Calling Up the Past
No. 4 2003 October/December

Ariel Cohen, Ph.D., is a Research Fellow at The Heritage


In September 2002, the U.S. presidential administration under
George Bush adopted its National Security Strategy. This document
provides for waging “a war of ideas to win the battle against
international terrorism.” The battle for hearts and minds is not a
short-term campaign but a protracted conflict that will take years,
decades, and possibly generations to come. It should be guided by
an integrated strategy of public diplomacy and covert political
action, something that the United States has not attempted for half
a century, at least since the early stages of the Cold War. This
will be a campaign on the information and media battlefield, fought
not against a state or a coalition of states, but against an array
of radical organizations and the governments which support them.
The concept for this ‘war of ideas’ should not be confused with
psychological operations, which is a tactical instrument deployed
specifically for undermining the morale of the enemy’s fighting
forces. The spectrum of tasks involved in a war of ideas is much
wider, as is the range of those interested in victory.

Radical Islamists are waging their ideological war against
Western values – the principles of freedom, equality and equal
opportunities. These principles were introduced in Europe in the
18th-19th centuries and were later embraced by the United States.
Now many other countries, including Russia, where these ideas help
foster democracy and liberalism, have become the main target for
terrorist attacks.

The justification for terrorism (shahada) is the cornerstone of
the ideology of jihad – the Holy War. Extremist Islamic clerics and
terrorist leaders advocate suicide bombings and the murder of
innocent civilians in the prosecution of jihad. The stakes are
high: nothing less than the creation of a modern-day caliphate, a
pan-Islamic nuclear state, is the primary strategic goal of this
movement. Bringing down moderate and pro-Western regimes in the
Islamic world, and replacing them with Islamic dictatorships is the
interim objective. Militant Islamists have given themselves carte
blanche powers to persecute and execute anyone who would dare
question their politicized interpretation of the Koran. Therefore,
all states, together with their leaders, which permit secular and
moderate interpretations of Islam, are now in jeopardy.

Militant Islamist movements include tens of thousands of active
members, and hundreds of thousands of supporters throughout the
Middle East, South Asia, Europe, and the Americas. According to a
Gallup opinion poll, made public in February 2003, a majority of
Muslims from Morocco to Indonesia are strongly opposed to America.
The poll’s results demonstrate a great gap between facts and the
way they are perceived in the Islamic world and in the West.

The terrorist attacks in the U.S., Israel, Russia, India,
Morocco, Saudi Arabia and Turkey escalate the battle for the hearts
and minds of the people in the Middle East, Central Asia, the
Indian subcontinent, and Southeast Asia. Since many of these
societies have already been exposed to the influence of the radical
Islamists, this battle may take many years.


Ideological and Religious Roots of Terrorism

Terror has deep ideological roots in the radical interpretations
of Islam, which date back to the period of the early Middle Ages.
At that time there emerged the sect of harajits (8th century), who
began the practice of assassinating “heretics” and who are believed
to have killed imam Ali, the Prophet Mohammad’s nephew, and the
sect of Assassins (11th century).

The oldest of the currently operating fundamentalist
organizations, the Muslim Brotherhood (al-Ikhwan al-Muslimun), was
founded in Egypt in 1929 by Hassan El-Banna. One of its
ideologists, Sayyed Qutb, was convicted of conspiracy against the
Gamal Abdel Nasser government and executed in 1966. His belief was
that not only infidels, but also Arab leaders who are not loyal
enough to Islam (kufr), deserve death. The Muslim Brotherhood also
permits violence against Muslims who do not share its radical
fundamentalist ideology, or who oppose any fundamentalist
organization or group. This reasoning was used to justify the 1952
assassination of King Abdallah, the grandfather of the late Jordan
King Hussein (and the great-grandfather of the incumbent King
Abdallah II).

The present leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, sheik Yusuf
al-Karadawi, a most authoritative Sunni figure, has stated in an
interview with the Al Jazeera news channel that Islamic law binds
all believers to join the jihad declared by the Taliban. “Terror by
those who defend their homeland, their right… is legitimate…
Everyone has a right to become a suicide-bomber and blow oneself
up… Hundreds of theologians teach us that such acts of martyrdom
are one of the highest forms of jihad in the name of Allah.”

