It's time we open our eyes and confront reality. Ever since the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, the media has sought to reassure us that only a tiny minority of Muslims actually support the use of violence against Israel and the West.
It's just a small fringe, a marginal few at best, they tell us, so don't worry about it all too much. One percent or three percent -- who cares? Just sit back, enjoy your morning eggs and coffee and have a nice day.
But a look at the numbers tells a very different story. The extent of support for global jihad is frightening in its proportions, and the numbers are anything but insignificant.
Consider, for example, the following statistics regarding support for suicide bombings and other types of terror attacks.
In a poll conducted five months ago, and broadcast on Britain's Channel 4 TV, nearly 25% of British Muslims said the July 7, 2005, terror bombings in London, which killed 52 innocent commuters, were justified. Another 30% said they would prefer to live under strict Islamic Sharia law rather than England's democratic system.
Now, one in four justifying terror may not be a majority, but it certainly isn't a "small fringe" either.
In other countries, the figures are no less unsettling. A survey published in December found that 44% of Nigerian Muslims believe suicide bombing attacks are "often" or "sometimes" acceptable. Only 28% said they were never justified.
According to the annual Pew Global Attitudes Survey, released in July 2006, "roughly one-in-seven Muslims in France, Spain and Great Britain feel that suicide bombings against civilian targets can at least sometimes be justified to defend Islam." The report also found that less than half of Jordan's Muslims believe terror attacks are never justified. In Egypt, only 45% of Muslims say terror is never justified.
Still think only a "tiny minority" are in favor of violence? In Israel, the percentages are even more alarming. After Cpl. Gilad Shalit was abducted by Hamas terrorists last summer, a poll conducted by the Jerusalem Media and Communications Center revealed that 77.2% of Palestinians supported the kidnapping, while 66.8% said they would back additional such attacks.
More than six out of 10 Palestinians also said they were in favor of firing Kassam rockets at Israeli towns and cities.
And lest you think that war fever lay behind the results, consider this: four additional polls published in September, nearly a month after the Lebanese conflict had ended, all found large majorities of Palestinians backing terror attacks against the Jewish state.
Indeed, in various countries around the world, support for Muslim fundamentalist terror groups appears to be widespread.
On the fifth anniversary of the September 11 attacks, a survey conducted by Al-Jazeera asked respondents, "Do you support Osama Bin-Laden?" A whopping 49.9% answered: yes.
And the July 2006 global Pew survey found that among Muslims, a quarter of Jordanians, a third of Indonesians, 38% of Pakistanis and 61% of Nigerians all expressed confidence in the mass murderer who founded al-Qaida.
In Lebanon six months ago, the Beirut Center for Research and Information found that over 80% of the Lebanese population said they supported Hizbullah.
And do I need also to mention that a majority of Palestinians backed Hamas in parliamentary elections last year? Sure, there are also places where support for violent jihad is not as high. As Reuters reported on October 15, just 10 percent of Indonesian Muslims said they backed jihad and supported bomb attacks on the island of Bali aimed at foreign tourists.
But Indonesia is home to more than 200 million Muslims, so while 10 percent may sound like a small number percentage-wise, it is actually quite large in absolute terms. It means there are some 20 million Muslims in Indonesia alone who are willing to say out loud that they support the use of violence and terror against innocent human beings.
The longer we continue to underestimate the extent of the problem, the more difficult it will be to defeat it.
Since when is that a "marginal few"? The question of whether a "tiny" or "sizable" minority backs the global jihad is far more than just one of semantics. It goes to the very nature of the struggle that Israel and the West now find ourselves in.
The figures above, taken from a variety of nations, continents and contexts, all point in one very ominous direction. They demonstrate beyond a shadow of a doubt that the global jihadist movement enjoys a wide and broad base of support that extends far beyond just a minuscule number of supporters.
Politicians and journalists might wish to believe, as we all do, that the backers of violent jihad are few and far between, and that they do not represent large numbers of people with like-minded extremist views. But that is simply not the case.
The arithmetic of jihad is quite straight-forward, and it is time we stopped looking the other way and pretending otherwise.
The threat posed by Islamic fundamentalism to Israel and the West can, and must, be met. With determination and a sense of purpose, victory is not out of reach.
But the longer we continue to underestimate the extent of the problem, the more difficult it will be to defeat it.
So let's put aside all that wishful thinking, and roll up our collective sleeves and get to work. Like it or not, the war on terror still faces a long road ahead.
This article originally appeared in the Jerusalem Post.