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Ten years after hijacked airliners were crashed into the World Trade Center towers and the Pentagon, how has our world changed? What are the current dangers that may lead to the collapse of Western society?
On September 11, 2001, a stunned world watched as tragedy struck the twin towers of the World Trade Center in New York City, the giant symbol of Anglo-American domination of world finance. Tens of millions of people were watching live on television when a hijacked commercial airliner struck the WTC. Minutes before, another plane had smashed into the first tower. Soon, in Washington, DC, a third hijacked jet would strike the Pentagon, the symbol of United States military strength. A fourth hijacked jet failed to reach its target, crashing in a Pennsylvania field. Together, the attacks killed nearly 3,000 people and horrified millions of shocked onlookers around the world.
But the horror was not universal. In some cities around the world, people rejoiced and even danced in the streets. U.S. President George W. Bush quickly declared war on al Qaeda, the shadowy organization of radical Islamists who took credit for the attack. The first U.S. troops were deployed to Afghanistan in October 2001, and to Iraq in March 2003, but it would be nearly a full decade before Bush's successor, President Barack H. Obama, would announce on May 2, 2011 that U.S. Navy Seals had killed al Qaeda head Osama bin Laden in a firefight near Karachi, Pakistan.
September 11, 2011 marks a full decade since the "9-11" attack. How has the U.S. changed since that watershed event? How has the Muslim world changed? And, looking at these events through the eyes of Scripture, what can we expect in the future?
The WTC had been a jihadist target long before the "9-11" attack. On February 26, 1993, a radical group with connections to al Qaeda detonated a well-constructed homemade bomb in the WTC parking garage. The bomb—about 1,500 pounds of urea nitrate explosive in a rented van—was parked next to a structural element in the garage. The plan was to make one tower collapse into the other, thus destroying both. How close did the terrorists come to success? The WTC's architect later testified that if the van had been parked closer to the building's poured concrete foundation, the tower would have fallen ("An Icon Destroyed," Newsweek, September 11, 2001).
Seven people, including an unborn child, died in the February 1993 attack, and another thousand were injured, mostly from the subsequent evacuation of the building. Victims sued the New York and New Jersey Port Authority, owner of the buildings. The court found the Port Authority 68 percent responsible, and the terrorists only 32 percent responsible. The country went back to business as usual. The jihadists went back to planning their next attack.
Nine days after the 9-11 attack, President Bush spoke to a joint session of the U.S. Congress and declared what he called a "War on Terror." In addition to troops sent abroad, this war led to a range of new security measures unprecedented in U.S. history. In October 2001, Congress passed stringent new legislation, dubbed the "Patriot Act," giving the government more power than ever to conduct surveillance on law-abiding U.S. citizens as well as suspected criminals. A federal Department of Homeland Security was established in November 2002.
Some of the most visible changes have been at airports, where passengers face strict regulations about the transport of liquids and sharp objects. Shoes, coats and computers are inspected closely, and people who do not consent to "full body scans" face "pat-downs" that many consider an assault on both privacy and dignity. Away from airports, security in other public places has also increased, along with a proliferation of metal-detecting devices at building entrances.
Domestic terrorism has become a major concern, as U.S. officials encounter "home-grown" Islamists influenced via the Internet by radical Muslim clerics. One such case was the November 5, 2009 shooting spree at Fort Hood, Texas, where Major Nidal Hasan—a U.S. army psychiatrist who had expressed upset about his imminent deployment to Afghanistan—was arrested and charged with killing 13 people and wounding 29 others. Witnesses report that Hasan entered a building on the Army base, shouting "Allahu Akbar" ("God Is Great") while firing on dozens of people before police subdued him. Witnesses report that Hasan was a devout student of Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Muslim cleric who is a dual citizen of the U.S. and Yemen.
Much debate has gone on between those who favor giving the U.S. government increased powers of surveillance and prosecution of terrorism and those who reject such increases as a betrayal of the nation's ideals of freedom and liberty. Some have suggested that simply by prodding the U.S. to clamp down on its citizens' liberties, the terrorists have "won" their battle against Western values even without firing another shot or exploding another bomb. Others point out that, while the U.S. has implemented "politically correct" security procedures that seem to give equal scrutiny to a 25-year-old single male from Egypt and a 95-year-old great-grandmother from Canada, other nations have implemented overt "profiling" of suspected terrorists based on ethnic, national and demographic characteristics. Critics say that while the U.S. security apparatus can only screen for bombs, the Israelis (for example) can also screen for terrorists.