Theologians and teachers at Cairo’s Al-Azhar University, highly
respected in the Muslim world, repeatedly urge the Islamic
countries to fight against the United States. They warn against
those who assist the West in fighting the Taliban: they depart from
the teachings of their religion, which is a crime punishable by
death (rida). One of the teachers distinguished terrorism, which he
said was a “modern term,” from deterrence in the following way:
“Islam defines terrorism as deterrence. Deterrence is not always
prohibited by religious law… America itself has invited death with
its vicious policy… Even though the present governments of Arab
countries support America, they will not last longer than

Secular regimes, such as Syria, Libya and, formerly, Iraq also
create terrorist organizations, above all Palestinian ones, and use
them to advance their political ends. Extremists find refuge on the
territories of the U.S. allies, including Egypt and Saudi Arabia.
For example, the Muwaffaq Foundation, run by well-known businessman
Yasin al-Qadi and the bin Mahfouz family, has been included by the
U.S. Department of State in a list of sponsors of terrorism. Yet
the foundation openly operates on the territory of Saudi Arabia and
the Gulf States.

Many radical preachers of Islam, leaders of terrorist
organizations and their supporters have abused the freedoms
provided to them in the West – in the United Kingdom, France,
Germany and even the United States. Abdurrahman Alamoudi, former
executive director of the American Muslim Council and a “goodwill
envoy” of the Department of State in Muslim countries, came out in
support for the HAMAS and Hezbollah terrorist organizations.
Alamoudi’s organization helped raise funds for radical Islamic
organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood.

Sheik Omar Mahmoud Abu Omar, also known as Abu Qatada – a
Palestinian born in Jordan and now living in London – has been
described as bin Laden’s European representative. Abu Qatada is a
mufti of Algeria’s Gama’a al-Islamiyya and has been linked to
Zacarias Moussawi, now on trial in the U.S. for involvement in the
September 11 terrorist acts. Egyptian sheik Abu Hamza, who fought
in Afghanistan and Bosnia as a volunteer and who is one of the main
champions of Gama’a al-Islamiyya abroad, now lives comfortably in
London and preaches at the Finsbury Park mosque. Nothing has been
done yet to put an end to the activities of the “charity”
organization network; these are run by the mosques and have been
proven to actually fund terrorists. The sword, it seems, is as
mighty as the word.

Iraq – The New Jihad Front

The continuing attacks against U.S. soldiers, UN officers and
Iraqi forces cooperating with the coalition administration in Iraq,
have opened a new field for confrontation between the U.S.-led
Western coalition and the radical Islamists. The struggle of the
faithful against the invasion of Iraq has become yet another slogan
in the ideological arsenal of the militant Islamists against the
West. Other slogans include the struggle against the “occupation”
of the “Land of the Two Mosques” (Saudi Arabia), the struggle for
control of the Al-Aqsa Mosque on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem and,
of course, the struggle against the existence of Israel. On other
fronts, the struggle continues against the Indian presence in
Kashmir and the Russian presence in Chechnya. (Another point in the
anti-Western campaign – accusations against U.S. cultural
imperialism and the propaganda of immorality by Hollywood – reveals
a rare streak of solidarity among French leftist intellectuals,
fundamentalist mullahs, and the so-called pochvenniks – people
asserting the unique value of native culture – from Mexico to

Iraq’s anti-Western “coalition” comprises supporters of the
Baath party, radical Sunnis (for example, the Ansar al-Islam
movement linked with al Qaeda), and radical Shiites seeking the
establishment of a Shiite Islamic republic in Iraq (its leaders
include mullah Muktada Sadr). The assassination of a moderate
Shiite ayatollah, Mohammed Bakr al-Khakim, with a separate attack
on his uncle, are signs of growing tensions within Iraqi society.
These crimes may have been organized by radical Sunnis, who despise
the Shiites, or by radical Shiites linked with Teheran.

Geopolitically and geo-economically, neither Iran nor Saudi
Arabia is interested in an increase of Iraqi oil sales on the world
market. Both countries have agents of influence and agent networks
in Iraq. For example, Iranian Shiite militias have sent hundreds of
agents into Iraq disguised as pilgrims, while Hezbollah, a
pro-Iranian Shiite organization included in the U.S. Department of
State’s list of terrorist organizations, is training Iraqi
mujahideens in the tactics of armed struggle.

However, the political leadership and secret services of the
Muslim world may lose control of the situation, as has already
happened on occasion before. This is all the more likely
considering the deep split between the conservative and liberal
leaders of Iran, and the struggle for inheritance in Saudi Arabia.
Clashes between the Sunnis, who make up a minority in Iraq and who
suffered a defeat in the war with the U.S., and the Shiites, who
comprise a majority, may evolve into a civil war. Great powers
interested in the stability and economic development of Iraq must
make every effort to avoid such a scenario. First, it is important
to launch mechanisms for promoting mutual tolerance and
establishing joint Shiite-Sunni governance in areas populated by
members of both branches of Islam.

School of Terrorism

According to the bipartisan Freedom House, seven out of ten of
the least-free countries in the world are predominantly Islamic.
These are Afghanistan (under the Taliban), Iraq (under Saddam
Hussein), Libya, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria and Turkmenistan.

