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Clifford D. May: It's time the free world began seriously fighting the war of ideas
TownHall ^ | 1/21/2005 | Clifford D. May

Posted on 01/21/2005 8:58:55 AM PST by Tolik

An old saw has it that a lie can circle the globe before the truth even laces its sneakers. That's more accurate now – an era when satellites and the Internet have revolutionized communications – than ever before. 

In Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere, the United States is fighting not just a war of arms but, simultaneously, a war of ideas. Consider how effectively our enemies have learned to meld actions, words and images into weapons.

When Abu Musab al Zarqawi, the al Qaeda leader in Iraq, bombs Iraqi policemen, murders aid workers, or decapitates foreign hostages while rolling video cameras, and then sends the tapes out to audiences around the world, what has he accomplished?

Militarily, not a thing. It's not like when the United States shot down the plane carrying a top Japanese general in World War II. Nor is it like capturing a beachhead or a city or an airport or even a hill.  But it is extraordinarily effective as what might be called extreme public relations. It drives a message. It serves to intimidate. It affects you in your living room. It is intended to shatter your will to fight; because if Americans lose their will to fight, they are, by definition, defeated.

There has been at least limited recognition of this within the White House. “Car bombs,” said President Bush, at a press conference on Dec. 20, 2004 “are effective propaganda tools.”

Gen. John Abizaid, the top U.S. top commander in the Middle East, has called not just the video-taped beheadings and the suicide bombings but also the 9/11 atrocities themselves "weapons of mass effect."

"We have nothing to fear from this enemy other than its ability to create panic," he argues. Correct, but our enemy's ability to create panic is formidable. 

Abizaid adds: "This enemy is like water -- it seeks an unguarded path. They'll go for the place they can use a weapon of mass effect -- and gain a media victory." Correct again, but in a war of ideas, it is unwise to minimize the significance of media victories.

Abizaid also notes that the crimes of Saddam Hussein against the Kurds, the Shia and dissidents, the crimes of the Taliban in Afghanistan, the crimes of the Iranian mullahs against dissidents and the Bahai, are not similarly on view in the Arab and Muslim media. Nor are they seen extensively in the United States and Europe. This creates a distorted picture of reality.

Beyond the acts of bloodshed staged for dissemination on TV and computer screens around the world, are the media outlets that have the same strategic communications mission -- giving renewed meaning to Marshall McLuhan's phrase: “The medium is the message.”

The worst of the Islamist Fascist media is almost certainly al Manar, a television station wholly owned by the terrorist organization Hezbollah, and which broadcasts incitement to violence (against Americans and Israelis in particular) to millions of people throughout the Middle East. 

The people responsible for al Manar appear to have a sophisticated understanding of what they are doing. They have said that their purpose is to wage “psychological warfare.” 

Al Jazeera broadcasts even more widely. It also is more subtle. While conveying messages of hate and intolerance, as well as justifications for terrorism, it generally stops short of actually advocating mass murder.

And then there is the broader universe of media in the Arab and Muslim worlds, for instance, Palestinian Authority television which recently asserted that Jews and Americans were responsible for the tsunami that devastated the shores of southern Asia. “The Jews are a cancer that spreads inside the body of the Islamic and Arab nation,” Palestinians were told. “They invest in the East Asian countries, which were destroyed [by the tsunami] because of the Jewish and American corruption and destruction." 

Billions of dollars are spent to support the propagation of such messages. Financiers in Saudi Arabia, Iran, Qatar and other Gulf states pick up the checks, largely based on oil sales, not least to America and Europe. So, in a sense, Americans and Europeans are paying for the propagation of hate speech – supplying, for example, al Manar spokesmen with a megaphone to urge people to kill us. 

Vladimir Lenin once said: When it comes time to hang the capitalists, they will sell us the rope. But even he didn't expect that anyone would be foolish enough to provide their enemies with the money to purchase the rope as well.

This is not the first war of ideas Americans have fought. Before and during World War II, the Nazis developed propaganda into a high art, cleverly blaming the conflict on its intended victims. During the Cold War, Soviet lies were found persuasive not just by the poor and oppressed, but also by some of the world's most urbane intellectuals.

Eventually, the Free World fought back and, in the end, good and truthful ideas won the day. It's time for the defenders of freedom to start lacing their running shoes again.


Clifford D. May is the president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism and a member group.

