Continuing to spark widespread debate and discussion, last week I argued that terrorism in the Muslim world is ultimately a challenge facing the Muslim people and therefore, requires a Muslim solution -- one that is native, moderate, and persistent. At its heart, it is a war of interpretation.
Bombs, bullets and bodies cannot crush one's radical interpretation of Islam, but it can surely catalyze its spread. In fact, waging such a war forces one to harden their identity and crystallize their views, and fight to defend them both. As commonsensical as this logic may sound, the West has precisely the opposite in mind when confronted with the threat of Islamic extremism -- deploying hundreds of thousands of troops onto Muslim lands.
Defeating extremism requires the preaching of moderate interpretation grounded in credible scholarship and historical guidance. It also requires the Muslim world to relentlessly broadcast the damning discrepancies within Al Qaeda itself. Simply put, the Muslim world must connect the dots and expose the organization's profound inability to practice what it preaches.
A recent study, conducted using purely Arabic media sources, coded Al Qaeda attacks between 2004 and 2008, and separated Western from non-Western fatalities. The results revealed a startling contradiction to popular belief: the vast majority of Al Qaeda's victims were Muslim. Only 15% of the more than 3000 victims were Western. Moreover, between 2006 and 2008, only 2% of the victims (12 of the 661) were from the West, and the remaining 98% were inhabitants of countries with Muslim majorities. Al Qaeda is slaughtering the very brothers and sisters it is claiming to defend and protect. At the very least, the Muslim world could band together against the killing of its own people, by its own people.
While reading the abstract of the report, and specifically being drawn in by the strict use of Arabic media, I was surprised to learn of such landmark findings. At the same time, I hoped that such an analysis was produced in the heartland of the crisis, in order to amplify its credibility in the region. Unfortunately, the report was issued by the U.S. Military Academy's Combating Terrorism Center at West Point. Because of this fact alone, I fear that community preachers, reputable scholars, and government officials, all in dire need of such analysis to root out terrorism, will declare this endeavor fruit from the poisonous tree.
Therefore, I urge native Muslim advocates, journalists, and scholars on embattled soil to replicate these findings, prove their validity, and collectively carve a grand canyon separating that which Al Qaeda preaches from that which Al Qaeda practices. Al Jazeera, for example, perhaps the most reputable news network in the Middle East and headquartered in Doha, Qatar, should be first in line to validate the Center's findings with an ultimate goal of publicizing their results. Indeed, Middle Eastern media has a crucial role to play in defeating extremism, too, and providing the collective with well-researched facts and figures. We know all too well how the American public was hoodwinked into connecting the lack of dots between Saddam Hussein, Weapons of Mass Destruction, September 11th, and Al Qaeda. However, by the time the truth surfaced, much blood had already been spilled, and much damage had already been done.
While many Americans are quick to fault President Obama for not preventing the Christmas Day terror attempt, coordinating worldwide intelligence operations supported by 200,000 staff is no easy task. However, an open-source analysis of Arab media accounts over five years -- uncovering Al Qaeda's War on Muslims -- only required a staff of three. This was not an overly sophisticated research investigation, but rather a low-cost high-impact undertaking sparked by the right idea in the wrong place. The Muslim world must, instead, spearhead these kinds of creative analytics on their own volition if they wish to seriously target Al Qaeda's tongue and tactics. Taking the lead in this fight is essential, for this struggle within the Islamic world will linger long after the West arbitrarily declares victory and decides to bring their troops home.
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