On Winning The Hearts And Minds

Ken AshfordWar on Terrorism/TortureLeave a Comment

"Today there is hatred of the Americans like never before in the region," said Egyptian President (and ally) Hosni Mubarak, speaking of the Middle East. You can read all about his comments here: "Mubarak: Arabs Hate U.S. More Than Ever" (Reuters)

Quick! What best describes your reaction?

(1) "Who gives a tinker’s cuss about what Arabs think of America?"
(2) "I’m building a bomb shelter"

To those who responded with #1, let me counter-respond.

Let’s assume that every society has its share of player-haters. For example, we in the West have angry Christian fundamentalists (although, of course, that does not mean that all Christian fundamentalists are angry).

Let’s further assume that a certain small percentage of those player-haters will be driven to illegal, immoral, and violent extremes — in a word, terrorism. For argument’s sake, let’s say they represent 1% of the identifiable group of "player-haters". So, continuing my example, one percent of angry Christian fundamentalists will be so angry as to commit acts of violence and terrorism (see Eric Rudolph).

It stands to reason that as the Christian fundamentalist movement grows and gains power (which is not a bad thing necessarily), the violent radical fringe of the movement also grows (which IS a bad thing).

So logically, what’s the result when you have a larger universe of Arabs in the Middle East who hate America than you did on, say, 9/11? Answer: you have greater numbers of Arabs situated in the subset of those willing to go to violent extremes. In short, you have more who are (a) willing to fund terrorists (private donations, etc.) and (b) act as terrorists. (Note that this does not require the complicity of nation-states to harbor or support terrorists).

A rising tide raises all boats, so a rising tide of anti-American sentiment necessarily means more terrorists. Does that make America safer? So if you are serious about ending terrorism, you should care about how other cultures see America.

Those who think we can win a (so-called) "war on terror" by stamping out "the terrorists" fail to see how our actions in the past have actually created terrorism. So naturally, they fail to see how our actions in the present are counter-productive to the ultimate objective. They assume that terrorists, in all the forms and incantations, are nothing more than a "band of thugs" (a phrase Bush likes to invoke), without realizing that our policies actually create more anti-U.S. fever and, hence, more terrorists.

In fact, the Bush supporters often go one step further. The mere suggestion that attention be paid to winning the hearts and minds of the people we want to change . . . gets greeted with mocking derisions of how "appeasement doesn’t work".

Don’t get me wrong. I’m strongly in favor of the judicious use of the military, but only as one of many tools in our arsenal to halt the so-called "war" on terror. But a myopic, heavy-handed, military-weighted solution to terrorism is like scratching a poison ivy rash: it may seem like you are getting rid of the problem . . . but in reality, you are merely exacerbating it.

If terrorists recruit in their culture with the propaganda that America is militaristic, expansionist, and self-serving. . . then how are we served by acting in an unapologetic militaristic, expansionist and self-serving manner, thus proving their entire point?

If America wants to change the world, it needs to be a beacon of humble respect for other countries and cultures, even — no, especially — ones that we disagree with.

On occasion, there may be clear good reasons to militarily overthrow countries (and if they are indeed "clear and good", there should be absolutely no problem with world consensus on that issue). But barring that, there is simply no reason to attempt to make other countries in our own image. Let THEM make THEMSELVES in our image, but being a beacon of freedom.

Furthermore, if we demonstrate that all we understand is force and death, then those who oppose us will not hesitate to speak to us in a language we understand — just as they did on 9/11. And once again, we will hear them say, "The chickens have come home to roost".