Message to US State Dept: evil is evil is evil

How do you fashion a public diplomacy strategy if you do not believe that America stands for true human dignity?
Robert R. Reilly | Jun 6 2011 | comment  


"We are losing war of ideas because we are not in the arena the way we were in the Cold War... just at the moment when there is this ferment for democracy breaking out." So said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in her recent testimony before the United States Congress. It is worth quoting her at greater length.

"We invested so much money and effort over so many decades to get behind the Iron Curtain, to talk about what democracy was, to keep the flag of freedom unfurled in people’s hearts, to get our messages in through every means of short wave radio and smuggling Bibles, and we did all kinds of things just to give people a sense that they weren't alone, and that maybe their ideas about the human spirit were not subversive. Well, we don't have those messages going out

Why don't we have those messages going out anymore? Have we lost the ideas behind them? Or have we lost the means to transmit them? To answer the latter question first, we should recall that in 1999, under President Bill Clinton, the United States Information Agency, the principal institution for the conduct of our side in any war of ideas, was eliminated. This was purportedly done as part of the peace dividend at the end of the Cold War. In other words, the war of ideas was over or, to put it in Francis Fukiyama’s words, the “end of history” had arrived. He meant by this that the model of a democratic constitutional regime with a free market economy stood undisputed and uncontested in moral terms throughout the world. This model would be implemented globally in a faster or slower manner, depending upon local conditions, but there stood no competing ideology to its moral claims.

The logical conclusion to such a view would be the dismantlement of the organizational apparatus for the conveyance of these ideas. The agency was eliminated because it has lost its mission. I recall the congressional testimony of Dr. Joseph Duffy, USIA's last director. When queried over the mission of the Voice of America, he answered. "I'm not sure we should be broadcasting to the world. We should be listening to the world

However, history had not ended. Or perhaps one should say that others envisaged a different end of history than that of Mr. Fukuyama. In his “End of History” article, Salman al-Awdah, one of bin Laden’s spiritual mentors, spelled out an alternative version that culminates with the destruction of the US He said, “The oppressors are the swords of Allah on earth. First Allah takes his revenge by them, and then against them. The same as Allah has used, in Islamist eyes, the United States in order to destroy the Soviet Union, so he will take revenge against the Americans by destroying them.” This version of the end of history was delivered at our doorsteps on 9/11 at the cost of some 3000 lives. History had apparently resumed or, to those less under the influence of Hegel, it had simply continued.

Weapons missing in the war of ideas

However, the resumption of history found the United States bereft of the institutions with which to fight a new war of ideas. Let us consider for a moment what is missing from the days of the Cold War. At the height of the Cold War, USIA had some 10,000 employees (including foreign nationals) and a $1 billion budget. In 1999, USIA’s functions were dispersed to the State Department and the Broadcasting Board of Governors. The senior-most official in the war of ideas became the new Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, a third-tier State Department officer, whose status speaks volumes about the severity of the demotion that “war of ideas” issues suffered. Within the State Department, public diplomacy functions were further dispersed to regional and other bureaus, making coordination and control a major problem.

The State Department should not have been expected to do both diplomacy and public diplomacy, as they sometimes conflict. Public diplomacy attempts to reach the peoples of other nations directly over the heads of their governments. This can make the State Department’s job more difficult, as its responsibility is to work with the heads of those same governments and maintain good relations with them. The two missions should not reside in the same institution. Public diplomacy has suffered as a result. In short, since the dismantling of USIA, there has been no central US government institution within which policy, personnel, and budget could be deployed coherently to implement a multifaceted strategy to win the war of ideas over an extended period of time.

As a result, as Secretary Clinton said, the US is largely absent from the field.

On its part, the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) inherited all non-defense government broadcasting, including the Voice of America. The BBG became a stand-alone agency run by part-time board members, most of whom have had no experience in foreign policy or public diplomacy. The eight Board members exercise executive power, to the extent that eight CEOs can, and are not directly accountable to anyone.

Since the professional backgrounds of the governors have been mainly in American mass media, they have sought to replicate that media in government broadcasting by refashioning much of it with American pop culture – Radio Sawa being the primary example. Over the past decade, the BBG has seen fit to eliminate VOA's services to Brazil in Portuguese, to Russia, to India in Hindi, to the Arabic world, and now to China in both Mandarin and Cantonese. There seems to be a perverse logic at work here, in which it has abandoned attempts to reach the most important audiences in terms of our national strategic interests about who we are, what we are doing, and why.

In the Arab world, the VOA 12-hour, content-rich Arabic service was replaced with a 24-hour pop music station featuring the likes of Britney Spears, Jay Lo, and Eminem. The intellectual premise of this effort, as explained to me by the chairman of the board when I served as the director of VOA, was that "MTV brought down the Berlin Wall." Radio Sawa has been proclaimed a success in attracting large youth audiences. However, as the dean of journalism in Jordan informed me, "Radio Sawa is fun, but it is irrelevant." In a war of ideas, performing a lobotomy on your enemy might be a good move. It is almost unheard of to perform a lobotomy on yourself, and then to declare it a success. How would you like to have a superpower adolescent in your neighborhood?

Words matter

We might pause here to reflect more accurately upon what exactly it was that did bring down the Berlin Wall as, actually, MTV broadcasts did not reach into eastern Germany. We are so far into the global war on terrorism that the conflict that defined most of the century that preceded it has almost receded from view, along with the role ideas played in bringing it to an end. As a foot soldier in the Cold War, I did not think I would live to see its conclusion.

I vividly remember the day in 1990 when I read a statement in the Soviet press by Alexander Yakovlev, the Politburo chief of Soviet ideology, that he had come to understand that Leninism was based upon class struggle and hatred, and that this was “evil.” The chief of Soviet ideology had used the exact same word to describe the Soviet system as had President Ronald Reagan. Excitedly, I faxed his remark around Washington. Yakovlev’s words meant the end of the Cold War and the Soviet empire. The actual deeds of its dissolution soon came in their wake.  

Words and the restoration of their relationship to reality were critical to the Communist collapse. This was no small thing since, for many in the West, words had lost their meaning. Therefore, the huge lie about humanity in Communism remained undetected by them. A recovery of meaning was essential before a real challenge could be presented to the East. No single individuals did more for this restoration than John Paul II and Ronald Reagan, who insisted upon calling things by their proper names. Naming Communism for what it was required, first of all, the refutation of modern nominalism and radical skepticism. You cannot use “evil” as an adjective until you know it as a noun.

Everyone now celebrates “our” victory over Communism, conveniently forgetting that the struggle was not only with Communism, but within the West as to what Communism meant. The anti-anti-Communists in the West were frightened by the Pope’s and Reagan’s vocabulary for the Soviet Union because they feared it might lead to war, but also because the use of the word “evil” had implications for themselves with which they were extremely uncomfortable. As English writer Christopher Derrick once said, the only real iron curtain runs through the soul of each one of us. If we can know what “evil” is, how then does that apply to our own lives? Rather than face up to the answer to that question, many preferred to attack the people using it and to explain the Cold War away as just another variation of power politics and realpolitik. Communism was simply a mask for traditional Russian imperial expansionism and could be dealt with similarly. Power dealing with power can reach an understanding.

So long as this view was regnant in the West, Communism was a form of absolutism fighting a form of relativism. As such, Communism had the clear advantage, and gained it on the field with stunning geographic advances in Central Asia, Africa, and Central America, and strategic advances in both conventional and non-conventional weaponry. So great was the progress of the Soviet Union in the 1970s that anyone looking at these factors alone would have expected it to win. Those expectations were defeated by a factor outside of those calculations.

Reagan was the first political leader to use the moral vocabulary of “evil” to describe the Soviet empire in the recent era. The reaction was hysterical. How reckless could Reagan be? Yet the President calmly responded that he wanted them, the Soviets, to know that he knew. This acknowledgment inspired great hope behind the Iron Curtain. Then, finally, the Soviets used the term about themselves. Once the proper vocabulary was employed, it was over. Semantic unanimity brought the end not in the much-feared bang, but a whimper. Truth turned out to be the most effective weapon in the Cold War. Truth set free the imprisoned peoples of the evil empire.

Part of that truth was expressed religiously. The religious alliance against the Soviet Empire could be broad because the contest was between atheism and religion of any kind. The US Cold War strategy used religion to undermine the Soviet bloc – Jews in Russia; Muslims in Afghanistan; and Christians in Poland, for example. Who could imagine during the Cold War that religion could be turned against the United States, not so much within it, as in alienating Muslims in large parts of the Islamic world key to US strategic interests? Unlike the Cold War, the contest with Islam is in terms of one kind of religion against something else, either secularism or another religion, or, in Islamic terms, between belief and unbelief.

The Islamist vision of America

It is essential in a war of ideas to understand the ideas one is at war with. This includes an understanding of how we are seen from the Islamist side. What is it about United States or the West that so repels the Islamists that they are driven to destroy it? Read the following statement and then guess who said it.

"This great America: What is its worth in the scale of human values? And what does it add to the moral account of humanity? And, by journey's end, what will its contribution be? I fear that a balance may not exist between America's material greatness and the quality of its people. And I fear that the wheel of life will have turned and the book of time will have closed and America will have added nothing, or next to nothing, to the account of morals that distinguishes man from object, and indeed, mankind from animals."

When I was recently lecturing to a group of mid-career American officers, one of them guessed it was Winston Churchill. Wrong. The answer is Sayyid Qutb, the chief Egyptian ideologue of the radical Islamist movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks our destruction. In Arabic, qutb means the pole around which the world revolves on its axis. The entire Islamist world revolves around the thinking of this man, who was hanged by Nasser in 1966, but whose thought has spread from the Philippines and Indonesia to Morocco. You can be sure to find his writings at the foundation of any radical Muslim group today, including al-Qaeda.

The value of Qutb’s quote is that it so clearly illustrates the moral judgment on America that is behind the Islamist movement. This is such an important point that it deserves another example. One member of the team that carried out the first attack on the World Trade Center in 1993, Mahmoud Abouhalima had this to say in an interview: “The soul, the soul of religion, that is what is missing.” The 17 years he had lived in the West, Abouhalima said, "is a fair amount of time to understand what the hell is going on in the United States and in Europe about secularism or people, you know, who have no religion. I lived in their life, but they didn't live my life, so they will never understand the way I live or the way I think." Abouhalima compared a life without religion to a pen without ink.

“An ink pen, a pen worth $2000, gold and everything in it, it's useless if there’s no ink in it. That's the thing that gives life, the life in this pen... the soul. The soul, the religion, you know, that's the thing that's revived the whole life. Secularism has none, they have none, you have none.”

Statements like these are easy to find and appear almost daily in the Muslim media. Notice that these critiques do not addresses any policy problems. Those who insist that America’s public diplomacy nightmare in the Middle East is only due to its policies mistake the fundamentally moral nature of the attack. In fact, there is no policy the US could change in the Middle East that would reverse this moral condemnation, including the abandonment of Israel. When Qutb wrote his statement in “The America I Have Seen” in the early 1950s, Israel was not the major issue it is today nor were we seen as the sponsors of the autocracies in the region.

Hiding the light on the hill

Why, then, have we ended up in this situation? Most of us do not see ourselves as immoral and materialistic; why do others? The United States has failed to present its true self and the problem has only gotten worse with the spread of American pop culture through globalization. Instead of using public diplomacy and its powerful broadcasting tools, like the Voice of America, to counter the impression of America that pop culture creates, the United States, as I have mentioned, has chosen to reinforce this impression by officially embracing it.

