It’s James Beverley week on the Faith Today blog. We will be featuring some of our favourite columns from a writer who has informed and challenged Faith Today readers for years. We have a copy of Mormon Crisis: Anatomy of a Failing Religion to give away to the blog reader who can answer this question correctly: What was the name of Beverley’s first book?
By James A. Beverley
Not since 9/11 have so many people been so preoccupied with Islamic terrorism. What happened?
The video warning from earlier this year  is clear. “[This] is a message to Canada and all the American tyrants: We are coming and we will destroy you.”
As hard as it is to imagine, these words are from an unidentified Canadian Muslim who joined the Islamic State, the new terrorist group in Iraq and Syria. Like others in the video, he burns his passport before issuing the threat.
Not since 9/11 have so many people worldwide been so preoccupied with Islamic terrorism. What happened?
The short answer is Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi happened. The long answer goes back to the rise of militant Islam after the Iranian revolution (1979), the creation of Israel (1948), the breakup of the Ottoman Empire (1923), the borders drawn by the Sykes-Picot Agreement (1916), the Christian Crusades (1095-1291), the Sunni-Shia split in Islam (680) and the life of Muhammad (570-632).
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi emerged in 2010 as the leader of the Islamic State, then known as al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). He was born in Samarra, Iraq in 1971 and is a well-educated Sunni Muslim. He may have been a militant under Saddam Hussein and a prisoner of the American forces from 2005–2009. His real name is believed to be Awwad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai.
Under al-Baghdadi, the AQI became so brutal that he was kicked out of the al-Qaeda movement in February 2014. The shocking brutality has continued under the new name, with the takeover of Mosul (June 10), public executions of enemy soldiers, start of a Yazidi slave trade (the Yazidi are a minority polytheistic group in Iraq) and the widely publicized beheadings of Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff and Englishmen Alan Henning and David Haines.
All this led world leaders to a frenzied though necessary response. The Islamic State is now the target of an international military coalition that includes Canada.
Is the demise of the Islamic State ensured? Will Syria and Iraq be saved? Can the Middle East get back to normal? Sadly, the answer to each question is no.
Why such pessimism?
First, there has been no normal in the Middle East since the end of the Ottoman Empire, if normal means relatively stable political and social life. Think of ongoing battles between Jews and Arabs (1920 to today), coup in Egypt (1952), revolution in Iran (1979), killing of Anwar Sadat (1981) and Taliban takeover (1996).
More recently, think of the overthrow of Morsi in Egypt (2013) and the failed Arab Spring (2011–present). Think dictatorships (with the exception of Israel), torture, poverty and – especially where there’s oil wealth – corruption.
Second, ideological hatred and bloodshed have run so deep in Iraq and Syria for so long that peace is impossible, at least in the short term.
In Iraq, it was already clear that old Sunni-Shia tensions were rising again before the American forces pulled out in 2011. The Islamic State owes much of its initial popularity in northern Iraq to the government’s mistreatment of Sunnis, a majority in that region.
And the Assad regime in Syria seems a puzzle no Middle Eastern or Western power can solve.
The only good thing that can be said about the Islamic State is that it’s so bad it’s forcing bitter enemies to work harder at stabilization. But don’t sing kumbayah just yet.
Third, the Islamic State is well armed (courtesy of weapons left behind by the American and Iraqi armies), committed and widely admired by radical, militant Muslims all over the world. To accurately imagine an IS terrorist, you need to picture someone who is university educated, from a middle-class family, trained under Wahhabi Islam (an austere Sunni sect exported by Saudi Arabia) and who absolutely hates the United States, Israel and any form of moderate Islam.
In Canada, the impact of radical Islam has moved beyond verbal threat to death with the killings of Canadian soldiers near Montreal and in Ottawa in October. This is Canada – not Mosul, Baghdad or Damascus.
The military battle is ultimately an ideological one over the nature and destiny of modern Islam. On this, thankfully, most of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims hate jihadist, radical Islam, and it is those Muslims who are the chief victims of terrorism.
Christians have a duty here to help Muslims of all kinds consider Jesus and His gospel of peace and new life. All Canadians – Christian, Jew, Muslim and otherwise – should pray as never before: “God keep our land, glorious and free.”
James A. Beverley is professor of Christian thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary in Toronto. This article first appeared as a column in Faith Today, Canada’s Christian magazine. Read more of Beverley’s columns here.