Monday, August 08, 2005

Winning the Islamic Battle of Hearts and Minds...Why We Lose

This battle is the most important one in my opinion, and its more important then the Iraq conflict or the war against Bin Laden and his allies. This is a battle that I feel we are losing, and losing big.

The day will come when we will be out of Iraq but what happens then? I have had a continuing dialog with some Islamic friends in the gulf states of Oman and U.A.E. and it has become clear that going forward we are going to have an almost impossible task of convincing these people that we are not the enemy if we do not change the way we speak to them.

First off they have told me to not confuse the issue of democracy with friendship. Sure they want more freedom overall but they do not these days want to use those freedoms to get closer to the West. They do not trust our motives one bit and see the spread of our culture as a cancer. Any money donated to homegrown causes in those states that comes from western sources comes under attack right away. If we are going to promote democracy abroad (we should) we should not be promoting the western concept of a secular democracy. I am not saying that they will never get to what we define as democracy but this process has to be a natural evolution and not forced or pressured upon them by the West.

Next its clear that the culture gap is significant. We do not even know how to talk to these people in a language they understand. We have done a terrible job explaining the "war on terror" and how its not a war on Islam. The majority of the populations of the Arab countries think in those terms. They do not trust the exremists because they know the extemists want to impose their views upon them, but they also do not trust us and this makes it very hard to aid them.

All the people I have spoken to from that region are not terribly surprised over Sept 11. The reaction is always "Its too bad, BUT....." The BUT includes all the complaints they have against the West going back decades. The exploitation of their resources, the support for Israel that never waivers, the support for corrupt dictatorships, and the spread of a western culture that they view as oppressive.

If our political leaders do not learn the history of the region, gain an understanding of Islam, and an understanding of the culture of these people how can they expect to talk to them? It seems all the actions we take these days only HELPS to spread the extremist message and thats sad.

This has been a subject that has bothered me since 9/11 and watching our media you get the idea that everything is black and white, when in fact there are large shades of grey. The questions I never seem to see asked in our media: "Does the Islamic world have legitimate gripes against the west?" and "Is whats happening today partly a result of the legacy of our policies toward the Islamic world going back decades?" An ever bigger Taboo question is how our friendship with Israel possibly hurts us in the Islamic World. For a variety of reasons any action Israel takes against the Palestinians, the Islamic world sees us as complicit in those actions. These questions and more seem to be Taboo and until we really start asking them we are going to get nowhere.

The Bush administration is the worst possible type of leadership for these times. Everything is black and white, western cowboy style. No room for discussion, no room for compromise, no room for admitting mistakes and no room for anything but victory, military style. Until they stop looking at this as a military problem and not a political and cultural problem we are not going to get anywhere!All this has troubled me for a long while and what triggered this is that I learned from a friend in Oman yesterday that Fox News wants to open there to spread their "message" and I saw that as bad news as its not the "message" we need to be spreading....