Saturday, December 31, 2005

2005: A Year of Hard Fought Progress

The war with radical Islamism has two main components: a military and intelligence campaign against al Qaeda and its affiliated jihadist terror organizations; and a long-term struggle against the ideology of Salafist-Jihadism. Both aspects of the conflict will continue for many years. The origins of Jihadism as both a movement and an ideology go back decades if not centuries, so defeating it will likewise require a long, patient, sustained commitment on the part of America and the West. Sadly, we remain in the early phases of this struggle. However, 2005 saw real if uneven progress against the jihadists on both the counterterror and ideological fronts.

In terms of the campaign to defeat al Qaeda and its affiliated terror networks, Dan Darling provides a good overview of the progress made, and the enormous amount of work still to be done. The main danger, as terrorism expert Steve Emerson points out, is the sense of complacency that seems to have developed among many in the U.S. Al Qaeda and its allies remain a dangerous adversary, determined to pursue our destruction for reasons that long predate George W. Bush's election as President.

Jihadist terror networks exist in dozens of countries covering almost every continent, using the Internet to communicate and propagandize, and connected by transnational sources of funding. It will take many years to root them out in detail, and there will sadly be more successful terror attacks in the meantime. The key is to prevent the jihadists from launching catastrophic attacks such as 9/11, let alone using weapons of mass destruction. It is simply not possible to stop every terrorist attack everywhere. However, by relentlessly pressuring and disrupting the Jihadists, we can prevent al Qaeda from fulfilling its pledge to kill 4 million Americans.

As far as defeating jihadism as an ideology, progress has been made in that area as well. For one thing, as notes, al Qaeda's "successes" at murdering innocent Muslims in Iraq, Jordan, and other Arab countries have gone a long way towards turning mainstream Muslim public opinion against the Jihadist movement. Meanwhile, American relief efforts in both Indonesia and Pakistan have proved quite successful at improving public attitudes towards the U.S. in those two crucial Islamic nations. Finally, the U.S. has finally begun to implement information programs designed to counter the constant barrage of anti-American incitement coming from dictatorships, media outlets, and mosques throughout the Muslim world.

Perhaps the most important development of 2005 was the nascent movement towards democracy in much of the Muslim world. 2005 saw historic elections take place in Iraq and Afghanistan, Syria forced to release its stranglehold on Lebanon, and the first stirrings of democratic change occur in Egypt. While this progress was very much uneven, Freedom House noted in its annual global freedom survey that "[t]he people of the Arab Middle East experienced a modest but potentially significant increase in political rights and civil liberties in 2005".

The Jihadist movement hates and fears the spread of democracy in the Muslim world, and with good reason. The best way to defeat the ideology of Jihadism lies in offering the Muslim world a credible choice to the totalitarian Salafist vision. Only democracy offers such a hope. The brutal dictatorships and corrupt autocracies currently ruling most of the Middle East are very much part of the problem. These regimes have directly or indirectly enabled the rise of radical Islamist movements, while actively preventing the rise of any liberal alternatives. By encouraging democratic change, we give Arabs and Muslims a choice other than either continued dictatorship or jihadist fanaticism. Democracy will give Muslims hope for a better future; a say in their own lives; empower opponents of the Islamists to speak out; and afford Muslims the opportunity to take responsibility for their own societies instead of blaming all their problems on the "infidels".

Some have argued that trying to foster the spread of democracy in the Middle East is hopeless. However, the distinguished historian Bernard Lewis has pointed out that there is nothing inherently undemocratic about Arab or Muslim political culture, while polling evidence shows that majorities in many Muslim countries do in fact support democracy. Most important, if we allow radical Islamism to remain as the only alternative to the current state of affairs in the Arab Middle East, we all but guarantee that the Jihadist movement will ultimately reshape the Middle East in its own image, with horrific consequences.

While the emerging democracies in Iraq and Afghanistan are far from perfect and have a long way to go, they offer hope that Muslims can enjoy a future free of brutal despots and jihadist fanatics. This is why it is vital that America stay the course in both countries. To be sure, this process will prove long and difficult, and require continued commitment and sacrifice on the part of the United States. Still, if this process continues, then 2005 might well be remembered as a historic year. Democratic change will not end Jihadist terrorism. However, it could well deal a lethal blow to the ideology that fuels it and relegate the Jihadists to the status of a perpetual fringe movement.


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