Beheadings online, fatwas online: the subterranean world of Islam’s radical fringe can be found on countless Internet sites. These technologically sophisticated fanatics are able to reach a wide audience. But that audience exists because of the deep dissatisfaction and anger of so many young Muslims everywhere. The Internet has brought together a worldwide community of the alienated and the embittered.
The West thinks that this anger is a sign of some clash of civilizations: “us” against “them,” which implies that only one side can win. But the anger of young Muslims results primarily from revulsion at their corrupt leaders, and the subservience of these rulers to the United States. It is a bitterness rooted, in other words, in material causes, not in some fanatical, irrational, and anti-democratic sentiment whose adherents must either be re-educated or crushed.
The problem starts at the top of Muslim societies, not with the disaffected at the bottom. Muslim rulers have mostly failed to satisfy the needs of their populations. At the same time, in much of the Muslim world, authoritarian regimes typically attempt to control and propagate exclusionary forms of Islamic dogma.