As the economies of most Islamic countries (with the exception
of Malaysia) stagnate, while their populations grow, the quality of
life in many of these lands deteriorates with each successive year.
It is often the youth who is the most frustrated with the status
quo, specifically with the corruption and lack of popular
participation in government and politics. They express their
dissatisfaction with the economic backwardness of their countries,
the failure of their educational system, and the violations of
human rights in the only permitted way – by lashing out at the
U.S., the West and Israel and accusing them of conspiracy against
the Muslim world. Anti-Western sentiments are implanted among
Muslims – even in the United States – already at secondary and even
primary schools.

Arnaud de Borchgrave, a U.S. veteran journalist and Director of
Transnational Threat Initiative at the Center for Strategic and
International Studies in Washington, D.C., wrote that over the last
two decades 15,000 to 25,000 madrasahs (Muslim schools) around the
world have been turned into veritable training camps where four
million future terrorists have been trained. Schools of jihad are
funded, directly or indirectly, by various foundations or
individual citizens of Saudi Arabia and the Gulf States. This
refers, particularly, to the Sunni world, yet the same can be said
about Shiites in Iran and Lebanon. According to Borchgrave,
religious schools in Pakistan were turned into jihad factories
during the years of the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. Students
were trained in those schools to fight against Indian forces in
Kashmir. Presently, 500,000 to one million students are trained for
Holy War against the United States, countries in Central Asia,
Turkey, Russia and Israel. The Dar al-Ulum Haqqania seminary at
Akora Khattak takes pride in its graduates: nine out of ten Taliban
leaders graduated from it. It was only in December 2001 that
Pakistan’s President Pervez Musharraf ordered his minister of the
interior to investigate into the madrasah’s links with the Taliban.
Will this investigation ever be completed?

In 2003, Islamic parties won parliamentary elections in
Pakistan’s northwestern province and are members of the ruling
coalition in Pakistan’s Beluchistan. The ambivalent attitude to
Islamists is part of a complicated game of Pakistan’s military
leadership, especially the army intelligence (ISI) which
demonstrates to the world that the choice in their country is not
between the military and democracy but between a military or
Islamic dictatorship. However, the influence of radical Islam in
the Pakistani army is so strong that one should not rule out a coup
against incumbent President Musharraf, led by a general supporting
jihad. A recent book by Gerald Posner, Why America Slept: The
Failure to Prevent 9/11, indicates the involvement of the Pakistani
military and Saudi secret services in the training of al Qaeda

Therefore, Pakistan’s nuclear program can be viewed not only as
a national or pan-Islamic phenomenon, but as a specifically Sunni
program which later may fall into the hands of radicals. In the
near future, the U.S., Russia, Western Europe, India, Turkey and
Israel may find it imperative to pool their efforts and build a
joint defense system against Iranian and Pakistani missiles.

As much of the Islamic world lives in dire poverty, the
madrasahs are often the only source of free education for the poor.
However, students are not provided an education that could help
them earn a decent living in the future; most of the attention is
given to their combat training and religious studies.

This approach to education can be best illustrated by Afghan
textbooks published in the years of the Taliban rule and
recommended for children at the age of six. These children studied
the Pushtu language with the help of texts like this: “Ahmed has a
saber. He wages jihad with his saber… My uncle has a gun. He wages
jihad with his gun… Anyone wishing to implement Allah’s will must
join in the Holy War against infidels under the banner of Islam.”
Children of eight were lectured about the Kalashnikov assault rifle
and about how many people a hand grenade can kill. The level of
“education” in Palestine is not much better; children’s textbooks
and Sesame Street-type TV programs glorify the “feats” of the
suicide bombers. However, not everyone in the Muslim world supports
such “curriculum.”

Abd al-Hamid al-Ansari, the Dean of the Faculty of Islamic Law
at the University of Qatar, has come out in favor of drastic
changes in school curricula. He favors reforms in the educational
system and in the mass media. He stated that terrorism, as an
element of the dominant culture, “is deep-rooted in the minds of
the victims of private education which rules out any

The madrasahs are breeding grounds of radicalism not only in
Pakistan and Middle East countries. “Volunteers” from the Middle
East now come to the United Kingdom in order to brainwash young
Muslims living there. Not long ago, leaders of the British Muslim
community and several Islamic clergymen in Britain expressed their
regret that British mosques had lost control over the religious
education of the younger generation.

Can the Expansion Be Stopped?

The ideological expansion of radical Islam cannot be stopped
without the cooperation of the U.S., Western Europe, Russia, India,
Israel and other countries. Russia and Western Europe, for example,
are threatened by Salafi (Wahabi) organizations financed from Saudi
Arabia and other Gulf States, as well as by groups linked with the
Muslim Brotherhood. Unfortunately, many politicians and
intellectuals in Western Europe do not realize – or do not want to
realize – threats stemming from the growing influence of radical
Islamists among the rapidly increasing Muslim populations of
France, Germany, the Netherlands and several other countries. Many
Muslims do not integrate into the liberal society; moreover, they
reject it under the influence of the unceasing propaganda by
radical preachers of jihad shuttling between the Muslim countries
and Europe.