The first thing the United States needs to do is address the moral critique of America as a godless, secular, sex-obsessed society immersed in materialism. Just when the moral basis of American life may be eroding, it is precisely this basis that it most needs to present to the Muslim world if it is to defuse the contempt and anger American popular culture provokes. In other words, an essential part of the war of ideas is our own self recovery. Absent that, the United States will be seen, as it is now largely seen, as a purveyor of its will through brute force.

Obama’s failed outreach to the Muslim world

How will we raise the standard in this new war of ideas? In his inaugural address, President Obama said that “our security emanates from the justness of our cause.” However, security can emanate from the justness of a cause only if others share the same conception of justice. That, after all, is the substance of what wars of ideas are about. How, then, is President Obama conveying that sense of justness, particularly to the Muslim world?

Obama's initial Muslim outreach effort came in his June, 2009, speech in Cairo. It followed and should be contrasted to the speech he gave in Accra, Ghana immediately prior to it. In Accra, the president spoke some hard truths about what is required for sustainable democratic governance and how African countries had failed in the past. He did not flinch in his denunciations of African strongmen or widespread corruption. These hard truths were absent from his Cairo speech. In other words, he spoke powerfully to the poor (Ghana) and meekly to the powerful (Egypt), or truth to the poor and fantasy to the powerful. The differences were pronounced. Why?

The only rhetorical strategy that can make sense of the Cairo speech is: instead of confronting the unreality of the world in which most Arabs live (which would have generated resentment), Obama decided to embrace it, enter into it, and then try to change it from within by changing the meaning of some words. As Egyptian writer Tareq Heggy said in reaction to the speech, "it is as if he (Obama) is a magician."

This magical approach produced Obama's absurd claim that al-Azhar, instead of being an intellectual backwater retarding Muslims' ability to enter the modern world, was a light to the world and laid the foundations of the European Renaissance and Enlightenment. There were other such gaffes, including his praise of Muslim tolerance in “Andalusia and Cordoba during the Inquisition.” However, the Muslim presence in Spain and the period of the Inquisition did not historically overlap, making the comparison ludicrous. Even some American history was distorted to serve this view. President Obama said that "it was not violence that won full and equal rights" for the black people in America, but "a peaceful and determined insistence upon the ideals at the center of America's founding." Somewhere in there the Civil War got lost. Also, President Obama said that, while Turkey, Pakistan, Bangladesh, and Indonesia have elected women heads of state, "The struggle for women's equality continues in many aspects of American life."

In addition, the president proclaimed that "in ancient times and in our times, Muslim communities have been at the forefront of innovation and education." If one is speaking of the ninth century in Abbasid Baghdad, this was certainly true. However, according to the UN Arab Human Development Reports, written by Arabs themselves, the level of education in the Arab world is the worst in the world but for that of sub-Saharan Africa. These distortions and fantasies were received with understandable enthusiasm by the audience.

However, despite the absurdities of some of the remarks, obviously delivered as obsequies to the Arab world, the president did try to express and advance the principles of equality and democracy within the Muslim world. The problem is that such attempts are bound to fail when they do not address the principal obstacles to their acceptance. In fact, none of these obstacles were mentioned except in the most general way, and never as being in any way Islamic. It is, after all, "the dignity of all human beings," which Obama vigorously espoused, that is at question in Islam according to its own revelation and legal doctrines which are inimical to the proposition that all people are created equal. Why not simply say this?

The magic of language

Perhaps President Obama did not say this because he thinks that not saying it makes it no longer so. Rather than conforming his words to reality, he tends to think that reality will conform itself to his words. He also sees the source of the problems in the Middle East, as elsewhere in the world, in the United States itself. This would explain his propensity to apologize (we are the victimizer; you are the victims), and then to pretend – or rationalize. Pretend, for instance, that the problem in Iran is nuclear weapons instead of the nature of the Iranian regime. Perhaps it was the hostility of the United States that provoked them to seek nuclear weapons. Therefore, let us reassure them of our peaceful intentions. Look away when the Iranian people are in the streets demonstrating against a stolen election in the hopes that the regime will, out of gratitude, reach an acceptable nuclear compromise. In other words, the nature of the Iranian regime is irrelevant so long as it does not possess nuclear weapons. This ignores the fact that is the nature of the Iranian regime which makes its possession of nuclear weapons a problem.

