You cannot win a war if you do not fight, and you cannot win a peace through inattention. In peace and war, the American response to the violent extremism that so damages the Islamic world has been as halting and reactive as it has been reluctant. We simply do not want to get involved more deeply than “necessary.” But Muslim extremists are determined to remain involved with us.
We are not at war with Islam. But the most radical elements within the Muslim world are convinced that they are at war with us. Our fight is with the few, but our struggle must be with the many. For decades we have downplayed—or simply ignored—the hate-filled speech directed toward us, the monstrous lessons taught by extremists to children, and the duplicity of so many states we insisted were our friends. But nations do not have friends—at best, they have allies with a confluence of interests. We imagine a will to support our endeavors where there is only a pursuit of advantage. And we deal with cynical, corrupt old men who know which words to say to soothe our diplomats, while the future lies with the discontented young, to whom the poison of blame is always delicious.
Hatred taught to the young seems an ineradicable cancer of the human condition. And the accusations leveled against us by terrified, embittered men fall upon the ears of those anxious for someone to blame for the ruin of their societies, for the local extermination of opportunity, and for the poverty guaranteed by the brute corruption of their compatriots and the selfish choices of their own leaders. Above all, those futureless masses yearn to excuse their profound individual inadequacies and to explain away the prison walls their beliefs have made of their lives.
In late spring 2002, headlines claimed that intelligence leads should have alerted President Bush to impending terrorist attacks prior to 11 September 2001. But a few tips from FBI field offices are easily lost in the colossal noise of government, their value clear only—ruefully so—in retrospect. Though important tactically, those memos were as nothing compared to the countless warnings we had been given as a strategic drama played out openly before us—while we willfully shut our eyes—for the last quarter of a century. Islamic extremists never made a secret of their general intent and often were specific in their threats. The tragedies of 9/11 were not so much the result of an intelligence failure as of a collective failure to face the reality confronting us.
Throughout much of the 1990s, intelligence personnel were not quite forbidden to consider religion as a strategic factor, but the issue was considered soft and nebulous—as well as potentially embarrassing in those years of epidemic political correctness. Now, of course, religion may be discussed in intelligence circles, if bracketed with careful disclaimers noting that all religions have problems and that we are not bigoted toward any one religion. But what if a great world religion is bigoted toward us? Might we, even now, just wish the hatred and prejudice away?
Peters' analysis is more optimisitic than anything else I've read in conventional counterterrorism literature. He argues that, as the youngest of the three major world faiths (behind Christianity and Judaism), Islam's pathological elements can be minimized, provided those in the West take a more proactive attitude toward integrating Muslims.
Rolling Back Radical Islam, by Ralph Peters