A Sane Voice on Al-Qaeda

I am so tired of shrill media voices and opinions regarding terrorism and Al-Qaeda that I was powerfully struck when I first heard in my earbuds the sane, informed, and calm voice of Lawrence Wright, a New Yorker author whose 2006 book The Looming Towers won the Pulitzer Prize in nonfiction. The first podcast in which I heard Wright was the July 2nd CBC Radio One Ideas program, which recorded a speech he gave at the University of Toronto. The second was a Council of Foreign Relations panel discussion.

Wright made the challenge of Jihad seem huge, but he offered ways to address it that make sense to me. One of the most obvious is to hire more native Arab speakers in the U.S. institutions trying to understand Al-Qaeda. Of the 1,000 employees in the U.S. embassy in Baghdad, fewer than 10 are native Arabic speakers. What chance do we have to know what’s going on when hardly anyone at the Embassy can read the local newspapers?

Wright also pointed out that the U.S. has a remarkable ability to assimilate Muslim immigrants compared with, say, France, where Muslims account for less than 10 percent of the general population but make up half of the prison population. In the U.S., it’s just the reverse–Muslims account for a much smaller percentage of the prison population than they do the general population. In France, Muslims earn far less than average incomes; in the U.S. they earn significantly more than the average income. Such statistics are important, because studies Wright cited show that the young men most likely to be drawn into nihilistic Jihad are those who feel marginalized in a foreign culture, as is the case in Britain, where home-grown Muslim terrorists pose a challenge not seen in the U.S.

Great podcasts. Good ideas. And high-energy aerobic exercise as I followed along, reluctant to stop the audio when my workout was done.

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