Today's NYT Week in Review has a page 1 story about the rise of political Islam. This movement casts itself as the primary alternative to Western liberal democracy and capitalism. Furthermore, as the story points out, even its most moderate adherents are prone to accept the most outrageous anti-American and anti-Semitic conspiracy theories. On the follow page, there is also a story about the recent report from Arab social scientists claiming that the Arab world is "failing to educate its people, offer them basic freedoms, encourage individual enterprise or support women's rights." Indeed, they quote from the report that "Knowledge in Arab countries today appears to be on the retreat."
It seems to me that these two stories are really one. The lack of education, economic opportunity, and democratic values (especially for women) seems to be the real cause for the rise of political Islam. Yet the Times story suggest that it US actions regarding Afghanistan, Iraq, and Israel are the most important factors behind its recent spread. I don't deny that US policies have surely provoked political Islams adherents, but this seems unavoidable, given that they oppose not just to specific American policies, but the basic human values that the US and other Western nations espouse.