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FIRST-PERSON

Osama bin Laden's worst nightmare

By Mark Coppenger

EVANSTON, Ill. (BP)--Investigators increasingly are calling the September 11 horror the work of Osama bin Laden and his ilk. Assuming that is so, let me sketch the following scenario, one which would prove to be his worst nightmare Culturally proud, financially preoccupied, religiously heterodox or indifferent New York finds itself at prayer as it has not been since the great prayer revival of 1857. The same is true for the nation. Awakening dawns on the land, and the churches are filled with those seeking relief from sin-sickness, misdirection and circumstantial despair. They find Christ in staggering numbers.

American Muslims are hit with a double, cognitive whammy. On the one hand, they begin or continue to connect the dots which trace an unflattering picture of their religion. Yes, they know the mantra about this being the work of extremists, and that the vast majority of Muslims are immune or hostile to these terrorist impulses. But in moments of reflection, they wonder at the fact that Islam so seldom issues in the sort of freedom, democracy and prosperity to which they've come in America. They begin to consider whether something might be amiss at the core of their religion.

On the other hand, they're generally treated with respect and kindness in the wake of the terror. Media, government and religious leaders jump to the defense of these citizens, condemning guilt by association. To make sure there is no misunderstanding, Christians invite their Muslim neighbors to dinner, to family outings and such. These invitees can't imagine similar treatment of Christians in Cairo, Khartoum, Riyadh, Baghdad, Amman, Damascus, Islamabad, Jakarta or Tripoli should planes piloted by skinhead "Christians" be crashed into their tallest buildings.

Other distinctions begin to dawn on them, and they weigh anew the claim that Jesus is the Son of God. As thousands turn to the Lord, the growth of Islam in America is stunted, and the worldwide fortunes of Islam begin to decline.

The Nation of Islam (neither a nation nor Islam) is increasingly embarrassed by its very name. Kareem Abdul-Jabbar reverts to Lew Alcindor, Muhammed Ali to Cassius Clay and Ahmad Rashad to Bobby Moore.

Struck by the way in which the reign of Christ in the hearts of their former detractors has given them uncommon peace and security, Israelis give fresh thought to the notion that Jesus is, indeed, the Messiah. Many are converted, and charity flows in stunning fashion to their Palestinian neighbors in Gaza, Hebron and Jericho.

Indigenous Christian evangelists emerge in Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Yemen and Afghanistan. Some of the early ones are martyred, but others immediately arise to take their place. Before long, the man in the street has no stomach for the sight of government oppression. He begins to find his leaders cowardly in their fear of foreign ideas. He joins with others in the clamor for change.

As Muslim countries grant religious freedom, China begins to feel more heat for its treatment of Christians and the Falun Gong. As the Olympics near and international pressure and the fruit of worldwide spiritual awakening increase, Peking makes unheard of concessions to religious groups. Christianity, already vital in China, begins to grow exponentially as the gospel is even preached at rallies in Tiannemen Square.

And so it goes. Meanwhile, bin Laden continues to succeed in eluding his pursuers. Shivering in a cave in the Hindu Kush, he wishes he could rebuild the World Trade Center, by hand if necessary, to reverse this terrible thing that he and his followers have wrought. He'd been right to think that there was much that pleased Satan in America, but he hadn't wanted the change to come from the Son of Man, the one ordained to crush Satan's head.

His eye falls on a bulge in a nearby knapsack. There's that Gideon Bible he lifted from a hotel room on a clandestine trip to New York years ago. He decides to give it a look, to get a better fix on what's happening....

Grant it, Lord.

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