ONE DAY CHANGED EVERYTHING
9/11 was a wake-up call to America. We saw that there were people who want to destroy America and kill Americans. We saw that there was no conventional Army, but an open declaration of war was made against the United States of America.
9/11 was not the sole cause for the War on Terror, rather it was the catalyst that woke the sleeping giant and opened our eyes to the grim reality of an enemy hell-bent on spilling American blood for decades. September 11, 2001 changed our focus.
Throughout the history of this nation we have been engaged in many struggles and fought many wars. The current struggle in the War on Terror is no different in that regard. This generation’s war is similar to all those that preceded it in that “there is no substitute for victory.” It is unique in that the enemy we face is not a conventional military, but an enemy nonetheless. This generation’s struggle is marked by a new policy that was implemented after the attacks of 9/11 that no longer endorses appeasement of those who hate us and want to destroy us and it no longer requires a Cold War containment view. This struggle that we are engaged in requires the promotion, fostering and enablement of democracy in countries where it doesn’t exist and in countries where the views of anti-Americanism breeds hate and violence towards our nation. In order for this long war to be won, it requires the democratization of Middle Eastern nations and the full support of the United States and the voice of the Arab Muslim democrats of that region to accomplish victory.
WINNING THE WAR ON TERROR
It is plain to see that many are confused about whether or not the War on Terror can be won. The phrase “winning the War on Terror” connotes a decisive and clear victory over the enemy, as was the case in most wars before it. The American Revolution finished at the Battle of Yorktown, the Civil War ended with the surrender at Appomattox and the dropping of the atomic bomb signaled the final blow in World War II. However, no one single event will conclude the War on Terror, rather a combination of all efforts on all fronts of this war. Not the least of the efforts to win the War on Terror will require a pivotal role in spreading democracy throughout the Arab world and Arab street.
The War on Terror is now and will continue to be fought on many fronts. Just as the Cold War was fought at home, with a constant watchful eye on the Soviet Union, in Korea and Vietnam and in volatile areas like Cuba and on the other side of the Iron Curtain, the War on Terror will be fought on similar type fronts. We have already witnessed the first three fronts in this new War on Terror: on the home front, against Islamic extremism in Afghanistan and against Islamofascism in Iraq. The war on terror is being fought against two forms of a perversion of the religion of Islam. We are fighting against Islamic extremism in the form of terrorists who wish to push their views on the rest of the world and against Islamofascism or the single-party authoritarian rule which uses Islam as a cover for a political agenda.
Military action is necessary on some fronts of the war, but it cannot succeed without the democratization of Arab countries where people can be encouraged to voice their sentiments as a means of recourse instead of misguided violence against a scapegoat – America, Israel and the West -- for their frustrations. Through democracy, the Arab people, without the oppression of their governments, will be the driving force in keeping terrorism at bay. Terrorism cannot succeed unless it is able to control the masses with its paralyzing fear. With the implementation of democracy, and the expulsion of strangling dictators and their regimes, the voice of Arabs can be heard. They will undoubtedly say no to terrorism which threatens their security and stability. Terrorists would be forced to go underground even more so when they lose the state support of Islamofascists, severely crippling their ability to murder and inflict terror. Only through sustained democracy will the War on Terror be successful. And in many ways, the War on Terror may produce the greatest generation not only in America, but in the Middle East as we are engaged in one of the longest and hardest struggles the entire world has seen. This struggle cannot be won without understanding why these ideologies exist and how democracy doesn’t contradict, but rather compliments the true tenets of Islam.
