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How Islamist Radicalism Ends

Ideology and Foreign Policy

Flags at the Washington Monument fly at half staff to honor those killed in last weekend's shootings at a gay club in Orlando, Florida, in Washington, DC, June 13, 2016. Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

The murder of 49 people in Orlando on Sunday was unprecedented in scale, but it otherwise followed a very familiar script. The condolences. The calls for tolerance. And, as always, a key question quickly became a political football: What should the United States do? And that question is, itself, part of an even larger puzzle: How does this end?

Islamist terrorism is not a constant. The threat of violent Sunni Islamism was essentially nonexistent until 1979, when the Iranian Revolution and Afghan jihad became symbols of the potential power of political Islam. After Sunni gunmen took over the Grand Mosque in Mecca and demanded the overthrow of the monarchy, Saudi Arabia poured money into Islamist charities, schools, and religious foundations to bolster the monarchy’s religious credentials. Radicalism began to take root. A few years later, after the Gulf War, modern al Qaeda was born, its members already with a Soviet scalp

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