Looking Back, Looking Forward


Devotional Talk Given at
Brigham Young University-Hawaii

September 12, 2002 
Elder Amos Jordan
Service Missionary

If in recent days you have been tuned into the world at all, you are probably up to your neck in reminders of 9/11, Why then revisit that terrible day yet once again? I suggest we should do so, in part, to honor those who died in the attacks, many of them heroically. We should also remember in order to begin to learn why it occurred and what can be done to prevent its happening again. I will focus my remarks on this "why" and "what."

President Shumway has asked me to share some thoughts with you today about what the events of last September the 11th mean for all our futures. That is a tall order. I begin by disclaiming any pretence of being able to forecast the future.

Rather than claiming any prophetic insight of my own, let me turn to President Gordon B. Hinckley for his view as expressed at General Conference after 9/11. I quote, "The last century has been described as the most war-torn in human history. Now we are off on another dangerous undertaking, the unfolding of which and the end thereof we do not know."

The assaults on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon a year ago were, in President Hinckley's words, acts of "consummate evil." Was the world irreversibly changed thereby? What are the consequences of that dreadful day?

Some of the immediate consequences are already clear. Numerous defensive measures are being implemented in the United States and elsewhere. Those of you who have been traveling by air know that airport security measures -- and resulting delays -- have increased greatly.

When Sister Jordan and I went to Utah a couple of months ago for meetings with the BYU placement folks, she -- not I -- was stopped and searched thoroughly . Amazingly, when we were returning to Hawaii, she -- not I-- was singled out again for a thorough search. If she fits the terrorist profile will any of us ever feel secure again?

Importantly for visitors to America, since Sept. 11, it has become harder to enter and harder to remain illegally in the U.S. As some of you have may have already learned, the Immigration and Naturalization Service, the INS, has become a great deal more strict in many ways. For those who have overstayed their visas, for example, it is adding their names to the "National Instant Criminal Background Check" system which was formerly used only for criminal fugitives.

Make no mistake, however, a determined enemy, sooner or later, will penetrate such defenses. Absolute security in these times, even if law abiding citizens are prepared to give up some of their civil liberties to obtain that security, is not possible. We can lessen, but we cannot entirely eliminate the risks we face. There will be other attacks, hopefully not so deadly as 9/11, but perhaps even more deadly. Although Americans are now the primary targets, they will certainly not be the only ones.

What is this fearsome enemy? What is terrorism? There are no agreed definitions of terrorism. Generally it means, the coercive use of violence toward political goals --destruction and the indiscriminate killing of men, women and children on a scale and in a manner to cause intense, incapacitating fear in the opponent.

Historically, it has been the weapon of the weak against the strong and has been practiced for millennia. It has been called the "poor man's coercive diplomacy". The so-called Irish Republican Army (IRA) has long used it to try, fruitlessly, to extend the Irish Republic's rule over the whole of Ireland. The Jews used it in 1946 on behalf of Israel's independence, blowing up the King David Hotel in Jerusalem killing 91 men, women and children.

In the latter 1950's, when I was an American Army officer in South Vietnam, the Viet Cong -- Vietnamese Communists seeking to extend Communist North Vietnam's rule over the entire country -- were systematically assassinating, one by one, the South's village leaders, in front of the entire village, to terrorize the rural population and paralyze the Southern government's ability to function. Over the past three decades, the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka and the Basques in Spain have used terrorism extensively to try to carve out independent homelands.

A different type of terrorism, state-sponsored terrorism, has also figured prominently in recent decades, The intelligence agencies of Libya and North Korea have blown up civilian airliners with victims numbered in the hundreds. Iran sponsored the terrorists who killed 230 American marines in a barracks bombing in Lebanon in 1983. Iran was probably behind the Khobar Towers car bombing in Saudi Arabia in 1996 that killed 19 Americans.

These two kinds of terrorists, the so-called "national liberation" terrorists and the state-sponsored terrorists that I have been citing were groups that sought, through violence, to achieve their goals, but generally with minimum casualties, reckoning that excesses would damage their cause and alienate potential supporters and recruits.

In the past two decades a quite different sort of terrorist has appeared on the scene -- not replacing but in addition to the earlier terrorists. These are not interested in minimizing casualties, but in maximizing them. They are not interested in negotiating, in gaining a seat at the bargaining table...

