Paul Marshall

Senior Fellow
Freedom House-Center for Religious Freedom
The War on Terrorism in Light of Radical Muslim Violence
Paul Marshall is senior fellow at the Center for Religious Freedom, Freedom House, Washington, D.C., America's oldest human rights organization. He is the General Editor of "Religious Freedom in the World" and the author of a best-selling, award-winning survey of religious persecution worldwide titled "Their Blood Cries Out." In speeches introducing the International Religious Freedom Act in the U.S. Senate, it was described as "a powerful and persuasive analysis" and an "exhaustive survey, which simply cannot be ignored." He has lectured at the State Department, the Helsinki Commission, Asylum Bureaus of the I.N.S., and spoken on human rights at the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, Beijing. He is the author and editor of eighteen other books and booklets on religion and politics, forty scholarly articles, a dozen briefs to government bodies, and hundreds of popular articles.

The War on Terrorism in Light of Radical Muslim Violence

I am concerned here with radical Islam, or Islamism, or Islamofascism, and particularly its violent elements. By radical Islam I mean those with global goals to restore a unified Muslim ummah, ruled by a new Caliphate, governed by reactionary version of Islamic sharia law, and, for the violent ones, organized to wage jihad on the rest of the world (1). This grouping might not include Muslims, including terrorists, who have local goals, for example in Kashmir, Chechnya or in the Palestinian areas.

My concern is that many of our policy makers, professors and pundits continue to view these movements through a hackneyed enlightenment lens that results in a narrative largely shaped by the categories of first world/third world, globalization, ethnicity, U.S. foreign policy, and Middle Eastern nationalism. To the degree our views of the nature and goals of Islamofascism are shaped by these categories, we are consistently misinformed about the nature of this conflict.

In this paper, my Christian perspective is very thin. I maintain that people's religious beliefs motivate what they do, that such beliefs are part of the explanation for their actions, and that if we are to understand our present conflicts, we must take them seriously. One does not need to be a Christian to believe these things, but Christians, presumably, think our own beliefs have some causative force in our lives, and so are more open to thinking that about others than is the average secularist. In any case, it is my experience that may of our secular analysts continue to ignore and downplay religious motivations, rationales and goals.

Osama bin Laden maintains "It is a religious-economic war… Therefore, religious terms should be used when describing the ruler who does not follow God's revelations and path and champions the infidels by extending military facilities to them or implementing the UN resolutions against Islam and Muslims. Those should be called infidels and renegades…. the confrontation and conflict between us and them started centuries ago. The confrontation and conflict will continue because the conflict between right and falsehood will continue until Judgment Day." Osama bin Laden, March 2004.

Al Qaeda's manual begins by recalling not the birth of Israel nor the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan but "the fall of our orthodox Caliphates on March 3, 1924." Osama Bin Laden's November 3, 2001 videotape similarly proclaims, "Following World War I, which ended more than 83 years ago, the whole Islamic world fell under the Crusader banner…." For them, a key turning point of history is the abolition of the Caliphate and the fragmentation of the ummah by Mustapha Kamal Ataturk through his creation of modern Turkey. Their central grievance, continually expressed, is the collapse of the Islamic world in the face of "Christendom," a collapse explained by Muslims' apostasy from Islam and which can be reversed only by returning to their version of Islam.

On August 23, 1996, bin Laden issued a "Declaration of War Against the Americans Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places (2)."  Its focus was, as its title implies, the Arabian peninsula, but it also described Muslims whose "blood was spilled in Palestine and Iraq. The horrifying pictures of the massacre of Qana, in Lebanon, are still fresh in our memory. Massacres in Tajakestan, Burma, Cashmere, Assam, Philippine, Fatani, Ogadin, Somalia, Erithria, Chechnia and in Bosnia Herzegovina took place, massacres that send shivers in the body and shake the conscience…." It culminated with "the latest and greatest of these aggressions, incurred by the Muslims since the death of the Prophet," the presence of the "American Crusaders and their allies" in Islam's holiest places. In response, remembering the defeat of the "Russians in Afghanistan, the Serbs in Bosnia, and their current fighting in Chechenia and Tajikistan," he called for "jihad against the Kuffar (unbelievers) in every part of the world…(3)" 

He mentioned the Palestinians, but, since he believes that nationalism is apostasy, his concern was not a people fighting for a homeland but that infidels controlled the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the Furthest Mosque, the destination of the Prophet's Night Journey, Islam's third holiest shrine (4).  He described Israel as part of Arabia and so accused the Israelis of "annexing" the "northerly part" of the land of the two Holy Places, so that all three of Islam's holiest places lie under the feet of infidels.

While the three shrines remain central to bin Laden's worldview, he also insisted that all lands that have ever been ruled by Muslims must now be returned to their control. The year following his "Declaration of War" he reiterated that "Jihad will remain an individual obligation until all other lands that were Muslim are returned to us so that Islam will reign again:  before us lie Palestine, Bokhara, Lebanon, Chad, Eritrea, Somalia, the Philippines, Burma, Southern Yemen, Tashkent and Andalusia (Spain) (5). 

