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War of Ideas

When Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld’s internal memorandum to top subordinates leaked last week, most press attention and political commentary focused on his observation that the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq were likely to be a “long, hard slog.”
Many cast this assessment as new or at least evidence of a private view at odds with the Pentagon chief's public emphasis on the real progress being made in the war on terror. The secretary forcefully denied saying, or even intending to imply, any such thing.
Unfortunately, the controversy obscured another of Mr. Rumsfeld’s insights – arguably a much more important one: He questioned whether the United States government is effectively waging “the war of ideas.”
The good news is that, if others are still not sufficiently attentive to this important front in the war on terror, our two-time defense secretary is clearly seized with it. In fact, after his memo was leaked, he specifically addressed this topic in an interview last Thursday with The Washington Times and an OpEd column in the Sunday editions of The Washington Post.
In the former, he noted that, “[Our] ideas are important and they need to be marshaled, and they need to be communicated in ways that are persuasive to the listeners.” In the latter, he emphasized what is at stake: “To win the war on terror, we must also win the war of ideas – the battle for the minds of those who are being recruited by terrorist networks across the globe… The task is to stop terrorists before they can terrorize. And even better, we must lean forward and stop them from becoming terrorists in the first place.”
The magnitude of this challenge will be on display at a hearing of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee tomorrow. Itamar Marcus, director of an outstanding Jerusalem-based organization called Palestinian Media Watch, will present evidence of the relentless effort Yasser Arafat’s Palestinian Authority makes to brainwash its people – and most especially their children – to hate not just Israel but also its ally, America.
The leitmotif running throughout innumerable newspaper articles, cartoons, crossword puzzles, TV news items, “educational” broadcasts and music videos is a systematic glorification of those who die while destroying these “enemies.” Such a perversion of the Islamic tradition of sacrifice for the faith known as Shahada into a cult of death is a hallmark of the radical, usually violent Muslim sects that have come to be called Islamists.
In the Palestinian community, Islamist ideas have been so pervasively, seductively and, evidently, effectively cultivated that, according to a new poll supervised by Frank Luntz, there would appear to be little hope for peace – irrespective of the concessions Israel might make.
This phenomenon is hardly confined to the Palestinians. Thanks largely to Saudi and Iranian bankrolling, state-owned media in much of the Muslim world, “independent” satellite television networks like Al Jazeera and countless Islamist schools known as madrassas are cultivating similar ideas near and far. Indeed, inroads are being made by Islamists in the United States as well, as suggested by the arrests in recent months of several prominent figures in the Arab-American and Muslim-American communities (notably, Abdurahman Alamoudi) in connection with terrorist organizations and/or state-sponsors of terrorism.
As readers of this column know, the Islamists here have not only sought to shape the minds of their co-religionists. They have also worked to disarm the United States in the war of ideas. One of their most successful gambits to date has been the promotion of the notion at the highest levels of the U.S. government that “Islam is a religion of peace.”
To be sure, as practiced by hundreds of millions of Muslims the world over, there is no conflict between adherence to Mohammed’s teachings on the one hand and the leading of peaceful, tolerant and constructive lives on the other. This is not true of Islamists, however, who misconstrue or selectively embrace Koranic passages to justify the use of violence against non-Muslims and even fellow Muslims who refuse to join them. Unless the U.S. government recognizes this reality, it will be unable effectively to resist, let alone to counter, the war of ideas being waged by Islamists to dominate us all.
If the Bush administration is finally getting serious about waging the war of ideas, it will not only have to differentiate between those wielding them against us and those who fundamentally share, or at least are not fundamentally hostile to, our values. No less importantly, the president will also have to engage the services of people who understand and can conduct this war effectively.
Toward that end, Mr. Rumsfeld should once again retain the services of Air Force Brig. Gen. Simon “Pete” Worden, an able and inventive officer who was charged early on in the war on terror with conducting strategic information operations, but was then cut loose at a time when the importance of the war of ideas was less well appreciated.
Success in the war of ideas – and, therefore, in the war on terror – will require having both better ideas and the warriors like Gen. Worden who are prepared to advance them competently and aggressively.
Frank J. Gaffney Jr. is the president of the Center for Security Policy and a columnist for The Washington Times.

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