Since Sept. 11, 2001, I've written a column once a year pointing out the good news, which is that Islamic extremism is losing. The movement, in all of its variations, has been unable to garner mass support in any Muslim country. While people in many countries still despise their governments -- and that of the United States -- this has not translated into support for Osama bin Laden's ideas. It doesn't mean the end of terrorism by a long shot. Small groups of people can do great harm in today's world. But it does mean that the political engine producing this religious radicalism is not gaining steam.
In those places in the Muslim world where political life is open, the evidence is overwhelming. In the elections in Malaysia and Indonesia this year, secular parties trounced Islamic ones. Malaysia's case is particularly instructive. Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi ran on a platform of reform and good government, reckoning that voters cared more about ending corruption than enacting Islamic law. The result was a devastating defeat for the Islamist party, its worst showing in 30 years.
In 2004, however, one can point to more than simply the absence of support for fundamentalism. There are glimmers of reform, even in the Arab world, the place that remains the locus of the problem. Governments are talking about changing their economic and even political systems. Some are doing more than talking. Jordan has begun serious economic reforms. Egypt, which remains the most tragic case of lost potential in the Arab world, could be rousing from its slumber. An energetic new prime minister has appointed a team with strong reformist credentials, including businessmen in the cabinet (a first in Egypt). The reforms they have proposed are bold and far-reaching. Markets are taking note: Egyptian stocks are up 100 percent this year.