Therefore, radical Muslims value death much more than life. Becoming a Shaheed (martyr) is a worthy and justifiable means to establish a "Muslim society". Dying and killing the "infidels" and their Muslim accomplices is the best a devout Muslim can do in the name of Allah, it is the epitome of obedience to Allah. Hence, suicide bombers is a new quality of terrorism, it is unpredictable and lethal and thus far has managed to defeat the most advanced hi-tech security devices and measures the world has ever created.
The Indian-Spanish philosopher, Raimon Panikkar, calls this a "neurosis" of a populous movement, a kind of "mass madness". Samuel Huntington describes the "Muslim-Western" conflict as a "Clash of Civilizations".
Mohammed, a devout conservative Muslim living in Germany told me, "You see, we Muslims are keeping the world busy and in check. The whole world is fearful of Islam. The infidels are slandering us, but we will prevail. It is simply Allah's will. Just, wait, sooner of later, the whole world will be ruled by Islam."
I had to remind Mohammed that most Muslim leaders over the past 1400 years were killed or killed each other before they assumed power. The first Caliphs were also killed after the death of the Prophet Mohammed (PBUH). What kind of glorious past are the Islamists talking about?
Islamists and conservative Muslims are also proud of the fact that already three Arab-Muslim ministers sit in European cabinets and a big number of Muslims are members of European parliaments. "That is the beginning", Mohammed brags, "After the Mohammed-cartoons nobody dare insult us. The Caliphate is coming."
George W. Bush and for that matter the whole world assumes that Al Qaida of Osama Bin Laden is behind every act of bloodshed. We still believe that Al Qaida is everywhere and Osama Bin Laden is planning and designing lethal strikes in one of those murky caves on the Pakistani-Afghan border. This is, in fact, na´ve.
Both attributing terrorist strikes to Al Qaida and using the phrase "war on terror" are strengthening Islamists and conservative Muslims in their belief that the confrontation/clash is between Islam and the "infidels". In that sense, Osama Bin Laden and his fellow terrorists are not criminals and thugs. On the contrary, they are "Muslim fighters in the service of Allah".
When I asked a group of young Muslims here in Germany if they would carry out any order from Osama Bin Laden, the answer was prompt and cogent, "We would be honored." Ali said, "I'm sure that Osama is thrilled every time an infidel is killed." Hence, Osama is inspiring lots of Muslims, whether he is dead or still alive. He has become a legendry hero! A young Moroccan calls Bin Laden "The Leader of the Muslim Umma (nation)".
Three factors are fomenting Islamism: Liberal constitutions in the West, the Internet, and satellite TV channels. The Islamists are using freedom of speech in the West to enhance their propaganda. Through the Internet they are exchanging information, experience, and communicating their terror; it is a venue of communication with friends and foes. Arab and Muslim TVs are full of programs that are preaching Islamist indoctrination and propaganda.
In most Arab and Muslim regimes, Islamists (radical Muslims who are struggling, if need be by force, to impose a rigid dogmatic fundamentalist version of Islam on the whole world ) are in control of religious institutions, the media and education. To appease Islamists, both Arab regimes and capitulated Westerners, for fear of Islamists, are complying with Islamist demands. Criticism of Muslims and dogmatic Islam are interpreted as a critique of a whole religion. Western critics of the invasion of Iraq are providing Islamists with anti-American "arguments". Arguments which are demanding leaving Iraq is celebrated as victory for all Muslims.
In the name of "liberalism" and "fear of Islamists" rather than out of deep conviction, lots of Liberal Westerners side with Islamists and show feigned understanding for their "struggle", which they attribute to "poverty" and "deprivation". Gregor Gysi, Chairman of a German leftist party, attributes Islamism to "imperialism and Western hegemony". As Gysi was confronted with the counter-argument, How about people in Africa, Asia, and South America? There is more poverty and misery in these continents than in the whole Muslim world. He replied, "They are not rebelling because they are not united by a uniform ideology (religion) as Muslims are. Then he referred to Somalia and Eritrea (two African Muslim countries) and said that they constitute the core of an Islamist movement which sooner or later will engulf all Africa. My reply to all this is: this is wishful thinking.
