Yemen and the Spread of Al Qaeda
April 1983 – a scared 20-year old landed, all alone, in Sana Yemen – two days late because he had been “detained” by the police in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia, so the man who was supposed to meet him, wasn’t there.
That person was me. I was there to help rebuild some Yemeni villages which had been destroyed in the Christmas earthquake of 1982. I didn’t know anyone there, I didn’t speak Arabic, and I knew nothing about rebuilding stone houses – other then that, I was ready to go.
I lived for three months in a tent in central Yemen – what was then known as North Yemen. My first day “on the job” was quite a fright. When the one jeep we could find dropped us off, it seemed the whole village erupted in a fight. Men yelling, women hiding – and then a machine gun came out. I thought this was the end of my short-lived “missionary” career. The next thing I knew, about 5 men jumped into the back of the jeep which had just dropped me off and raced over the hill (there was no road). Then I heard gunfire. Ten minutes later, the jeep raced back and they invited me for lunch.
Naturally, I asked what was going on – they casually responded that the “evil tribe” over the hill had been caught stealing a sheep and they went to take revenge. I didn’t ask what kind of revenge. Then we sat down to eat (sheep, by the way).
In 1983, as now, Yemen was/is a country stuck in the 12th Century in many ways. There are reasons for this. Their main crop and “export” doesn’t actually go anywhere – they grow it and then sell it to themselves. It’s called “Qat.” It’s a mild narcotic leaf that you chew. So….they have no economy, and they’re all slightly buzzed.
Yemenis are the best people in the world. They are the most hospitable and generally friendly people I’ve ever met. But they are poor with no hope of anything other than a lifetime of poverty. It’s similar to the slums you’d find in Gaza, or Cairo or parts of Baghdad – not just economically without, but politically poor. No hope, and no hope for hope.
Insert into this scenario some radical Islamic teaching, and kabang – you can easily recruit someone to commit an otherwise unthinkable act of terrorism! This issue is not new and it’s not “Islamic.” It’s the Drug Cartels of Columbia (Catholic). It’s the mass murders in Congo (Animist). It’s the Buddhist regime of Myanmar. It’s the past in Rwanda (Christian and Animist). It’s wherever you find hopelessness.
So what can we do? Bring hope! Be Hope Brokers! Ultimately, that hope is found in the good news of Jesus Christ. And we can begin by giving some initial hope to places like Yemen by supporting them in three ways. I call it the “Three E’s of National Success.”
• Economic Development. Help with micro-enterprise strategies.
• Educational Reform. Go teach. Help teach the teachers.
• Entrepreneurial enterprise. Think. Help a nation like this with the unique gifts God has blessed you with. It’s not that Yemenis are dumb – not at all. They’re just stuck.
Being a Hope Broker is fun. It’s adventurous and doesn’t take us much work as you might think! Go for it…