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Marching Toward Hell [and World War III]

compiled and edited by Michael R. Burch

This is an interesting analysis of why the United States is at war with the Muslim world: a war that increasingly appears to be World War III ... unless we accept the truth and change course. The following are excerpts from Marching Toward Hell: America and Islam After Iraq by Michael Scheuer, with comments and emphasis  added by a blogger who calls himself KHarbaugh.

Chapter 6: "The bottom is out of the tub"

To date, much of U.S. public diplomacy has been conducted so as to avoid the issue of the Islamists’ motivation. For example, U.S. officials have placed great emphasis on the "bin Laden-has-hijacked-and-distorted-Islam" gambit. We have therefore tried to win Muslim hearts and minds by debating theological points, citing hadiths and passages in the Koran, or by backing one Islamic scholar’s interpretations over those of another.

None of these tacks, however, addresses the main issue, which is the Muslim perception that U.S. foreign policy is an attack on Islam.

Our hearts-and-minds voices claim that the renowned Salafist scholar Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi has disavowed the late Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s justication for killing civilians, and Muslims respond, "That is interesting, but why are you giving $3 billion a year to that butcher Mubarak?"

We say that Ayman al-Zawahiri is not a trained Islamic scholar so he cannot legitimately call for a jihad, and Muslims say, "Interesting point, but why are you helping Catholic Filipinos kill Moro Muslims in Mindanao?"

Theological challenges do not get at the main motivation of anti-U.S. Muslims; we cannot out-Islam the Islamists. The concept itself is, at best, rickety; it is like arguing that we could have won hearts and minds in the Soviet Bloc by claiming that Moscow’s understanding of Marx and Lenin was way off target and that Washington had a better take on what Karl and Vladimir Ilyich really meant. Or, from the other side, for Brezhnev or Gorbachev to tell Americans that the Soviet Academy of Political Science had a better handle than Thomas Jefferson on the natural-law theory that informs the Declaration of Independence.

Ten years into the war declared by bin Laden, then, official Washington resolutely refuses to address the Islamists’ true motivation; only a single member of America’s governing elite—representative Ron Paul (R-Texas)—has publicly indicated that he has caught on to the reality that our enemies are motivated by U.S. foreign policy. Instead, U.S. government officials, and the leaders of both political parties, simply and reflexively repeat that the Islamists hate America and are waging war against it because of our freedoms, liberty, and gender equality, not because of what the U.S. government does in the Islamic world.

This claim is a blatant lie, bad for that reason alone but worse because it keeps Americans from clearly gauging the enemy’s motivations and intentions, or bin Laden’s enormous potential appeal among the world’s 1.4 billion Muslims. Frankly, persisting in this lie amounts to a death wish.

Not that bin Laden and his ilk are admirers of American freedoms; they are not, and no society they govern, be it Saudi Arabia, Jordan, or Afghanistan, will even remotely resemble ours, although each is likely to be a more efficient and less corrupt government than the one they replace. But it is a lethal mistake for Americans to assume that because the Islamists would not adopt our society lock, stock, and barrel, they must surely be fighting to destroy it.

Though incorrect in every conceivable way, this assumption is the one on which our governing elite is operating, and it is one, when boiled down to its essence, that concludes that the Islamists and their supporters are warring against the United States because they hate Americans as Americans, as well as everything they stand for in the political and social spheres, and in the end intend to eradicate our society from the planet.

[Note added by KHarbaugh: Frankly, our fiscal policies seem to be about to do a pretty good job of that without any assistance from the Islamists.]

Now, if this assumption were true, there would be no point in considering how best to conduct a public diplomacy campaign to change the hearts and minds of Muslims. If Americans are hated simply because they are Americans, the choice is black and white simple: we can completely abandon our beliefs, our lifestyles, and how we behave in the domestic, political, and social arenas to appease our enemies, or we can undertake the task of killing every last Muslim

because that is what they intend to do to us. This is an unpalatable choice between ingesting strychnine and ingesting arsenic, but there it is.

Fortunately, there is a third option open to Americans, notwithstanding the seemingly permanent obtuseness of their elite. A careful review of the speeches, statements, and interviews that flow like a torrent from bin Laden, al-Zawahiri, and other Islamist leaders shows that they pay no more than lip service to what might politely be called our civilization’s failings.