As James Woolsey, former head of the American Central Intelligence Agency, puts it, these "terrorists don't want a seat at the table; they want to destroy the table and everyone sitting at it."

In recent years, we have had two prime examples of this new type of what we might call "hyperterrorism." One of the two was the now disbanded religious cult named "Supreme Truth" or Aum Shinrikyo. It was centered in Japan but, with about 50,000 world-wide followers, more abroad than in Japan; it was an international terrorist organization.

In 1995, it burst upon the world's consciousness when its followers released sarin, a highly toxic gas, in Tokyo's subways. The Aum's method of delivery of the gas was crude, but it nevertheless killed 12 people and sickened 5,000. It was trying for thousands killed. Its goal was, first, to take over Japan and then the world.

The second prime example of hyperterrorism is furnished by the Muslim organization -- al-Qaeda. Their aim is, they tell us, to drive Christianity and Judaism out of the Middle East and Muslim lands generally. Al-Qaeda's leader, Osama bin Laden, aspires to rally the Muslim world with the call for a clash of civilizations, between Islam and the Judeao-Christian world. To this end, he aspires to inflict the greatest possible damage and casualties. His particular target is Americans: "Any American who pays taxes to his government is our target, because he is helping the American war machine against the Muslim nation." Given this mindset, it is not surprising that al-Qaeda has shown a great interest in weapons of mass destruction.

Al-Qaeda's first bombing--a car bombing-- of the World Trade Center in 1993 marked the launching of its hyperterrorism. Although it killed 12 and injured 150, it aimed for far greater numbers. Its 1998 car bombings of the American Embassies in Kenya and Tanzania produced deaths in the many hundreds.

While the 9/11 attacks killed thousands, if terrorists were in the future to acquire weapons of mass destruction (WMD) --chemical, biological and nuclear -- casualty figures could climb into the hundreds of thousands, conceivably even higher. Such weapons are the stuff of which nightmares are made.

As an example of hyper-terrorists and chemical weapons: an American Christian extremist group called "The Covenant, the Sword and the Arm of the Lord" was discovered in 1985 to have a cyanide production laboratory and a 30 gallon stockpile of deadly cyanide which was expressly designed to poison the water supply of American cities -- all in order to hasten the Savior's second coming.

As for biological weapons and hyper-terrorists, in the early 1990's, the Aum Shinrikyo tried several times -- unsuccessfully -- to disperse anthrax and botulism -- two of the most deadly biological agents. Had they been successful, the results would have dwarfed their later efforts with sarin. Each person infected with a deadly pathogen becomes a walking biological weapon.

Weapons using nuclear materials come in two varieties: first, the nuclear explosion kind that ended the Second World War; and second, the less devastating but still terrible kind that uses a conventional bomb explosion to spread radioactive materials-- a so-called dirty bomb. The first kind, requiring considerable scientific expertise and resources, is unlikely to be produced by terrorists. If terrorists acquire this kind of nuclear device, it will probably be by theft or purchase.

Dirty bombs are a far easier weapon to make, for materials for them are relatively plentiful; indeed, there are large amounts of radioactive materials around the world. In June of this year, the International Atomic Energy Agency, which is the nuclear watchdog for the world, stated that over 100 countries do not have proper controls over their radioactive materials in industrial and medical uses.

Let us look further at the biological weapons that are now of great concern, after the anthrax scare in the United States that followed 9/11. Biological agents are especially deadly but, fortunately, difficult to weaponize and disperse. As the Aum's failed efforts to spread anthrax and botulism in Tokyo showed, even considerable scientific talent, resources and years of effort do not necessarily result in a usable terrorist tool. But, again, there are ample stocks of such weapons, in Russia for example, that could be stolen or purchased by terrorists. Iraq has stocks of weaponized biological agents and perhaps half a dozen other states as well. So far there is no evidence that terrorists have acquired such weapons nor that they have the ability to use them if they do acquire them.

Let us turn now to the vital question of what motivates hyperterrorists. How do such people justify in their own minds mass murder? It is surely not coincidental that warped versions of religion have been the motivating and justifying force behind each of the versions of hyperterrorism - - Christian, Aum, and Muslim -- that has surfaced . Given the conviction that God wills it, that the conflict is between good and evil, then the normal checks of morality seem to disappear.

Why are Muslims now the hyperterrorists? Does Islam teach the kind of hate and violence that produces 9/11? Or has the religion itself been hijacked by the airplane hijackers?

