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Hearts, minds and souls

By
August 23, 2007

The first concept to grasp is that the global conflict now under way involves both a clash of arms and a clash of ideas. To succeed in this war will require effective combat on both fronts.

The second concept is this: The clash of arms and the clash of ideas influence one another, often in peculiar and even counterintuitive ways.

One example: Al Qaeda in Iraq could not challenge American troops directly. Their solution has been to target innocent Iraqis instead, to slaughter innocent Muslim men, women and children by the hundreds.

Why wouldn’t this cause outrage around the world? It did — but al Qaeda calculated that in much of the West, the outrage would be directed less at them than at Americans for “stirring up a hornet’s nest.” And, as they also expected, images of death and destruction, coupled with reports of soldiers killed by roadside bombs, soon would erode the will of many Americans to continue the fight.

Now, however, a new phase in the clash of arms may be having an unanticipated impact on a different audience. A shift in strategy initiated by the new U.S. commander in Iraq, Gen. David Petraeus, is changing ideas about both al Qaeda and the United States in Muslim societies — and on the theological plane.

I learned this from Hassan Mneimneh, a scholar and director of the Iraq Memory Foundation, a research institution with offices in Baghdad and Washington.

This time last year, even most military people concluded that Anbar Province was irretrievably lost to al Qaeda. But Petraeus was not ready to give up: A few short months ago, he told Anbar’s traditional leaders, the tribal sheiks, that if they would ally with the United States, their people and their lands would be liberated from al Qaeda’s “occupation.”

They agreed. Since then, al Qaeda terrorists by the score have been killed, captured and driven out of Anbar. Mneimneh wondered: How would the sheiks and religious scholars justify this alliance to themselves and their people? To put it bluntly, how would they explain partnering with infidels against fellow Muslims?

He found the answer in numerous sermons and publications — everything from books to blogs and Web sites. The truth, he discovered, is that most Iraqis, unlike so many Westerners, do blame al Qaeda for the carnage al Qaeda has carried out. And most Iraqis have not embraced al Qaeda’s brand of Islam, with its barbarism — e.g., the murder of children to teach their parents obedience — and ultra-fundamentalism.

What’s more, Iraqis were deeply offended by al-Qaeda leaders — almost all of them foreigners — saying their interpretation of Islam is flawed and inadequate, as has been that of their families and clans for generations. Mneimneh reports that Iraqi clerics have responded by calling al Qaeda’s version of Islam “excessive and unfair.”

To express such views while al Qaeda militants were walking the streets would have brought severe reprisals. But over the past few months, as the surge has been making progress, and as more Iraqis have felt more secure, they have been articulating these views loudly and clearly. Mneimneh believes they are being heard beyond Anbar, beyond Iraq and even beyond the Middle East. “This is coming out,” he emphasized.

At the same time, because Petraeus has moved his troops from cloistered bases into Iraqi communities, more Iraqis are coming into contact with Americans and learning that — frightening though they may look with their body armor and big guns — they aren’t quite as satanic as advertised. They don’t ask for bribes. They like kids. They show respect. And they have been providing security while training Iraqis to protect themselves. They are willing to stay and assist but they would prefer to go home as soon as conditions permit — not quite the dictionary definition of a foreign occupier.

“Note that the troops taking part in the surge have not been attacked by the Iraqis who live in the neighborhoods where they are now posted,” Mneimneh said. “On the contrary, those Iraqis have been bringing the troops the intelligence they need to succeed.” Accepting a tactical alliance with such people does not violate Islamic doctrine, Iraqi religious scholars are daring to assert.

“The longer this persists,” Mneimneh said, “the more Iraqis’ views will be changed. As these new views are expressed, disseminated and reinforced, it becomes less likely that they will be abandoned later.”

In other words, every day the surge continues, every day American soldiers continue to wage the clash of arms in Iraq, they also are fighting — and perhaps winning — a consequential clash of ideas.

(Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies, a policy institute focusing on terrorism.)

7 Responses to Hearts, minds and souls

  1. www.nazilieskill.us

    August 23, 2007 at 12:33 pm

    One group of rich crooks, suckers, and lazy cowards preaches to a group of poor crooks, suckers, and lazy cowards (while stealing their oil).

