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To defeat Al Qaeda, US must build trust of moderate Muslims

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I have spent my professional life studying social and political movements and the role public opinion plays in them. I was pleased, then, to see that in its recently released report, the 9/11 commission makes the point that America's enemy is not just " 'terrorism,' some generic evil," nor is it just a "stateless network of terrorists called al Qaeda." Instead, the commission stresses that the US confronts today a radical ideological movement in the Islamic and Arab world.

Unfortunately, too few leaders, policymakers, and media outlets have paid much attention to this section of the 9/11 commission report. Nearly all the focus has been on the short-term goal of "fixing" the nation's intelligence systems.

Long-term success in the fight against terror, however, depends far more on a broader strategy to counter this radical political movement that is the source from which Al Qaeda constantly replenishes itself. America's primary focus must be on the goal of stopping new terrorist recruitment. Nothing will contribute more to the nation's safety than this - not more concrete barriers around the Capitol, not more air marshals on airplanes, or bomb-sniffing dogs in train stations.

The 9/11 commission is right. Al Qaeda is the militant tip of a religious political movement that is spreading throughout the Muslim world, particularly in nations allied to the US, such as Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and Egypt. Moreover, this movement is gathering public support. Like most successful movements, it is built like a stool on three legs: committed militants, moderates who may disagree with the tactics of the militants but feel they have a legitimate grievance, and a convenient scapegoat - in this case, the US.


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