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Reply to "Thomas Friedman - NY Times: Insight Into The Middle East and Beyond"

War of Ideas

I'm glad that frustrated F.B.I. agents are banging away at all the missed
signals that might have tipped us off to 9/11, but we need to remember
something: not all the signals for 9/11 were hidden. Many were out there in
public, in the form of hate speech and conspiracy theories directed at
America and preached in mosques and schools throughout the Muslim world. If
we are intent on preventing the next 9/11, we need to do more than just spy
on our enemies better in secret. We need to take on their ideas in public.

Frankly, I hope Saddam Hussein disappears tomorrow. But even if he does,
that's not going to solve our problem. Saddam is a conventional threat who
can be eliminated by conventional means. He inspires no one. The idea people
who inspired the hijackers are religious leaders, pseudo-intellectuals,
pundits and educators, primarily in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, which continues
to use its vast oil wealth to spread its austere and intolerant brand of
Islam, Wahhabism.

But here's the good news: These societies are not monoliths, and there are a
lot of ordinary people, and officials, inside both who would like to see us
pressing their leaders and religious authorities to teach tolerance,
modernize Islam and stop financing those who won't.

Too bad President Bush has shied away from this challenge. After recently
visiting Saudi Arabia, I got an e-mail note from a young Saudi woman (who
signed her name) that began: "Thank you as a moderate Saudi for your efforts
to expose what's going on in Saudi Arabia. . . . Mr. Friedman, our schools
teach religious intolerance, most of our mosques preach hate against any
non-Muslims, our media is exclusively controlled by the government and
religious people. Our moderate ideas have no place to be presented. Our
government is not doing anything really to stop the religious control from
paralyzing our lives. Mr. Friedman, we need help."

On May 8, the Saudi-owned Arabic daily Al-Sharq Al-Awsat ran an essay by an
anonymous Arab diplomat who asked: "What would happen if every Arab country
had, since 1948, turned its attention to building itself up from within,
without making Palestine its main issue? What would happen if every Arab
country focused on educating its citizens, and on improving their physical
and emotional health and cultural level? I am amazed at the clerics who
raise a hue and cry about Jihad against Israel and compete with each other
in issuing religious rulings [in support of] suicide, but do not encourage
their citizens to wage spiritual Jihad" to build up their own countries.
[Translation by Memri.]

In short, America and the West have potential partners in these countries
who are eager for us to help move the struggle to where it belongs: to a war
within Islam over its spiritual message and identity, not a war with Islam.

And that war within Islam is not really a religious war. It is a war between
the future and the past, between development and underdevelopment, between
authors of crazy conspiracy theories versus those espousing rationality,
between advocates of suicide bombing and those who know you can't build a
society out of gravestones. Only Arabs and Muslims can win this war within,
but we can openly encourage the progressives. Instead, we're looking for
some quick fix. Just get rid of Saddam and all the fanatics will fall. I
doubt it.

The only Western leader who vigorously took up this challenge was actually
the Dutch politician Pim Fortuyn, who was assassinated on May 6 - for other
reasons. Mr. Fortuyn questioned Muslim immigration to the Netherlands (which
by 2010 will have more mosques than churches), not because he was against
Muslims but because he felt that Islam had not gone through the
Enlightenment or the Reformation, which separated church from state in the
West and prepared it to embrace modernity, democracy and tolerance.

As a gay man, Mr. Fortuyn was very much in need of tolerance, and his
challenge to Muslim immigrants was this: I want to be tolerant, but do you?
Or do you have an authoritarian culture that will not be assimilated, and
that threatens my country's liberal, multicultural ethos?

Zacarias Moussaoui, accused of being the 20th hijacker, told a U.S. court
that he "prayed to Allah for the destruction of the United States." That is
an ugly idea - one many Muslims would not endorse. But until we and they
team up to fight a war of ideas against those who do, there will be plenty
more Moussaouis where he came from - and there will never be enough F.B.I.
agents to find them.

Onward and Upward!