`It's a war of ideas'
Islam talk a first for Reclaiming America rally
By James D. Davis -Religion Editor

Posted March 3 2007

American leaders -- teachers, journalists, elected officials -- failed to warn America about radicals waging war in the name of Islam, a scholar of Islam told more than a thousand listeners at a conservative rally Friday.

"We are being targeted by the worldwide jihad movement, and we were not informed -- not in the classroom, the newsroom, the courtroom, the art room, the war room," said Walid Phares, addressing the annual Reclaiming America for Christ conference in Fort Lauderdale.

"It is not political or economic," he said. "It's a war of ideas."

Phares, from the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington, D.C., was one of nine speakers for the first day of the conservative-minded conference, held at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale. Other scheduled speakers included Baptist activist Richard Land, religious broadcasting chief Frank Wright and veteran conservative leader Phyllis Schlafly.

In the first-ever talk on Islam for the decade-old Reclaiming America conference series, Phares painted the modern jihad movement as a throwback to beliefs of the seventh-century Islamic empire. Modern jihadis want to overthrow 50 Muslim states worldwide and reunite them in the old empire, Phares warned.

"In some ways, they're like that TV show Star Gate," said Phares, a former professor at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton. "They're people from the past, who come to the present and think nothing has changed."

He said anti-jihadi leaders in his native Lebanon wrote essays against the militants in the 1970s and 1980s, which were largely ignored in the West. "All the signs of aggression and attack, and the dissident and reformist messages, were disregarded.

"We are facing off with an enemy that has been in preparation for decades," he said.

He recommended that the United States form alliances with the growing number of Muslim reformist and democratic groups, both in Islamic countries and in western nations. Those opportunities include a groundbreaking summit of Islamic secularists set for Sunday and Monday in St. Petersburg, at which Phares will speak.

The conference went on despite the absence of its founder, the Rev. D. James Kennedy, who has been sidelined since a cardiac arrest Dec. 28. Kennedy was flown Thursday afternoon to a hospital in Michigan for further rehabilitation, Coral Ridge officials reported.

"The main guy isn't here, but the main guy's purpose is instilled in all of us," Brian Fisher, executive vice president of Coral Ridge Ministries, said in an interview. He said he didn't know to which hospital in Michigan Kennedy was transferred.

Conference participants echoed Fisher's remarks, saying they were glad Kennedy was getting more treatment.

"He's an awesome man, and he has good people working with him," said Jackie Hodges, a product director with a bank card company in Benicia, Calif. "I'm confident he'll return. Meanwhile, maybe he'll have some time alone with God."

The last day of the conference starts at 7:30 a.m. today with anti-abortion priest Father Frank Pavone, followed during the day by Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council and columnist Ann Coulter. Last-day admission is $75. For information, call 954-334-5355.

**James D. Davis can be reached at jdavis@sun-sentinel.com or 954-356-4730.