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The War Of Ideas

the war of ideas walid phares book review jihadism against democracyThe War of Ideas

Jihadism Against Democracy

By Walid Phares

Palgrave Macmillian 2007, 250 pp.

I was at a baseball game this summer when the topic of the Afghanistan war came up. I'd only met the fellow a few hours before, a real estate agent by trade. He didn't claim to be any sort of expert on international relations. But a news item that week about soldiers getting killed by IEDs had got him worked up. "We've spent all of this money and our soldiers are dying and for what?" he started. "We ought to just hand over $15 billion to the Taliban and call it even."

The comments betrayed a stunning ignorance. Yet the man seemed positively proud of his declaration, as though he'd figured out a common-sense solution to the problem of the global jihad. If only world leaders would listen to him, we could bribe these fellows for a lot less than the cost of shooting Hellfire missiles at them. Then we could all go back to not worrying about these odd yet understandable psycopaths.

This is why a book like The War of Ideas is important. The average citizen of the West still doesn't get it. The jihadists are not pirates. They're not after money as an end in itself, though they're quite happy to spend any largesse we might provide them on guns, bombs and engineering blueprints for buildings they'd like blown up. With $15 billion, they're not going to invest in Florida real estate or start a bunch of green e-commerce websites, or set up an education trust fund for orphans. They would use it to wage war - on us. The goal of the jihadis is to kill or enslave anyone who is not a jihadi, on their way to establishing a medieval world Caliphate. And they will lie, steal, kill and do whatever it takes to make that happen.

Even nearly a decade after 9/11, it's sometimes hard to believe that so many human beings could be mobilized by such a cartoonishly fiendish plot that make a mockery of human rights and leave so many corpses in its wake. But 16,000 jihadi attacks after 9/11 later, the Islamist versions of Doctor Evil are still making headlines every day. And still, so many people just don't get it.

Phares explains why this is so. He details the efforts of the Saudis to turn Middle East Studies departments in the West into jihadi propaganda ministries. Since the 1970s, Saudi oil money churned out thousands of mal-educated graduates who were taught (and would go on to teach) a sanitized version of the Arab world, where human rights violations were carpeted over by cultural differences and jihad was a sort of spiritual yoga. And despite the jihadists' long record of persecuting, torturing and murdering liberals and progressives throughout the Middle East, they found willing allies in the New Left, which was dedicated to an overthrow of the "imperialist, neo-colonial" West.

Thus, when the 9/11 attacks came, the question on everyone's lips was "Why do they hate us?" There wasn't even a clear understanding of who "they" were, which has lasted to this day. Our intellectual class that was supposed to provide insight into our enemies and a robust defense of our democratic values was itself blinded and co-opted. Our elites were told that it was "our fault" that we were attacked and that if we simply stopped trying to promote democracy and human rights abroad - stopped engaging on the international stage, period - we might be able to get through this. Meanwhile, decades of Islamist indoctrination in Saudi-funded mosques, cultural centers and universities in the West, as well as a relentless reign of terror emanating from Islamic states, was ignored or explained away.

Wares makes a particularly unnerving point when he explains that 9/11 ironically may have given the West something of a fighting chance in the war of ideas. Without this traumatic event, the West may have been content to continue as it had: Relentless incitement and obfuscation in academia. Unfilitered funding of Wahabbi indoctrination programs here and jihadi causes abroad. Rampant human rights violations throughout the Muslim world continuing to go not merely unchecked, but unknown. The 9/11 attack was a horrific wake-up call. But at least now we're awake.

Awake, but not yet fully aware. The comment of my friend at the baseball game and countless anecdotal experiences (including not a few jihad-excusing comments by anonymous posters on this website) indicates that we haven't yet fully grasped what the jihadis are all about. Even today, some will ascribe the jihadis' hatred to poverty, ignoring that virtually all terrorist leaders are relatively well-educated and well-off, and that no terror seems to emanate from poverty-stricken places like Haiti or Peru. Many popular Western journalists and intellectuals still hammer at a foreign policy promoting democracy and human rights even as they ignore the opposite agenda coming from the jihadis (state-sanctioned and otherwise). Voices reasonably calling for investigations of jihadi funding and terror activities in the West are described as closeted bigots and racists.

In this war of ideas, we're still fighting with one hand tied behind our backs. But at least now we're fighting.

Jonathon Narvey is the Editor of The Propagandist.

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