It’s the Ideology, Stupid
“Without A Clue” was a sassy comedy film in the late 80’s starring Michael Caine. Its premise was that Sherlock Holmes was just a frontman for the man really running the show – in his case Dr. Watson. The real Holmes was a blithering idiot (or a moron as they say in Canada) who presented a public visage. I mention this not to make any analogy with our present frontman and his crony political medicine man “Dr.” Rove – but because of an exchange that first gives us an indication that this Sherlock is - as they say in Northern England - “all mouth and no trousers.”
“He’s been abducted” exclaims Holmes about a kidnap victim. “Any idea who’s behind it?” quizzes the victim’s daughter. “Yes” replies Holmes. “I think it’s the work of abductors…”
Since September 11th 2001, we have been waging a war against the people who ‘abducted’ our freedom to live free from terror. And the word universally applied to our foes is “terrorist.” It wasn’t of course the very first nomenclature that our inspirational Commander-In-Chief allocated to them. Like a terrified foal caught in the glaring headlights of the tragedy, George Bush had to confront the magnitude of the massacre while in a Florida schoolhouse - without the comfort of his “Dr. Rove” or a teleprompter to tell him what to say. “We’ll catch the FOLKS responsible” he assured the nation.
This description of the perpetrators as “folks” - making them sound like delinquent hillbillies with bib-fronted dungarees and corn cob pipes – was rapidly buried in the nation’s video archives (the embarrassing soundbite is seldom shown any more) as a more suitable lexicon was prepared for the president.
And ever since then we have been fighting “terrorists” in what George Bush assures us is a “War on Terror.” And unlike his father who of course fought a war and peaked too soon (leaving Saddam Hussein in power and eventually, himself out of work) Bush Jr. was quick to announce that this war would inevitably last a long time. Throughout his term. And that means at least till November 2004. And in all probability November 2008. (The unspoken message of course being: “woe betide the Democrat who has the temerity to run a partisan campaign against a president engaged in the serious business of safeguarding the country’s security.”)
No wonder the administration seems unfazed by its failure to capture or kill Osama bin Laden. He’s needed as the ultimate nemesis (and focus) for the 2004 campaign. And of course Bush will be too busy working at the White House to engage in the hustings. Let’s call it an “Osama bin Rose Garden” Strategy
I continue to be troubled by the perennial references to “terrorists” and the “War on Terror.” Right enemy, wrong name. Not that the “folks” who attacked us aren’t terrorists. Sure they are. But that’s not the most important thing about them. And if we think that it is – we are deluding ourselves. Because there are vast numbers of people on this planet – some in nations whose opinion we need for our broad coalition - who think that those “terrorists” are fighting for a cause.
It is by any fair analysis a perverted cause – but it is a cause – and to merely call our enemies “terrorists” is to seriously ignore the root of this problem.
The members of Al Qaeda aren’t all people who suddenly woke up one day and said: “What shall we become? Oh let’s become terrorists so we can terrorize people.” That thinking is fallacious.
No, they are pursuing an ideology. Terror is not the ENDS of their objective – it is merely the pernicious MEANS to that end.
To describe the members of Al Qaeda simply as being terrorists is like focusing on the Third Reich for being militarists. But militarism wasn’t the ENDS of Germany’s endeavors – it was simply the dastardly MEANS that Hitler employed in his attempt to impose his fascist ideology on the world.
And in fighting World War II we didn’t wage a war on Militarism. We waged a war on fascism. And while terrorism is certainly a more egregious, less civilized form of aggression in that it is deliberately targeted at civilian populations – it is still a device rather than an end itself.
Since the support mechanism and indeed the replacement foot soldiers for those who embrace Al Qaeda’s twisted views are drawn from the vast legions of the Third World – we ignore this aspect of the struggle at our peril.
We have a vital propaganda war to fight that it is every bit as important as the military engagement. Even if it were possible -would it serve us to use crushing military strength to wipe out Al Qaeda cells throughout the world if we didn’t lay a glove on the pernicious lies that inspire the terrorists in the first place?
All we would be doing would be cutting down the branches of a tree-like weed whose roots are deep and which has already spread its seed over the forest. Young saplings – saps indeed – are sprouting up everywhere following the invocation to destroy the infidel American. You can’t simply bomb them all back to the Stone Age. Philosophically they proudly DWELL in the Stone Age.
There is a burning need for America to counteract the horrendous image that is perpetrated of it. Let’s leave aside for now the issues of whether any aspects of our behavior or public attitudes also need changing. At the very least there is a battle for the hearts and minds of the Third World. America has to all intents and purposes ceded that battle. You can hear the isolationists growl “who cares what they think of us… We’re Americans!” And yet there is so much that America has done for the world that is positive – and that is completely lost in the third world view of America.
Ultimately "terrorism" is not a definable ideological 'ism.' And it is not ultimately what we are fighting.
We rightly forced Germany into unconditional surrender in WW II - and then we implemented a program of de-Nazi-fication to try and de-program the millions of Germans who had been raised believing in an evil philosophy. We knew that the suicide of Hitler and the begrudging surrender of the Teutonic military would not of its own accord eradicate the scourge of Nazism from Germany.
And so it is with bin Laden and his followers. Radical Islamics have been raising - and continue to raise - generations who believe that killing the American 'infidel' is the supreme act of honor to Allah. To die for the cause is glory and eternal life in the hereafter.
Reversing that brainwashing has to take place as part of the process - otherwise the children of those who are killed will simply rise up again to avenge their 'martyred' parents. c.f. the kids of Hamas. Without that de-programming and re-education process - this problem will never go away. There will be no winning of this 21st Century war against terrorism. Only the seeding of the 22nd Century war against civilization.
The failure by George Bush to understand this important distinction between the vehicle of terrorism and the twisted ideology it serves is an indication that – like the Sherlock Holmes that Michael Caine portrayed – he is Without A Clue. As his smarter sidekick doctor would tell him - "It’s the Ideology, Stupid"