PERVERSION OF RELIGION
In many ways, Islamofascism and Islamic extremism is no different than Nazism and white supremacy movements. Muslims are not terrorists. In fact to say that any Muslim is a terrorist is a falsehood. True Islam promotes peace, it doesn’t degrade it. A true Muslim does not inflict pain, suffering, terror and death upon innocent people, so a true Muslim is not a terrorist. And likewise a terrorist is not a true Muslim. Rather, the terrorist ideology as we know it, is a perverted pattern of thinking and behavior that is claimed by its progenitors to be based on Islam and the Koran. It is much like Hitler and the Nazis that claimed to be Christian and the Ku Klux Klan who also claim to be Christian and yet both operate specifically opposing true Christian beliefs and teachings. Theirs too is a perverted version of the religion they claim to represent. The overwhelming population of Christians do not agree and reject them as having any sort of Christian identity. They understand that to be Christian also means to promote peace as Muslims understand the same about Islam and reject terrorism.
What is difficult to understand in the case of Muslims is that a significant number support – or appear to support – terrorism against Israel, America and the West. The numbers vary in any given part of the world, however, as little as 2% and as much as 20% of all Muslims support Bin Laden, Zarqawi, al-Sadr and the likes. Given the size of the world’s Muslim population estimate at just over one billion (1,000,000,000) people, this is a significant number. To put it into perspective, the number of people who support terrorism is anywhere from twenty million (20,000,000) to two hundred million (200,000,000) people. That is a considerable number in itself and the question of why so many people support terrorism becomes even more noteworthy. The answer to that question is not quite so easy to define, however, we can gain a lot of insight by understanding the Arab street and Arab public opinion.
THE ARAB STREET
The role of the Arab street is debatable, but how much faith can anyone really put in Arab public opinion? Very little. This isn’t to say that we should disregard the Arab street, however, Arab public opinion is for many reasons distorted.
Saddam Hussein’s public opinion polls remained extremely high for any ruler, particularly one who used coercion, torture, criminal thuggery and murder as a common tool for suppressing his people. Given the degraded circumstances in which the vast majority of Iraqi people lived under Saddam – fear, famine, poverty, and lack of basic necessities – Iraqi public opinion should have been heavily against him by the same percentages it was claimed to be for him. Under his fascism, however, those who went against him feared the regime’s reprisal. Any unfavorable opinion could be easily negated by a man who controlled absolutely everything in his governance. This controlling of the public opinion could therefore be used to legitimize his power as much as it negated that of those who didn’t support him. When you can control every aspect of ruling a country, it can be safely assumed that the opinions – or lack thereof – have been controlled to make it happen. The fact that Iraqis cheered in the streets of Baghdad and jumped on, spit on, kicked and destroyed a toppled statue of Saddam is a testament to his unpopularity amongst his people. It is also a testament to his ability to control his people to his desired end.
So, the first and probably most obvious reason so many Arabs seem to favor terrorism is in the control of the Arab street. So much of the Arab world is still undemocratized, still living under one form of oppression or another. With no recourse for the cruelty and control by their despotic rulers under which they live and no freedom of self-expression and in some cases popular expression, much of the Arab world is forced to concede and openly support their fascist regime’s ideology. Their open support is done mostly out of a need for survival because often the repercussions for dissenters is prison, torture , exile or even death.
Such was the case of the Kurdish uprising in Northern Iraq in 1988. Saddam ordered his henchman, Ali Hassan al-Majid, otherwise known as Chemical Ali, to use deadly force and chemical weapons to suppress the uprising. Approximately 180,000 Iraqi Kurds died in one of the most egregious offenses of genocide in recent history. And again in the South of Iraq in the early ‘90s after Operation Desert Storm – more commonly referred to as the Gulf War – with the Shiite led revolt, Chemical Ali through the authorization of Saddam, murdered tens of thousands of Shia Iraqis.
In the undemocratized Arab world, even silence is viewed as a form of dissent and subversion (4). This is how many Islamofascists control their populations, create the mendacity of support and legitimize their power. In controlling the Arab street, these rulers gain a stranglehold on their populations, essentially holding them hostage. Over time the Stockholm Syndrome can take effect on enough of the population to make them actually buy into the propaganda and justification of the regime’s brutal views towards the West. These views stem from a number of sources, namely the need to exist.
