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Is Militant Islam in Decline?
By Daniel Pipes
Early on Nov. 9, the Taliban regime ruled almost 95 percent of Afghanistan. Ten days later it
controlled just 15 percent of the country. Key to this quick disintegration was the fact that, awed
by American air power, many Taliban soldiers switched sides to the U.S.-backed Northern Alliance.
According to one analyst, "Defections, even in mid-battle, are proving key to the rapid collapse
across Afghanistan of the formerly ruling Taliban militia." This development fits into a larger
pattern; thanks to American muscle, Afghans now look at militant Islam as a losing proposition. Nor
are they alone; Muslims around the world sense the same shift. If militant Islam achieved its
greatest victory ever on September 11, by November 9 (when the Taliban lost their first major city)
the demise of this murderous movement may have begun.
"Pakistani holy warriors are deserting Taliban
ranks and streaming home in large numbers," reported the Associated Press. In the
of Peshawar, we learn, "portraits of Osama bin Laden go unsold. Here where it counts, just across
the Khyber Pass from the heartland of Afghanistan, the Taliban mystique is waning."
Just a few weeks
ago, large crowds of militant Islamic men filled Peshawar's narrow streets, especially on Fridays,
listening to vitriolic attacks on the United States and Israel, burning effigies of George W. Bush,
and perhaps clashing with the riot police. This last Friday, however, things went very differently
in Peshawar. Much smaller and quieter crowds heard more sober speeches. No effigy was set on fire
and one observer described the few policemen as looking like "a bunch of old friends on an afternoon
"The Arabic-speaking countries show a similar trend. Martin Indyk, former U.S. ambassador to
Israel, notes that in the first week after the U.S. airstrikes began on Oct. 7, nine anti-American
demonstrations took place. The second week saw three of them, the third week one, the
fourth week, two. "Then - nothing," observes Indyk. "The Arab street is quiet." And so too in the
further reaches of the Muslim world - Indonesia, India, Nigeria - where the supercharged protests of
September are distant memories.
American military success has also encouraged the authorities to
crack down. In China, the government prohibited the selling of badges celebrating Osama bin Laden
("I am bin Laden. Who should I fear?") only after the U.S. victories began. Similarly, the
effective ruler of Saudi Arabia admonished religious leaders to be careful and responsible in their
statements ("weigh each word before saying it") after he saw that Washington meant business.
Likewise, the Egyptian government has moved more aggressively against its militant Islamic elements.
This change in mood results from the change in American behavior. For two decades - since Ayatollah
Khomeini reached power in Iran in 1979 spouting "Death to America" - U.S. embassies, planes,
and barracks have been assaulted, leading to hundreds of American deaths. In the face of this,
Washington hardly responded. And, as Muslims watched militant Islam inflict one defeat after
another on the far more powerful United States, they increasingly concluded that America, for all
its resources, was tired and soft. They watched with awe as the audacity of militant Islam
increased, culminating with Osama bin Laden's declaration of jihad against the entire Western world
and the Taliban leader calling for nothing less than the "extinction of America."
The attacks of
September 11 were expected to take a major step toward extinguishing America by demoralizing the
population and leading to civil unrest, perhaps starting a sequence of events that would lead to the
U.S. government's collapse. Instead, the over four thousand deaths served as a rousing call to
arms. Just two months later, the deployment of American might has reduced the prospects of militant
The pattern is clear: So long as Americans submitted passively to murderous attacks by militant
Islam, this movement gained support among Muslims. When Americans finally fought militant Islam,
its appeal quickly diminished. Victory on the battlefield, in other words, has not only the obvious
advantage of protecting the United States but also the important side-effect of lancing the
anti-American boil that spawned those attacks in the first place.
The implication is clear: There
is no substitute for victory. The U.S. government must continue the war on terror by weakening
militant Islam everywhere it exists, from Afghanistan to Atlanta.
The writer, director of the
Philadelphia-based Middle East Forum, can be reached via www.DanielPipes.org.
from the December 2001 Edition of the Jewish Magazine
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