This is a tale worthy of the Bard when he wrote, "O cunning enemy that, to catch a saint, With saints dost bait thy hook."
Matthew Smith is a self-described convert to Islam, a 32-year-old truck driver who also goes by the name Yusuf living with his parents in the suburbs of London. On his Indigo Jo blog Smith linked recently to a review of the book Global Jihad written by Patrick Sookhdeo with this mocking headline: "Review of rotten book by the Sookhdevil." To make a long story short, Sookhdeo ultimately found himself on the receiving end of some Islamic threats-but more to his sorrow, he says, ostracism by evangelical leaders who should be allies.
Sookhdeo's name will be familiar to WORLD readers. The former Muslim is the director of the Barnabas Fund, an aid group that assists Christians facing persecution, particularly in Muslim countries. Sookhdeo holds multiple doctorates, taught at various British military institutions, and served as a guest lecturer at NATO. As head of the Institute for the Study of Islam and Christianity for more than 20 years, he is a recognized religious authority who began his career as a parish priest in the Anglican church.
And so it's ironic that the hypercritical review appeared on the respected Anglican website Fulcrum, authored by Ben White. While academics praised the book upon its release, one calling it "a hard-hitting exposé of jihad-all 1,400 years of it," White said it distorted Islamic theology by calling its "violence and domination" intrinsic to "classical" Islam.
Perhaps such criticism isn't altogether surprising, particularly from a writer who favors Hezbollah and Palestinian militants, as White does. His review trucks in every warmed-over jihadist sympathizer's laments: Osama bin Laden is the product of the U.S. arming of Afghan mujahideen in the 1980s. U.S. support for the Shah of Iran beginning in the 1950s is the reason we have a terror-sponsoring Islamic republic in Iran today.
But why did Fulcrum publish it? Why did White wait until January 2009 to write up his serious objections to a book released in November 2007? Why did he send the review to Smith-igniting not only the radical Islamic blogosphere but the evangelical Christian one as well?
Perhaps the answer is that attacks on Sookhdeo and others who speak against Islam's violent roots are flowing now that power has shifted on both sides of the Atlantic to leaders who favor a soft approach to Islamic radicalism. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has banned his ministers from using the word "Muslim" in any connection with "terrorism." President Barack Obama, too, is avoiding linkage between "Islam" and "terror," and like Brown has ordered an end to the phrase "war on terror." Obama wants to reach out to "moderate" elements of the Taliban, which, when it controlled Afghanistan, held weekly events in Kabul's sports stadium where its operatives cut off the hands of pickpockets and stoned adulterers buried up to their shoulders midfield.
As this political turnabout emboldens left-leaning evangelicals who favor the soft approach, they appear ready to turn against the critics of Islam within their own churches.
Evidence of that banishment came to light amidst the White-Sookhdeo controversy. Last year a group of 22 British evangelicals held an "invitation-only" meeting at All Nations Christian College to draft a soon-to-be released document called "Gracious Christian Responses to Muslims in Britain Today." Not on the invitation list: Sookhdeo, Sam Solomon, Dennis Wrigley, and Baroness Caroline Cox (WORLD's 2004 Daniel of the Year)-arguably Britain's most internationally known evangelical experts on Christian-Islamic relations. In addition to Sookhdeo, Solomon also is a former Muslim, a leading imam before his Christian conversion-prompting Spectator correspondent Melanie Phillips to call the meeting an effort by fellow Christians "to discredit and stifle those Christians who warn against the Islamization of Britain."
It's noteworthy that some of the most astute critics of Islam have spent time living in countries dominated by its ideology. They have a perspective we in Western churches should want to hear.
If you have a question or comment for Mindy Belz, send it to firstname.lastname@example.org.