This recent proliferation of militant Islamist groups that use violence and terror as a basic tool is to my mind the most significant development of our age. It reveals the existence of a very extensive foundation of fundamentalist youths who provide a steady stream of recruits for movements like Fatah al-Islam, which has been locked in battle with the Lebanese Army in North Lebanon for the past 100 days.These movements are most often called "Salafist-Jihadists," reflecting their commitment to two key things: a return to interpretations of Islam allegedly from the days of the Prophet Mohammad, and a militant posture that includes attacking those who stand in the way of creating pure Islamic societies. A single movement like Al-Qaeda could, in theory, be contained, beaten or broken up to the point of being neutralized. But this is virtually impossible to do in the face of dozens or perhaps even hundreds of smaller movements, or cell-like groupings of a half-dozen people, that are loosely linked by shared ideologies, transferable technologies, and intermittent logistical assistance or coordination.Lebanon has become the latest visible battleground between these Salafist-Jihadists and their opponents, who comprise just about everybody else in the region. The danger of the continuing proliferation of such groups is real and frightening, given their willingness and ability to fight against conventional forces and established governments. Yet this bad news should be offset somewhat by the fact that we actually know quite a lot about where these groups and their mindset came from. They are less mysterious than they are menacing.
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