If the conflict in which the U.S. is now engaged is not one of the storied “clashes of civilizations” predicted by Samuel Huntington, it does involve a potentially deadly clash of perceptions. Those in the West who have joined the war on terrorism view Osama bin Laden and the al-Qaeda terrorist network as self-professed agents of the mayhem that has struck the U.S.
However, many of the Muslims who do not unconditionally endorse bin Laden do distinguish his message from his methods. Even as they distance themselves from terrorist acts, some Muslims regard bin Laden as a new Saladdin—the Muslim hero who stood up to the medieval Christian Crusaders. Bin Laden’s words taking on the West “resonate across the Muslim world,” said one British Muslim quoted in the New York Times. “He is only saying what all the Arabs in the world want to say but cannot say in their own country.”