NASHVILLE, Tenn. (BP) — What has changed since Sept. 11, 2001?
“We are sobered,” Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said.
“We are more aware than we were before that the post-Cold War interlude of peace is over,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “We are fully cognizant of the fact that there is a worldwide Islamist movement, which is determined to set up a 12th-century-style caliphate from Spain, across North Africa, the Middle East, the Far East and to the Philippines.
“We know among their aims is the destruction of Israel and the Jewish people. And they understand in order to do that, they must destroy the power of the United States. That’s why they perceive Israel as the ‘little Satan’ and America as the ‘great Satan.'”
Land, in a question-and-answer session, added: “Many Americans did not realize the radical Islamists were at war with us before 9/11. We all know it now. And a majority of Americans feel that when somebody is at war with you, you ought to be at war with them.
“I think most Americans are surprised, and grateful to God, that we haven’t been attacked successfully in a similar fashion of similar severity in the 10 years since that fateful day. For that we can express gratitude to countless numbers of dedicated men and women who have risked life and limb to protect us from such a dastardly sneak attack.
“According to a Public Religion Research Institute study, a majority of Americans believe our nation is safer than it was on Sept. 11, 2001. To maintain this security, Americans recognize we have given up a measure of our personal freedoms. I think most Americans are determined that we remain vigilant and that we not succumb to fear.
Additional BP questions and answers from Land:
BP: What do you perceive Americans’ attitudes to be regarding militant Islam?
Land: I believe most Americans want our country to stand against the Islamist fascist theology that masquerades as a religion. And an increasing number of Americans understand that radical Islam is an enemy of the vast majority of Muslims who don’t embrace it.
Actually, nearly 90 percent of the victims of radical Islamic terrorism have been Muslims who refused to knuckle under to this death cult that masquerades as the only legitimate form of Islam.
While regrettably there have been instances where Muslim Americans have been discriminated against and assaulted because of their faith in the years since the attacks, most Americans recognize that everyone has a right to exercise their faith. As a people, we value our constitutionally guaranteed freedom of religion. In the PRRI research, nearly 9 in 10 respondents expressed agreement with the notion that America was founded on the concept of religious liberty for all people.
BP: Immediately after the attacks, houses of worship were full and people talked of spiritual revival sweeping our land. Now, 10 years later, what does the soul of America look like?
Land: Not much different than it did on 9/11. You always have this kind of response in the immediate aftermath of a sudden tragedy when people are reminded they are not in control of their lives, that there are forces larger than they are at work.
But the reality is that, at this moment in time, the international terror threat has been overshadowed by the economic malaise that grips our nation. This recession has hit the middle class harder than any recession since the Great Depression. It has lingered longer in terms of people’s inability to get a job and in many cases dimmed their hopes for the future.
Americans are increasingly concerned that, when we are borrowing 41 cents of every dollar we spend, we are foreclosing our children and our grandchildren’s futures. Most citizens view this as immoral and nothing less than generational theft that must stop.
BP: August was the bloodiest month ever for American forces in Afghanistan. Opinion polls show that a declining number of Americans believe U.S. troops should be on the ground there. Should we remain?
Land: Yes, I think we should. I think the new strategy is working. The only thing that would defeat [the strategy] is early withdrawal. I would hate to see us repeat the mistake that we made in Vietnam.
In that war we finally got the right strategy in place, and actually militarily obtained our objectives, and then withdrew our troops and withdrew funding for military supplies, like fuel and ammunition, from our allies, the South Vietnamese. At that point, they were no longer able to defend themselves against communist aggression.
If we precipitously pull out of Afghanistan, we will have wasted the sacrifices of the thousands of men and women who have so bravely defended our cause. We will be abandoning hundreds of thousands of Afghans to terrible retribution for having believed us when we said that we would help them defend their freedom. This would mirror America’s action in our abandonment of the Vietnamese who believed us when we told them we would help them defend their freedom.
BP: So we are at risk of history repeating itself.
Land: Well, as Mark Twain is said to have uttered, “History doesn’t repeat itself — at best it sometimes rhymes.” You know, 750,000 people who believed us in Vietnam went to concentration camps once the communists took over. Many never left those camps alive. And in Afghanistan, they probably will be killed as they were in Cambodia, rather than sent to concentration camps.
BP: As we look toward 9/11/2011, what is the proper response on the part of evangelicals? What should we contemplate about that day? How should we mark that day as parents, as leaders in the church?
Land: We should mark it with solemn observances in memory of those who so tragically died on that day. They went to work that morning with no understanding that they were going to die a horrible death a few hours later. We should remember in prayer the loved ones they left behind who continue to cope with the loss of husbands, fathers, sons and brothers as well as wives, mothers, daughters and sisters.
Also, we should be encouraged in our resolve to stand strong against the terrorists who seek to destroy our way of life and be grateful that significant headway has been made in destroying al-Qaeda, up to and including the death of Osama bin Laden and several of his prominent followers.
However, we should not take delight in the death of Osama bin Laden. Ezekiel 33:11 tells us God does not delight in the death of the wicked. God would much rather they repent and turn from their wicked ways.
So, while we are forbidden from taking any delight in the death of even as evil a character as Osama bin Laden, we certainly can take encouragement from the fact that justice has been done and that America is not going to allow the wanton murder of its citizens with impunity.
As Bible-believing Christians, we are commanded to pray for our enemies (Matthew 5:44) that they would come to know the peace that is in Christ alone (John 14:27). But as well, we are to look to our government to stand against the evil that robs innocents of their livelihood and their freedoms (Romans 13:3-5).
Dwayne Hastings is a vice president with the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention.