Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Information War: The Bigger Picture and the Mushy Middle

MILWAUKEE (AP) -- Those who count the increasing number of American soldiers killed in Iraq are missing the bigger picture, retired Gen. Tommy Franks said Saturday night.

"What we're talking about is neither 2,400, 24,000 or 240,000 lives," Franks said at the National Rifle Association's annual banquet. "Terrorism is a thing that threatens our way of life. It doesn't have anything to do with politics."

The other day, some fellow stopped by on "Virtual Leader of Information War" in the comments and said:

There shouldn't be a need for propaganda. "Our" side (if there is such a thing) should broadcast clear, consistant messages as any marketing agency would do. Period, end of discussion.

As for the war online, there isn't on. Go on about your life and spread ideals and values you cherish, instead of idling away your short life hating some other group you've been told are homogenous.

I'll respond publically by first asking who this fellow thinks the homogenous group is I hate?

I think we know that he means "Muslims". Maybe he knows something about me I don't? Or, most likely, he knows nothing and assumes. A problem most people have. I was looking at the list of people under the 101st Keyboardists. I think there are certainly people there I disagree with. I don't imagine any threat comes from Islam or Muslims as a whole and some of these folks do. Interestingly, I could care less about someone's religion. What I care about is whether specific people, an organization or state(s) have not only professed a hatred for my country, my people and my way of life, but threaten to or have acted out violence. What I care about is whether specific people, organizations or state(s) actively attempt to proliferate their ideas, recruit and organize followers who would do the same or at their behest.

I didn't make up the story about jihad websites. Only a fool thinks they don't exist or are not used in such a manner. Only a fool believes that there are not "ordinary" people in Iraq, Jordan, Syria, Egypt or Saudi Arabia (to name a few) that are sitting on the fence or who, at least, mentally, if not materially, support the same people who would organize, recruit and act against our country, our people and our allies. I say a "fool" because only a fool chooses to believe that 1993 Twin Towers bombing, Khobar Towers, African Embassy bombings, USS Cole, 9/11, Two Bali bombings, and London 7/7 bombings are not related (to name a few) or that these were simply tempests in a teapot; individual acts by individual crackpots or whatever it is that this person (man?) believes in the comments.

There is a "war" on line. The waging of this war is not physical. It isn't even just about "jihad websites" that do exist. Ever visit "Islamonline.com"? Some of the English speaking forums there are very interesting. I can't read Arabic, but I imagine by the content of the English forums that the Arabic forums are even more interesting. However, one does not have to visit the "extremist" sites to fight this war. You can go to any simple Middle East website that talks politics and meet all sorts of people from all walks of life. Even (or particularly) "pro-American" sties. Many speak and write English (fortunately for me). Because there you meet what we call in the US the "Mushy Middle". Those who don't like "terrorism", but "understand" why someone would resort in it and sometimes say directly that they won't condemn it because they believe in the idea that "weaker" groups that do not have the same military power as their adversary "must" resort in this tactic to fight any war.

This "Mushy Middle" is the group that every group fighting an "ideological war" must reach and turn in one way or the other, just as in any political fight. In the current war, this Middle East or Muslim person does not have to strongly agree with the idea of an "Islamist state", nor send money, food, clothing, or their sons directly to actually provide support or facilitate groups' abilities to to recruit, organize and act. It only takes the "tacit approval" or "nod of the head" or someone simply saying nothing.

It is these people I wish to engage; this Mushy Muslim Middle.

You may ask why or is it really important. I'll get to that momentarily. This commenter states: "Go on about your life and spread ideals and values you cherish." Exactly. I can and do do that in person, but I also do that here and in other forums. The values I cherish are not compatable with certain concepts in Islamist doctrine. Mainly I believe in freedom, democracy and equal justice. An Islamist such as Bin Laden and Zawahiri pay lip service to the idea of freedom. They demand freedom, but it is the freedom from our interference in their ability to oppress their people (many of which already live in repressive police states and the installation of Islamist authoritarian government does not make it "free"). How do we know? Because, as is completely ignored by many people, THEY SAY SO!

Not me. I never even thought about Islam or the faith being oppressive. I believe it is too strict for me and doesn't gel with my own ideas on spirituality, so I won't be converting. But, until I read such Islamist doctrine as Zawahiri's books, Qutb, Tamimya and many others, I never imagined that anyone practicing Islam actually believed that it is their duty to take away people's freedom because freedom leads to temptation and temptation leads people away from worshipping God (Allah) as was intended and it is a good Muslim's responsibility to make sure that his fellow Muslims do not go astray from the path. Now, many religions (even Christian groups; though I call them "cults") and political movements have the same ideas. This group goes that one step further and believe (like all totalitarians before or after), that it is not only their job to tell people that and help "guide" them, but that it is their duty to FORCE people to behave in this sacred manner. They believe this force includes not only arresting people who think or act different, torturing them, trying them or killing them, but that the very existence of freedom anywhere else, the very thought of it, the very image, it's products; all of these things present a danger so it must be destroyed. Including you and me. If not destroyed, we must be made incapable of interacting or subordinate to their own ideology and hopefully state.

This is what an Islamist Salafist believes. Not because I said so, but because THEY SAY SO. I keep saying it and I wonder why people don't believe it? It is very clear that this gentleman does not believe it. Or, he believes with all sincerity that this group is too small to act in any significant, continuous way against us. Yes, they may have done 9/11 and numerous other mass attacks, but they can't really harm us, can they? This small group cannot make the United States or democracy and freedom simply disappear, can they?

The answer is "no"; at least not today. That must be very comforting for some. But it is not about today. It is about tomorrow when some person or group has decided that this ideology, these ideas and these tactics of killing hundreds and thousands of people in mass murdering explosions is the right idea. It is about the many tomorrows when we do not confront this ideology through all means necessary; when we have sat back and pretended not to notice it; when we have crossed our fingers and hoped that it simply goes away; when we wake up to find that these groups are no longer a few dozen here or a couple hundred in Djibouti or several thousand in Indonesia or tens of thousands (dare I say hundreds of thousands?) in Pakistan or any place else have coalesced this ideology beyond groups that may or may not be attacking us every day and killing civilians, but is, in fact a state or many states with all of the abilities, revenues and powers of a state to actually harm us in just such a way that people say cannot exist.

I dislike invoking Nazism or Communism as sole examples of this problem, but they do point to our never ending attempts to simply "understand" and "get along" that usually results in something worse than had we confronted these ideologies when they were simply that: small groups with ideas that are antithetical to the ideas of freedom and democracy, if not down right hostile?

Even if we were simply talking about tomorrow or next year, the fact that these groups do exist, espouse the same ideology, organize and recruit, support and maintain each other through various legitimate and illegitimate means, have and will again kill the citizens of this country and many others, is enough, even without the threat of possible mass destruction or a future nation state, is enough to warrant our attention, organization and action through all means available and necessary. Wars of ideas are not simply fought by sending out armies to take a country, or special forces to kill this leader or that or even leaving it up to the government to develop a state policy and program to combat them on the ideological level. It is not cold state organizations by themselves that convince others that another idea is wrong. It is the people who live, believe and represent the opposing ideology that convinces others of the right and wrong. This is done through human connection: one on one.

the people we need to convince are not the men who are already standing with a Quran in one hand, an AK47 in another, screaming "Allahu Akbar" as he fires into a crowd or pushes the button that will destroy so many lives who have little or no understanding why they must be the target. That man maybe too late to save or to stop. But, there will be others who come after him (or her) and they get there through several means. We're not simply talking about the physical or material, though those are equally important. We are talking about the psychological, the moral and the spiritual ability to "get there". The material and psychological work in tandem, just as it works in any society where morals and beliefs break down or and idea or behavior becomes predominant. It is blissfully ignored, tacitly approved or actively supported; usually all three. It is facilitated when societies do not actively condemn or work against the proliferation of these ideas.

Which brings me to the "Mushy Muslim Middle" and the "virtual war".

Martin Luther King, Jr wrote in his letter from Birmingham Jail; addressing the white Christian and Jewish leaders or "moderates":

Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

He was paraphrasing a concept in Revelations 3:16:

So then because thou art lukewarm, and neither cold nor hot, I will spue thee out of my mouth.

