Winning the War of Ideas

Dr. Hesham Hassaballa

Posted Nov 20, 2005      •Permalink      • Printer-Friendly Version
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Winning the War of Ideas

In the Name of God, Most Compassionate, Most Merciful

Al Qaida claims to be “defenders of Islam and Muslims” in a war launched against Islam by America and her “Zionist-Crusader” allies. Yet, terrorist attacks such as the most recent hotel bombings in Jordan should make clear to all - including the Muslim World - that Al Qaida is nothing but a band of satanic, murderous marauders. Al Qaida, in fact, is very sensitive to its image among Muslims, as evidenced by its issuing an Internet statement attempting to explain and justify why it attacked the hotels: “[we attacked because our leaders were] confident that [the hotels] are centers for launching war on Islam and support the crusaders’ presence in Iraq and the Arab peninsula and the presence of Jews on the land of Palestine.”

The key to winning the “war on terror,” however, is not capturing or killing every terrorist or potential terrorist in the world today. No. The key to winning this seemingly unending war is to defeat the very logic of Al Qaida, to defuse their ideological claim that the West is engaged in an existential war with Islam itself. This will never be accomplished as long as the Bush Administration continues its current tactics and policies in the war on terror, and this goes way beyond the disastrous war in Iraq.

The photos coming out of Abu Ghraib, the continued detention of terror suspects in Guantanamo Bay, the allegations of Quran abuse at the camp was enough to give credence to Al Qaida’s absurd claim that America is fighting a war against Islam. Yet, it seems that the Bush Administration and some members of Congress are trying to do everything it can to give Al Qaida plenty of recruitment material for years to come.

The U.S. Senate, under the bold leadership of Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), overwhelmingly passed an amendment barring U.S. officials from “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” on detainees in the war on terror. The White House has vehemently opposed the measure, even threatening to veto the entire defense appropriation bill because of the presence of that amendment.

Then the Washington Post revealed the presence of several secret prisons run by the CIA, dubbed “black sites,” where top terror suspects are taken and interrogated. It is widely assumed that interrogation techniques which would clearly be forbidden in the U.S. are routinely used in these secret prisons. After this story surfaced, it made more sense why Vice President Dick Cheney was pushing hard to have the CIA exempt from the McCain anti-torture legislation. If that wasn’t enough, Sen. Lindsay Graham, one of the co-sponsors of the McCain amendment, convinced the Senate to pass a bill suspending the writ of habeus corpus for the Guantanamo Bay detainees, preventing them from challenging their unending detention in U.S. courts. Thankfully, the Senate came to its senses and modified the Graham amendment.

The Bush Administration claims it is doing these things in order to effectively prosecute the war on terror, a war against an enemy which - admittedly - does not care about international law when it viciously attacks innocent civilians. Yet, that excuse is flawed for two reasons. First, just because our enemy is vicious and barbaric, it should never follow that we lower ourselves to its level. We are not like our enemy.

Second, our actions speak louder than our words, and when President Bush threatens to veto an entire defense spending bill because of a provision banning “cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment” of detainees, most or all of whom are Muslims, it sends the message that the U.S. government will stop at nothing to prevent them from torturing Muslims. That is precisely the message Al Qaida wants the world’s Muslims to believe.

Ever since the devastating attacks on our country on September 11, our country has been sailing uncharted waters. Never have we faced an enemy as brutal and inhuman as Al Qaida. This does not mean, however, that we should then change who we are. Senator John McCain, writing in the November 21 issue of Newsweek, explained that “[the war on terror] is a war of ideas, a struggle to advance freedom in the face of terror in places where oppressive rule has bred the malevolence that creates terrorists.” If we continue to compromise our principles as we fight the war on terror, then we will never win this war of ideas. Too much is at stake for us to fail in this task.

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