[extropy-chat] War of Ideology

Emlyn emlynoregan at gmail.com
Sat Jul 24 08:55:06 UTC 2004

An interesting article on the US's troubles with Islam, from NYT. 
I've included the whole thing, and here's the link (but you'll need to
be registered):


War of Ideology

Published: July 24, 2004

When foreign policy wonks go to bed, they dream of being X. They dream
of writing the all-encompassing, epoch-defining essay, the way George
F. Kennan did during the cold war under the pseudonym X.

Careers have been spent racing to be X. But in our own time, the 9/11
commission has come closer than anybody else. After spending 360 pages
describing a widespread intelligence failure, the commissioners step
back in their report and redefine the nature of our predicament.

We're not in the middle of a war on terror, they note. We're not
facing an axis of evil. Instead, we are in the midst of an ideological

We are facing, the report notes, a loose confederation of people who
believe in a perverted stream of Islam that stretches from Ibn Taimaya
to Sayyid Qutb. Terrorism is just the means they use to win converts
to their cause.

It seems like a small distinction - emphasizing ideology instead of
terror - but it makes all the difference, because if you don't define
your problem correctly, you can't contemplate a strategy for victory.

When you see that our enemies are primarily an intellectual movement,
not a terrorist army, you see why they are in no hurry. With their
extensive indoctrination infrastructure of madrassas and mosques,
they're still building strength, laying the groundwork for decades of
struggle. Their time horizon can be totally different from our own.

As an ideological movement rather than a national or military one,
they can play by different rules. There is no territory they must
protect. They never have to win a battle but can instead profit in the
realm of public opinion from the glorious martyrdom entailed in their
defeats. We think the struggle is fought on the ground, but they know
the struggle is really fought on satellite TV, and they are far more
sophisticated than we are in using it.

The 9/11 commission report argues that we have to fight this war on
two fronts. We have to use intelligence, military, financial and
diplomatic capacities to fight Al Qaeda. That's where most of the
media attention is focused. But the bigger fight is with a hostile
belief system that can't be reasoned with but can only be "destroyed
or utterly isolated."

The commissioners don't say it, but the implication is clear. We've
had an investigation into our intelligence failures; we now need a
commission to analyze our intellectual failures. Simply put, the
unapologetic defenders of America often lack the expertise they need.
And scholars who really know the Islamic world are often blind to its
pathologies. They are so obsessed with the sins of the West, they are
incapable of grappling with threats to the West.

We also need to mount our own ideological counteroffensive. The
commissioners recommend that the U.S. should be much more critical of
autocratic regimes, even friendly ones, simply to demonstrate our
principles. They suggest we set up a fund to build secondary schools
across Muslim states, and admit many more students into our own. If
you are a philanthropist, here is how you can contribute: We need to
set up the sort of intellectual mobilization we had during the cold
war, with modern equivalents of the Congress for Cultural Freedom, to
give an international platform to modernist Muslims and to introduce
them to Western intellectuals.

Most of all, we need to see that the landscape of reality is altered.
In the past, we've fought ideological movements that took control of
states. Our foreign policy apparatus is geared toward relations with
states: negotiating with states, confronting states. Now we are faced
with a belief system that is inimical to the state system, and aims at
theological rule and the restoration of the caliphate. We'll need a
new set of institutions to grapple with this reality, and a new
training method to understand people who are uninterested in national
self-interest, traditionally defined.

Last week I met with a leading military officer stationed in
Afghanistan and Iraq, whose observations dovetailed remarkably with
the 9/11 commissioners. He said the experience of the last few years
is misleading; only 10 percent of our efforts from now on will be
military. The rest will be ideological. He observed that we are in the
fight against Islamic extremism now where we were in the fight against
communism in 1880.

We've got a long struggle ahead, but at least we're beginning to understand it. 

E-mail: dabrooks at nytimes.com



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