[For someone who disputes that message, see Bret Stephens on Lady Gaga et al.]

That we have such failings they leave no doubt, but they are never the focus of attention. These men, however, are all children of the era of Iran’s Ayatollah Khomeini, and they all saw how the dour old Iranian failed utterly to initiate a global jihad based on the supposed threat from what he described as the debauched and degenerate society of the American Great Satan.

Having witnessed that almost no Muslim was motivated to become a suicide bomber because American women compete with men in every field or because we have presidential primaries, bin Laden and his colleagues focused on what the U.S. government does in the Islamic world. By doing so, they have produced a motivational message that appeals to and, to a gradually increasing extent, unites the extraordinarily diverse and fragmented Islamic world.

It also is producing a steadily growing flow of volunteers for jihadi activities, suicide and otherwise. The success of bin Laden et al. in this regard would have made the late Ayatollah salivate with envy.

If U.S. leaders would recognize that bin Laden has much more effectually defined Great Satan-ness as U.S. actions overseas and not as the lifestyle of Americans at home, they would be able to begin constructing a hearts-and-minds strategy that would slowly start to narrow

the commanding lead that Islamists now enjoy among Muslims worldwide. Such a grasp of reality and common sense, however, would be out of character for our elite. It also would require senior members of the last three [41, 42, 43] presidential administrations to recant most of what they have sworn to be true about our Islamist enemies’ motivations, take on the politically powerful Saudi and Israeli lobbies, and begin to destroy the energy-policy status quo, that works so much in favor of the U.S. oil industry and against American interests.

It is a tall order indeed, and as is typical in the post-Cold War world, the U.S. government does not have a lot of time in which to recognize reality and begin to make these changes. Time is running out for the United States if it wants to start clawing back some of the vast amount of ground it has lost to the Islamists in the hearts-and-minds competition.

In this environment, the United States is almost never given the benefit of the doubt in what is, to be sure, a very limited public square in the Islamic world. Because this battle of ideas is not like that of the Cold War, "free society" versus "non-free society," our efforts to sell the freedom-liberty-democracy product that worked against the Soviets are feckless. Polls by Pew, Gallup, BBC, and Zogby all show that in most Muslim countries polled our way of life is admired; this finding is validated by the seemingly endless numbers of Muslim families who want to immigrate to the United States. Thus, when our hearts-and-minds voices say that American society allows parents to feed, educate, and provide health care for their children, Muslims say, "That is great, we admire that and applaud you, but why the hell are you protecting those corrupt, apostate criminals who rule Saudi Arabia? When our voices say, Americans are generous, look how much we helped after the tsunami and the Pakistani earthquake, Muslims say, "Thanks and God bless you for that, but why have you supported, armed, and protected Arab police states that have oppressed and tortured us and our children for the last half-century?"

Americans frankly have no hearts-and-minds product to sell that will get us a hearing or the benefit of the doubt in Islam’s public square. As noted, the positive beneficial aspects of U.S. society are not being contested. Because bin Laden has successfully made U.S. foreign policies the center of the war of ideas, any Muslim who publicly argues that America should be given the benefit of the doubt is implicitly acquiescing in U.S. support for Israel, manipulation of oil prices, and support for Russia in Chechnya. This is the reason why Americans hear so few "moderate Muslim voices" opposing bin Laden and the Islamists; the moderates are out there and often do not approve of the Islamists’ military actions, but they hate U.S. policies with just as much venom and passion as the Islamists, per the polls by Pew, Gallup, BBC, and Zogby.

The need to correct American misperceptions of what motivates our Islamist foes is obvious, mandatory, and easy to carry out: our elites simply must stop lying and tell the truth. The hatred being generated by Guantanamo Bay, rendition, and killing Iraqi and Afghan civilians, moreover, is an unavoidable price of fighting a war against a non-uniformed, non-state actor under the terms of international agreements, treaties, and traditions that can accommodate only nation-state-vs.-nation-state conflicts. But we need to be mindful that their cost is more than mere public relations fallout; that hatred for Americans as well as for their government is growing in the Muslim world, and the solution to this problem lies in winning—and winning soon.