Martin Luther King, Jr went on to talk about the "white moderate" who preferred "peace and order" over "justice". Simply put, ignorance, neutrality or tacit acceptance does not help. It actually either facilitates the ability and proliferation of the "other" or it hinders our ability to end it. The "other" is not Islam as a whole nor is it necessary that Islam is destroyed. Thus, I profess no hate for it. The "other" is Salafist Islamist ideology coupled with fanatic, fascistic concepts of oppression, possession and domination. However, it feeds off the the low end of these social behaviors within the Islamic "ummah": approval or tacit acceptance. It gains strength because it is not confronted by the "neutral" and it is happy to accept outright ignorance or denial on the part of others because it gives them room to manouver with little friction and the ability to work towards expanding the first two: approval and tacit acceptance.

It is through these means that they can recruit, obtain funding and receive assistance to buy weapons, move between nations, hide out in society, plan and carry out attacks. This is true whether we speak about the James Gang from Liberty, Missouri, the IRA of Ireland, Sandanistas, or Salafist Islamist Facsists anywhere within twenty or more Islamic nations or regions.

There are two choices: combat it or ignore it while we take the hits. Half measures, as in the "lukewarm" simply do nothing at best and, at worse, facilitate it. From there, you have two choices again: declare the entire believe system of "Islam" as an evil ideology and anyone that believes in it as the "enemy" because they can and do facilitate it (even and especially through the "lukewarm" "moderates"), thus act against the people as a whole (world war?); or, act to separate the "lukewarm" from the "other". You must be able to convince them that even neutrality, but especially approval or tacit acceptance of their ideology, of terroristic acts against innocent civilians is not only wrong in the moral sense, but is a danger to them as well. To do so in a "virtual war" where every forum, from personal websites to political, is a site to contact the "lukewarm" and discuss; to move and to act. This is not like physical warfare where the goal is to physically or psychologically destroy the enemy. Those that we reach with words even in the virtual world, still provide an opportunity for one less "neutral", one less "tacit" approval or acceptance and one less place for the ideology to hide out.

That requires much more than "flame wars" where someone tells a Muslim that their religion is evil and must be destroyed or at least renounced. It requires finesse and ability to connect. It requires the ability to see, accept and value the life of the person that we are speaking with while convincing them at the same time that our own lives have worth and meaning, that there is a better ideology and violence will not solve the issue. It requires the ability, not to hate, but to love. This is virtual warfare in one of its connotations.

As my erstwhile commenter put it:

"Our" side (if there is such a thing) should broadcast clear, consistant messages as any marketing agency would do.

Whether you want to call it "propaganda", "information war" or "the truth" (whatever makes you more comfortable), that is the one thing that must happen. Calling for destruction of those who even simply share the same religion works to the advantage of the "others", not us.

For the record "our side" does exist. It is made up of people who would prefer not to go to war with every person of a specific religion on the say so of that 1% group who does want war. It even includes the "mushy middle" living in freedom and democracy or, at least not living under totalitarian Islamist Fascism. Those who are also "lukewarm" because they do not want war and do not want to confront the existence or actions of the "others" because it would mean changing their views, making sacrifices, or acting in ways that are, while still relatively "easy" compared to actual war, rather uncomfortable. It includes even people such as my erstwhile commenter, "Romerica", who deny the existence.

This "mushy middle" here and the deniers such as "Romerica" who, like the Mushy Muslim Middle, actually strengthen or provide cover for these groups because they believe that it is nothing or it is easier. These people also present a danger in the struggle, though I believe none would call them the "enemy" nor believe that they should be destroyed (at least, not sane rational people). In which case, we should be able to translate that to our activities that interact with both the "Mushy Muslim Middle" and the "Mushy Middle of the West".

That is the virtual warfare that I speak of. There are many other forms that it takes. This includes videos, songs, poems, and original writings on the subject of freedom, democracy, ability of our forces, political, material and financial strength, etc. It includes the immediate addressing of news articles, speeches or other items that are detrimental to the cause and can be accessed world wide via the net. This refution of articles from "our side" is not a matter of "lies" or, in the belief of Romerica, Pravda Propaganda as seen in the USSR. It is a matter of placing them in context, of adding missing information, refuting outright inaccuracies (or lies) and generally standing watch over the ideas, concepts and conveyance of those "value and ideas" we cherish: freedom and democracy.

Other articles/sites of interest:

What Extremists Are Saying

Understanding Al Qaeda

Al Qaeda Statements and Evolving Ideology (pdf)

Al Qaeda's Revolutionary Model

Cross Posted at the Castle

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