TOPICS: Culture/Society; Editorial; Foreign Affairs; War on Terror
KEYWORDS: clifforddmay; warofideas

1 posted on 01/21/2005 8:58:55 AM PST by Tolik
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To: Lando Lincoln; quidnunc; .cnI redruM; Valin; yonif; SJackson; dennisw; monkeyshine; Alouette; ...

Nailed It!

This ping list is not author-specific for articles I'd like to share. Some for perfect moral clarity, some for provocative thoughts; or simply interesting articles I'd hate to miss myself. (I don't have to agree with the author 100% to feel the need to share an article.) I will try not to abuse the ping list and not to annoy you too much, but on some days there is more of good stuff that is worthy attention. I keep separate PING lists for my favorite authors Victor Davis Hanson, Lee Harris, David Warren, Orson Scott Card. You are welcome in or out, just freepmail me (and note which PING list you are talking about).

2 posted on 01/21/2005 9:00:21 AM PST by Tolik
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To: Tolik

Well, he's right, but what's he propose we do about the fact that we rely on oil and the dollars we exchange for it go to these Arab stations? Stop buying oil? Bomb the Arab stations? The first ain't going to happen, and the second would be used against us.

I hate knowing he's right and feeling like a solution to the problem is not likely in the near future.

3 posted on 01/21/2005 9:06:17 AM PST by LibertarianInExile (NO BLOOD FOR CHOCOLATE! Get the UN-ignoring, unilateralist Frogs out of Ivory Coast!)
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To: Tolik
Good article. But I disagree on this point:

...Correct, but our enemy's ability to create panic is formidable...

The irresponsible media is the one creating panic by spreading and endorsing the enemy's propaganda. Only if one includes the Old Media in the definition of "enemy" is the article correct.

I don't believe the author intended this.

4 posted on 01/21/2005 9:10:55 AM PST by DakotaGator (MSM or OM, it's all the same. They are the "Enemy Within".)
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To: Tolik

"Eventually, the Free World fought back and, in the end, good and truthful ideas won the day."

And that is all that matters...

Freedom and truth will always triumph over tyranny.

5 posted on 01/21/2005 9:17:11 AM PST by EnigmaticAnomaly ("“When you see a rattlesnake poised to strike, don't wait until it has struck before you crush it)
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To: LibertarianInExile

If we invented cold fusion tomorrow and ran cars and heated homes on dandelion juice, the Middle East would have nothing to sell but carpets. There would be hell to pay. (I suspect we have the formula for cold fusion dandelion fuel locked in a govt. safe somewhere.)

6 posted on 01/21/2005 9:36:13 AM PST by hershey
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To: DakotaGator
Reading him, he just might :^)

But yes, the ability of the enemy to skillfully play the western MSM is formidable.
7 posted on 01/21/2005 9:42:14 AM PST by Tolik
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To: LibertarianInExile

I am all for STOPPING buying foreign oil..

8 posted on 01/21/2005 10:17:03 AM PST by Sweet Southern Freedom
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To: Tolik're one of the best! Thanks.


9 posted on 01/21/2005 11:25:01 AM PST by Lando Lincoln (GWB - history will be very kind to you.)
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To: Sweet Southern Freedom; hershey

We can't stop buying foreign oil until that dandelion juice formula works. But hybrid cars are a great first step.

We just need to ensure that government gets out of the business of subsidizing corporations, so that the market prices oil reasonably, and the instability of those regions will tell in the price of crude. The result will be that alternatives will spring up--like hybrids.

My immediate concern with anyone who advocates hydrogen or dandelion juice or some other energy source for cars (which is what we're all talking about here, of course) is that they're angling for a subsidy to convert America to that energy source. I prefer the market settle these things. :)

10 posted on 01/21/2005 7:19:57 PM PST by LibertarianInExile (NO BLOOD FOR CHOCOLATE! Get the UN-ignoring, unilateralist Frogs out of Ivory Coast!)
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To: Tolik

hillary's mentor, saul alinsky wrote "rules for radicals".

that's a book the left has been using against this country for decades.

11 posted on 01/21/2005 7:26:04 PM PST by ken21 (4 as much time as u spend on the internet, u cd have several college degrees--daisy noonan)
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To: Tolik


12 posted on 01/21/2005 10:17:11 PM PST by Valin (Sometimes you're the bug, and sometimes you're the windshield)
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To: Tolik


13 posted on 01/22/2005 12:09:00 AM PST by lainde
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