Daniel Pipes, American historian and founder of the Middle East Forum, has kept an eye on Islam and its adherents for decades. It’s an occupation that puts him on the front lines for both praise and criticism, but whether or not his critics agree, Pipes usually has something interesting to say. Last year, he predicted that “Islamism” (radical as opposed to moderate Islam) had peaked as a world phenomenon and was soon to go into decline. In the last few months, with all hard-won stability in Iraq and Afghanistan melting away, with Syria self-destructing and Iran stringing its enemies along at the negotiating table, that claim would appear to be due for revision.
Or maybe not. A wide-ranging poll conducted by Pew Research indicates that Muslims, particularly in the areas targeted by terrorist groups, are getting tired of it. Even Palestinians aren’t so gung ho about suicide bombings these days (though the survey report notes that their opinions were taken shortly before the present conflict), and overall “concerns” about violent tactics are rising throughout the Middle East and Africa.
This makes sense. People make up movements, even those radical to the point of insanity. And however savage these people may be, they are not superhuman. Rage is extremely potent, but also exhausting. So is the bloodlust that works its way into the psyche of brainwashed, maladjusted, or otherwise twisted young people who make up the front lines of Islamist aggression. Mullahs and self-styled caliphs make the plans but someone has to do the killing and be killed, a mission that requires an endless supply of new foot soldiers. Likewise, hapless bystanders can put up with low or intermittent levels of violence for years, but constant bombardment rouses them to protest.
Wicked hearts are capable of any conceivable wickedness, but eventually two things happen: They burn out from sheer exhaustion, or settle into dull, dead routines of oppression and murder. The old Soviet Union seems an example of the latter, while the former model fits radical Islam. Both act out a biblical principle: “Thus far shall you come, and no farther, and here shall your proud waves be stayed” (Job 38:11, ESV). God sets limits on the ocean, and on the human heart. However vicious and horrifying the deeds of man, he can only go so far.
Daniel Pipes agrees with the principle, if not the Bible reference: Radicalism is distinguished not just by its violence but also by its inability to cohere for long, and radical Muslims are at war with themselves even more than with Christians or Jews.
“Should the fissiparous tendency hold, the Islamist movement is doomed, like fascism and communism, to be no more than a civilizational threat inflicting immense damage but never prevailing,” Pipes wrote. That’s both a warning, and a comfort. In good times remember that evil is crouching somewhere, ready to break out. And when in the thick of the battle, know that evil will not prevail.