groups supported by rogue regimes, some armed with weapons of mass destruction, threaten the established order. I forecasted sharp increases in ethnic and religious strife and noted such conflicts cannot be addressed effectively with precise surgical strikes from high flying bombers. In ethnic and religious clashes along what Harvard Professor Samuel P. Huntington described as “cultural fault lines,” passions engendered by ethnic hatreds will escalate quickly into genocidal warfare. Nevertheless, I concluded war remains as 19th century Prussian philosopher Carl von Clausewitz proclaimed in his 1832 classic On War, “an act of force to compel the enemy to do our will.”

In the question and answer period that followed, a colonel from one of the Gulf state armies asked if I thought a war between the Christian West and the Islamic World was inevitable. His inquiry surprised me. During my military career I developed abiding friendships with Moslem officers and going to war with them never occurred to me. I replied that “Christians and Moslems share fundamental sacred values, like caring for the poor and have a common view of sexual morality.” I sagely concluded, “There is no reason for enmity between peoples who worship the same God.”

My Moslem inquisitor then handed my philosophical head to me on the proverbial platter. “How can you say we have the same morality when many Christian churches support abortion and marry homosexual couples’” The Arab colonel also provided this Presbyterian elder a lesson in Trinitarian theology. “Do you know what you believe? When you say we ‘worship the same God’ you blaspheme both religions. Moslems worship Allah, the one true God. You are a polytheist whose creeds confirm worship of three gods.” Chagrined, my red-faced response was, “You make many important points. Christians and Moslems must find unity in diversity.” It was time for me to shut up.

At the crux of every culture is a belief system. Strong cultures wrap tightly around a central religious core. Wars are fought between peoples with cultures reflected in their political structures. Al Qaeda is at war with Western culture and its political systems developed over the past two millennia by the amalgamation of Latin, Greek and Germanic-European cultures. Christianity defined and dominated that cultural process.

Islam’s thrust into the West was not finally halted until the Battle of Zenta in 1697 when Prince Eugene of Savoy annihilated a Turkish army personally commanded by Sultan Mustafa II. The subsequent Treaty of Karlowitz in 1699 marked the beginning of the end for the Ottoman Empire. The West that prevailed after 800 years of Moslem onslaught, though divided between often contentious Protestants, Catholics and Orthodox factions, was culturally Christian. Sadly, that is not the case today.

In the aftermath of the attacks of 9/11, many Christians maintained that the terrorists did not represent Islam; a religion whose name means “submission” with tenets supporting charity and hospitality. This was unilateral disarmament in the war of worldviews.

Terror is a tool used to affect human will. Its effect increases when the target’s will is weak. Cultures are an amalgamation of individuals and groups. Islamic culture divides along distinct religious lines between Sunni and Shi’ite and class lines between a poverty-stricken majority and a wealthy minority. Even so, the Islamic World is much more culturally united than is the West. In pursuit of multi-culturalism and diversity, post-modern Western civilization purposefully fragmented itself into a cultural smorgasbord of ethnicity, race, class, gender and sexual-orientations.

Ultimately, cultural mantras like, “unity in diversity” are little more than feel-good bumper-stickers. Diversity, a good thing in stock portfolios, wreaks havoc on faith systems and is potentially deadly to a civilization under siege. Can a culturally diverse West withstand concerted attacks by groups who know what they believe and are willing to die for those beliefs?

In his Second Letter to Timothy, the Apostle Paul wrote, “I know in whom I believe and am persuaded he is able to keep that which I have committed to Him against that day.” With that day at hand, my Moslem inquisitor’s question still echoes. “Do you know what you believe?”

Earl H. Tilford

Earl H. Tilford

Dr. Earl Tilford is a military historian and fellow for the Middle East & terrorism with The Center for Vision & Values at Grove City College. He currently lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama. A retired Air Force intelligence officer, Dr. Tilford earned his PhD in American and European military history at George Washington University. From 1993 to 2001, he served as Director of Research at the U.S. Army’s Strategic Studies Institute. In 2001, he left Government service for a professorship at Grove City College, where he taught courses in military history, national security, and international and domestic terrorism and counter-terrorism. Email: [email protected]

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