In many parts of the world Islamic terrorism has become fashionable, especially among young Moslem men. It's a coping mechanism for failure. More than half a century after the Arab world once more became free (first from centuries of Turkish rule in 1918, then a few decades of European supervision), the truth has sunk in. While the rest of the world prospered during the last half century, the Arabs are still uneducated, unproductive, poor and ruled by tyrants and kings. What are young Moslems to make of this?
Blaming the Jews has accomplished nothing, except to provide more opportunities to fail. Supporting al Qaeda (with money and volunteers) produced the September 11, 2001 attacks. That had young men dancing in the streets all over the Arab world (much to the chagrin of their elders, and embarrassment of their governments). But the response has led to an even longer list of failures. Not only was al Qaeda, and similar organizations, revealed to be mindless murderers of innocent Moslems (in Iraq, Afghanistan, and several other Islamic nations), but these Holy Warriors proved embarrassingly incompetent when fighting the Crusaders from the West. American troops suffered far fewer casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan than in earlier wars. The casualty rate was actually a third of what it was in Vietnam. While pro-terrorist web sites loved to feature videos of roadside bombs going off and American troops getting shot at, more embarrassing were U.S. videos of Islamic terrorists being caught in the act, and bombed or shot up. Worst of all were those videos, taken by American UAVs or helicopter gunships that showed terrorists trying to plant roadside bombs, which then blew them up because of improper handling (or construction.)
One of the little discussed tragedies of Islamic terrorism is the fact that most of those it attracts are the least capable. Islamic terrorism is not only an act of extremism, but also of desperation of those who have few other prospects. It's an international organization because Islam, in general, has not been amenable to taking advantage of new technology and economic opportunity, except for cable TV and the Internet. That's why the Moslem world has lagged so far behind the rest of the world in the last century. Religious leaders are reluctant to discuss the possibility of Islam being part of the problem, although many educated Moslems are becoming more aggressive in seeking out cultural problems, and proposing solutions. Terrorism is not seen as a practical way out by most Moslems, but the threat of retribution by Islamic radicals makes it difficult for most Moslems to speak up. But in another common pattern the failure of al Qaeda left many young Moslem men believing that the ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant) approach of maximum and unrelenting violence is the only way to go. ISIL showed up in 2013, led by surviving leaders of the failed Iraqi al Qaeda and Sunni nationalist (pro-Saddam) organizations that were defeated but not destroyed in 2008. ISIL is ignoring the lessons of history.
International terrorist organizations are nothing new. They have existed since the 11th century. The first one, back when the world was a smaller place, was the Hassassins (or "hashasheen") of 11th century Iran. Back then, a minor noble with a grudge, and excellent organizational skills, created a network of suicide assassins that were used for many decades until the Mongols came along and destroyed their “impregnable” mountain fortress. The Mongols were not afraid of suicide assassins, but were annoyed by them. Back then, annoying the Mongols was almost always fatal. Our current crop of suicide terrorists do not provide a single fortress to go after, so the Mongol approach of overwhelming force applied to one objective will not work. But the fearless Mongol attitude towards terrorism should be remembered.
By the 19th century we had the first modern international terrorist network; the anarchist movement. This was one of the several collectivist movements to come out of the 19th century (along with the more lethal fascist and communist ideologies.) Anarchists believed that "property is theft" and from the late 19th to the early 20th century killed quite a few crowned and elected heads of state (including U.S. president McKinley) in an effort to get their message across. Bombings were also used, against capitalist targets (like Wall Street, where thirty were killed by a 1920 explosion.) Most Anarchists were peaceful (if loud), and the small radical faction had plenty of places to hide. Many innocents were imprisoned and several executed in the mania to suppress the radical anarchists. None of these efforts succeeded. What killed the anarchist movement, and its radicals was old age. The original late 19th century generation of anarchists was not completely replaced. Meanwhile police action (some were caught), improved working conditions and finally, Stalin (who ordered the communists to kill their Anarchist allies to eliminate rivals during the Spanish Civil war) eliminated the anarchists as a serious threat. There are still a few anarchists left, but most are academic twits who would rather preach than act, or street thugs who take their anarchy literally, more for thrills than anything else.
Religiously inspired suicidal radicals are not new, but they have, in the past, usually appeared in the form of large, organized, groups. Think the original armies of Islam (led by men who knew the Prophet Mohammed personally) or the Crusades (instigated by popes). Religious do not like fanatics, as they are usually heretical (eventually anyway) as well, and difficult to control. Such is the case with most of the current crop of Islamic radical terrorists. The religious beliefs of these murderers is condemned by the mainline Islamic clergy. But if you attack these radicals, you inspire a feeling among many Moslems that Islam itself is being attacked. Just as the anarchists hid among working class people who did not agree with anarchist ideas, so do the Islamic radicals seek refuge among Moslems. This is why the anarchists did not hurt working class folks (at least not on purpose) and the Islamic radicals try to spare Moslems (again, with mixed success.) But the people get the message. These radicals may be SOBs, but they are “our” SOBs. Unlike the anarchists the current Islamic terrorists tend to ignore the “don’t kill lots of potential supporters (other Moslems)” rule. This has become a major problem for Islamic terror groups and some, like al Qaeda, have tried to get members to keep it in mind. But those efforts instead contributed to the popularity of ISIL, which accused al Qaeda of losing its determination to defend Islam.
And then there's the faith angle. The terrorists play this one well, for they do believe they are on a sacred mission. But most other Moslems do not agree with the terrorists. Yes, there is resentment against the West, and even more resentment against the dictators and autocrats that run most Moslem nations. Anti-terrorist efforts are just going to have to live with this. The religious angle has been more bark than bite, and when you are dealing with terrorists who have so much blood on their hands, it doesn't take a theologian to figure out whose side God is really on.