The War on Terror that was declared after September 11, 2001 soon evolved into a Moslem civil war between those (mainly Islamic terrorists) who want a worldwide religious dictatorship run by themselves, versus those representing the majority of Moslems who are getting tired of being threatened and murdered by Moslem religious fanatics. The majority of Moslems are not against the idea of a global Islamic dictatorship but that plan has never worked and most simply want a better life in a nation that reflects their own local culture as well as “universal Islam.”
The reality is that the War on Terror consists of many individual wars in which local power struggles, often centuries old, have become more violent because Western forces, seeking to eliminate base areas for Islamic terrorists attacking the West disabled local dictatorships that had long kept the local Islamic terrorists under control. But since the 1990s that traditional control has been breaking down anyway and, as has happened so often in the past, the West sent its own forces to deal with the matter. This is not a new problem for the United States and is an ancient one in Europe. For example in the early 1800s American merchant ships were beset by seagoing Moslem terrorists. These were the Barbary pirates, freebooters who operated out of bases in North African ports. The rulers of the North African kingdoms (the Barbary States) tolerated the pirates (considering it their God given right to do so) for a cut of the loot. Nations could protect their citizens from pirate attacks by paying large sums of money (tribute) to the rulers of the North African kingdoms who would then restrain the pirates. Today, we call this a protection racket. America paid the tribute for a while, but when asked to pay even more, the cry went up, “millions for defense, not one cent for tribute.” In went the U.S. Navy and Marines and that was the end of the Barbary pirates. Thus the Marine Corps hymn contains the line, “to the shores of Tripoli”.
The situation today is very similar. The pirates are now terrorists. They are not just interested in plunder and enslaving people, but also in mass murder and pursuing ideological and religious goals. The most active international terrorism organizations are al Qaeda and ISIL (Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant). Both use a franchise approach and anoint local Islamic terrorist groups worldwide as a local branch in return for allegiance.
Originally the franchise system worked as long as the headquarters had a country where they could operate. Al Qaeda took refuge in Afghanistan, Iran, Iraq and Sudan, not the Barbary States. The main bases were first in Afghanistan, a nation without a seacoast. The Barbary pirates were allowed to operate for so long because no one wanted to spend the substantial money required to launch a major military operation to attack the host nations and shut it down. Eventually America did, and it worked. But today we have a situation where, for years, America has protested the sanctuary terrorists are given in some nations. Before 2001 Afghanistan was under UN sanctions for harboring terrorists and refused to take action. Afghanistan was not willing to negotiate. At least the Barbary States were willing to make deals.
Moslems do not like to discuss this problem openly and especially not with non-Moslems. But the newly developed global media (satellite TV) and communications (the Internet) made it impossible to keep the nasty secret hidden. Soon Moslems were talking about the problem in their own media but still resisted admitting anything was wrong to non-Moslems. In fact it is still popular in Moslem nations to blame the West for the creation of al Qaeda, ISIL and other Islamic terror groups. How anyone, especially a Moslem, could believe this is lost on most Westerners. But this sort of fantasy has long been popular in many parts of the world.
This religious radicalism has always been around because Islam was born as an aggressive movement that used violence and terror to expand. Past periods of conquest are regarded fondly by Moslems, who are still taught by many of their religious leaders and teachers that non-Moslems ("infidels") are inferior and must be converted or killed. The current enthusiasm for violence in the name of God has been building through most of the 20th century. Historically, Islamic radicalism has flared up into mass bloodshed periodically, usually in response to corrupt local governments, as a vain attempt to impose a religious solution on some social or political problem. These past outbreaks were usually over before the rest of the world even heard about them. Rulers of Moslem majority nations learned how to deal with these religiously inspired outbursts because those that did not soon disappeared.
The current violence is international because of the availability of planet wide mass media (which needs a constant supply of headlines), and the fact that the Islamic world is awash in tyranny and economic backwardness. This is why the Arab Spring uprisings, and their desire to establish democracies, may do some permanent damage to the Islamic terrorism tradition. Since 2001 there has been more condemnations of Islamic radicals by Islamic clerics and media in Moslem nations. These changes have not come as quickly as many hoped, but at least they finally arrived. This came as a surprise to many Moslems. That’s because the past has had a huge influence on Islamic societies. For many, this resistance to change is considered a religious obligation. Many Moslems consider democracy a poisonous Western invention. There is still a lot of affection for the clerical dictatorship of legend; a just and efficient government run by virtuous religious leaders. The legends are false and there are centuries of failed religious dictatorships to prove it. But this legend have become a core belief for many Moslems and tends to survive assaults by reality or the historical record.
Islamic radicalism itself is incapable of mustering much military power, and the movement largely relies on terrorism to gain attention. Most of the victims are (and always have been) fellow Moslems, which is why the radicals eventually become so unpopular among their own people that they run out of needed support (cash and recruits) and fade away. This is what is happening now. The American invasion of Iraq could be seen as clever exploitation of this, forcing the Islamic radicals to fight in Iraq, where they killed many Moslems, especially women and children, thus causing the Islamic radicals to lose their popularity among Moslems. The sharp decline in the Islamic nation opinion polls was startling. When ISIL showed up a decade later the same pattern repeated itself.
Normally, the West does not get involved in these Islamic religious wars, unless attacked in a major way. Moreover, modern sensibilities have made retaliation difficult. For example, fighting back is considered by Moslems as culturally insensitive ("war on Islam") and some of the Western media have picked up on this bizarre interpretation of reality. It gets worse. Historians point out, for example, that the medieval Crusades were a series of wars fought in response to Islamic violence against Christians, not the opening act of aggression against Islam that continues to the present. Thus, the current war on terror is, indeed, in the tradition of the Crusades. And there are many other "Crusades" brewing around the world, in the many places where aggressive Islamic militants are making unprovoked war on their Christian and non-Moslem neighbors. Political Correctness among academics and journalists causes pundits to try and turn this reality inside out. But a close look at the violence in Africa, Asia and the Middle East shows a definite pattern of Islamic radicals persecuting those who do not agree with them, not the other way around.
While Islamic terrorism grabs most of the headlines, it is not the cause of many casualties, at least not compared to more traditional wars. Thus the current spike in deaths is not due so much to more Islamic terrorism but because ISIL has taken control of territory in Syria and Iraq and is waging conventional military operations to defend and expand it. Same situation in Nigeria with Boko Haram.