In addition, Islamists are not offering any alternative to universal economic and political values, in particular democracy and religious pluralism. Their programs consist mainly of bigotry, obliterating the "infidels", introducing gender segregation, and the hijab (head scarf) for women. Over 30 percent of Muslims in Germany want Al Sharia to replace the constitution. When Muslims with German passports were asked what they are in their hearts, the majority of them responded: "Muslim, of course."
Both some Western apologists and Islamists are playing the "victim card" rather than looking deeply inside Muslim societies and analyzing what went wrong.
By attributing every terrorist attack to the "superman" Osama, Bush and the media are actually invigorating a criminal legacy and strengthening radical Muslims in their belief that the Sheikh is invincible and his "cause" is blessed by Allah. The man must be a "hero". He is embattling a whole superpower backed by the mightiest army, the largest economy, and finest technology in the world.
Many experts believe that the Bush administration, European senior officials, and the media are exaggerating the clout of Islamist terrorism. It must be put into proper perspective. Peter Scholl-Latour, a German veteran reporter argues, "The West is suffering from a kind of Bin Laden-phobia. Every time there is a bloody strike in Iraq and elsewhere, politicians rush to assert that Bin Laden is behind it. He has become Grendel in Beowulf, an invincible evil. This is the analysis of the helpless and incompetent."
Using the phrase "War on Terror" is also troubling and problematic and no body seems to believe it can be won. President George W. Bush himself said, "I don't think that you can win it. But I think you can create conditions so that those who use terror as a tool are less acceptable in parts of the world." Bush did not elaborate what these "conditions" are, which is vague and unconvincing.
A "war"? A war is usually fought between two armies, or deterred, as was the case during the Cold War. But now, what kind of war is being fought?
Mr. President, stop using the term "Al Qaida" and the "War on Terror"! You are inadvertently "heroizing" this criminal organization and those who are inspired by it.
Three strategies must be employed: Winning the hearts and minds of Muslims, ending repressive regimes in the Arab world, and drying up the culture of hate. In each one of these three areas America and the West have made atrocious mistakes. They supported despotic regimes at the expense of democracy and social development. An apology for that, as the one made of Condoleeza Rice a year ago, is not enough to rectify that historic error. Harvesting fruits from the above strategies might take at least as long as the West persisted in supporting these regimes.
Extremist organizations like Hamas, Hizbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood, even repressive regimes in Syria and Iran, have established social programs especially for the poor. They go from house to house and distribute food. They have built houses for the poor. They have also their own hospitals where the poor are treated for free. Tehran and Damascus built millions of flats for the poor. Hence these organizations and regimes have won the hearts and minds of their beneficiaries, at least.
It is in the West's best self-interest to support moderate Muslims, secular and liberal forces. Most sociological studies in Arab and Muslim countries indicate that the majority of Arabs and Muslims believe in modern pluralistic values. But they cower in silence in fear for their lives. Millions of Arabs and Muslims would love to migrate to Europe and America.
However, experts believe that the most important measure which the West should take is stopping Muslim extremist clerics, especially on TV, preaching hatred and inciting violence. In light of the fact that over 60 percent of the Arab-Muslim population is still illiterate, simple-minded people believe those TV clerics and their interpretation of Islam. Yousef Al Qaradhawi and Saleh Al Luhaidan are delivering day in and day out messages of hatred and violence from "friendly" countries like Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Dubai. Muslim clerics in mosques in Arab Gulf countries conclude prayers with the litany: "May Allah defeat the infidels. Down with America and the decadent West. Allah bless our brother martyrs in paradise."
School and university text books are also full of this hate-culture, particularly in Egypt, Indonesia, Pakistan, and Saudi Arabia. Curbing this hate-culture is possible and direly needed. All that is needed is for America to put pressure on its "friends" in Arab capital cities to do so. These regimes depend totally upon America for their existence.
Preaching hatred has nothing to do with freedom of speech just as little as the drug trade has nothing to do with free trade. The hate-culture must be uprooted and the "War on Terror" must begin there.
For the time being, while the West is aimlessly exaggerating the "War on Terror" and trying to accommodate Islamism as a social movement that should not be provoked at the least, it is ignoring the root causes of this "War" and is seemingly unwilling to change directions.
Sami Alrabaa is a sociology professor and an Arab/Muslim culture specialist. Before moving to Germany he taught at Kuwait University, King Saud University, and Michigan State University.