Events at the close of the 20th century illustrate what has been called the cunning of history. The coincidence of Ayatollah Khomeini’s seizure of power in Iran in 1979 and the end of the Cold War a decade later brought about a shift in the international order. Hitherto passive and seemingly marginalised, Muslims were now able to operate politically and militarily in a world suddenly freed from former restraints, sometimes confronting each other and sometimes engaged in a clash of civilisations with non-Muslims.
Public opinion in the West was not prepared for anything so unpredictable. Out of either ignorance or a misguided sense of superiority, most people in the West had never felt the need to sort out quite basic facts about the Muslim world: for instance,