The Americans love to be bi-partisan and united when comes to foreign policy. And they fill their newspapers and TV programs with the like-minded who tell them what they want to hear; no matter what the realities are around the world. One day its a column like this, and the next day reports come in from Europe that in every country where polling was done a majority hold the US partially to blame for what happened on 9/11.
The Extremists Are Losing
By Fareed Zakaria
Tuesday, September 3, 2002; Page A17
In one of his legendary moments of brilliance, Sherlock Holmes pointed the attention of the police to the curious behavior of a
dog on the night of the murder. The baffled police inspector pointed out that the dog had been silent during the night. "That was
the curious incident," explained Holmes. Looking back over the past year, I am reminded of that story because the most
important event that has taken place has been a non-event. Ever since that terrible day in September 2001, we have all been
watching, waiting and listening for the angry voice of Islamic fundamentalism to rip through the Arab and Islamic world. But
instead there has been . . . silence. The dog has not barked.
The health of al Qaeda is a separate matter. Osama bin Laden's organization may be in trouble, but -- more likely -- it may be
lying low, plotting in the shadows. In the past it has waited for several years after an operation before staging the next one. Al
Qaeda, however, is a band of fanatics, numbering in the thousands. It seeks a much broader following. That, after all, was the
point of the attacks of Sept. 11. Bin Laden had hoped that by these spectacular feats of terror he would energize radical
movements across the Islamic world. But in the past year it has been difficult to find a major Muslim politician or party or
publication that has championed his ideas. In fact, the heated protests over Israel's recent military offensives and American
"unilateralism" have obscured the fact that over the past year the fundamentalists have been quiet and in retreat. Radical political
Islam -- which had grown in force and fury ever since the Iranian revolution of 1979 -- has peaked.
Compare the landscape a decade ago. In Algeria, Islamic fundamentalists, having won an election, were poised to take control
of the country. In Turkey, an Islamist political party was soon to come to power. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak's regime was
terrorized by groups that had effectively shut down the country to foreign tourists. In Pakistan, the mullahs had scared
Parliament into enacting blasphemy laws. Only a few years earlier, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini had issued his fatwa against the
novelist Salman Rushdie, who was still living under armed guard in a secret location. Throughout the Arab world, much of the
talk was about political Islam -- how to set up an Islamic state, implement Islamic law and practice Islamic banking.
Look at these countries now. In Iran, the mullahs still reign but are despised. The governments of Algeria, Egypt, Turkey and
(to a lesser extent) Pakistan have all crushed their Islamic groups. Many feared that, as a result, the fundamentalists would
become martyrs. In fact, they have had to scramble to survive. In Turkey, the Islamists are now liberals who want to move the
country into the European Union. In Algeria, Egypt and elsewhere they are a diminished lot, many of them reexamining their
strategy of terror. If the governments bring them into the system, they will go from being mystical figures to local politicians.
Many Islamic groups are lying low; many will still attempt terrorism. But how can a political movement achieve its goals if none
dares speak its name? A revolution, especially a transnational one, needs ideologues, pamphlets and party lines to articulate its
message to the world. It needs politicians willing to embrace its cause. The Islamic radicals are quiet about their cause for a
simple reason. Fewer and fewer people are buying it.
Don't get me wrong. This doesn't mean that people in the Middle East are happy with their regimes or approve of American
foreign policy, or that they have come to accept Israel. All these tensions remain strong. But people have stopped looking at
Islamic fundamentalism as their salvation. The youth of the 1970s and 1980s, who came from villages into cities and took up
Islam as a security blanket, are passing into middle age. The new generation is just as angry, rebellious and bitter. But today's
youth grew up in cities and towns, watch Western television shows, buy consumer products and have relatives living in the
West. The Taliban holds no allure for them. Most ordinary people have realized that Islamic fundamentalism has no real
answers to the problems of the modern world; it has only fantasies. They don't want to replace Western modernity; they want
to combine it with Islam.
Alas, none of this will mean the end of our troubles. The Arab world remains a region on the boil. Its demographic, political,
economic and social problems are immense and will probably bubble over. Outside the Middle East, in places like Indonesia,
the fundamentalists are not yet stale. But you need a compelling ideology to turn frustration into sustained, effective action. After
all, Africa has many problems. Yet it is not a mortal threat to the West.
Nor does it mean, alas, the end of terrorism. As they lose political appeal, revolutionary movements often turn more violent.
The French scholar Gilles Kepel, who documents the failure of political Islam in his excellent book "Jihad," makes a comparison
to communism. It was in the 1960s, after communism had lost any possible appeal to ordinary people -- after the revelations
about Stalin's brutality, after the invasion of Hungary, as its economic model was decaying -- that communist radicals turned to
terror. They became members of the Red Brigades, the Stern Gang, the Naxalites, the Shining Path. Having given up on
winning the hearts of people, they hoped that violence would intimidate people into fearing them. That is where radical political
Islam is today.
For America this means that there is no reason to be gloomy. History is not on the side of the mullahs. If the terrorists are
defeated and the fundamentalists are challenged, they will wither. The West must do its part, but above all, moderate Muslims
must do theirs. It also means that the cause of reforming the Arab world is not as hopeless as it looks today. We do not
confront a region with a powerful alternative to Western ideas, just a place riddled with problems. If these problems are
addressed -- if its regimes become less repressive, if they reform their economies -- the region will, over time, stop breeding
terrorists and fanatics. The Japanese once practiced suicide bombing. Now they make computer games.
It might be difficult to see the light from where we are now, still deep in a war against terrorists, with new cells cropping up,
new forms of terror multiplying and new methods to spread venomous doctrines. But at his core, the enemy is deadly ill. "This is
not the end," as Winston Churchill said in 1942. "It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is the end of the beginning."
The writer is editor of Newsweek International and a columnist for Newsweek.