Osama bin Laden was banking on a sustained, violent conflict after his al Qaeda successfully pulled off the attacks of September 11, 2001—he guessed that the U.S. would react forcefully, and he was right; he guessed that Islamic populations across the world would see the collapse of the World Trade Center towers as a victory against the great American Satan; he figured that 9/11 would mark the onset of a fundamentalist, militant Islamic movement that would engulf Muslim populations across the world.
The global caliphate dreamed of by bin Laden never materialized and in the decade since 9/11 somewhat of the opposite has happened: militant, radical Islam has actually become a fringe movement.
The harms that have befallen the Muslim world as a result of al Qaeda’s practice of violence have led to severe criticisms from outside the salafi-jihadi movement and from within the movement as well, and most of the available public opinion survey data suggest a decline in support for al Qaeda from within the Muslim world. Even after the invasion of Iraq, where American troops were seen as aggressors in Muslims lands, al Qaeda and its brand of Islam has still been largely rejected by the vast majority of Muslims.
How does the U.S. keep radical Islam on the run, moving beyond the now deceased Osama bin Laden and onto the next generation of would-be terrorists? As our guest writes, “success on the ideological battlefield will depend more on efforts to promote American ideals than American might.”
We look at the evolution of radical Islam after 9/11 as part of our continuing series.
Eric Larson, senior policy researcher at RAND corporation