The Importance of Exploiting This Positive Shift

  • 21 September 2008

The PEW Research Center recently published the results of a survey of attitudes in many Muslim countries toward Osama bin Laden and suicide operations that were very significant in light of the continuing and complicated war on terror. The numbers showed that the number of Muslims who support bin Laden and those who approve of suicide missions have precipitously fallen in the last six years.

The answer to the question about the meaning of these findings is multifaceted. First, despite terrorists' abilities to strike here and there around the world, terrorism is losing sympathy and its supporters are discovering its demagoguery. What happened in Iraq is a clear indication. Al-Qaeda came to the country ostensibly to fight foreign occupation in 2003, only to turn against all Iraqis in a bloodbath that forced the tribes to align against it in "awakening councils" that fought and expelled it from their areas. Second, terrorism is losing the war of ideas so that it is no longer able to convince its supporters of the rightfulness of its creed. This is a blow to extremism since the greatest danger from terrorism does not only reside in bloody and destructive attacks but with ideas and proclivities it tries to spread among a willing audience. Third, the matter is not Islam's encouragement of terrorism and extremism, as some have and still claim, but one of some people's hijacking of Islam in order to find a following. Exposing the lie of terrorism will over time push these demagogues to re-evaluate their positions and orientations.

If the war of ideas is the most important and dangerous element in the fight against terrorism, it is important to exploit the results of the PEW survey to finally deny terrorist groups their supporters and advocates. That could happen by instituting policies that address the problems and crises these groups exploit and use in their demagogic attempts to recruit followers. In the forefront of these problems is that of the Arab-Israeli conflict. Finding a comprehensive, acceptable, and just solution to it represents a heavy blow to the forces of extremism and terrorism that feed on and exploit it to further their ends. The same would be true if moderate political and intellectual forces in the Middle East were helped out of a difficult situation in the present atmosphere of conflict that sees no radical or final solution so far.

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