Paris: Is Islamist extremism a bigger problem now than it was before 9/11?
Yes. The pro-Palestinian terrorism that rocked Western Europe in the 1980s was secular (although I saw an emergent version of radical Islamism in the Occupied Territories in 1987). 9/11 came as a shock precisely because political/religious extremism was not yet on any large maps. The al-Qaida attacks changed that. So did the subsequent “war on terror” which served as an excellent recruiting tool. The Manichean world view of the Bush administration and its sycophants; the creation of the prison at Guantanamo Bay; the normalization of torture, which was carried out at sites around the world; the widespread verbal, and sometimes physical, attacks on Muslims and the Koran; and, of course, the war in Afghanistan all helped justify extremism in the minds of angry, anti-Western young people looking to root their lives in something meaningful. A number of irresponsible imams around the world lent the movement authority.
If 9/11 was a turning point, the Mali situation may be another one. We knew that al-Qaida was regrouping, but radical Islamism now seems to have entered a new phase; ie, they may soon control a country, with unforeseen consequences.