There are many reasons why our “war on terror” is doomed for failure, not the least of which is that we don’t know what we’re fighting for. But perhaps the most prominent reason is that we don’t even know who we’re fighting.
Some people like to think of terrorism as a widespread institution, and others think of it as an amorphous mass of splinter cell insurgents. While we might tend to accept the latter, the former is actually a more appropriate definition, but it only begins to describe the problem. Closer to the point, some believe that terrorism is an idea. However, even this theory would not totally resolve the issue. We need to understand that more than an idea, more than an institution or random smattering of violence, terrorism is a way of life, and no amount of military force can diametrically change society.
A recent Pew study attempted to guage public opinion in Middle Eastern countries towards Hezzbollah and Hamas. According to the survey, opinion varies widely across many states in the Middle East. However, it is most important to understand public opinion in Lebanon where Hezzbollah operates.
The majority of the Lebanese population views Hezzbollah favorably. The reason for this support is not due to any tangible love of terrorist activities. It is more the result of the pervasive influence that the organization maintains over the Lebanese way of life. Contrary to our general perception, the Lebanese see Hezzbollah as a humanitarian organization. Hezzbollah offers much needed public services to an impoverished public. They build housing, provide clean water, and supply food. Perhaps most importantly, they provide security in a country where the government is inadequate.
Because of these services rendered, it is easy for Lebanese citizens to look beyond the violence. The common Lebanese man survives because Hezzbollah provides for his welfare. The same can be said for the Taliban in Afghanistan.
Sometimes we are misled by reports that Afghans want a Democratic govenment and an end to a corrupt political system. From these statistics, it is easy to think that Afghans are supportive of Western ideas. That would be a misperception. These people just want order. They just want their government run by an individual who is emotionally stable. Anyone but bi-polar Hamid Karzai. All the while, strange Western forces tear down the fabric of their nation. What’s more, according to a recent survey, most of these people don’t even know why our forces are there.
The International Council on Security and Development released a study showing that 92% of Afghans in Kandahar and Helmand provinces aren’t aware of the events of 9/11.
The other problem in Afghanistan is that we never began that conflict fighting the Taliban. We went into Afghanistan after 9/11 to evict Al-Qeada, and we accomplished that goal. Then, we decided to go ahead and turn Afghan society on its head by attacking the organizational structure that runs the country. Sure, the Taliban are bad people by our standards, but by Afghan standards we’re probably worse.
So, what should we do to combat terrorism? Well, since the problem is a lifestyle, we have to try to change that lifestyle. Since we have obviously failed to do so through military means, we have to establish a different tactic. A recent cable released by Wikileaks may have the answer:
American television shows broadcast across the Middle East are proving to be effective “agents of influence” in the ongoing battle over hearts and minds of ordinary Muslims pondering jihad against the United States, a confidential government cable published by Wikileaks reveals.
ABC’s “Desperate Housewives” and “World News with Diane Sawyer,” as well as CBS’ “Late Show with David Letterman” and NBC’s sitcom “Friends,” all carry more sway with viewers than a U.S. taxpayer-funded Middle East broadcast network, an unnamed Saudi source told U.S. embassy officials last year.
“It’s still all about the War of Ideas here, and the American programming on [privately-owned] MBC and Rotana is winning over ordinary Saudis in a way that ‘Al Hurra’ and other U.S. propaganda never could,” the source said.
“Saudis are now very interested in the outside world, and everybody wants to study in the U.S. if they can. They are fascinated by U.S. culture in a way they never were before.”
The film “Michael Clayton,” starring George Clooney, was noted as resonating among Saudis for its “exemplary illustration of heroic honesty in the face of corruption.” And the Robin Williams/Al Pacino film “Insomnia” was singled out for its presentation of “respect for the law over self-interest.”
Maybe we should have spent those billions of dollars wasted on two pointless wars on funding reruns of “Friends”….