Moslems are beginning to change their attitudes towards Islamic terrorism. Thats a major step forward in the war against terror. That's because, in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001 attacks, opinion surveys throughout the Moslem world revealed that a third of Moslems thought the attacks were justified, and two thirds believed that no Moslems were involved. Moreover, two thirds believed that the attacks were actually carried out by Western intelligence services (those of Israel, the United States and Britain being most often mentioned.) This thinking led to the belief that the American war on terror was, in reality, a premeditated war on Islam. Yes, most Moslems believed that the Westerners would slaughter thousands of their own people just to provide an excuse for a war on Islam.
But there are two other aspects to this that often get overlooked. First, in most Moslem countries, the general attitude towards science and reason is subordinate to fantasy and speculation. A quick glance at Western media would remind us that fantasy and speculation is alive and well here as well. But in Moslem nations, fantasy and speculation is dominant in the news. This was long a secret known only to a few diplomats and sociologists (and the U.S. Army Special Forces, which has more Arab speakers than the State Department.) But the Internet now provides English language versions of media in Moslem nations, and this allows anyone to go see for themselves just how different the news reporting and interpretation is over there.
Finally, we have the Moslem clergy. These men are the major source of hatred for the West in the Moslem world. The reason is simple. Most Moslems, especially young ones, when exposed to Western culture, begin to question their faith. Islam (which means submission) demands blind acceptance of Islamic religious practices and beliefs. Moslems believe that Islam is the final stage of the religion that originated with the Jews and was modified by the followers of Jesus. Islam is the end of the road, and there is no room for change. While there are many Islamic clerics and religious scholars who have worked out ways to adapt Islam to modern science and culture, these fellows are not the problem. The Islamic conservatives recoil at any contact with the West, realizing that the Islam they know and practice cannot survive those encounters. Meanwhile, most Westerners are mystified by all the hatred directed at them. Many Westerners blame the hatred on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. But thats just a side show. The Islamic conservatives hate what the West stands for. Freedom, especially in thought, is not what conservative Islam is all about. Such worship of the good old days is not unique to Islam. Other religions have had similar attitudes. But you dont see Amish suicide bombers invading Pennsylvania malls. Some conservative Jewish and Hindu groups have resorted to violence to protect their way of life, but not to the extent of militant conservative Moslems.
Fortunately, the Islamic conservatives turned out to be right about one thing. Continued contact with the West is changing the way Moslems think. Over the last three years, more and more Moslems have come to realize that it was Moslems that committed the September 11, 2001 massacres. Osama bin Laden admitting it, and his followers patting themselves on the back for it helped. But the numerous mass murders of civilians by Islamic terrorists has become impossible for even Moslems to explain away with fanciful explanations. Iraq has been a real turning point. In the beginning, even many Iraqis believed that the al Qaeda attacks, which killed so many Iraqi civilians, were somehow staged by the American. No more. Not only have the Iraqis concluded that Islamic terrorism is evil, but so have most Moslems in the rest of the world. The conspiracy theories about the CIA staging terrorist attacks can still get traction, as can stories about mass rapes of Iraqi women by American soldiers, and similar atrocities. But the dark secret about Islamic conservatives is out in the open. The Islamic conservatives are still there, still spewing their hate, and still being listened to by some. And many of those that listen to the hateful talk about evil Westerners are still willing to act on it. The catch is that the Islamic reactionaries now find themselves confronting fellow Moslems more often. And their fellow Moslems dont like Islamic terrorism any more than New Yorkers do.
But every silver lining has a few tarnishes on it. Saudi Arabia, which really got into counter-terrorism last year after suffering their first al Qaeda attacks, have now seen a lot of public opinion regressing. While most Saudis condemned al Qaeda last year, this year many are again blaming America for all their troubles. The old ways may not be right, or useful. But they are comfortable and convenient. Islamic terrorists will be around for a while. Religious hatred is long lasting. It took Europe centuries to get rid of the worst of it. Islam is just getting started. But at least the reformation is under way.