Despite the ongoing debate about security "at home," Americans can point to what seems to be relative success in anti-terrorism efforts. Since the 9-11 attacks, the bulk of successful terrorist activity has occurred outside North America, while thousands have died in jihadist attacks in Muslim countries. Even so, their presence has been felt in the West. Radical Muslims were blamed for March 11, 2004 train bombings in Madrid, Spain, which killed 191 people and wounded about 1,800. Suicide bombers in London killed 52 people and wounded about 700 on July 7, 2005 when they carried out coordinated attacks on four public transportation targets.
In the U.S., well-publicized failures such as the "Shoe Bomber" and the "Underwear Bomber" have left many wondering whether there are many other attacks being stopped before they occur, or whether the new generation of terrorists is simply inept. Aside from occasional scares by "Beltway Snipers" or other small-scale incidents, it would seem that anti-terrorist efforts have enjoyed significant success in curtailing major threats across the U.S. and Europe. Overall, jihadists have been far more successful attacking Western-allied Muslim nations than Western nations.
Autocratic governments have traditionally been the norm in the Middle East. The tribal social structure of Arab society has lent itself well to such governance. Yet, this has not prevented simmering unrest from building as citizens react against the corruption, oppression, poverty and uneven wealth distribution they see in their nations.
Tunisians overthrew their government in December 2010, and the "Tunisian wind" has since blown through Egypt, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Libya. Western governments are taking notice as protesters call for democracy in their nations; some are calling the unrest an "Arab Spring" that they hope will lead to the formation of Western-style liberal democracies across the Middle East.
Characteristic of this hopeful view has been U.S. President Barack Obama. In a statement to the press on May 19, he said: "We face an historic opportunity… There must be no doubt that the United States of America welcomes change that advances self-determination and opportunity… After decades of accepting the world as it is in the region, we have a chance to pursue the world as it should be.… So in the months ahead, America must use all our influence to encourage reform in the region.… Let me be specific. First, it will be the policy of the United States to promote reform across the region, and to support transitions to democracy."
But is the President realistic in his view? Many across the Middle East have a very different vision. In the past, when Muslims have had the opportunity to vote, they have often voted for Islamist, anti-Israel candidates. When Israel gave the Palestinians control of the Gaza Strip, everyone expected them to vote for the Palestinian Authority and to attempt to seek peace with Israel. In fact, they supported Hamas—an Islamist political party that Western democracies label as a terrorist organization.
Opinion polls show that significant majorities in many Arab countries favor the establishment of Sharia law, derived from the Qur'an and centuries of Muslim jurisprudence. Several nations, such as Afghanistan, Iran, Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Yemen already have Sharia law in some form. Others, such as Egypt, Morocco, Jordan, Pakistan, Syria, Qatar and United Arab Emirates, mix Sharia with other systems. To the great surprise of many Western analysts, University of Maryland researchers polled Arab nations and found that substantial majorities in Pakistan, Egypt and Morocco favored the establishment of the Caliphate—which would mean autocratic Islamist rule!
Far from voting to establish liberal, Western-style democracies, Middle Eastern countries—if they are given the chance to vote—could very well choose Islamist governments like those of Gaza or Iran. Rather than establish a liberal democracy, the current democratic movements in Middle Eastern Islam could very well bring on a charismatic leader to establish a Caliphate and rule autocratically.
What Western politicians hope will be the "Arab Spring" may turn out to be the "Islamic Winter."
As the Western nations tire of protracted wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, and prepare to withdraw their troops, a "power vacuum" is being created. Contending Muslim forces are jockeying for position to fill the void. Iran, with its majority of non-Arab Shiite Muslims, is sensing the opportunity to assert much more influence in the region, which is alarming many Arab Sunni Muslims.
Recent rebellions against autocratic Muslim leaders in North Africa have led some hopeful Western analysts to foresee an "Arab spring" that will bring greater democracy to the region. Yet a closer analysis reveals that Islamist winds are blowing across the Middle East with strength far greater than the "winds of democracy." Secular Western thinkers often fail to recognize that the winds of democracy and Islam may blow together for a time, as opportunistic Islamists use democracy as a tool to topple the secular opposition and institute Sharia law.
What does Scripture tell us about the times ahead? The prophet Daniel long ago described the end-time events we are beginning to witness today: "And at the time of the end shall the king of the south contend with him; and the king of the north shall come against him like a whirlwind, with chariots, and with horsemen, and with many ships; and he shall enter into the countries, and shall overflow and pass through. He shall enter also into the glorious land, and many [countries] shall be overthrown; but these shall be delivered out of his hand: Edom, and Moab, and the chief of the children of Ammon. He shall stretch forth his hand also upon the countries; and the land of Egypt shall not escape. But he shall have power over the treasures of gold and of silver, and over all the precious things of Egypt; and the Libyans and the Ethiopians shall be at his steps. But tidings out of the east and out of the north shall trouble him; and he shall go forth with great fury to destroy and utterly to sweep away many. And he shall plant the tents of his palace between the sea and the glorious holy mountain; yet he shall come to his end, and none shall help him" (Daniel 11:40–45, ASV).
