Magazine article Newsweek

Bin Laden's Bad Bet: Al Qaeda Is Still a Danger. but the Appeal of Osama Bin Laden's Fundamentalist Ideology Is Fading, Even in the Arab World

Magazine article Newsweek

Bin Laden's Bad Bet: Al Qaeda Is Still a Danger. but the Appeal of Osama Bin Laden's Fundamentalist Ideology Is Fading, Even in the Arab World

Article excerpt

Byline: Fareed Zakaria

In one of his legendary moments of brilliance, Sherlock Holmes pointed the attention of the police to the curious behavior of a dog on the night of the murder. The baffled police inspector pointed out that the dog had been silent during the night. "That was the curious incident," explained Holmes. Looking back over the last year, I am reminded of that story because the most important event that has taken place has been a nonevent. Ever since that terrible day in September 2001, we have all been watching, waiting and listening for the angry voice of Islamic fundamentalism to rip through the Arab and Islamic world. But instead there has been... silence. The dog has not barked.

The health of Al Qaeda is a separate matter. Osama bin Laden's organization may be in trouble, but--more likely--it may simply be lying low, plotting in the shadows. In the past it has waited for several years after an operation before staging the next one. Al Qaeda, however, is a band of fanatics, numbering in the thousands. It seeks a much broader following. That, after all, was the point of the attacks of September 11. Bin Laden had hoped that by these spectacular feats of terror he would energize radical movements across the Islamic world. But in the past year it has been difficult to find a major Muslim politician or party or publication that has championed his ideas. In fact, the heated protests over Israel's recent military offensives and American "unilateralism" have obscured the fact that over the past year the fundamentalists have been quiet and in retreat. Radical political Islam--which grew in force and fury ever since the Iranian revolution of 1979--has peaked.

Compare the landscape a decade ago. In Algeria, Islamic fundamentalists, having won an election, were poised to take control of the country. In Turkey, an Islamist political party was gaining ground and would soon also come to power. In Egypt, Hosni Mubarak's regime was terrorized by groups that had effectively shut down the country to foreign tourists. In Pakistan, the mullahs had scared Parliament into enacting blasphemy laws. Only a few years earlier, Iran's Ayatollah Khomeini had issued his fatwa against the novelist Salman Rushdie, who was still living under armed guard in a secret location. Throughout the Arab world, much of the talk was about political Islam--how to set up an Islamic state, implement Sharia and practice Islamic banking.

Look at these countries now. In Iran, the mullahs still reign but are despised. The governments of Algeria, Egypt, Turkey and (to a lesser extent) Pakistan have all crushed their Islamic groups. Many feared that, as a result, the fundamentalists would become martyrs. In fact, they have had to scramble to survive. In Turkey, the Islamists are now liberals who want to move the country into the European Union. In Algeria, Egypt and elsewhere they are a diminished lot, many of them re-examining their strategy of terror. If the governments brings them into the system, they will go from being mystical figures to local politicians.

Many Islamic groups are lying low; many will still attempt terrorism. But how can a political movement achieve its goals if none dare speak its name? A revolution, especially a transnational one, needs ideologues, pamphlets and party lines to articulate its message to the world. It needs politicians willing to embrace its cause. The Islamic radicals are quiet about their cause for a simple reason. …

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