With more than a billion adherents (nearly 1/5 of humanity,) Islam is the world's second largest and fastest growing religion. Muslims predominate in a great swath of territory from Morocco in the West to Indonesia in the East, from central Africa to central Asia. Most people think of Islam as a Middle Eastern religion, but the bulk of the world's Muslim population (nearly six hundred million) live in four Asian countries, namely, Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.

The Arab word "islam" translates as "submission", meaning submission of one's will to God's will. A Muslim is one who so submits. Islam is a 24 hour a day 7 days a week religion, covering all aspects of life, including political life. While God's absolute sovereignty is recognized by all Muslims, who should be His regents to rule in His stead here on earth has been a source of great division in the centuries since the Prophet Mohammed's death, nearly 1400 years ago. Indeed, and this point is critical, there are widely differing views in Islam on all things political and social and on many things spiritual.

While its adherents believe much of the Bible, as far-- they say--as it is translated correctly, Islam has its own holy scripture -- the Quran, slightly shorter in length than the New Testament. The Quran is to the Muslim what the Doctrine and Covenants is to the Latter Day Saint, namely, a series of revelations directly from God. But unlike the D&C, the Quran -- compiled only after Mohammed's death -- is occasionally ambiguous, even self-contradictory in many matters.

Accordingly, the faithful have to seek guidance beyond the Quran -- they do so from interpretation of the Prophet Mohammed's sayings, conduct and customs. These latter sources of guidance -- compiled long after the Prophet's death-- form what is called the Hadith. When they encounter new problems or ambiguity or contradictions in the Quran or the Hadith, Muslims cannot look to later revelations or a later prophet, for the Prophet Mohammed was Islam's last prophet. (Adam, Abraham, Moses and other Old Testament prophets and Jesus were among his 27 predecessors).

Over the centuries, Islam's scriptures have lent themselves to widely differing interpretations, depending at least in part on the particular political, social and economic circumstances at the time and place of the interpretations. To compound the problem for the guidance seekers, in the Sunni sect of Islam (85% majority ) there are no acknowledged authority figures to pronounce what the Quran or Hadith mean in a particular situation. Day to day, the clergy (ulama) interpret doctrine and the law (Shari'a); some with fire and brimstone, some with moderation.

Muslims believe Islam is the pure Abrahamic religion; it holds many doctrines in common with Christianity. But there is the central theological difference about Jesus. Muslims recognize Him as a prophet, author of miracles, born of a virgin and a paragon of virtue, but it is the grossest heresy in their eyes to proclaim his divinity.

Islam was a vibrant, leading world civilization for nearly a millennium, but for the past two or three centuries the Islamic world has fallen behind in nearly every measure of life. In response, in the past few decades a widespread renewal movement, generally called Islamism, has emerged, primarily seeking to find ways to apply Quranic teachings to contemporary life, especially political life.

Islamism is now a powerful ideological force throughout the Muslim world, not restricted to a radical fringe. Generally it has two broad themes: first, to cleanse society by returning to the principles of the faith and, second, to resist the spiritual pollution and neo-colonialism of the West. In practice, Islamism has generated a host of differing approaches to the problems of modernizing the faith; On the one hand there are moderate reformists -- at the other extreme, radicals preaching "jihad", with all shades of approach in between.

"Jihad", meaning "struggle" is a term worth examining. Contrary to the common assumption among non-Muslims, jihad does not necessarily imply waging war; rather, the struggle, the jihad, may be to overcome one's own personal weaknesses. Jihad, in the sense of waging war, is justified according to the Quran only if it is defensive, not aggressive, and is limited to specific conditions, such as defense of religion and opposition to oppression.

The Quran prohibits the killing of women and children and says "taking of one innocent life is like the killing of all humankind." It further states that all human beings are God's creation and have sacred lives. Yet, those who want to can find other Quranic or Hadith passages that can be interpreted to condone murder. If they so desire, Islam's followers can find signposts in their scriptures that point them down totally different roads.

Why the hostility to the West, especially to Americans? One cause is clear. Corrupt, repressive or dictatorial governments in a number of Muslim countries have produced silent -- sometimes not-so-silent revolts among their citizens. Generally unable to strike out against their own governments some of these citizens have turned their rage against the outsiders who support their hated governments -- especially, the United States.