On February 23, 1998, bin-Ladin and Zawahiri, along with "Abu-Yasir Rifa'i Ahmad Taha, Egyptian Islamic Group, Shaykh Mir Hamzah, secretary of the Jamiat-ul-Ulema-e-Pakistan, and Fazlul Rahman, amir of the Jihad Movement in Bangladesh," released the manifesto of their "World Islamic Front for Holy War Against Jews and Crusaders (6)."  It echoed previous statements, indicting the Saudis for "Suspension of the Islamic Shari'ah law and exchanging it with man made civil law" and allowing "crusaders" into "the land of the two Holy Places." Meanwhile it expounded on the worldwide war against Islam waged by Indian Hindu, Burmese Buddhist, Russian, Ethiopian and Eritrean Orthodox and, above all, Zionist Jews and, the leader of the whole kuffar cabal, the Crusader Americans. It also demanded the return of "Andalusia," Spain, to Islam (7).

Zawahiri, the late Zarqawi, Ahmadinejad and other Islamists consistently repeat such sentiments, and their deeds comport with these statements. For more than a decade the democratic world, including India, the Phillipines and Thailand, and Muslim majority democracies such as Indonesia and Bangladesh, has been under attack by a violent apocalyptic religious network. Their attacks have been accompanied by a plethora of videotapes, audiotapes, declarations, books, letters, fatwas, magazines and websites giving an articulate theology and view of history to justify its actions in terms of Islamic practice and law. Throughout the world, its members methodically kill those opposed to its version of the Caliphate, whether Muslim or non-Muslim, left or right, American, British, Israeli, Australian, French, Indian, Algerian, Sudanese, Thai or Filipino, whether or not supported by the United Nations. The death tolls in conflicts with radical Islam are greater in Nigeria, Indonesia, Chechnya, India, Algeria, South Sudan, and Darfur than they have been in Israeli-Palestinian conflicts.

Bin Laden and his confreres are indeed concerned about America, Israel, the Palestinians, Iraq and Afghanistan. But they are especially concerned about Saudi Arabia and the Al-Aqsa mosque, and continually point to attacks by infidels in Lebanon, Tajikistan, Burma, Kashmir, Assam, the Philippines, 'Fatani,' 'Ogadin,' Somalia, Eritrea, Chechnya, Bosnia, 'Bokhara,' Bangladesh, Turkey, Chad, Mauritania, south Sudan, Darfur, Algeria, the Philippines, Yemen, 'Tashkent,' Indonesia, and East Timor. They are in a global war until judgment day.

In this case, we need to think beyond the Middle East and begin to consider what war with a global, and still ascendant, apocalyptic movement involves.

© Copyright 2007. All rights reserved. Center for Christian Studies at Gordon College.


1. Apart from articles cited elsewhere in the notes, this chapter also draws on my "The Next Hotbed Of Islamic Radicalism," Washington Post, October 8, 2002; "Political leaders can no longer ignore religion," Dallas Morning News 040503; World silence over slain Muslims," Boston Globe, 10/13/2003; "Radical Islam's Move on Africa," Washington Post, October 16, 2003; "The Southeast Asian Front," Weekly Standard 04/05/2004; "Four Million: The number to keep in mind this November," National Review Online 082704; "The Islamists Other Weapon," Commentary, April 2005.

2. Since there may be differences between various Islamist terrorists, I have focused on the utterances of bin Laden and his reputed deputy, Ayman al-Zawahiri.

3. Washington Post 230896; "Declaration of Jihad," August 23, 1996, in Bruce Lawrence, ed., Messages to the World: The Statements of Osama Bin Laden (New York: Verso 2005), pp. 25.

4. In a December 2001 interview, Zawahiri acknowledged that he and his confreres had been "the least active in championing the Palestinian cause." 

5. CNN March 1997, quoted in Peter L. Bergen, Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (Free Press, 2001) p. 53.

6. "Jihad Against Jews and Crusaders." Ibid, "The World Islamic Front," Bruce Lawrence, pp.58-59

7. Interview with bin Laden December 1998, broadcast on Al Jazeera 092001, translated by BBC Monitoring Service 092201. Zarqawi, who professed allegiance to bin Laden in October 2004, refers in a September 11, 2004 audiotape to Musa Ibn Nusayr, the conqueror of Spain; Ibid, "A Muslim Bomb," Bruce Lawrence, p. 73


Peter L. Bergen, Holy War, Inc: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden (Free Press, 2001)
Brad K. Berner, ed, Jihad, Bin Laden in His Own Words (Booksurge, 2006)
Hillel Fradkin and Hussain Haqqani, eds., Current Trends in Islamist Ideology, vols. 1, 2, 3 (Hudson Institute, 2005-6)
Bruce Lawrence, ed, Messages to the World: the Statements of Osama bin Laden (Verso, 2005)
Paul Marshall et al, Islam at the Crossroads (Baker, 2002)
Paul Marshall, Radical Islam's Rules: the Worldwide Spread of Extreme Sharia Law (Rowman and Littlefield, 2005)