Some secular thinkers believe that human beings are evolving into more mature moral and ethical beings. The news from Mali calls that idea into question.
Mali, a West African country larger than France, has been in the news a great deal lately. Until about nine months ago, the dominant religion in the country was a moderate form of Islam. Christians lived in safety in this country alongside their Muslim neighbors.
In the spring of 2012, a coup in the capital city of Bamako left a power vacuum which allowed Al-Qaeda rebels to seize the northern part of the country. The rebels have imposed strict sharia law, including punishment by beheading and amputation. Public trials and sentencing have left public squares awash in blood as hands and feet have been chopped off publicly for crimes such as petty theft. Women are required to cover themselves head to toe, and have been publicly flogged or whipped for wearing makeup or for failing to cover their hands.
The legitimate government of Mali has been completely unable to control the north. As a consequence, the United Nations authorized military assistance, but required training of Mali’s own military prior to sending any forces. Currently, France is assisting the government in a limited fashion, bombing terrorist strongholds and attempting to impede rebel movement toward the capital city.
As a consequence of the imposition of extreme sharia, Christians in Mali are now seriously at risk. Any Christians who resided in the north at the time of the rebel invasion were forced to flee to the south, because Al-Qaeda does not tolerate any religion except Islam. Christians who fled to the southern part of the country last spring are now faced with the threat that the rebels will seize the capital and take control of the entire country. It is very dangerous to be a Christian in Mali today. Last year Mali did not even appear on the list of the fifty most dangerous countries for Christians. This year, Mali is number 7. Iran is number 8 on the list, which shows how drastically the situation in Mali has changed.
The current activity of Al-Qaeda in Mali is a reminder that the death of Osama bin Laden was not the death of violent Islamic extremism. It was not even the death of Al-Qaeda, as many people had expected. Like any organization worthy to exist at all, Al-Qaeda was not dependent on the presence of Osama bin Laden. Al-Qaeda was not and is not a personality cult. It is a powerful, well-organized movement with distributed leadership that can survive a hit on any single leader. The very visible activity of Al-Qaeda in Mali is like a rock sticking up from a reef in the ocean; what you can see is only a hint of what actually exists. It would be easy to strike the reef, or to encounter Al-Qaeda, and be harmed by the encounter without even realizing that you were in danger.
Christians must pray with and for Christians in Mali who do not know from day to day if they can even venture out in public. If they have escaped to the south, they may be safe for the moment, but as long as Al-Qaeda’s objective is to capture the whole country, Christians cannot afford to be careless. Christians in the USA must be alert to the message that Al-Qaeda, the mastermind of the destruction on September 11, 2001, is still at work. Al-Qaeda has one goal – to take the world for Allah. As their action in Mali demonstrates, they want to convert or cleanse away the infidels that pollute the globe.
Therefore, as Christians pray for those in Mali who suffer persecution, torture and death, Christians must pray for wisdom and vigilance in their own countries. Militant Islam may not be dominant among all Muslims, but militant Islam is extremely active and aggressive.
In the USA after the Civil War, white people who could not tolerate the new world in which black people were free with full rights of citizenship organized against the new world they could not accept. The Ku Klux Klan was a vile club whose members including professing Christians. To this day, some black people equate white Christians with the Ku Klux Klan, because the wounds that the Klan inflicted were so horrific. An inability to forgive an organization that doesn’t even exist anymore is exactly the same unforgiving attitude as the attitude of the organization they despise. Christians who equate every Muslim with Al-Qaeda are guilty of the same sort of blindness and unwillingness to forgive as the black people who equate white Christians with the Ku Klux Klan. To say that is to call Christians to be vigilant without being hateful. We must recognize and resist aggression against our country and our culture, but we must simultaneously be true to Christ’s teaching to love our enemies and pray for them. We must love all Muslims, violent or not, being harmless as doves while we exercise serpentine wisdom to protect ourselves and our families. It is hard. Jesus never said it would be easy. Pray that God’s love will truly cover the earth as the waters that cover the sea.