The other principal policy issue that fuels anti-Americanism in the Muslim world, particularly the Arab part of it, is the unstinting, one-sided support the United States gives Israel in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. In some cases, too, Muslim anger focuses on American leadership in the UN's economic sanctions on Iraq and on the presence of American armed forces in Muslim countries, especially in Saudi Arabia, which holds Islam's two holiest sites. sites.

But the anger, even rage, in some Muslims breasts against the United States is not solely or even mainly because of what it does, but of what they perceive it to be -- a domineering, materialist, immoral and culturally polluting nation with the power to spread its poison around the world.

Ironically, just as the West now feels threatened by the Muslim world, many Muslims feel menaced by the West. Few of them seem to notice that when the West, primarily America, sent its military forces in harms way in recent years it was in almost every case on behalf of Muslims, namely Somalis, Bosnians, Kosovars, Kuwaitis, and Afghans.

What must be done to respond to these challenges of terrorism and resurgent extremist Islam? I suggest there are six tasks to be accomplished. The first one is to find and destroy the terrorists to preclude their striking again.

Unfortunately, as al-Qaeda has demonstrated, the new brand of terrorists is adept at concealment. Organized as a network of small, separate cells, dispersed in scores of nations, the new terrorists are as hard to find as the proverbial needle in a haystack. Yet, accurate and timely intelligence is essential if counterterrorism operations are to succeed. Therefore, unprecedented international cooperation among intelligence agencies is required. To a significant extent since 9/11, that cooperation is beginning to occur.

A second task is to find and eliminate by diplomacy, economic strangulation or military means the bases which the terrorists use. In some cases, these are "failed states", such as Afghanistan, that no longer have effective control over their people and institutions. With the destruction of their Afghan base, al-Qaeda forces are likely to try to establish new headquarters in other failed Muslim states such as Somalia or Yemen.

A third key task is to cut off the terrorists financial support. With a trillion or more dollars legitimately crossing international borders every day in our globalized economy, it is difficult to isolate and eliminate the tiny fraction of that amount supporting the terrorists. But this is being tackled by freezing the assets of organizations suspected of financing terrorists and, second, by trying to shut down the sham banks--fake banks -- that launder illegal funds from such sources as drug smuggling, tax avoidance, and terrorism.

The worst offending country, tiny Nauru, a mid-Pacific island of 12,000 people and eight square miles, has more than 400 sham banks, all with one common post office box address. In the year 2000, a task force of experts listed 6 Asia Pacific nations in addition to Nauru that were money laundering-- Myanmar, Indonesia, the Cook Islands, Niue, the Marshall Islands and the Philippines. Some progress is being made in shutting down these operations but -- again -- complete success is unattainable.

The fourth task, to forge a solid diplomatic front to support the anti-terrorism war, is proving a challenging one. Although the world rushed in with condemnation after the 9/11 attacks and pledged help for anti-terrorism action, much of that support was clearly shallow. Other nations understandably have their own priorities and constraints. Backing for American diplomacy is especially shaky in Islamic states that are exceedingly nervous about any ties to America that might inflame their streets.

The nations of Southeast Asia are being particularly helpful in the counter terrorism coalition. Russia, China and America's NATO allies are also cooperating, as are the various Central Asian republics. Of vital importance, Pakistan's President Musharaff has been actively working with the United States across the full range of anti-terrorism measures. Because of its location and earlier support of the Taliban, Pakistan is a crucial actor but unfortunately a very shaky one. There have already been six attempts on Musharaff's life and radical Islamist elements that are numerous in Pakistan are likely to keep trying. Should Pakistan, with its nuclear capability, fall apart or into the hands of extremists who might supply those weapons to terrorists, it would be a catastrophe of the first order.

The fifth task is to strengthen further homeland defences. Time precludes my exploring the needed measures. I will say only that, while vigorous defenses are required, no country can protect itself by erecting some kind of a wall around itself. For a nation, such as the United States, with massive flows in and out of people and goods, even monitoring and random checking the flows is enormously difficult. Nearly 500 million visitors arrive at America's 301 entry points each year; 140 million of these at our international airports. Each year, too, over 10 million containers full of goods -- those enormous 40 foot long or 12 meter long boxes that you see piled on railroad cars or sidings -- arrive at American ports. Authorities in the U.S. and elsewhere are tightening controls of all kind, on movements of both people and goods, recognizing that they cannot be 100% effective.

