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Opinion

On a single day

in early summer this year, there

were three acts of terrorism that seemed to epitomize the

current political paroxysm and manic sadism of Islamic

extremism. In Tunisia, a gunman murdered dozens of

innocent tourists and locals on a beach; in a Kuwaiti

mosque, as many as 30 worshippers were slaughtered

by a suicide bomber and, in France, a factory-owner

was killed and beheaded by a Muslim already known

to the French intelligence service as a terrorist threat.

Western leaders made gestures about condemnation and

refusing to surrender but, truth be told, their impotence

was tangible.

As painful as it is to admit, there is no way to completely

eliminate the threat of lone-wolf terrorismwhen the cul-

prit prefers death to life. I reported in Northern Ireland in

the early- andmid-1980s and both loyalist and republican

terrorists shared two characteristics that made the work

of the security services relatively straightforward – a set

of rules, and self-interest. In other words, all sides knew

the battle lines and those planting the bombs understood

that civilian casualties tended to minimize their support

and, most of all, they wanted to live.

That’s not the case with Islamist terror. Surviving a mission

is perceived as failure. There are no warnings and the

more innocent and vulnerable the victim, the greater

the success. But here is where the light of civilization

is shining through the clinging darkness. Islam is not

Islamism. The vast majority of Muslims are not funda-

mentalist and, contrary to what insular North American

and European conservatives might tell you, most people

in the Middle East are far more concerned with their

families, their property and their livelihood than with

politics and theocracy.

In Tunisia, with its large secular and western-looking

population, there were street demonstrations within

hours of the jihadist massacre. Significantly, alongside

the young people in modern dress, were women with

hijabs and traditional, middle-aged men. What occurred

in Kuwait outraged much of the Muslim world in that

security photographs show the ISIS bomber walking

into the holy place full of praying Shia Muslims. ISIS is

Sunni and regards all Shia Muslims as infidels, as it does

most other Muslims as well as, of course, Jews, Christians,

Hindus and Buddhists.

It’s simply all more complex, divided and oddly hopeful

than we tend to think. While the killers will, tragically,

still find ways, the mass of the Arab intellectual class

and – this is important – the Arab street is beginning to

reject extremism. Even theMuslimBrotherhood, hardline

but hardly ISIS, is overwhelmingly despised in Egypt.

They had their chance at government and managed to

alienate almost everybody.

In the West, we tend to think of the Middle East as

defined and divided by the Israel/Palestine conflict. That’s

a severely facile analysis, however. In a recent and rare

poll in Saudi Arabia, it was Iran and not Israel that was

considered the greatest threat to regional peace and the

majority of Saudis wanted a lasting peace with the Jewish

state. The Middle Eastern country with the lowest rate

of anti-Semitism is, apart from Israel of course, not a

relatively moderate Gulf state or perhaps Morocco, but

the Islamic Republic of Iran. Most Israeli Arabs would,

if given the choice of citizenship by any of Israel’s neigh-

bours, prefer to remain Israeli in spite of how critical

many of them are regarding Israeli policies.

If anything delineates the contemporary Middle East, it

is three major aspects: Arab and Persian, Sunni and Shia,

and fundamentalist and moderate. Iran leads the Shia

world, but Iran is Persia and in spite of what some might

claim, there are acute lines of self-superiority within the

Muslimworld. Persians generally believe that their culture

is superior to that of Arabs and, while Teheran tries to

speak for Shia in Lebanon, Iraq and Kuwait, it’s having

a hard time of it. Saudi Arabia leads the Sunni world,

backed up by Egyptian military muscle and numbers.

Jordan, for example, is effectively defended by the Saudi

army. It’s generally accepted that if Israel ever did decide

to attack Iranian nuclear facilities, the Saudis would not

interfere with the Israeli Air Force flying over their air

space.

As for moderates and extremists, Islamic moderation

is not the same as Christian moderation but it is,

nevertheless, prepared to reason and to compromise. If

anything, the future is with the good, or relatively good,

guys and that’s probably why ISIS and their friends are

behaving so monstrously. They know that time is not

on their hands.

with

Michael Coren

16

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