Now’s the time for America
to win the battle of ideas,
says M. Zuhdi Jasser
The operation this week that culminated in the long-overdue death of Osama bin Laden has opened a window of opportunity for the United States. While any remaining import of bin Laden to the strategic operation of al-Qaeda is debatable, his position as the global face of terror is undeniable. Our nation’s resolve in bringing him to justice delivers an unmistakable message that America will stay the course against our enemies wherever they may hide.
Our nation needs to awaken to the fact that the bin Ladens of the world are byproducts of the primary ideological threat – militant Islamism, the violent offshoot of the construct of political Islam or ‘the Islamic state.” It is based in a deeper mindset of the supremacy of Islamic law, shariah, in government. It is the gasoline to the fire of Islamist extremism.
Islamism cannot be defeated by bullets or the valor of our SEAL teams. It will only be defeated in an open war of ideas where we pit western principles of universal equality and liberty under God against political Islam and Islamist interpretations of shariah. As British Prime Minister David Cameron recently noted, we must not only remove the militants, we must drain the pool in which they swim. That pool is their ideology.
The death of Bin Laden opens a window to shift our collective resolve and focus away from the myopia of violence to the broader ideological landscape. The only path toward a lasting national security is defeating the root cause of Islamist terror. Otherwise we will keep cutting off the heads of militant Islamist snakes for generations to come.
The time could not be more ripe for us to bring a fundamental shift in the ideological makeup of the Middle East. The popular uprisings in the Middle East pose an even larger window of opportunity for this battle of ideas within “the House of Islam.” We now see a broad swath of people struggling for individual freedom. Their struggle will not evolve into a moral, Jeffersonian democracy without our help.
Al-Qaeda and Islamists around the world have been winning the propaganda war against the West because we have yet to truly engage and oppose them. They present an easy, false narrative that America is at war with the faith of Islam. Who would not fight to protect their faith?
America needs to stop throwing money at Muslim majority nations and instead engage those nations hand-in-hand to build liberty-based institutions and a lasting infrastructure that helps teach Muslims modernity, reform and the basic concepts of liberty and freedom.
My Syrian grandfather who paid a heavy price for these ideas always reminded me how the West takes their own ideas for granted. So many Muslims have lived under the boot of dictators for over 50 years. In the vacuum created by removing these dictators, the people will naturally gravitate to what they know and are comfortable with – their faith.
We need to fill the vacuum of ideas not with campaigns of appeasement, but with advocacy for liberty. Much as the Arab street has used our western technology of Facebook and Twitter to free themselves from oppression, in the right context they can identify with the technology of personal liberty and freedom over Islamism.
Now is the time to reboot our strategy and build a battle plan that demonstrates we are partners in building the lives of people within the Middle East. We must understand that our security will only come from a world where all have access to freedom. We must pursue a liberty narrative within the Muslim consciousness with the same vigor and steadfastness that we demonstrated pursuing bin Laden.
M. Zuhdi Jasser, a medical doctor and a former U.S. Navy lieutenant commander, is president of the Phoenix-based American Islamic Forum for Democracy. His email address is Zuhdi@aifdemocracy.org.
This editorial by Dr. Zuhdi Jasser ran in the Dallas Morning News on May 4, 2011 and is provided here as a courtesy to our readers.