The front cover of the latest issue of Newsweek magazine includes a provocative headline that arouses a number of questions, most importantly the question “How did Bin Laden lose the clash of civilizations?” The idea behind the lengthy article written by Fareed Zakaria [The Jihad Against the Jihadis] is that the greatest danger from the September 11 attacks was the eruption of a bloody clash of civilizations had Al Qaeda managed to attract a significant proportion of the one and a half billion Muslims worldwide to its ideology. However now, almost 9 years after the attacks, we can see that the extremist ideology has only managed to attract a limited number of supporters, and the majority of Muslims remain moderate in their ideology rejecting violence and terrorism, and supporting dialogue among civilizations rather than clash of civilizations.
A lot of effort has been exerted, particularly in Muslim countries, to combat extremist ideology and terrorists groups either through security measures against armed groups or groups that incite violence, or through ideological efforts to disseminate ideas that counter and defeat such ideology and keep this away from mainstream moderate Islam.
Many mistakes have taken place in the policies of some countries or with regards to the announcement of a war on terror which has allowed terrorism to be confused with Islam and in some cases provided the extremist groups with the propaganda and provocation they required. However there is always a safety net that is able to defeat groups such groups the likes of which have appeared from time to time throughout history. This safety net is the simple fact that human nature tends towards reason and dialogue, and looks at what unites us rather than what divides us, in order to build for the future. This is something that Muslims and followers of other religion and culture have in common.
This does not refute the fact that extremist groups remain active and represent a genuine terrorist threat and may be responsible for tragic attacks [in the future]. A recent example of this was the Nigerian student who attempted to blow up a US jetliner, and failed not because of the vigilance of the security apparatus but because of the bravery and quick reactions of the passengers. This is evidence that ordinary people are fed up with the series of terrorism attacks and are now prepared to respond to this.
Al Qaeda and the groups that follow this ideology continue to be active in certain areas of tension in order to create larger instability with which they can utilize to gain a foothold in Afghanistan, Pakistan, or Yemen. However in the end this is something that remains confined to a narrow group of individuals who conspire in dark rooms to detonate a bomb here or there, or blow up an airplane, whilst in most cases their recruits are youths who suffer from psychological problems or weaknesses that allow them to be exploited.
However this extremist ideology was only successful in attracting a handful of people to a small number of [extremist] groups, and this is something that will not be successful in the future for one simple reason, this extremist ideology has nothing to offer other than violence and bloodshed. It is for this reason that we see many religious extremists turning their back on this ideology and condemning it. We also see many preachers who were previously sympathetic to this ideology distancing themselves from this bloody trend after they became aware that those who propagate this ideology are only concerned with creating chaos.
Does this mean the end of the battle to win hearts and minds avoid a clash of civilizations?
Of course not, this only necessitates more effective international cooperation with regards to dialogue and understanding differences and plurality of cultures and civilizations, and building on the things that we share in common.