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August 10, 2006

Last week, I flew from London's Heathrow airport to New York. Today, officials have uncovered a major terrorist plot to blow up a group of planes on that same route. This is America and the world in 2006, and we are getting used to it. This time they got the bad guys, thank God. Next time, they may not.

As I look out on the busy streets of Manhattan, I see people with focus, accustomed to threats and shocking news, and determined to go on, while fully aware things are disjointed and not right. I always try to talk to the cabbies I meet. Whether they are from Pakistan, India, Ghana, or other Asian and African nations, as they zigzag the streets and avenues and dodge the two-wheeled messengers, they listen to the news, and they know what's happening.

Father J: "Are you happy to be in America."

Cabbie: "Yes, I like America."

Father J: "What do you think about Iraq and Lebanon?"

Cabbie: "Not good, not good. Crazy."

Father J: "And are things going to get better?"

Cabbie: "Not good, not good."

The conversations are not deep, but the conclusions are similar to the ones I hear even after hours of serious debate with experts. Things don't look good. Things are crazy.

Things are crazy because hatred is not a building — it can't be bombed. Things are crazy because religious fanaticism is not a person — it doesn't die. Fathers pass on both to their sons, mothers to their daughters, and another generation is born. What will the next generation of Muslims look like? What will they think and believe? What will motivate them? This, more than any military or political strategy, will determine what New York — and middle America, too — will look and feel like in 20 years.

The ultimate answer is not a policy change. It is not dove or hawk-like foreign policy, or even a change in the White House. Let me show you why:

Nobody likes to say his name. It is Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, and he is the leader of Iran. Last month he told the Western world it would have to wait — until August 22 — before Iran would respond to the international proposal for a cessation of their nuclear efforts. A typical game of diplomatic stalling? Not at all.

August 22 is the end of the Iranian month of Mordad, and this year corresponds with the Islamic date of Rajab 28, the day Saladin conquered and entered Jerusalem.

President Ahmadinejad is the most dangerous man on earth because his personal fantasies are reinforced with bad theology. He believes Allah has given him the task to prepare the way for the return of the 12th imam, the "hidden prophet," who disappeared in the year 874 AD, and who will return when the world is prepared to usher in an era of global Islamic justice. The right time for his return, according to the tradition, will be marked by international strife, conflict, and bloodshed. Ahmadinejad has stated publicly and in no uncertain terms, that he and his followers can move forward this apocalyptic timetable.

I don't think anything will happen on August 22, but I do think if President Ahmadinejad had his way, it would. He has suggested the best solution to the conflict in the Middle East is to wipe Israel off the face of the Earth, and he has put his money where his mouth is by providing weapons and moral support to the Hezbollah militia.

As we move forward as a country in these troubling times, our war must be first and foremost against the ideas that shape the hearts of the Muslim masses. We await, with hope, the day a group of strong Muslim leaders will stand up for what is right, and reject the lies of pseudo religion. To do this, they must risk their lives, and some of them will die. That, however, would be real martyrdom, something worthwhile dying for.

What will you do today and then on August 22? I hope you do what I will do — live my day as if it were my first and last. I hope to go about my business, not as usual, but in a better way. I will thank God for every living moment, appreciate and cultivate the relationships I have, and prepare my soul to someday meet my maker.

God bless, Father Jonathan

P.S. My birthday is August 22. Yikes!

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