Sunday, November 12, 2006

Our Culture is Our Best Weapon in the War on Terror

Ideas are like viruses, spread through speech and writing. The ideas of John Locke about the rights of man spread to American and created a revolution. A strain of these ideas traveled back to Europe and, with some mutations, created the French Revolution. And these ideas have been travelling around the globe ever since; sometimes supported and sometimes supressed. The same can be said of the ideas espoused in the Communist Manifesto by Engels and Marx.

The principle works the same with Al-Queda and its doctrine of a unified, theocratic Islamic block, of the wahabbist umma that Bin Laden seeks. It is an idea, and the 9/11 attacks and subsequent American Global War on Terror have put these ideas on the map. Like it or not, the concept is acknowledged, discussed, and debated. However, while it is rejected by the majority of Muslims, Al-Queda and its oppenents still enjoy bringing it up. Al-Queda, because that is their goal, and elected western leaders (especially the Bush administration) because they use the idea of the umma as a convenient bogeyman. They argue if we leave in Iraq, Al-Queda will take over and then conquer all of Arabia. Of course, the people of the middle east reject the idea of an Al-Queda style umma just as they reject American occupation and military presence, so the argument is just disingenuous.

Because there is a broad rejection of an American military presence to transform the Middle East by the Arabs themselves, then how can the area be changed? The status quo of petty tyrants and schlerotic socialist economies cannot continue forever. But in this age of internet connectivity, the best weapon for change (albeit of a more gradual scale) is our culture itself. Our ideas. Our political system itself. Because these ideas cannot be supressed, and we must try our best to infect the middle east with these principles. When people are marching in the streets to demand fundamental civil rights as often as they protest Israel or America, we will begin to win this conflict.

As an example of this idea based (as opposed to weapons based power), take a look at this recent Washington Post article. A key paragraph that struck me says:

When he was a college student in Washington state, Saudi Arabia's most popular blogger, Fouad al-Farhan, donned a T-shirt emblazoned with "Animal Rights Equals Human Rights" and slept on the campus lawn during a hunger strike protesting the slaughter of foxes.

That type of freedom during six years in the United States gave Farhan a taste for expressing himself that he was unable to satisfy when he returned to Saudi Arabia in 2001.

You can't write whatever you want in the newspaper here; you can't even lift up a poster in protest," said Farhan, 31, a computer programmer who attended Eastern Washington University in Spokane.
We must give these people more tastes of freedom. We must infect them with ideas of democracy and liberty. We need to expose them to authentic North American culture (Canada is OK too, but I fear there is too much latent racism in Europe for a meaningful and free exchange at the moment), so they can expose their fellow citizens to our ideals. It can't just be through the internet and television. That creates a bit of a warped view of things (many misguided Arab men think that Western women all act like porn stars, for example). We need to open up more cultural centers in their countries, more libraries, more books, more freedom, so they can understand our ideals firsthand.

I believe they do respect our freedoms, and want to enjoy them as well. Democracy, Whiskey, Sexy, and all the rest of it. But they hate our militaristic foreign policy. We need to make sure they don't see dead Arab children on the nightly news. And we need to live up to our own ideals. Terror is a tactic. The theocratic rule of a Taliban style government is an idea, just like communism, and just like democracy and civil liberties. We have to fight ideas with superior ideas. You cannot bomb an idea away. You must show it to be bankrupt and empty. We did that with communism by standing firm and continuing to assert the ideals of liberty. If physically attacked, of course we must defend ourselves. It was right to oust the Taliban just as it was right to crush the Nazis. However, while we defeated Hitler with our military, we defeated the ideals of Nazism by exposing the Nazis' depravity in the holocaust and their war crimes at Nurenburg.

The most important tool in this long struggle is our ideals. We must change the thought of the next generation in the middle east, and must work to infect this generation with our ideas as well. And we must stay true to our ideals as well, so we do not become monsters who abrogate civil liberties, who tortue, who indefinitely imprison. This is how you win a war on terror. A war on an idea. By spreading your own values and holding firm to them.

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