The Super Bowl may be just days away, but that hasn't stopped America's Quarterback-in-Chief from fumbling the ball. In an interview with YouTube on Monday, US President Barack Obama was asked about his plans for America's war on terror.
After wisely asserting that al-Qaida needs to be fought "on all fronts" and "in very concrete ways," he then veered sharply off course, landing in a ditch alongside the road known as wishful thinking. Invoking what has become one of the central myths of American foreign policy, the president asserted that "we have to work with the overwhelming majority of Muslims who reject senseless violence of this sort."
Ahh, if only that were true.
Indeed, we would all desperately like to believe that just an insignificant minority actually backs the use of violence against Israel and the West.
How much simpler the problem would be if the threat of Islamic extremism was marginal. We could all sleep better at night, stop worrying so much about body scanners and cavity searches, and finally get on with living.
But anyone who takes an honest look at the numbers will see the level of delusion at work here. The fact is that a frightening number of Muslims across the globe support violence and jihad, and the figures are far from inconsequential.
According to the Pew Research Center's Global Attitudes Project, 68 percent of Palestinians, 43% of Nigerian Muslims and 38% of Lebanese believe that "suicide bombings and other forms of violence against civilian targets" are often or sometimes justified.
Add to that 15% of Egyptians and 13% of Indonesians who expressed support for such attacks, and you have tens of millions of Muslims who believe strapping explosives to their bodies and detonating themselves among crowds of innocents can be justified.
I don't know about you, but I hardly see any source of comfort in those statistics. They give the lie to Obama's assertion about the existence of an "overwhelming majority" of peace-loving, terror-hating Muslims.
CONSIDER ALSO the findings of a wide-ranging study published last February by the University of Maryland's WorldPublicOpinion.org project. Entitled, "Public opinion in the Islamic world on terrorism, al-Qaida and US policies," the results showed that even though a large percentage of Muslims may reject al-Qaida's methods, most subscribe to its goals.
According to the press release issued to mark the report's publication, "Majorities agree with nearly all of al-Qaida's goals – to change US behavior in the Muslim world, to promote Islamist governance and to preserve and affirm Islamic identity."
Even among Muslims living in the US, there is cause for concern. On December 17, the Pew Center sought to reassure Americans with a report headlined, "Little support for terrorism among Muslim Americans."
Citing "questions about homegrown terrorism," the study noted that 78% of US Muslims believe suicide bombings can never be justified. While that is certainly welcome news, what about the other 22%?
Going by a previous Pew estimate suggesting the size of the US Muslim population is 2.35 million, that means more than 500,000 Muslims in America believe there are circumstances which may justify suicide attacks.
Clearly, the challenge facing the West is far broader than a small, hazy and nebulous al-Qaida organization. It is a struggle against an ideology that is far more deeply-rooted than Obama would have us believe.
Islamic extremists are not merely a small band of nut jobs hiding in caves along the Pakistan-Afghan frontier. They are part of a worldwide movement. The jihadist next door is no longer just a nightmare scenario.
Sure, not all Muslims are extremists, and it would be entirely wrong and absolutely unfair to suggest otherwise. But it is equally off the mark to minimize the extent to which large numbers of Muslims do seem to support the use of violence.This is not simply a question of semantics, it is a matter of life and death. If Israel and the West continue to deceive themselves into thinking the global jihadist movement is minuscule, we will naturally fail to deploy the tactics and resources necessary to confront it. And we will persist in overlooking the mounting danger staring us all in the face.
The longer Obama and others continue to underestimate the scope of the problem, the more difficult it will be to vanquish it. It is therefore time to sweep aside self-delusion and recognize reality.
Even if the Taliban and al-Qaida are crushed, the battle against Islamic extremism has only just begun.