One of the best things about living in America, or another Western democratic country, is that if you don’t like the government, you can vote to change it. If enough people vote to change it, the government will change.
Of course, there are many flaws with the system and politicians may not be as responsive to voter concerns as many would like. But the principle is still there. Elections take place, a government comes in and a government leaves.
Each election cycle has the power to bring in someone who will radically remake the state. This makes democracies flexible.
But what they gain in flexibility, they lose in perspective. Five years is not actually a very long time. Most mortgages are 25 or 30 years. Children will stay in the same elementary or high school for longer. It can take two or three years for a start-up business just to break even, let alone become profitable and establish itself in the marketplace.
This is nothing compared to the scale of long-term geopolitical trends. The Syrian Civil War has been going on for seven years. Does America have a long-term strategy for dealing with the problems associated with that war? For resettling refugees?
Islamists, on the other hand, do not have to worry about four-year election cycles. There is no handover of power other than if a leader is too old or dies, and usually, the successor is designated.
The downside of this kind of thinking is that authoritarian movements become stagnant, rigid and inflexible compared to democracies. They are also non-responsive to the needs of citizens, so problems can fester for a long time before being dealt with. Authoritarian states often have worse of economies and less happy citizens for this reason.
But it enables them to quite easily play a 100-year long-game, gradually biding their time and taking steps to gain influence gradually. There isn’t any rush because they aren’t going to be voted out of office.
This means that while Western countries swing from Left to Right, Islamists continue marching towards their goal, step by step.