During the 1990s, Harvard scholar Samuel Huntington's Foreign Affairs article, "The Clash of Civilizations," echoed all over the world. After the 9/11 attacks in 2001, many people thought we were in the middle of the clash that Huntington warned about. Five years later, it is quite clear we are not. Instead, as the world's leading civilization, the United States faces assaults from forces that wish to bring an end to global civilization.

We are facing assaults by a worldwide ideological phenomenon that President Bush has termed "Islamic fascism," also referred to as Islamofascism. One example of Islamofascism is the theocratic Shi'a regime that rules Iran and the political group allied to it in Lebanon—Hezbollah. Other examples include al Qaeda–backed terrorist groups in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere that are targeting Americans and other Western nations.

It's a complicated picture.

Al Qaeda and other extremist Muslims despise even Islamic states such as Saudi Arabia, a country where theocratic followers of Wahhabism (named after the fanatical Islamic revivalist Muhammad ibn Abd-al-Wahhab, 1702–1793) have dominated the country's religious life through a Faustian pact with the Saudi royal family. Wherever ultra-radical Islam has come to power, it has created a totalitarian Islamic state fanatically hostile to Jews, women's freedoms, Christians, democracy, and—yes—music.

A few Americans believe we are in an all-out war with all of Islam. That is not the case. To advocate such a conflict plays into the hands of violent extremists. The overwhelming majority within the Muslim world does not wish to see a restored fundamentalist caliphate. It does not hate Jews or want to see the U.S. vanish.

However, Islamic moderates face a couple of challenges. One is financial. Saudi oil money ($70 billion by one estimate) has financed fundamentalist Islamic centers all over the world, including in the United States. That money spreads the poison of Wahhabism, which feeds potentially violent fanaticism.

Another challenge is the narrow box of thought into which Islamic philosophy has been pushed since the 12th century. Historians acknowledge a "golden age" of Islamic culture, from the 8th to the 12th centuries, when Arab civilization was more advanced in medicine, science, and philosophy than Christendom. During that period, Muslim rulers and scholars were tolerant of other cultures and beliefs, including Christianity. But near the end of the 12th century, a dogmatic interpretation of Islamic theology overthrew Islamic philosophy. Put simply, the triumphant view was that Allah was so arbitrary and all-powerful that he didn't need to be either reasonable or logical. Speculative science and philosophy became a no-no in the Islamic world. In 1192, Islamic leaders (ulama) in Cordova, Spain, acted on this concept by publicly burning books from a huge library of scientific, astronomical, and medical works.

This rejection of scientific speculation has lasted into the modern era. As Stanley Jaki, a renowned physicist and Roman Catholic priest, has written, "What is occurring in the Muslim world today is a confrontation … between a very specific God [an Allah who doesn't have to be reasonable] and science, which is a very specific antagonist of that God … in whom the will wholly dominates the intellect." In other words, how reasonable Muslims wish to be depends on their view of how reasonable Allah is.

Pope Benedict XVI may have been tactless in his much-protested speech in Regensburg, citing critical words of Byzantine emperor Manuel II Paleologus that Islam has brought "only evil and inhuman things." Yet the emperor's larger point was profound and correct: You cannot have a peaceful dialogue with another faith tradition if that faith tradition does not concede the universal and inherent validity of reason.

"Violence is incompatible with the nature of God and the nature of the soul," Benedict said. "Whoever would lead someone to faith needs the ability to speak well and to reason properly, without violence and threats." Evangelicals would surely agree.

Evangelical Christians, of course, have the calling to proclaim the gospel to the whole world, including to Muslims. In doing so, we need to remember that a small but highly dangerous group of Islamic extremists wishes to destroy global civilization and impose totalitarianism. This group's first targets are Christians, Jews, and moderate Muslims. For al Qaeda and its supporters, the Good News of Jesus Christ is like garlic to Dracula. But it should be the sweet savor of blessing, hope, and, yes, reason to that part of the Islamic world—the majority—that has a right to look back on its ancient past with pride.

Related Elsewhere:

Christianity Today's articles on terrorism are available on our site.

"The Clash on Civilizations" by Samuel Huntington was first published in Foreign Affairs.

David Aikman writes the column Global Prognosis for Christianity Today.

Have something to add about this? See something we missed? Share your feedback here.

Global Prognosis
David Aikman is professor of history and writer-in-residence at Patrick Henry College and wrote for Time magazine from 1971 to 1994. Among his books are Jesus in Beijing and A Man of Faith: The Spiritual Journey of George W. Bush. His column, "Global Prognosis," ran from 2006 to 2007.
Previous Global Prognosis Columns:

Our digital archives are a work in progress. Let us know if corrections need to be made.