Pretend that Syria is not subverting Iraq, your ally, and is implicit in killing American soldiers in that country, and demurely turn away in hopes that by doing so Syria will give you a deal to stabilize Iraq and Lebanon. Pretend that Syrian President Bashar Assad is a reformer, and perhaps he will become one. This mistaken mission of giving Arabs a new vision of themselves from within their own delusional world was reflected in Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's extraordinary remark about President Assad that what "we have tried to do with him is to give him an alternative vision of himself." Apparently, he has not embraced his doppelganger and is perfectly content with his old self, which he maintains in power at the cost of hundreds of Syrian lives.

Magic does not work in the foreign-policy. It is, in fact, simply another version of realpolitik, disguised in a self-abasing form of false humility. The infamous phrase that the Obama administration is "leading from behind" means that it will advance American principles only when they are thrust upon it by external events – in other words, when it is realpolitik to do so. Otherwise, it is most content as a power, although a weakened one, dealing with other powers. Obama's Middle Eastern strategy has reflected his rhetorical approach to Ghana and Egypt. Speak powerfully to the weak or weakened – demanding that Mubarak and Gaddafi leave office – and meekly to the powerful – not making such demands on Bashar Assad or Ahmadinejad.

In May, 2011, President Obama made his next major outreach speech to the Middle East. In it, he seemed to abandon the realpolitik of the Cairo speech. In the spirit of "leading from behind," he belatedly endorsed the Arab revolutions and finally delivered a form of his Ghana tough love speech. He directly addressed the problems of Arab tyrannies and corruption. He also generally intimated that the Arab Spring had made the late Osama bin Laden and his ideology obsolescent. It is true that bin Laden's name was not chanted during any of the uprisings. However, neither was the United States’, nor were there any statues of liberty constructed, as was famously the case in Tiananmen Square in 1989. In fact, a case could be made that the Arab Spring demonstrated the irrelevance of the United States more than it did al Qaeda's. Obama’s "leading from behind" did not impress Fares Braizat of the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies in Qatar. He said,

"He should have said something from the very beginning, but we've been waiting... Most people have realized that what the US does or does not do is no longer important, because people took matters into their own hands and decided their own future. So why should people care what he says? America is no longer an issue."

President Obama also failed to notice that these uprisings have come close to achieving one of Al Qaeda's principal goals – the elimination of the apostate authoritarian regimes in the Middle East and North Africa. What is to replace them is still very much up in the air. That is why bin Laden, in his posthumously broadcast audiotape, saw in the Arab Spring such potential for the achievement of al Qaeda's aims. That this might be the case did not seem to occur to the president, other than by his saying that the changes made may not be to the immediate tactical advantage of the United States, which would nevertheless accept them if they were produced democratically. This is confusing process for substance.

Obama characterized the uprisings as democratically inspired and therefore deserving of American support. What will happen, however, will very much depend on how Islam is understood in the respective countries of the Arab Spring. Curiously, though, the word Islam did not appear once in President Obama’s lengthy speech. It is the dominant interpretation of Islam that will determine whether any of the vaunted democratic goals he enunciated can be achieved. Obama said that this is "a chance to pursue the world as it should be," rather than as it is. But what the world “should” be is exactly what is at issue within Islam itself. The president's speech assumed that Egyptian aspirations are identical to our own. This is a somewhat bipartisan view. James Glassman, president George W. Bush’s last Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, wrote in the Wall Street Journal on May 19 that "Muslims deserve and desire freedom as much as everyone else." This statement is very appealing, and there is certainly an element of truth in it.

