The most recent outbreak of Islamic terrorism actually began in the 1970s and has changed Arab attitudes towards this perennial problem. For the first time in a long time the wealthiest Arab states (those with oil in the Persian Gulf) are recognizing that Islamic terrorism is not just an ancient problem that keeps recurring but, because of affluence and global communications, a real threat to the lives of most Moslems and the wealth of the unprecedented number of Arabs who now have it. In response these Arab states, especially Saudi Arabia, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) and Qatar have built modern intelligence and internal security capabilities that have been increasingly able to deal with Islamic terrorism within their own borders as well as throughout the Islamic world. This is a modern solution for an ancient problem. But there is more.
Out of this came the unprecedented admission that “we have met the enemy and they are us” and frank discussion about the characteristics of Islamic culture that nurture and periodically revive Islamic radicalism and terrorism. For over a thousand years every few generations Islamic conservatism got violent. But as a result of these changes in the Moslem world the War on Terror has morphed into the War Against Islamic Radicalism. This religious radicalism has always been around, for Islam was born as an aggressive movement that used violence and terror to expand. Moslems long took it for granted, their neighbors didn’t.
Past periods of conquest are regarded fondly by Moslems, who are still taught by many of their religious leaders and teachers that non-Moslems ("infidels") are inferior. The current enthusiasm for violence in the name of God has been building through most of the 20th century because the thousand year battles with Islamic conservatives has left Moslems, especially Arabs, vulnerable to more advanced cultures.
Historically, Islamic radicalism has flared up into mass bloodshed periodically, usually in response to corrupt governments, as a vain attempt to impose a religious solution on some social or political problem. The current violence is international because of the availability of planet wide mass media (which needs a constant supply of headlines), and the fact that the Islamic world is awash in tyranny and economic backwardness. This is why the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings, and their desire to establish democracies, may do some permanent damage to the Islamic terrorism tradition. The excesses of Islamic terror groups trying to outdo each other in the righteous violence department is recorded and broadcast worldwide. This disgusts most people, Moslems as well as infidels.
As a result there is growing condemnation of Islamic radicals by media and leading Islamic clerics in Moslem nations. These changes have not come as quickly as many hoped, but at least they finally arrived. This came as a surprise to many Moslems. That’s because the past has had a huge influence on Islamic societies. For many, this resistance to change is considered a religious obligation. Many Moslems consider democracy a poisonous Western invention. There is still a lot of affection for the clerical dictatorship of legend, a just and efficient government run by virtuous religious leaders. The legends are false and there are centuries of failed religious dictatorships to prove it. But this legend have become a core belief for many Moslems and tends to survive assaults by reality or the historical record.
Islamic radicalism itself is incapable of mustering much military power, and the movement largely relies on terrorism to gain attention. Most of the victims are fellow Moslems, which is why the radicals eventually become so unpopular among their own people that they run out of popular support and fade away. This is what is happening now. The 2003 American invasion of Iraq was a clever exploitation of this, forcing the Islamic radicals to fight in Iraq, where they killed many Moslems, especially women and children, thus causing the Islamic radicals to lose their popularity among Moslems. The sharp decline in the Islamic nation opinion polls was startling. The revival of Islamic terrorism in the wake of the Arab Spring uprisings are reminding people that this religion-based violence is a liability for Islam, not a virtue and this new spike in Islamic terrorism is again roundly condemned by most Moslems.
For centuries the West did not get involved in these Islamic religious wars, unless attacked in a major way. Moreover, modern sensibilities have made retaliation difficult. For example, fighting back is considered by Moslems as culturally insensitive ("war on Islam") and some of the Western media have picked up on this bizarre interpretation of reality. It gets worse. Historians point out, for example, that the medieval Crusades were a series of wars fought in response to Islamic violence against Christians, not the opening act of aggression against Islam that continues to the present. Thus, the current war on terror is, indeed, in the tradition of the Crusades. And there are many other "Crusades" brewing around the world, in the many places where aggressive Islamic militants are making unprovoked war on their Christian and non-Moslem neighbors. Political Correctness among academics and journalists causes pundits to try and turn this reality inside out. But a close look at the violence in Africa, Asia and the Middle East shows a definite pattern of Islamic radicals persecuting those who do not agree with them, not the other way around.
While Islamic terrorism grabs most of the headlines, it is not the cause of many casualties, at least not compared to more traditional wars. The vast majority of the military related violence and deaths in the world comes from many little wars that get little media attention outside their region. Actually some of them are not so little. While causalities from international terrorism are relatively few, they are intentionally publicized by the killers. In contrast the dead and wounded from all the other wars actually comprise over 90 percent of all the casualties. The Islamic terrorism looms larger because the terrorists threaten attacks everywhere and at any time, putting a much larger population potentially in harm's way, and the more numerous potential victims are unhappy with that prospect. In the West, and most Moslem nations, Islamic terrorism remains more of a threat than reality.
Saudi Arabia has been coping with the latest outbreak of Islamic terrorism since the 1970s and has adapted and basically driven most Islamic terrorists out of the country where many Islamic terrorists come from. For example, Osama bin Laden found this out in the 1980s and managed to flee Saudi Arabia, where he was born and raised. Bin Laden, and many other Islamic terrorist leaders concluded that the West was at fault here, supplying the ideas and technology that made Saudi Arabia, the birthplace of Islam, impossible for Islamic terrorists to operate in. From that came the decision to launch more attacks in the West, to discourage Western nations from supporting Moslem despots and to encourage more Moslems to join the latest round of the eternal Islamic revolution. That actually worked for a while, but eventually people realized that most of those young guys who went off to be Islamic terrorists were never heard from again and that most of their victims were fellow Moslems.
All this began in Saudi Arabia, where some of the strictest and most conservative strains of Islam were developed and nurtured over the centuries. With the arrival of vast quantities of oil income in the 1970s Saudi Arabia and wealthy individuals could finance a huge outreach program to less zealous Moslems. This was done with cash (to build mosques, religious schools and buy local cooperation) as well as missionaries from Arabia. There are still a lot of old-school Moslems in Saudi Arabia but most now recognize that the Islamic terrorism, while a source of pride (when non-Moslems are killed) is more of a liability than an asset.
Another incentive to reform and pacify Islam is Shia Islam as championed by Iran, which want to overthrow Sunni (what most Moslems are) predominance. This effort began in the 1980s and continues more than three decades later. Now Iran is on the verge of getting nukes and that changes a lot of attitudes in Arabia as well.