Western governments can not afford to allow the greater Muslim community to be swept into perceiving that they are on the front line of a battle between a clash of civilizations. In the struggle for the “hearts and minds” Western powers must prevent actions which may offer individuals an opportunity or excuse to view themselves as de facto soldiers in a real or virtual, even internet-based Salafist army.
Only with a sober, delicate approach can aligned states and institutions support elements which will continue to deflate al-Qaeda’s prestige and image. There is no victory blow in the war of ideology, only a gradual reduction of popular support which will peak when Muslims themselves see the Salafists as a public enemy.
This may or may not parallel with a softening view of the threats posed from the West. The policy community must recognize that they can not advance a two prong progression in the battle against al-Qaeda while simultaneously winning outward support for the West in the Muslim world.
The Middle East does not need to embrace the West; however they do need to choose between the West and al-Qaeda. The aim is to accelerate and clarify the choices. Revaluating policy in the Middle East and switching the objective toward a steady gain in popular support, not for the West but against Salafist thought, will be the most effective immediate solution.