A perfect example of how the jihadists' efforts have backfired, argues Kepel, was last month's kidnapping of two French journalists in Iraq. The kidnappers announced that they would release their hostages only if the French government reversed its new policy banning Muslim women from wearing headscarves in French public schools. "They imagined that they would mobilize Muslims with this demand, but French Muslims were aghast and denounced the kidnappers," Kepel explained to a Washington audience. He noted that French Muslims took to the streets to protest against the kidnappers and to proclaim their French citizenship.I just wish that instead of saying, "See! The terrorists aren't winning… they might be losing," Ignatius had written, "All this talk about winning and losing kind of obscures the complexity of the situation." Because it does. Naturally I blame our two-party system. Rather than have a nice little multi-partisan discussion about the best way to accomplish a whole series of worthy tasks—from helping certain Muslim societies co-exist with Western society, to eradicating transnational global jihadists—we're stuck with an incomparably dumb debate about whether the terrorists are winning or losing.
Kepel believes that the war for Muslim minds may hinge most of all on these European Muslims. In countries such as France, Britain and Germany, large Muslim populations are living in secular, democratic societies. All the tensions and contradictions of the larger Muslim world are compressed into the lives of these European Muslims, but they're free to let the struggle play out in open debate. Thus, it's in Europe that Islam may finally find its accommodation with modern life.