"The vast majority of people in the Arab world sympathize with al Qaeda only because it champions their issues and speaks their language and it's seemingly effective against their enemies." -- the egregious Shibley Telhami of the Brookings Institution and the University of Maryland
A nice example of deception and even possibly self-deception. It is not because it [Al Qaeda] "champions their issues." It is because Al Qaeda speaks the language of Islam, is deeply rooted in the canonical texts of Islam, and cannot be successfully refuted within Islam. Why not? Because it is true to the letter and the spirit of Islam -- to the Qur'an and Sunna, to the example of Muhammad, uswa hasana (Qur'an 33:21). The origins of Islam to justify and promote the Arab conquest of more advanced, richer, more populous tribes and groups of Christians and Jews, the role of Jihad-conquest in spreading Islam, the long record, over 1350 years, of the subjugation of non-Muslims of every kind, always and everywhere forced to endure the status of dhimmi (although sometimes the rigor of this was modified by the gentleness of an individual ruler, such as syncretistic Akbar in India), if permitted to live at all and to avoid forcible conversion -- all of this may have been forgotten in the Western world.
As The Legacy of Jihad (just out, and I can throw away the galleys I had and now read from the beautifully-bound book) demonstrates, Western scholars in the recent past (1880-1970) without exception understood Islam perfectly. But then something happened. A change of personnel, and a change in funding, and a change in world-views. Those experts on Islam died, or retired. They were not replaced by similar experts. The membership of the Middle East Studies Association (MESA Nostra, or MESA for short), for example, in 1970 consisted almost entirely of non-Muslim Americans: Muslims were about 3% of the membership. In 2005 more than half -- over 60% - of MESA Nostra's membership consists of Middle Easterners, Muslim and in most cases, Islamochristians. There are few Maronites, few Chaldeans or Assyrians, few Copts, but many, many Muslims and above all, the kind of Christians -- "Palestinians" -- who have chosen to identify with the Jihad against Israel and with Islam as the embodiment of Arabdom, Uruba. Some of these are smoother than others; after all, they want to be admitted to the corridors of power, to become "experts" who appear on this or that network, to be quoted -- so they learn quickly exactly how far they can go in their defense of Islam and their deflection of attention away from Islam.
The effect of this has been dramatic. It is hardly possible to learn about the main subject that one needs to learn about -- Islam – with any intelligent understanding of North Africa or the Middle East or the world wherever Muslims are now to be found and are aggressively promoting their demands, their Da'wa, their demographic conquest that proceeds, here fast and there slow, of the local Infidels. That is to say, it is hardly possible to get the truth about Islam almost anywhere you might once have expected to find it..
A near-monopoly has been established among academic centers by the army of apologists for Islam. Many, most of them, are themselves Muslims, with that absence of self-criticism, that quickness to defend -- often in the most transparent and absurd ways -- the claims of Islam against all who, having familiarized themselves with the Qur'an, Hadith, and Sira, and with the history of Muslim conquest and treatment of non-Muslims, dare to criticize it. There are the Iranians, who can be divided in two – on the one hand, there is the clownish Hamid Dabashi variety (google "Hamid Dabashi" and "Edward Said" right now -- I never fail to offer this as a surefire way to start your day, and float or row your boat, merrily, merrily, merrily, down the stream of Dabashi's lurid consciousness), who identify totally with the Arabs and Islam. On the other hand there are the Iranians in exile who may have begun to question Islam itself and realized how poisoned a gift the Arabs gave to Sassanian, Zoroastrian, Persia.
Then there are the largely, though not entirely, wacky or slightly off (in some cases) or simply career-minded play-it-very-safe Americans. Some of these are recipients of Arab money, at various academic centers bought-and-paid for by the Saudis and others, holders of Saudi-funded chairs who are not about to bite the hand that not only feeds them, but also holds a dagger. Others are people who simply want to get on with their work in medieval Islamic law, or the history of Islamic astronomy, but do not wish to cause themselves any unpleasantness as they seek tenure, or summer fellowships, or access to manuscripts. They simply wish to be left mostly alone when the hideous administrative assignments are handed out, or do not wish to be odd-man-out among hostile Muslims and their sympathizers. And so they sit silently at those horrible faculty meetings that one can hardly imagine such former teachers as Auden, Frost, Randall Jarrell, John Berryman, or for that matter Erdos, von Neumann, Morgenstern, Hans Bethe, and a few hundred others ever attending or managing to endure.
And let's not even speak of the undergraduates who have no way of knowing what nonsense they are being taught about Islam -- that they may discover afterwards. At this point they only want to regurgitate just the right amount for the desired grade. Then there are the graduate students whose professional advancement depends on being well-pleased pleasers (Joyce, prosti!) of those who rule over them.
I have my own ideas as to where, in this taxonomy, I'd place Shibley Telhami. You?