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Countering the Islamist Threat

Islamism is a first-order threat to the security of open, modern, culturally tolerant societies. Its defeat, like that of revolutionary communism, ultimately will come through confronting its violence and ideology with a combination of hard and soft power.

LONDON – The Taliban are part of the global movement of radical Islam. The movement contains many different groups, but they share the same basic ideology. In simple terms, this holds that there is only one true faith and only one true view of that faith, and that society, politics, and culture should be governed only by that view. Radical Islam believes not only in Islamism – the turning of the religion of Islam into a political doctrine – but in the justification of struggle, by armed means if necessary, to achieve it. Other Islamists agree with the ends but eschew violence.

This ideology inevitably conflicts with open, modern, culturally tolerant societies. Nearly everything about the September 11, 2001, terror attacks and their aftermath, particularly now, is mired in controversy. But what cannot be seriously disputed is that since 9/11, though thankfully there has been no further terrorist attack on that scale, radical Islam has not declined in force. What is disputed is why.

Is radical Islam a coherent ideology that represents a first-order threat to our security? Or are we facing, despite some common themes, a series of disconnected security challenges, each of which requires handling on its own terms, based on local circumstances? Is Islamism itself a problem, or only its manifestation in violent extremism? Is it akin to revolutionary communism and thus to be countered by a combination of security and ideological measures over the long term? Or is that to overstate and overestimate Islamism and thus perversely, as some argue about the Western interventions in Afghanistan and Iraq, to elevate its appeal rather than diminish it?

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