The United States believes that major damage has been done to al Qaeda and its major affiliates over the last four years. Thousands of members have been killed or captured, as have 20 of 30 top al Qaeda leaders. This includes founder Osama bin Laden. The major affiliates of al Qaeda, in Somalia and Yemen, have suffered major losses in the last year. Only the North African branch, now setting up shop in northern Mali, has grown stronger (mainly because of cash raised through kidnapping and drug trafficking). The branch in Iraq is but a shadow of its former self, as is the Pakistani operation, which has been attacked by local Islamic terror organizations. The largely Pushtun Taliban Islamic terrorists in Pakistan and Afghanistan are hostile to foreigners, even if they are fellow Islamic radicals. Blood is thicker than religious fanaticism.
But because this is basically an "Islam is at war with the West" operation, there are plenty of other Islamic terrorists operating, often in small numbers, wherever there are Moslems. There is plenty of evidence of this. For example, twenty nations account for over 95 percent of terrorism activity in the world. Of these twenty (Pakistan, Iraq, Afghanistan, South Sudan, Yemen, Iran, Uganda, Libya, Egypt, Nigeria, Palestinian Territories, Congo, Central African Republic, Colombia, Algeria, Thailand, Philippines, Russia, Sudan, Iran, Burundi, India, Nigeria, and Israel) all but four of them (Congo, Central African Republic, Colombia, and Burundi) involve Islamic terrorism. In terms of terrorism fatalities, the top four nations (Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Somalia) accounted for 75 percent of the world total of terrorism related deaths. All of these were the result of Islamic radicalism, often directed at other Moslems, and not just non-Moslems (“infidels”).
This has been the case for decades, and the Moslem world does not like to dwell on this fact. Many Moslem leaders admit that there is a lot of Islamic terrorism but insist that it’s all the fault of infidels who are making war on Islam, so some Moslems feel compelled to fight back. The catch-phrase Moslem leaders like to repeat is that Islam is the “religion of peace.” It is not, and the historical record makes that very clear. Islam has been at war with non-Moslems from the very beginning. After some early successes with this approach the neighbors got organized and fought back, hard. Moslems call any such defensive moves an attack on Islam. In a way it is but it’s also self-defense.
This is not all just history. Currently you find Moslems attacking Buddhists in Thailand, Jews everywhere, Baha'is in Iran, and Christians in Egypt, Iraq, the Philippines, Pakistan, Malaysia, and elsewhere. This is not a sudden and unexpected outburst of Moslem violence against non-Moslems. It is normal and at the root of Islamic terrorism. While this violent behavior represents only a small number of Moslems, it is a large minority (from a few percent of a population, to over half, according to opinion polls). Moreover, the majority of Moslems has not been willing, or able, to confront and suppress the Islamic radicals that not only spread death and destruction but also besmirch all Moslems. This reveals a fundamental problem in the Islamic world, the belief that combining righteousness with murderous tactics is often the road to power and spiritual salvation. Throughout history, when these tactics were applied to non-Moslems, they often failed. The non-Moslems were unfazed by the religious angle and, especially in the last five hundred years, were better able to defeat Islamic violence with even greater violence. Thus, until quite recently, the Moslems fought among themselves and left the infidels (non-Moslems) alone. But after World War II that began to change.
Naturally this began to show up first in the Middle East. During the Lebanese civil war of 1975-1990, Christian and Moslem Arabs fought bitterly over political, cultural, and, ultimately, religious differences. Few realized it at the time but this war was but the first of many major conflicts between Christians and Moslems in the 20th and 21st centuries.
Many of the earliest Moslem converts were Christians. And many of the people Moslem armies unsuccessfully sought to conquer were Christian. The original Crusades, which modern Moslems portray as Western aggression, were actually a Western attempt to rescue Middle Eastern Christians from increasing Islamic terrorism and violence. But Islam as a political force was in decline for several centuries until the 1970s. Then things changed, and they continue to change. Fueled by oil wealth and access to Western weapons and technology, Islamic radicals saw new opportunities. Islam was again on the march and few have noticed the many places where it was turning into religious war with Christians and other non-Moslems.
In Asia we have continued hostility between Moslems and Hindus in India and Pakistan. Inside India many Moslem communities remain, and feelings aren't always neighborly. Indonesia and the Philippines suffer growing strife between Moslems and non-Moslems. Malaysia has fanatical Moslems persecuting more laid-back ones and non-Moslems in general. China has a large Moslem community that generates an increasing amount of violence. Russia and America have formed a curious partnership to deal with Islamic-based terrorism coming out of Afghanistan and Pakistan. And in Chechnya, Russia faced Islamic-inspired violence all alone in the 1990s.
