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It has been nearly a decade since the United States was attacked by a group of radical Islamists on September 11, 2001. Since then, rooting out the network of terrorists behind the attacks and related radical Islamist groups has been a major focus of American foreign and military policy. The magnitude of the American investment in this goal is extraordinary. Extensive U.S. military and intelligence resources have been directed toward fighting the central radical Islamist network al Qaeda in numerous theaters. The war in Afghanistan was waged because of al Qaeda’s base of operations there under radical Islamist Taliban government protection. The war continues primarily because of fears that the Taliban, though initially defeated, could retake the country and once again provide a safe haven for al Qaeda. While the war in Iraq was initiated for a variety of reasons, it soon became a major theater for conflict with al Qaeda forces. Hundreds of thousands of U.S. troops have been rotated through these theaters, returning with mental as well as physical wounds. Hundreds of billions of dollars have been spent and, most poignantly, thousands of American lives have been lost. Despite these massive investments, the United States has little to show for it. Al Qaeda, the Taliban, and other affiliated groups hostile to America continue to thrive. Their leaders, Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar, have not been captured and continue to operate. More important, a surfeit of 1 Introduction: America, Radical Islamist Groups, and the Muslim People 00B-0559-8 INTRO:0305-1 3/3/11 1:52 PM Page 1 young Muslim men continue to eagerly join these radical Islamist groups, ready to sacrifice their lives in the name of jihad against the United States. Attacks on U.S. targets based in the Muslim world persist. While there have been no major terrorist attacks on American soil, several terrorists have come perilously close to succeeding in what could have been highly destructive attacks. A Systemic Problem On the surface, it is difficult to grasp how the American military, by far the most powerful military in history, can have such trouble mastering the problem of relatively small and primitive groups such as al Qaeda. If these groups are viewed in the context of the larger system of which they are part, however, the challenge becomes clearer. While most Muslims may not support the specific terrorist acts of radical Islamist groups, the extent to which the larger Muslim society—actively or passively—supports or sympathizes with the beliefs and goals of these groups plays a key role in their survival and resiliency. As long as widespread feelings of anger and resentment provide a source of ongoing support for their cause in the form of recruits, money, and moral support, then the problem is not simply between America and radical Islamist groups, but between America and the Muslim people as a whole. In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, while many voices in the Muslim world condemned the attacks, many Americans were shocked to hear that in some Muslim cities people had celebrated them. It was not clear, however , how widespread these feelings were. At the time, little was known about attitudes toward the United States in the Muslim world. Only a few sporadic polls (which are explored in the next chapter) had been conducted , and area specialists had to rely heavily on anecdotal evidence. Not surprisingly, this led to inconsistent conclusions about Muslim public attitudes toward the United States. After 9/11 there was a substantial increase in polling of the Muslim world. Overall, it was not a pretty picture. As discussed in chapter 1, Muslim public views of the United States were quite negative. And while most Muslims did say they disapproved of terrorism, substantial numbers expressed some support for al Qaeda and Osama bin Laden. Later polling showed widespread support for attacks on U.S. troops and even some smaller numbers approving of attacks on U.S. civilians. 2 Introduction 00B-0559-8 INTRO:0305-1 3/3/11 1:52 PM Page 2 With the election of Barack Obama, polls showed substantial optimism in the Muslim world as well as in the West that this would lead to improved relations between the United States and the Muslim world. Obama’s high-profile speeches addressed to the Muslim world in Ankara and Cairo were met with great anticipation. Polls taken in 2009 and 2010, however, have shown only sporadic improvement. Majorities in most majority-Muslim...


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