    John Hanks, Laramie, Wyoming

  2. Jellicoe

    August 23, 2007 at 5:15 pm

    Here we go again. Mr. professional anti-terrorist, reciting alleged evidence of the efficacy of the Washington regime’s latest Iraq scam game provided by, guess who, a certain Mr. Hassan Mneimneh who is described as a scholar and director of the Iraq Memory Foundation, a research institution with offices in Baghdad and Washington. Should we doubt that an organization with such a name and one of its two offices in Washington is yet another Iraq stooge for the Washington regime? And to make matters worse, the article is written by one Mr. May, who is the, no-doubt well paid, president, no less, of what appears to be an organization focused on anti-terrorism. One could be pardoned if one assumed that such an organization would have no reason to exist, or to support Mr. May’s presumably presidential salary, if and to the extent that people didn’t believe in Washington regime-hyped terrorist threats. Let’s assume that the article is accurate regarding the desire and utility of Anbar Province residents in wiping out Al Queda in their area. What percent of the “insurgency” is caused by Al Queda? Even the establishment press does not credit them with more than a perhaps 10-15% impact on violence in Iraq (even when excluding the US’s heavy imput in this regard). So what’s the point of the article? What else. To try, once again, to get American’s to believe that, somehow or other, we are helping win the WOR by continuing to tear Iraq into literal shreds (4 million refugees, 1 million deaths, and still counting). Even US military sources are virtually unanimous that Anbar will revert to its old, violent, anti-occupation self when and to the extent that GI Joe leaves. Would you expect anthing less from red-blooded Americans if some foreign Moslem country occupied, say, the old Confederacy? What a joke. Again, I have to ask, why is this guy having his propaganda shilled on this website?

  3. VietnamVet

    August 23, 2007 at 7:08 pm

    Right on Jellicoe! This is the second article by this clown, both rediculous, that has appeared on CHB. Why are the editors allowing this BS to even being printed here? His, May’s, articles are so full of BS that they are not even worth reading, let alone taken seriously!

  4. bryan mcclellan

    August 23, 2007 at 8:42 pm

    Come on fellow posters, if we cannot identify the enemy we cannot battle him.Like Kelly Bundy said,to be forewarned is to have four arms..Pray Mightily for our Troops.

  5. Klaus Hergeschimmer

    August 24, 2007 at 5:15 am

    BushCo flip flops all over the place as to who is biggest danger, now it’s back to Al Qaeda being the big danger, even though there only responsible for 15% of attacks in Iraq.

    Anbar province is inhabited mostly by Sunnis, and they have been joining forces with Bush out of convenience to get rid of Al Qaeda, but the Chimp is aiding the Sunnis to put some pressure on al-Maliki because of Maliki’s close ties with Iran. There is no guarentee that the Sunnis are having a love fest with Bush more then it is convenient for the Sunnis to not be sidelined by Maliki.

    So the Chimp is playing both sides off of each other to maintain some sort of wacky balance for political stability in order to get the factions to sign off on an oil deal that will profit multi-national oil companies. The Shites don’t want that oil deal signed and neither do the Sunnis, so what the hell kind of strategy is the Chimp playing at?

    Uh Oh! I feel a song coming on, this one’s for you Mr. May in the style of the
    BRADY BUNCH SONG:

    THERE’S A COUNTRY CALLED IRAQ, THAT HAD THREE VERY DIVIDED FACTIONS OF ITS OWN, THEY WERE THREE DISPARATE FACTIONS HELD AT BAY BY SADDAM, AND YET THEY WERE ALL ALONE. BUT ONE DAY THE NEO-CONS HAD A WACKY PLAN FOR INVASION, AND THEY NEEDED A FALSE RATIONALE TO ATTACK, DOUG FEITH CREATED PHONY EVIDENCE OF WMD, AND THAT’S THE WAY THEY ALL BECAME THE PNAC BUNCH, -THE PNAC BUNCH -THE PNAC BUNCH, THAT’S THE WAY THEY BECAME THE PNAC BUNCH!!

    DA-DA-DA -DAH DAH DAH DAH DAH (musical cue)

  6. Helen Rainier

    August 24, 2007 at 4:39 am

    Here’s an interesting blurb about Clifford May and his “organization.” He is a former GOP bigwig and likes to hang out with other neocons — also got his degree from Sarah Lawrence.

    http://rightweb.irc-online.org/profile/1296

  7. Jellicoe

    August 24, 2007 at 1:16 pm

    Thank you, Helen, for the website link. If anything, it is an understatement to say that Clifford is a former GOP wigwig and likes to hang out with other neocons. This guy is toxic.