By NATHAN FISCHLER
NANJING — In response to the post entitled “Military Power Necessary but Insufficient”, the proposed “ideological battle” is in need of a more nuanced view of what is occurring. The United States has been waging an ideological battle for decades. Islamic extremism, in part, is an aggressive rejection of American ideology manifested through grassroots organization among the educated and disaffected alike. Among their grievances are secularism, materialism, and religious and sexual freedoms, which are attributed to Western thought. More important than these theological grievances, which are nominal by comparison, are the realities of Western intervention, colonialism, neo-colonialism and corporatism that have been taking place since 1882 (in Egypt) and began in earnest on a regional basis with the demise of the Ottoman Empire, the co-option of the Hashemite family, and the establishment of oil sheikdoms and French and British colonies.
The author is arguing that a more aggressive ideological campaign would inspire people to abandon militant Islam and see the light of American ideological superiority. This is an adamant refusal to take an intellectually honest look at how American ideology and actions have been among the greatest factors in unleashing jihadism. Further, this does not even take into account that funding and training jihadists for the very purpose of maximizing their destructive potential was American policy in the 1980s in Afghanistan. The societies in question have not been sufficiently exposed to the profundity of American statecraft, as they are unable to establish “positive community roles” and thus we must “provide” them with the appropriate model. While military action is a “band-aid”, “localized indigenous teams”represent the permanent solution to the United States’ geopolitical and security problems.
The most concrete suggestion was to distribute a counter-narrative. The region is already familiar with the American narrative, the tired refrain of disingenuous calls for democracy and freedom followed by the establishment and/or support of Western-friendly and often repressive governments with whom we can do business. Jihadist ideology is a counter-narrative to what the West has fed the region. Many jihadist leaders are highly educated, mostly in the West. The author’s position discounts the possibility that the enemy may actually be intelligent and capable of critical thought. According to the New York Times, Western fighters within ISIS number 2,000, including up to a hundred American citizens, a significant proportion of their fighting force. If the ideological battle cannot be won at home and among the educated, it will not be won elsewhere.
The author begins the narrative from 10 years ago, as if jihadism came about in a vacuum. The United States has made indispensable contributions to regime change vis-à-vis nine Middle Eastern governments via funding, supplying, training, diplomatic support, covert operations and/or direct military intervention (Syria, 1949; Iran, 1953; Iraq, 1960; Afghanistan, 1979-1989; Turkey, 1980; Afghanistan, 2001; Iraq, 2002; Libya, 2011; Syria, 2012-present). In doing so, the United States has shown a complete disregard for their own ideals of self-determination and democracy, displaying a ruthless pattern of self-interested behavior that adheres to the school of realism, protects American geopolitical interests, and, most influential to policy, secures Western domination of the oil industry.
Rather than exporting phantom ideals abroad, it may be wiser to take a look in the mirror while trying to understand that a region that has been relentlessly bullied and manipulated by the West for more than a century has deeply-rooted grievances that drive the sinister behavior of extremists. One hundred years of Anglo-American propaganda has not done the trick. Watching children get blown to pieces leaves a much deeper impression. The United States has a well-established narrative. The problem with promulgating a new, counter-narrative is that the rhetoric is viewed in the region as insincere and will not be accepted.