By Dr. Max Singer
Executive Summary: For more than 30 years, an ideological movement called Islamism has been at war with the West. This paper presents a long-term perspective on the nature of this war, alternative Western reactions to the attack, possible future developments, and the likely outcome.
Only a small fraction of the world’s 1.6 billion Muslims support Islamism’s war against the West. But Islamist ideology is based on mainstream Muslim thinking and behavior, and Islamism is important because of its potential appeal to Muslims, even though many Muslim scholars and thinkers insist that its ideology is not the correct understanding of Islam.
The war has so far had limited effect on world affairs and casualties in the West have been a fraction of past wars. Most of the turmoil in the Middle East results primarily from other causes, including Western responses in Iraq and Afghanistan.
The most important feature of the war is the possibility that some Islamists will obtain and use nuclear or biological weapons, which would be a world history-changing disaster.
The war could come virtually to an end in a short time if Iran’s revolutionary regime were replaced and the Saudi program of exporting radical Islamic ideas stopped. But it could become far more harmful if significantly more Muslims came to believe that Islam is under attack by the West. Much of the popular Muslim support for Islamism’s war is based on Muslim belief that the West is trying to destroy Islam.
The decisive feature of the war is that the Islamists cannot win. That is, they cannot achieve their goal of conquering the world. Sooner or later the diverse Muslim world will put a stop to a war it cannot win and will gradually change enough in this century to join the competitive global modern information economies and their social-political systems.