Western and Arab officials say the example set by young Arabs seeking peaceful political change is a counterweight to al-Qaeda's push for violent militancy and weakens its argument that democracy and Islam are incompatible.
But Yemeni-U.S. cleric Anwar al-Awlaki argues , in an article published online on Tuesday entitled The "Tsunami of Change", that the revolutions are good news for Islamic extremists and said the removal of anti-Islamist autocrats meant Islamic fighters and scholars were now freer to discuss and organize.
This comes as no surprise from those in the west who have been saying that the potential for Islamists to emerge as a controlling power or major influence in politics and culture in the Middle East is all but assured.
The issue is whether these populations will succumb or be forced to adhere. In reality, the Salafi Wahabi strain of Islam is Islam's and, to a greater extent, the Arab's problem to resolve. Salafis v., for instance, Egyptian Muslims, it is a war between modern Islam and regressive Islam. The United States and the West, however much they are attacked, are the side show.
From the outset, Al Qaeda's goal, formulated by their Salafi Wahabi ideology, has been to force Muslims to choose between Dar al Islam (the house of peace; within "correct Islam" as they see it) and Dar al Harb (the house of war; outside of Islam). While the original intent was to establish the geographic boundaries of Islamic controlled states v. other states, Al Qaeda and it's fellow travelers have gone even further to suggest that Dar al Harb includes Muslims who are not "Islamic" enough (do not follow Salafi practices).
This is one of the reasons that Al Qaeda and it's fellow travelers feel that they have a free hand in attacking and killing Muslims. If they are outside of Dar al Islam (bad Muslims), they are bad Muslims or kufar or takfiri who deserve to be punished. If they are "good Muslims" that die as collateral damage, then they, as martyrs, are assured an eternal life of pleasure in paradise.
The other issue is that Salafis believe they have a right and an obligation to enforce Islamic law by force or "Hisbah". That is what appears to be going on some areas of Egypt where Salafis reportedly broke into a home and accused a local woman of being a prostitute as well as harassed women on the street. They have also protested outside of a Christian Church and recently tried to enforce their ideology in a local village outside of Cairo where an armed conflict broke out after the Salafis tried to shut down liquor stores and coffee shops. Obviously, the locals are not going to follow along quietly.
For Salafis, the reason that Muslim's have fallen from grace is the presence of outside influence, largely western, in the Muslim Arab world. Obviously, since the Qu'ran is the infallible word of Allah and Mohammed the Rightly Guided Prophet, then Islam itself is blameless and no Muslims can be faulted for this decline except that they are tempted as all men are from the grace of Allah. It has to be some greater evil. The west becomes, in essence, the scape goat for all of the ills the Salafis find.
This evil is not just political or military, it is commercial in nature since every western product is imbued somehow with these ideas and is subversive by nature. Aside from attempting to degrade the United States' economy as the driver for it's military power, the attack's on 9/11 were aimed at the World Trade Center was basically a two for one event. Not only did it hope to impact the amount of money the US would have to support it's military, but it would also severely hamper the ability to export these bad influences on the Muslim world.
In that moment, of course, their over all goal was to provoke the US into an act of aggression against Muslim's in general that would force Muslim's to decide whether they are Dar al Islam or Dar al Harb. In essence, Muslims would have to take sides. In their eyes, Muslims had to choose between being "rightly guided" by Salafi principles or be forcefully converted or die. The struggle, as they see it, to convince Muslims of their "correct path" is on going.
Now Al Awlaki says that the Salafis have been given an "in" by the presence of democracy and the ideas of free speech (ideas that, if they were in charge, would go right out the window). This is true. However, as he points out, these things tend to work both ways. Now, whatever the Salafis say can be countered, in the open, in majority Muslim country. They get a chance to make their case, but they can also be rejected.
Of course, the Salafis and Al Qaeda types do not take well to being rejected. The likelihood of Muslims coming under even more violent attacks rises with every step a Muslim state takes away from rejecting democracy and and away from accepting Salafi Islam. The war then returns full circle from where it was born and Muslims will be, once again, on the front lines in both the ideological and physical war.