The late Osama bin Laden frequently sounded this theme. "Each day, the sheep in the flock hope that the wolves will stop killing them, but their prayers go unanswered," he declared in May 2008. "Can any rational person fail to see how they are misguided in hoping for this? This is our own state of affairs." Bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, his successor as al Qaeda's leader, have infused their statements with a triumphal, inspirational tone, but their disappointment shows through. "There is no excuse for anyone today to stay behind the battle," Zawahiri lectured in a video released on the Internet in 2007. "We continue to be prisoners, restrained by the shackles of [mainstream Islamic] organizations and foundations from entering the fields of battle. We must destroy every shackle that stands between us and our performing this personal duty."
A 2008 al Qaeda recruitment video laments, "My brother in Allah, tell me, when will you become angry? If our sacred things are violated, and our landmarks are demolished, and you didn't become angry; if our chivalry is killed, and our dignity is trampled on, and our world ends, and you didn't become angry; so tell me, when will you become angry?" It concludes with a taunt aimed at those not man enough to join the jihad: "So live as a rabbit, and die as a rabbit."
Other terrorists have issued similar insults in their attempt to goad Muslims into revolutionary activity. "What is wrong with the Muslim Ummah today?" the Pakistani militant group Harkat ul-Mujahideen complained on its website. "When the Kuffar [non-Muslims] lay their hands on their daughters, the Muslims do not raise even a finger to help them!" Abu Musab al-Suri, a widely read strategist of Islamist revolution, called it "regrettable" that so few Muslims -- only one in a million by his reckoning -- have committed themselves to jihad in Afghanistan.
These are not necessarily new laments: Proponents of violent jihad have insulted and guilt-tripped their fellow Muslims for decades. Sayyid Qutb, the Egyptian revivalist who inspired a generation of Islamic movements, went so far as to declare in the 1960s that "the Muslim community has been extinct for centuries." Only a revolution that establishes Islamic government will entitle Muslims to call themselves "believers."
Qutb's exhortations treated revolutionary jihad as a collective duty. By the 1980s, however, Islamist militants had honed their religious judgments to a finer point. "Today, jihad is an individual duty of every Muslim," wrote Muhammad abd al-Salam Faraj, chief ideologue of the group that assassinated Egyptian President Anwar Sadat in 1981. This obligation can only be fulfilled through "confrontation and blood." Abdullah Azzam, one of the chief organizers of the 1980s pan-Islamic jihad against the Soviets in Afghanistan, called participation in this battle -- actually going to fight, he specified, not just sending money -- an individual duty that is "incumbent upon every Muslim on Earth until the duty is complete and the Russians and communists are expelled from Afghanistan. This sin weighs on the necks of everybody." In 1998, bin Laden and colleagues used similar language in declaring war on the United States: "The ruling to kill the Americans and their allies -- civilians and military -- is an individual duty for every Muslim who can do it in any country in which it is possible to do it."
For several decades now, Islamist terrorists have called it a duty for Muslims to engage in armed jihad -- against their own rulers, against the Soviets, and later against the Americans. Tens of thousands have obeyed, perhaps as many as 100,000 over the past quarter-century, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. This is a significant number of potentially violent militants, even if most received little serious training and subsequently dropped out of the militant movement. At the same time, more than a billion Muslims -- well over 99 percent -- ignored the call to action. This is typical for revolutionary movements of all sorts, of course: Few ever manage to recruit more than a small portion of their target populations. Leftist terrorists such as the Weathermen in the United States, the Red Army Faction in West Germany, and the Red Brigades in Italy were even less successful at recruiting, numbering no more than a few thousand militants at their height in the 1970s and 1980s. The most effective recruiters tend to be territorially based movements such as the Irish Republican Army, the Basque Homeland and Freedom group ETA, and the Palestinian group Hamas, whose military wing is said to have grown since its 2007 takeover of Gaza to approximately 1 in 100 residents. But by my calculations, global Islamist terrorists have managed to recruit fewer than 1 in 15,000 Muslims over the past quarter-century and fewer than 1 in 100,000 Muslims since 9/11.