A final handicap problem for the United States in the hearts-and-minds arena emanates from Bernard Lewis’s book What Went Wrong? Western Impact and Middle Eastern Response. My own view is that Dr. Lewis did not intend the book to be a final, definitive, and unreserved condemnation of the worthlessness of Muslim civilization. For many Americans and Westerners, however, the book has been portrayed as making that case, and many appear to have adopted that view as their own. To serve their own war-mongering purposes, for example, the neoconservatives most strongly broadcast this description of the book, but President Bush [43] and his colleagues, Democratic Party leaders, media commentators, academics, generals, and many everyday Americans have stated much the same view in one form or another. Protestant evangelicals and Israeli leaders and pundits have give the argument the added and powerfully offensive negative twist of describing Islam as a religion of evil and wickedness, the Prophet as a murderer and a pedophile, and those who believe themselves to be defending Islam—and implicitly tens of millions of Muslims—as mad, nihilistic, and apocalyptic gangsters. Through this interpretation of Dr. Lewis’s book, be it merited or exaggerated, we now have an increasingly widespread, common-wisdom type of criticism of Muslims and Islam as evil, warlike, medieval, anti-modern, woman-hating, archaic, and inhuman.

Standing against these negative assumptions and judgments is a reality that seems contradictory.

Today Islam is the fastest-growing religion in the world, a fact that suggests that the best answer to Dr. Lewis’s "What went wrong?" question is that the evolution of Islam is not working out the way elite Westerners wanted it to work out. "The constant media refrain about ‘what went wrong’ with Islam—to paraphrase Bernard Lewis," William Dalrymple has commented in The New Statesmen, "ignores its self-evident success and its increasing popularity."

Much of this growth clearly is due to the much higher fertility rates of Islamic countries, but as Dalrymple notes in Britain, France, and the United States it has "as much to do with conversion as immigration." In Britain, for example, it has been estimated that by 2025 the number of converts in the British Muslim population will overtake the number of immigrants. Islam, it seems, is attractive to an increasing number of non-Muslims, who, we must assume, find in it spiritual solace, a means of understanding the world, and guidance for how a decent life should be lived by individuals, families, societies, and nations.

Now, some analysts will contend that Western converts are the dregs of Western society, and no doubt U.S. and European prisons are places where such conversions occur at a brisk pace.Nonetheless, the rapid, natural, and by-conversion growth of the world’s Islamic population must be the result of something more than a sudden willingness to adopt a war-mongering, medieval, and inhuman religion. Common sense would suggest, I think, that most people are unlikely to seek solace and direction from that sort of faith.

My point here is not that the neoconservatives, and many others who echo what may be an extreme interpretation of Dr. Lewis’s book, are wrong (though I think they are), but that the deliberately added portion of denigration they inject into the Western-vs.-Muslim debate is [a] further obstacle to any successful hearts-and-minds campaign by the United States and its allies. Already faced by a difficult-to-overcome substantive issue—the near-unanimous belief of Muslims that U.S. foreign policy is meant to humiliate Muslims and attack Islam, and that Washington regards Muslim lives as cheap and expendable—Washington’s would-be hearts-and-minds warriors must overcome a blanket and scabrous Western condemnation of an increasingly popular religion. This condemnation can be expected to enrage Muslims who both love their faith and oppose violence against the United States and the West, and thereby contribute to their silent acquiescence in the face of the Islamists’ arguments and military actions.

[Several themes] are heard today in what is verging on a blanket Western condemnation of Muslim society: the Prophet Muhammad and Islamic society are "degenerate"; Muslims are in revolt against modernity and progress; secular Westerners are "morally superior" to pious Muslims; and Muslims are inferior because they oppose the separation of church and state. At bottom, the impact of such denigration is hard to quantify, but all Muslims share the heritage of Islam, tend to spring to the defense of their faith, society, and brethren, and bristle at the "humiliation" they perceive in Western criticism.

Thus, the shaping of Western thought and rhetoric toward wholesale denigration by the popularization and perhaps distortion of Dr. Lewis’s what-went-wrong thesis further reduces the already slim chance that any U.S. hearts-and-minds arguments will get a fair hearing among Muslims, radical, conservative, moderate, liberal, or otherwise.

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