This "king of the South" will be a great leader, likely the head of a Muslim coalition, who will attack or challenge a great northern power in Europe. Europeans are well aware of the threat of Islam. For more than a thousand years, Muslim armies occupied large swaths of European territory. In western Europe, Spain, southern France, southern Italy and Sicily were occupied, and large parts of eastern Europe were also under the Caliphate's control.
Today's Islamists still consider these once-conquered territories as rightfully theirs. Hassan al-Banna, the founder of Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, wrote, "Andalusia [the Muslim name for Spain], Sicily, the Balkans, south Italy, and the Roman sea islands were all Islamic lands that have to be restored to the homeland of Islam…it is our right to restore the Islamic Empire its glory" ("Understanding the Muslim Brotherhood," Wall Street Journal, February 15, 2011, p. A13).
Secularism is the status quo in Europe. Laicism—the practice of barring religious expression from public life—is public policy in France. Yet, many leaders in the EU are calling for an official return to Europe's "Christian" roots as a foundation for European unity. The EU needs greater European unity—in the form of federal control of member nations' fiscal policies—for economic union to prosper and the euro to survive and be strong.
One powerful spur toward unity in Europe is the threat of resurgent Islam. Already, several EU nations are facing ongoing conflicts between their Muslim populations (largely fueled by immigration) and historic cultural norms. Bible prophecy indicates that at the end of this age, a "king of the South" will form a powerful force to threaten Europe. The prospect of conflict with a Muslim-dominated "king of the South" would not only drive Europe's nations closer together; it would intensify ethnic and cultural tensions between Europe's growing Muslim minority and its "Christian" majority. It may be the union of Muslims outside Europe that succeeds in producing the continental unity that Europeans have not been able to accomplish by themselves.
A Vulnerable United States
Ten years after the "9-11" attacks, America remains vulnerable. However, its greatest vulnerability is not its heavily policed airports, but rather its financial strength. Thanks to decades of deficit spending on wars and social programs, U.S. sovereign debt is exploding, and is now almost equal to the nation's Gross Domestic Product. All credible analysts agree that the present course is unsustainable. Even the security of U.S. Treasury bills, notes and bonds is coming into doubt, and the economic strength that has long been the engine of U.S. power is coming into question.
The U.S. has always taken great pride in its financial strength, and in the power that strength projects. Now, however, the nation's economic dominance depends more and more on its ability to borrow massive sums from creditors abroad, a practice it cannot sustain economically or politically. At the same time, the U.S. continues to move further and further away from the Bible-based ethic that once provided a powerful foundation of the nation's moral sense of right and wrong. As a result, we are seeing a widespread moral decline at the same time we are seeing the start of a broad decline in the wealth and power of the nation.
Few observers recognize that there is a connection between the nation's power and its obedience to God. God says that it is He who gives people the power to get wealth. "Beware that you do not forget the Lord your God by not keeping His commandments… when your heart is lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God… then you say in your heart, 'My power and the might of my hand have gained me this wealth.' And you shall remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you power to get wealth, that He may establish His covenant which He swore to your fathers, as it is this day" (Deuteronomy. 8:11–18).
God also said of a disobedient nation, "… I will break the pride of your power" (Leviticus 26:19).
What happens when God withdraws His blessing from a country? Collapse can occur suddenly, whether it is a company or a country. Consider Lehman Brothers, the big Wall Street firm that held a AAA credit rating until just before its bankruptcy. And consider the sudden jolt to the U.S. economy in September 2008 when the "sub-prime mortgage crisis" came to a head. Now it is the towering U.S. debt load that is about to collapse. And with the loss of its unblemished AAA status, how much lower will the U.S. credit rating fall?
When a stick is bent, it flexes at first. Then, if increasing pressure is applied, it will break suddenly. The economies of the U.S. and Britain are still standing—like the WTC towers shortly after the airplanes hit—but they are weakening as they bend. Serious trouble is ahead. If the U.S. and Britain continue to weaken their credit standing, their economies could collapse like the WTC towers, leaving untold damage in their wake.
The events of "9-11" set off a chain of events that are speeding the fulfillment of end-time prophetic events, setting the stage for a final time of great tribulation before the return of Jesus Christ. Many will be taken by surprise, but you as a Tomorrow's World reader have had advance warning. Will you be prepared when that time comes?