THE NEED TO EXIST
The world is also becoming an increasingly more global society. As human nature dictates, we all want a sense of belonging to something greater than ourselves, a validation that we exist (10). Of course it can be argued that this isn’t true for everybody, especially in the case of social rejects like Ted Kaczinsky who prefer to separate themselves from the rest of society. However, it is a human desire to want to belong to something in order to validate our existence, but when the rest of society doesn’t accept someone as a part of their own, the individuals have a tendency to lash out in anger and isolate themselves even further as a reactionary formation. This a ‘sour grapes’ type reaction influences the rejected to do just the opposite to then try to legitimize themselves. The need to belong exists still, but has been distorted into a backward thinking of ‘I don’t need you to validate myself’.
The Islamic extremist point of view is in many ways the same. They too feel the need to exist but because they feel rejected by the rest of the world, particularly the Western world, they lash out in anger to further isolate themselves from being a part of the whole. They adopt and promote the idea that they are superior to others, that there are significant faults with everybody but themselves. They long for a sort of satisfaction and religious affirmation that Muslims are God’s chosen people and are willing to prove it through victory over Israel (Judaism) and America (Christianity) which they perceive as the biggest threat to their existence.
HEROES BRING HOPE
From the Islamofascist regimes’ absolute control of their populations and a need to exist, arises a need second only to survival and existence: hope. And in times when the need for hope is created, heroes arise. All cultures throughout the history of the world have had their mythological heroes. In every society in any given time in history some sort of hero existed whether it was a real person, fictional character or a fictional character fabricated and embodied in a real person.
For the Egyptians, Romans, Greeks and Norsemen it was their gods and demi-gods and to an extent, their warriors. In Abrahamic mythology, heroes enjoyed a certain special relationship with God such as Noah, Moses, Jacob, Isaac, David, Jesus and Mohammed. In medieval Europe, knights served as the heroes as well as characters such as Beowulf, Robin Hood and King Arthur.
It began in America with the Patriots of the Revolution and continued through the explorers -- like Lewis and Clark -- of the new frontier and expansionism. In early 20th century America through two world wars, comics evolved into fabricated mythological heroes fighting in the name of justice for the ultimate good of mankind with characters like Superman. However, there is no prerequisite for a hero to be a do-gooder. A hero is a hero as long as the perception is that what they are doing is for a morally indignant cause, as long as the end justifies the means. And of course, the perception of moral righteousness is reliant upon culture.
Take for instance, D.B. Cooper who hijacked a plane and received $200,000 in cash and disappeared without a trace. He became a sort of folk hero and celebrated in ways for apparently carrying off with the large sum of money, something “common folks” can identify with and even wish for themselves. In a similar fashion, Albert Spaggiari, wrote: “sans haine, sans violence et sans arme” on the vault wall of the Societe Generale bank in Nice, France after robbing it for millions of francs worth of money and valuables. This phrase translates to “without hate, without violence and without weapons.” In doing so, Spaggiari and his gang of robbers became another story of the modern folk hero. One could even point to Robin Hood as one of the first examples of this type of hero whose methods, steal from the rich, are overlooked for the sake of the end result, to give to the poor.
The fictional character of the anarchist “V” in the comic book series and film V For Vendetta is a popular culture hero despite his methods of violence, terror and destruction. He is hailed as a freedom fighter, a term we see all too often in the violent outbreaks in Iraq by terrorists. It’s an ironic term actually, considering that these so-called freedom fighters use terror and chaos to fight against democracy and freedom. For some Arabs, these “freedom fighters” – including their leaders like Bin Laden, al-Sadr and Zarqawi – have become their folk heroes, regardless of the methods they use. What at least twenty million – probably more -- in the Arab world see is a person like them fighting the fabricated oppression by America, unable to see that the real oppression is coming from the same types of men who care more about weapons of mass destruction than feeding their own people, men who strangle their countries for fear of losing power.
COURTING THE ARAB STREET AND MUSLIMS?
