"The struggle against Islamist terrorism is neither the rosy success story painted by [Iraqi Prime Minister Ayad] Allawi and President Bush nor the disastrous free-fall described by John Kerry," writes my old boss David Ignatius in his Washington Post column today. "Instead, it is one unresolved battle in the long-term struggle summarized by the title of [French Arabist Gilles] Kepel's new book, The War for Muslim Minds."
Ignatius writes that according to Kepel, "the West has been misreading the aftermath of bin Laden's Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He cites a December 2001 pamphlet, 'Knights Under the Prophet's Banner,' written by al Qaeda's key strategist, the Egyptian doctor Ayman Zawahiri. The jihadists should attack the 'faraway enemy' in the United States, Zawahiri urged, because it would help mobilize the Muslim masses to overthrow their rulers in the 'nearby enemy.' Instead, "the followers of Osama bin Laden have created chaos and destruction in the house of Islam" by murdering many of their fellow Muslims, causing Islamist regimes to weaken or fall, and alienating millions of moderate Muslims.
Kepel is "sharply critical of U.S. policies" in Iraq, writes Ignatius. "But that doesn't mean the jihadists are winning. Quite the contrary, their movement has backfired. Rather than bringing Islamic regimes to power, the holy warriors are creating internal strife and discord."
Among the jihadis' problems: "The Taliban regime in Afghanistan has been toppled; the fence-sitting semi-Islamist regime in Saudi Arabia has taken sides more strongly with the West; Islamists in Sudan and Libya are in retreat; and the plight of the Palestinians has never been more dire. And Baghdad, the traditional seat of the Muslim caliphs, is under foreign occupation. Not what you would call a successful jihad."