Is the Arab Spring a rejection of bin Laden?

However, one must ask whether the desired freedom is truly based upon the proposition that all people are created equal. How many Egyptians actually believe that Copts and Muslims, men and women, believers and nonbelievers are equal – to say nothing of Jews and Muslims? Where is the underlying support in their culture for the truth of this proposition? If it is not there, it will be freedom for some and oppression for others. How many share the view of Osama’s former bodyguard (now resident in Yemen), Abu Jandal, that politics is illegitimate because “when you accept the other as he is then you are in agreement with his infidelity and lowliness”?

Pretending that this is not so does not make the problem magically go away. Assuming that the Arab Spring was a rejection of bin Laden does not necessarily make it one. In fact, Dr Tawfik Hamid’s analysis of several thousand readers’ comments on the Al Jazeera and al Arabiya websites in response to the death of bin Laden showed: "67% support for Bin Laden, 19% against Bin Laden, and Unclear answers 14%."

Bin Laden, after all, was just another product of the Muslim Brotherhood, whose spiritual leader, Sheik Yusuf al-Qaradawi, addressed crowds of several million Egyptians in Tahrir Square at a victory rally on February 18th. He praised the “youth of the revolution,” as “the new partisans of God.” It is the Muslim Brotherhood that is currently positioned to take maximum advantage of the Arab Spring, bringing the Islamist dreams of Sayyid Qutb one giant step closer to reality. Speaking of current events in Egypt, Naguib Sawiris, one of the founders of the Free Egyptians Party, which promotes liberal and secular policies, lamented that, "they have substituted the dictatorship of the Mubarak with the dictatorship of the Muslim Brotherhood. That's where Egypt is going now." What does Obama propose to do to prevent this from happening?

He proposes some economic programs. These are not to be gainsaid, as the doubling in the price of wheat over the past year could by itself imperil a democratic transition in Egypt. However, one wonders why president Obama did not choose to remind Egyptians of some of their own history. After some 60 years of British presence in Egypt, Egyptians were left with a constitutional monarchy in which the basic human freedoms were enshrined, along with the rule of law, a functioning parliament, a relatively free press, and an independent judiciary.

In a military coup in 1962, Gamal Nasser overthrew the constitutional monarchy and changed the constitution. His successor, Anwar Sadat, amended the constitution, enshrining Sharia as the main source of legislation, and Hosni Mubarak amended it again. The end result was a one-party, authoritarian state. Imperial powers did not do this to Egypt; Egyptians did it to themselves. Through another military coup, it appears that Egyptians may have the opportunity to choose again. It would not have been amiss to remind them of the criteria by which to make a choice that can lead them out of this sad history and back to the freedoms that they once enjoyed – not as a legacy of the British, but as their own. This would require more than the litany of specific human rights that Obama enumerated in the speech. It would require a natural theology to undergird them, and a sincere examination of whether that natural theology is compatible with Islamic revelation. It is not, of course, for a non-Muslim to answer the question as to whether it is or not, but it is perfectly appropriate, indeed, vitally necessary, to pose it.

Semantic obfuscation

Muslim writer Irshad Manji, author of The Trouble with Islam Today, writes that “bin Laden and his followers represent a real interpretation of Islam that begs to be challenged relentlessly and visibly." Obama chooses not to do this, preferring to pretend that it has gone away. He seems to believe that speaking of it brings it into, or at least sustains its existence, while not speaking of it denies it existence.

