Does this all mean that Islamist militancy will simply die away? Of course not. A phenomenon with such long and complex roots will evolve rather than disappear. That is what is currently happening in this new post-al-Qaeda phase. Wherever the various factors that allow the “Salafi-Jihadi” ideology to get traction are united, there is likely to be violence.
Extremists do, as Cameron said, “thrive when they have ungoverned spaces in which they can exist, build and plan” and the aftermath of the Arab spring has not just opened up new terrain, but also exacerbated existing problems of lawlessness and criminality. Flows of arms from Libya have made a bad situation worse.
And if you take the fighting in Mali and the attack on the refinery, and add it to a list of all the incidents occurring around the globe involving extremist Islamist violence, it is undoubtedly a frightening picture.
In the last few days there were arrests in the Philippines, anti-terrorist operations in Indonesia, deaths in Pakistan (due to infighting between extremist groups), air raids in Afghanistan on suspected al-Qaeda bases, battles in the Yemen, shootings and executions in Iraq following the release of a video showing brutal executions, reports of trials in the UK and Germany as well as fighting in Mali.
However, does this all add up to al-Qaeda 3.0, more dangerous than ever before? There’s a simple test: Think back to those dark days of 2004 or 2005 and how much closer the violence seemed. Were you more frightened then, or now? The aim of terrorism is to inspire irrational fear, to terrorize. Few are as fearful today as they were back then. So that means there are two possibilities: We are wrong, ignorant or misinformed and should be much more worried than we are; or our instincts are right, and those responsible for the violence are as far from posing an existential threat as they have ever been.