Africa has a rather dusty front line in the semi-arid Sahel region. Many African nations are split by increasingly sensitive religious differences. The Moslems are in the north, Christians and animists in the south. The Sahel is often in the middle. Nigeria, Egypt, and Sudan are among the more violent hot spots at the moment. When the Moslem Somalis stop fighting each other they will return to raiding their Christian and animist neighbors to the south.
The Middle East still contains many non-Moslems. None have their own country, except for Israel. But Egypt contains ten million Copts, native Christians who did not convert to Islam. Similar small Christian communities exist throughout the Middle East and growing hostility from Moslem neighbors causes many to migrate or get killed.
Moslems also have turned their righteous wrath on dissident Moslem sects. The Druze and Alawites are considered by many Moslems as pagans pretending to be Moslems. Similarly, the Shias of Iran and neighboring areas are considered less orthodox, not just for their admitted differences but because many adherents openly practice customs of the pre-Islamic Zoroastrian religion. These differences are less frequently overlooked today. To survive, many Druze have allied with Israel, and most of the current Syrian leadership are Alawites who pretend to be more Shia than they really are.
Even Europe has problems with aggressive Islamic radicals. The Moslems in the Balkans (Albanians and Bosnians) have been a constant source of strife for the last decade. Moslem migrants in Europe face even more persecution because of all the Islamic violence elsewhere, and this makes it easier for radical groups to recruit and carry out their crusade against Christians. In many European cities with Moslem minorities there are neighborhoods non-Moslems are advised to stay out of.
But this violence is about more than religion. A lot of it is politics. One of the reasons Islam ran out of steam centuries ago was that the Moslem areas never embraced democracy and intellectual progress. Until the 20th century, most Moslems lived as part of some foreign empire, under local totalitarian monarchs. The foreign empires are gone but democracy has had a hard time taking hold. The dictatorships are still there. And the people are restless.
Radical Islam arose as a proposed alternative to all the other forms of government that never seemed to work. In theory, establishing "Islamic Republics" would solve all problems. People could vote but only Moslems in good standing could be candidates for office. A committee of Moslem holy men would have veto power over political decisions. Islamic law would be used. It was simple, and it makes sense to a lot of Moslems in nations ruled by thugs and thieves, especially if the people are largely uneducated and illiterate.
Islamic Republics don't work. The only one that has been established (not counting others that say they are but aren't) is in Iran. The major problems were twofold. First, the radicals had too much power. Radical religious types are no fun, and you can't argue with them because they are on a mission from God. Most people tire of this in short order. To speed this disillusionment, many of the once-poor and now-powerful religious leaders became corrupt. This eventually sends your popularity ratings straight to hell.
It will take a generation or so for everyone in the Moslem world to figure out where all this is going. This is already happening in Iran, where moderates are getting stronger every day but everyone is trying to avoid a civil war. The Arab Spring of 2011, overthrew several long-standing Arab dictatorships, and now democrats and Islamic conservatives are arguing, but not quite fighting, over which way to go next. Both of these groups condemn Islamic terrorism and even back armed action against these radicals but there is no agreement on democracy.
While the radicals are a minority, they are a determined bunch. The constant flow of Islamic radical propaganda does more than generate recruits and contributions in Moslem countries, it also energizes Moslem minorities (both migrants and converts) in Western countries to acts of terrorism. In the United States you find such Moslems regularly getting arrested for attempting to carry out religious violence.
Radicals throughout the Moslem world continue to take advantage of dissatisfaction among the people and recruit terrorists and supporters. To help this process along they invoke the ancient grudges popular among many Moslems. Most of these legends involve Christians beating on Moslems. To most radicals it makes sense to get people agitated over faraway foreigners rather than some strongman nearby (who will tolerate hating on foreigners but not opposing the local tyrant).
Most radicals lack the skills, money, or ability to carry their struggle to far-off places. So most of the agitation takes place among Moslem populations. Any violent attitudes generated are easily directed at available non-Moslems. Thus we have all that violence against infidels. But the more violence you have with non-Moslems, the more really fanatical fighters are developed. These are the people who are willing to travel to foreign lands and deal with non-believers and kill them for the cause. We call it terrorism, the fanatics call it doing what has to be done.
Not surprisingly, Moslems get motivated to do something about Islamic radicalism when the violence is literally next door. That's why terror attacks in the West are so popular. The infidels are being attacked, without any risk to those living in Moslem countries. Iraq changed all that, and during the course of that war (2004-7) the popularity of Islamic terrorism in Moslem countries declined sharply because the terrorists were killing so many Moslems. That, in the end, is what has killed, for a while, most Islamic terrorism in Iraq. Worldwide, al Qaeda never recovered the popularity (in the Moslem world) it enjoyed after September 11, 2001. It would also be nice if the Moslem world got their act together and expunged this malevolent tendency once and for all. Don't hold your breath.