This nominalist, or magical, approach is reflected in the tortured rhetoric the Obama administration uses to portray the current conflict in order to avoid any mention of its nature. Consider the verbal gymnastics engaged in by the Secretary for Homeland Security, Janet Napolitano, in her description of a terrorist attack as a "man-caused disaster" or of war as an "overseas contingency operation." The President’s counter terrorism advisor, John Brennan, said that jihad, rather than presenting a moral problem, “is a holy struggle, an effort to purify for a legitimate purpose.” (Conceding legitimacy to your enemy in a war of ideas is not a good move.) On February 10th, Director of National Intelligence James Clapper told a congressional committee that the Islamic Brotherhood is a “largely secular” organization. Muslims could not care less what Brennan or any other non-Muslim thinks jihad is. And they would be, at least, bemused by the secular description given to an explicitly religious organization like the Muslim Brotherhood. The only people Brennan, Clapper, Napolitano and Obama are confusing is the American people.

Why the semantic obfuscation? Self-delusion is one problem and ignorance is another. Many in the secular West find it hard to believe that anyone takes religion seriously anymore. Since they have lost their faith, they don’t have the ability to comprehend the terms of faith in anyone else’s life.  In fact, their incomprehension, their obliviousness to the sacred, is one of the things that inflames Islam against the West.  President Obama's National Security Strategy defines America’s opponents as "a loose network of violent extremists." Whereas the Obama administration is reluctant to speak of a “war against terrorism” (which is, admittedly, a misnomer itself), it is apparently at ease in defining the opponent as “violence.” What about non-violent extremists? Do they present a problem? The Obama administration now supports a role for the Muslim Brotherhood in a reformed Egyptian government on condition that it "rejects violence and recognizes democratic goals." If the Muslim Brotherhood’s defined aim of creating a Sharia state in Egypt is achieved peacefully, is it any less inimical to US strategic interests than if it were reached violently?

Does truth really lead to tyranny?

Confusion over these matters are sure signs that the United States is suffering from the same kind of conflict within itself over the nature of the threat that it is facing that it suffered from during the Cold War. There exists the same reluctance to name things for what they are and therefore to do the things that are necessary.

One reason for this reluctance resides in President Obama's relativism. In his book, The Audacity of Hope, he discussed the US Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. He wrote, "Implicit in [the Constitution’s] structure, in the very idea of ordered liberty, was a rejection of absolute truth, the infallibility of any idea or ideology or theology or ‘ism,’ and any tyrannical consistency that might block future generations into a single, unalterable course, or drive both majorities and minorities into the cruelties of the Inquisition..." In other words, truth leads to tyranny.

Truth does not set you free; it imprisons. This statement would have amazed the American Founders, including John Adams who, when reflecting back upon the principles of the American Founding, claimed that “those principles of liberty are as unalterable as human nature. And I could safely say consistently with all my then and present information that I believe they would never make discoveries in contradiction to these general principles.”

How do you fashion a public diplomacy strategy based upon the belief that the United States does not represent any permanent truths? As was mentioned earlier regarding the Cold War, a form of absolutism fighting a form of relativism always has the upper hand. Who wants to die to prove that nothing is absolutely true? How exactly is one supposed to promote this idea? By playing pop music, and hoping that the walls come tumbling down?

In the current war of ideas, we have lost the means and we have lost the message. We won the Cold War because we developed the means, and we recovered the message. If we still have something to tell the world, if we still stand upon the embrace of a universal truth as the foundation of the "justness of our cause," then we will be impelled to find the means to reach others with this truth. If not, we will have lost ourselves for reasons having nothing to do with the challenge of Islam. Public diplomacy should aim for a new Yakovlev moment of semantic unanimity – a point at which the moral illegitimacy of the radical Islamist vision is self-confessed, a point at which its adherents admit that its central tenets are “evil.” We cannot expect them to use this vocabulary if we do not.

Robert Reilly has worked in foreign policy, the military, and the arts. His most recent book is The Closing of the Muslim Mind: How Intellectual Suicide Created the Modern Islamist Crisis. This paper was delivered at a seminar on “Fighting the Ideological War: Strategies for Defeating Al Qaeda”, organised by the Westminister Institute on May 25.

Copyright © Robert R. Reilly . Published by You may download and print extracts from this article for your own personal and non-commercial use only. Contact us if you wish to discuss republication.

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