I disagree partially with the idea by Mohamed Zayani of courting the Arab public opinion or Arab street (17). Instead the only way for Arab public opinion to be valid and credible is to allow democracy to take effect, allowing the public to have an opinion and its own at that. Allowing democracy to take effect is the only way to gauge the true Arab public opinion.
The suppression of the Arab peoples contributes to a manufacturing and distortion of public opinion and group ideology in favor of Islamofascists so that groupthink is more easily implemented. Democracy will undermine the group mentality and contribute to free thinkers less susceptible to influence.
The argument has been made that Islam and democracy are simply incompatible. This couldn’t be further from the truth. Actually it is democracy and Islamofascism that are incongruent, not Islam itself. Democracy affords Muslims the opportunity to continue to practice Islam in a free, un-oppressed society which is the goal of both Islam and democracy. “By democracy we mean not simply electoral majoritarianism, but liberal democracy, under which individuals and minorities have their equal rights respected” (7). The tenets of Islam do not forbid democracy. “The Koran and other religious texts contain nothing that bars democracy or liberty. Indeed, many theologians think that the central value of Islam is freedom of choice, even in matters that have historically admitted of various readings, and a reading of Islam that holds freedom and tolerance up as central values is certainly defensible” (7). Bin Laden also alludes to this: “It [Islam] is the religion of showing kindness to others, establishing justice between them… and total equality between all people, without regard to their colour, sex, or language” (12). Contrary to what Islamic fundamentalists and even some Western scholars and thinkers believe about the compatibility of Islam and democracy, there is no conflict between them. In fact, they appear to go hand-in-hand even by Bin Laden’s standards.
STAYING THE COURSE AND THE HURDLES TO FOLLOW
Iraq is a key element in the democratization process due to its geographic centrality to a huge part of the still Islamofascist region. With a successful establishment of a real democracy in Iraq, their success story can be a beacon of light and hope for democracy among all Muslims and in all Arab countries, especially considering its politically tumultuous history. However, a withdrawal of Coalition Forces from Iraq could potentially undo the progress already made there. The real quagmire of Iraq would be opened up if American-led security forces are withdrawn before Iraq is completely ready to fend for themselves democratically and militarily.
In his book Imperial Ambitions, Noam Chomsky opines that, “If you give up every time you don’t achieve the immediate gain you want, you’re just guaranteeing that the worst is going to happen. These are long hard struggles (2)." To put it in context, Chomsky was referring to the abolitionist movement, however, these words ring true in any generation and can apply to any struggle. Whether it be the Patriots of the Revolution, the abolitionist movement, two world wars, or the very tense so-called Cold War, generations of Americans have been asked to dig in for these “long hard struggles.” And this is especially true of the War on Terror, which may in fact prove to be even longer than the Cold War. With the War on Terror, another great generation of Americans must be called upon.
From the “shot heard ‘round the world” to the ratification of the Constitution – or even the withdrawal of the last British troops from American soil – American deomocracy took fourteen years by the best of calculations to be fully realized. In the land of the free and the home of the brave, in a time of great national support (not without its arguments, but we went through our own growing pains) with constituents fervent about democracy, it still took us about a decade and a half to achieve full-fledged democracy. And American democracy has grown over the last 234 years – starting from the Battle of Lexington and Concord -- and continues to grow today. With Iraq (the new Iraq as we know it) only six years young and with still unwilling opponents to democracy, it is nowhere near the progress of our decade and a half and 200 plus years. For their stability – and our own in the democratization process – we must ‘stay the course’, to use the words of George W. Bush. We must be willing to raise a generation of democrats to guide in their infancy or it will surely topple again to Islamofascism. It is this generation’s responsibility to ascend to the challenges we face in the world today and it is our responsibility to facilitate those Arab and Muslim democrats who are the patriots for liberty and democracy in the Middle East. We must enable them to enable the Arab street to rise up against oppression and know that they do belong with the rest of the world, not against it. These American and Arab and Muslim heroes must stand up for the good of all mankind and be prepared to see it through to the end.
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