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It Is Western Muslims Who Will Beat al-Qaeda

Author: Ed Husain, Adjunct Senior Fellow for Middle Eastern Studies
September 8, 2011


At no time in history have so many Muslims lived in the West, or so many been trying to migrate here. In Muslim countries, Western clothes, languages, films, sports – even McDonald's and Starbucks – are visibly popular. Across the Middle East, demands are being made, and blood shed, for Western freedoms. Yet polls repeatedly show that, 10 years after the 9/11 attacks, there is still widespread hatred in those same countries towards America and Britain.

It was that hatred, fed by a narrative of perennial battle between Islam and the "Jews and Crusaders", that led a small number of Arab men to attack the Pentagon and the World Trade Centre. Yet remarkably, 75 per cent of Egyptians – to pick one example – do not think their co-religionists were behind the atrocities. This denial has ugly consequences: a lack of the social and religious responsibility that would rein in the rhetoric that fosters terrorism; a failure to grasp its dangers; and a subsequent lack of co-operation with counter-terrorism efforts.

Despite the triumphalism of Leon Panetta, America's new Defence Secretary, who spoke of the "strategic defeat" of al-Qaeda after Osama bin Laden's death, the reality was better understood by Ayman al-Zawahiri, the organisation's new leader. The Egyptian chided the Obama administration, asking why it refused to release pictures of bin Laden's body, which would help quash the many conspiracy theories. He answered his own question with chilling accuracy: since bin Laden and his message remain popular in the "hearts of millions of Muslims", such a move would only fuel anti-American sentiment. The US refused to produce the images not out of strength, but out of fear.

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