From Nasser to Khomeini to Saddam to Bin Laden
Winning the war for the hearts and minds of the peoples of the Muslim world may prove considerably harder than winning any military campaign. Our military victories will neither have any lasting effect, nor will we see the end of terrorism unless we persuade the Muslim masses that our war is against terrorism not Islam. But we cannot do that alone. Such a war will take an indeterminate amount of time, enormous financial resources, unshakable commitment and patience; above all it will mean changing the way the so-called friendly Arab states educate and treat their own public.
Our difficulties in fighting this kind of war stem from two factors:
First, bin Laden is unique. His appeal to Muslims is worldwide because he does not limit his political Islam to any brand of Islamists or any specific Islamic state. That he does not seek, at least outwardly, anything for himself adds a mythical quality to his personality and appeal. For these reasons, bin Laden may succeed where three other anti-Western Muslim leaders, for a variety of reasons failed. The late President of Egypt, Nasser, wanted to unite the countries of the Middle East into one nation, but his brand of Arab nationalism pitted one Arab state against another. In addition, Nasser did not ally himself with the clergy; in fact, he turned against them when they no longer served his purpose.
Ayatollah Khomeini's Islamic revolution in Iran bogged down in its infancy due to the war against Iraq. Although he incited Islamic movements in various counties, Khomeini failed to accomplish his cherished goal of toppling Arab secular regimes and replacing them with Islamic republics. Other Arab nations, not surprisingly, saw Iran as an enemy, accusing it of foment political instability in the region.
Finally, Iraq's President Saddam Hussein failed in his quest to unite the Arab world not simply because he invaded Kuwait, but because he was unable to unite his own people. Although he continues to be admired by many Muslims outside Iraq, he has dragged down into misery his entire nation while painting himself into a corner through his assiduous defiance of America.
Bin Laden, in contrast, is virtually stateless: He has made Islam his nation. His voice, therefor, is heard throughout the Muslim world. He is seen as a warrior for the poor and the abandoned; he inspires the idle, attracts the disillusioned and incites the helpless. Using language that resonates to the masses, who hardly need to be convinced of their despicable conditions, his weapon is his common appeal. By portraying the conflict as a clash between two civilization–Islam and the West– Bin Laden has created a new popular mindset of defiance supported by Koranic distortions. In the process he has provided a target (the United States) against which he can rally Muslims from every corner of the globe. Aided by the media revolution, he has been able to reach millions, raise their Islamic conscious and turn the streets of Muslim nations into a combustible mix of anti-American sentiments.
Second, we have to fight this public relations war while so-called "friendly" Middle Eastern governments systematically encourage public sentiments against us and creating heir own quagmire in the process. They have allowed the spread of Islamic schools, especially for boys, concentrating almost exclusively on Koranic teaching with a fanatical anti-Western focus. Even the less-stringent religious schools in these countries use textbooks filled with distorted history, inaccurate images and misrepresentations of Western values, especially in relation to the United States. An absence of religious leaders with the stature to counter the virulent anti-Americanism makes things even worse. The situation is further aggravated by the pervasiveness of anti-Western media which, sanctioned by these governments, regularly produce poisonous materials designed, in the words of one Egyptian official, "to detract attention from the governmentÕs shortcomings."
Those countries that receive our generous financial help, like Egypt, Jordan and the Palestinian Authority; those countries that depend on us to buy their oil like Saudi Arabia and the other Gulf States, they all need us far more than we need them. I do not see how a different Islamic government in Saudi Arabia or an Islamic republic in Egypt would be any worse than the current regimes. Islamic republics or otherwise, they must all sell their oil to survive. It is time that we tell it straight to these governments that we will no longer swallow the rubbish they dish out to us. Specifically, we will no longer subscribe to their convoluted reasoning which goes something like this: In order to divert public attention away from their dismal living conditions, we should accept being their scapegoat. Otherwise, the people may revolt and we could wind up dealing with extremist Islamic regimes. But why should we care whether these governments stay in power? Their corruption, social and economic manipulation, nepotism and indifference are the main causes of Islamic extremism. It is the continuation of their bankrupt policies that allow terrorism it flourish.
We can eliminate Osama bin Laden and his organization, but not his legacy. That is why the United States must demand that these so-called friendly Arab nations end the media onslaught against us. The leading Egyptian and Saudi Arabian print and electronic media, for example, are under government control. We must stop wealthy Saudis in particular, from continuing to channel tens of millions of dollars to front organizations that support terrorist groups including Al Qaeda. Preachers must be forbidden from inciting worshipers against the United States. In the same vein textbooks must be modified to eliminate all anti-Western references. We must make it absolutely clear how unacceptable it is to us that millions of children are reared on a steady diet of anti-American hatred and animosity. We must use, in the final analysis, all our diplomatic and economic leverage to compel these countries to stop their support of anti-Americanism in any form or face severe consequences.
Dead or alive, bin Laden has won a unique place among the Muslim masses: For them he has already reached the status of legend, as a symbol of hope for the multitudes of the forgotten. He has, consequently, bequeathed to us a new generation of terrorists lying in wait to terrorize us. Because of their policies and conduct, State like Egypt and Saudi Arabia have pitted Islam against the West and we are paying the price for our timidity and greed. We will not see an end to terrorism unless these nations dramatically change their ways, and if they do not, it is our failure and shame.