It is commonplace for the views of people in power to receive widespread exposure. Having presumably won their stripes in an arduous climb to the top, they are believed to know best what's going on.
This presumption, however, is not only wrong, but is often the inverse of the truth. Given bureaucracy's predilection for conformity, it is rarely the best and brightest who reach the top, but rather the yes-men sycophants – whether by rising to their level of incompetence, as the Peter Principle famously asserts, or by stumbling upward through successive failures, or by simply "being there" long enough.
Thus we have England's national soccer team manager, Sven Goran Eriksson, putting Wayne Rooney on a par with soccer's best-ever player, the legendary Pele. Yet rather than have his professional judgment questioned, the overpaid manager was allowed to lead his under performing team for three more trophy-less years.
Or take US Director of National Intelligence James Clapper's astounding description of the Muslim Brotherhood as a "largely secular" organization.
Shouldn't he know what countless newspaper readers know full well – the Brotherhood is probably the world's foremost Islamist organization, committed to the establishment of a worldwide caliphate. How else is one to interpret its motto – "Allah is our objective. The prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. Dying in the way of Allah is our highest hope"? Now Baroness Eliza Manningham- Buller, former director of MI5 (Britain's FBI equivalent), has joined the march of folly. In her first television interview since leaving her job four years ago, she argued that the "war on terror" is unwinnable, and urged the British government to "reach out" to al-Qaida. "It's always better to talk to the people who are attacking you than attacking them, if you can," she explained.
This gives the idea of appeasement a whole new meaning. Even the most notorious incident – the Anglo- French surrender of Czechoslovakia to Hitler in the 1938 Munich agreement – took place prior to any German military aggression. Once the Nazis invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, London and Paris attempted no further talks, but declared war on Germany.
In contrast, by the time Manningham-Buller made her startling suggestion, al-Qaida had massacred tens of thousands in the name of Islam – from the 9/11 attacks, to the ongoing slaughter in Iraq, to bombings in Yemen, Bali, Sharm e-Sheikh and Madrid. Yet neither these atrocities, nor the July 2005 London bombing, which took place under her watch, seem to have shaken the former director's belief that outreach to the Islamist group would curb its murderous zeal: "If we can get to a state where there are fewer attacks, less lethal attacks..., fewer young people being drawn into this, less causes – resolution of the Palestinian question, less impetus for this activity, I think we can get to a stage where the threat is thus reduced."
THIS JUDGMENT of al-Qaida's worldview is as delusional as Clapper's take on the Muslim Brotherhood. It is true that during the 1970s Western Europeans bought partial immunity from Palestinian terrorism by indulging the PLO. But then, the PLO's goal has always been limited to the "liberation of Palestine" (that is the destruction of Israel), while al-Qaida seeks nothing short of worldwide triumph. As such, the idea that Israeli-Palestinian peace will take away one of Islam's primary gripes against the West totally misreads history and present-day politics.
It is not out of concern for a Palestinian right to self determination, but as part of a holy war to prevent the loss of part of the "House of Islam" that Islamists inveigh against Israel. In the words of the covenant of Hamas, the Palestinian offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood: "The land of Palestine has been an Islamic trust [wakf] throughout the generations, and until the day of resurrection... When our enemies usurp some Islamic lands, jihad becomes a duty binding on all Muslims."
In this respect, there is no difference between Palestine and other parts of the world conquered by Islam throughout history. To this day, for example, many Muslims unabashedly pine for the restoration of Spain, and look upon their expulsion in 1492 as a grave historical injustice, as if they were Spain's rightful owners. Small wonder that Osama bin Laden evoked "the tragedy of Andalusia" after the 9/11 attacks, and the perpetrators of the March 2004 Madrid bombings, in which hundreds of people were murdered, mentioned revenge for the loss of Spain as one of the atrocity's "root causes."
Indeed, even countries that have never been under Islamic rule have become legitimate targets of Islamist fervor. Since the late 1980s, various Islamist movements have looked on the growing number of French Muslims as a sign that France, too, has become a potential part of dar Islam, the house of Islam.
In Britain, even the more moderate elements of the Muslim community are candid about their aims. As the late Zaki Badawi, a doyen of interfaith dialogue, put it, "Islam is a universal religion. It aims to bring its message to all corners of the earth. It hopes that one day the whole of humanity will be one Muslim community."
This goal need not necessarily be pursued by the sword; it can be achieved through demographic growth and steady conversion to Islam. But should peaceful means prove insufficient, physical force can be brought to bear.
Nor is this vision confined to an extremist fringe. This has been starkly demonstrated by the overwhelming support for the 9/11 attacks throughout the Islamic world, in the admiring evocations of bin Laden's murderous acts during the 2006 crisis over the Danish cartoons, and in the poll indicating significant sympathy among British Muslims for the "feelings and motives" of the London suicide bombers.
To deny this reality is the height of folly, and to imagine that it can be appeased or deflected is to play into the Islamists' hands.
Efraim Karsh is professor of Middle East and Mediterranean studies at King's College London, editor of Middle East Quarterly and author of Islamic Imperialism: A History.