What is daintily dubbed the war on terror — lest we abrade the delicate sensibilities of the Muslim world by insinuating that Islam might just possibly have a little something to do with it — is a war of ideas.
In President Bush’s last major address to the nation on the subject of the war, he had this to say: “The rise of freedom in this vital region will eliminate the conditions that feed radicalism and ideologies of murder, and make our nation safer.”
That’s in keeping with what President Bush has said in the past. But the remedy is only as good as the diagnosis. Is the absence of freedom the necessary and/or sufficient condition of jihadism?
If that diagnosis represents our driving and guiding martial strategy, one wonders what evidence fed into this diagnosis. Is it simply the inference that if the jihadis emanate from oppressive regimes, their jihadist outlook must have its source of origin in political oppression?
On the face of it, this seems to be one of those abstract explanations that infers cause-and-effect from impersonal institutions and events rather than from a study of the actual persons doing the deeds.
Marc Sageman, a former CIA analyst, has compiled some of the following data on the average jihadi:
Sixty-three percent had gone to college, as compared with the 5–6 percent that’s usual for the third world … Three-quarters were professionals or semi- professionals. They are engineers, architects, and civil engineers, mostly scientists … Because they were the best and brightest, they were sent abroad to study. They came from moderately religious, caring, middle-class families. They’re skilled in computer technology. They spoke three, four, five, six languages. Most Americans don’t know Arabic; these men know two or three Western languages: German, French, English.
Of course, Sageman may just be the latest in a long line of “experts” with a theory du jour of terrorism. But whatever we may make of the details, surely it is sounder methodology to formulate our theory on the basis of the specific correspondence between the conditions and the players rather than pull some grand sociological theory off the shelf and impose that from the top down.
Now, if Sageman’s data is at all representative, then the jihadis are, by and large, Western-educated intellectuals who have enjoyed the very freedoms that President Bush is fighting to extend to all Muslims — on the theory that the absence of such freedom is the root-cause of jihad. So it looks like the diagnosis has gotten the root causes of terrorism just about backward. And if that is so, it is not terribly promising for our martial strategy.
There is also a theological factor to consider. In a fallen world, freedom can be a means of either good or evil. Evildoers will use their freedom as a means to do more evil: the more freedom, the more evil.
And, in fact, we’ve seen jihadis in Western Europe who game the system by exploiting their civil liberties to stab the soft underbelly of the host country.
And, until quite recently, they have gotten away with this by screaming “racial profiling,” a form of words guaranteed to curdle the hemoglobin of every bleeding-heart liberal.
Our official policy has been to liberate and empower Muslims abroad while we somewhat curtail the civil liberties of all Americans at home in order to catch the jihadis in our dragnet without committing the sin of racial profiling — which is just a propaganda term for criminal profiling.
All things considered, it seems more logical in a war on global jihad to disempower and delimit the freedom of Muslims at home and abroad while we preserve the traditional liberties of law-abiding citizens. Target the source of the problem rather than everyone else as a pretext for targeting the source of the problem.
The principle of one-man/one-vote is not such a hot equation when it turns into a one-militant/one-vote formula. Would Pakistan be better off as a democracy rather than a benign military dictatorship in which the militants are kept under heel? Hard to tell. You don’t know until you try, but that’s a dangerous experiment if you get it wrong. Like releasing the accused on their own recognizance, it’s a lot harder to get them back behind bars once you cut them loose.
- Stephen Hays
Stephen Hays doubled-majored in history and classics at Seattle Pacific University and is currently both a student and teacher's assistant at Reformed Theological Seminary. He resides in Charleston, SC.