A final, sixth and even more challenging task than the ones I have listed remains. Namely, to pull out the roots of global terrorism by significantly improving the condition of people in the miserable, generally misgoverned and poverty ridden societies that kill hope and generate fanaticism. This task, which some have called "draining the swamp", is a necessary one, but a long-range one that cannot produce early results. Moreover, it will likely not entirely eliminate the hard core of hyperterrorists -- messianic terrorists who believe they are Deity's avengers.

Drying up the supply of messianic terrorists can come, in part, from deterring and defending against their actions; but, for the most part, it must come from within a Muslim community that is determined to reclaim its faith from extremists. These extreme elements represent but a small proportion of the community.

So far, however, moderates have mostly been silent, yielding the media, mosques and schools to the fundamentalists. Recent developments in the key Arab nation of Egypt are most encouraging in this regard. Increasingly popular Islamist voices in Cairo are now preaching tolerance and personal piety -- not politics -- in both the media and mosques. This has to occur across the Muslim world.

Above all, we must not let relationships slip into the clash of civilizations that Osama bin Laden and his kind are seeking. President Hinckley has been very plain on this point. Last year, speaking of the events of 9/11, he stated, "This is not a matter of Christian against Muslim's. We value our Muslim neighbors across the world and hope that those who live by the tenets of their faith will not suffer." Three days after 9/11, he had observed, "We are all sons and daughters of God, regardless of our religious persuasion, regardless of our nationality."

The battle in Afghanistan to replace the murderous Taliban regime and to destroy al-Queda there continues, so far successfully. But it is only the opening battle of a long campaign. Military victory there does not mean that Islamic extremism and the hyperterrorism it breeds have been defeated.

In 1905, Russia bloodily defeated a revolutionary uprising and the Tsarist regime seemed secure, only to fall to the revolutionaries 12 years later. Osama bin Laden, or his successors, may yet, in years to come, topple his favorite Arab enemy state, Saudi Arabia or take over a chaotic nuclear-armed Pakistan.

Innocence lost cannot be reclaimed; the world that existed before 9/11 cannot be restored. The anti-terrorist fight we are in is not like any war our various nations have ever fought. There are no opposing states nor armies, no possibility of victory in the classical sense -- with a conclusive surrender in the end. But war it is.

All of us, together, need to support our societies and governments in accomplishing the six tasks I outlined earlier. But, in a very real sense, the ultimate response to this kind of war is in the hands of each of us, as individuals -- that is, we can live our lives normally, refusing to be terrified. Anthrax is not contagious, anxiety is. If we dwell on our vulnerability to every conceivable threat, we will become paralyzed and the terrorists will have won.

The powerful twin forces of an unfolding war against hyperterrorism and an intensifying current of globalization are shifting the ground under our feet. A new pattern of international politics is emerging, the shape of which is still unclear. If hyper-terrorism is as strong a force as many people believe it is -- and we pray it is not -- the protracted war against it could well shape your generation's world as much as the Cold War between the Soviet Union and the West shaped your parents' and grandparents' world. Clearly, you will need to be flexible and informed in order to adapt and succeed in this changing world.

You may feel I have projected a pessimistic future. I have tried to paint a realistic picture which necessarily includes the continuing evil of hyperterrorism. Remember, though, evil has always plagued the earth. Hitler and Pol Pot were only the latest successors to Gadianton as hyper-murderers. And yet, after reverses, civilization has pushed forward, for there are millions, even billions, of good men and women ready to so move it.

As students privileged to attend this university, you are challenged to lead that march forward in your respective homelands. Armed with a fine education, together with an understanding of different cultures that you are gaining here, and a conviction of God's direction in your lives, you are prepared to lead normal lives and contribute to your societies, no matter what international currents swirl about you.

For final advice, let me return to President Hinckley's talk of last October:

"Now Brothers and Sisters, we must do our duty whatever that duty might be. Peace might be denied for a season. Some of our liberties may be curtailed, but God, our Eternal Father, will watch over this nation and all of the civilized world that looks to Him. He has declared, 'Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord'. Our safety lies in repentance, our strength comes of obedience to the commandments of God. There is no need to fear. We can have peace in our hearts and peace in our homes."

It is my prayer that we will follow his counsel and do our part in meeting the challenges that lie before us, in the name of our Savior, Jesus Christ, Amen.