This seemed like such a great opening, I couldn't help myself. I said, "Just yesterday I saw a video of a former NSA official talking about forest fires. Apparently, when they killed Osama bin Laden, they also captured a bunch of computers and stuff, and they've found out al Qaeda had plans to inflict economic damage on the United States with forest fires. And already they've busted two al Qaeda operatives in California actually doing it! It's a great way for al Qaeda to harm our economy without costing themselves anything."
He said, "That sucks!"
But I had been thinking about asking my next question sometime as an experiment, and this seemed like such a perfect opportunity. So I asked, "Do you know why they want to harm the U.S.?"
He said, "Well, we haven't really been very cool to them in their homelands. It seems like a lot of Arabs probably hate us."
"It's not just Arabs," I said. "Orthodox Muslims all over the world, including some homegrown Muslims — people born in the USA — want to destroy America. It's what they're supposed to do if they are really believing Muslims. It says in Islamic doctrine that they're supposed to fight to impose Islamic law on everyone eventually. And they're at war with anyone who's not following Islamic law, which of course, includes the United States more than anywhere."
"What about all this stuff about our troops in Arabia?" he said, but not really in a challenging way. It almost seemed like he wanted to know what I would say about that.
"It's a pretext," I said. "A Muslim trying to follow Islamic teachings really strictly is supposed to follow Muhammad's example, and that's exactly what the al Qaeda dudes are doing. And Muhammad always had an excuse to attack non-Muslims. Any excuse would do. If we met every one of their demands, they would find some other excuse; they would not leave us alone. They'd attack us because we don't cover our women or something."
He seemed to accept this. He said, "And they'd probably just see us as weak and get more aggressive."
"Yeah, probably," I said, nodding. Now, at this point, the conversation felt complete. I'd gotten a little solid information into his mind without much resistance and I didn't want to "sell past the close," so I let it drop right there, following the principle of small bits and long campaigns. Someone else came into the room, and I brought up a different topic. I said to both of them, "Did you hear about the guy who proposed marriage by faking a car accident?" And we started talking about that.
I think these small conversations, sprinkled in with normal conversation — and as much as possible, making it seem like normal conversation — are really valuable. It helps change beliefs gently, and that's probably the best way to change the beliefs of another person. And this "technique" (if we can call it that) of telling some interesting bit of Islamic-related news, followed by the question, "Do you know why they're doing that?" might be a useful format or blueprint for getting some good information into the minds of our fellow non-Muslims.