Mosques in London continue to raise funds and recruit volunteers
for the jihad in Chechnya. One such mujahideen made an attempt to
blow up a U.S. airliner with explosives hidden in the heels of his
boots, while another two volunteers blew themselves up in a Tel
Aviv pub in 2003. British secret service seems to believe that the
radicals are kept under control, but there are more and more
indications that this view is illusory. The situation in France is
even worse: French politicians simply fear the five to seven
million Muslims living in their country.

Historically and culturally, Russia belongs to the European
civilization which derives from Christian roots. Concluding
separate deals with the Islamic fundamentalists and making advances
to them would result in the Islamist radical propaganda spilling
over from the North Caucasus, where it is already in full swing,
into other Russian regions, including the cities of Kazan and Ufa,
and Siberia. In October 2003, President Vladimir Putin attended the
Islamic Summit Conference in Malaysia. He listened to an
anti-Semitic, pro-Islamic speech delivered by Malaysian Prime
Minister Mahathir Mohamad, and witnessed the kind of ideology
reigning even inside a relatively moderate political

Russia must address the Chechen problem in real earnest. The
present situation, in which civilians and hundreds of Russian
troops continue to die in this fight, is unacceptable to the
Russian people, the policymakers in Europe, and in the U.S. The
plight of the refugees and the civilian population arouses sympathy
among the mass media and the left-leaning elites. If the newly
elected president of Chechnya, Akhmad Kadyrov, fails to bring peace
to the region (which is unlikely), an attempt must then be made to
drive a wedge between the separatists. The nationalist wing of the
movement can be offered amnesty, broad autonomy and transparent
elections. At the same time, the pressure of the secret service and
the military on the terrorist Islamist wing should be stepped up.
Many in the West describe Chechnya as the main stumbling block
preventing Russia’s further integration into Euro-Atlantic

Reviving Cold War Experience

Supporters of moderate Islam and a liberal-secular model of
government are now relatively weak and few in the Muslim world.
There are organizations advocating democratic laws, human rights,
peaceful coexistence and tolerance within various Islamic
communities, and between different religions. One of them, the Ibn
Haldun society led by Moroccan scholar Fatima Mernissi, has urged
Western nations to stop funding backward governments that violate
the rights of women and ethnic minorities.

South Asian professor Muqtedar Khan described the September 11
terrorist acts as a disgrace to the history of Islam and urged
Muslims to recall the lines from the Koran which cite Allah as
saying “whoever kills an innocent soul, it shall be as if he had
killed all mankind.” Khan reminded his fellow Muslims that the
Israelis have more respect for the one-million Arab people inside
their country than some Arab governments have for their own
citizens. He accused Muslim countries of pursuing a
double-standards policy: whereas the United States, Australia and
dozens of other countries grant citizenship rights to Palestinian
refugees, all Arab states, except for Jordan, prefer keeping them
in refugee camps. Furthermore, the Islamic world in no way reacts
to the killings or persecution of Muslims in Islamic countries.

Islam is still awaiting the emergence of a powerful movement of
liberal intellectuals and mass media which would propagate
tolerance and Western values. Previously, organizations of this
kind emerged in Poland (Solidarity) and Czechoslovakia
(Charter-77), which received serious support from the West. In the
same way, proponents of reforms in the Muslim world are now waiting
for assistance from the free world. While providing such
assistance, the West must speak a language understandable to the
other party and not impose its views; it cannot afford to insult
people who were brought up in a totally different culture.

The war of ideas will require developing and mobilizing
geographic linguistic expertise, and a long-term commitment of
resources and stamina. This battle is comparable in scale to the
Cold War and will by far exceed the first and second wars in Iraq.
While the U.S. military and NATO display high effectiveness on the
battlefield, postwar reconstruction operations leave much to be
desired. The spheres of education and propaganda are mostly in the
hands of the anti-Western Islamic preachers who prepare millions of
future mujahideens in Islamic schools for the struggle against the
West. (They perceive the West as including not only the U.S. and
Israel but also Russia.) It is important to establish local
institutions that would operate in cooperation with U.S.

Initial attempts to engage in the battle for hearts and minds
made by the U.S. State Department, the Pentagon and the White House
have not reaped much success. The experience of Cold War propaganda
battles has largely been lost. After the end of the Cold War, the
capabilities and budgets of the propaganda departments were
drastically reduced, experienced specialists had to retire, and the
state did not encourage the knowledge of foreign languages and
culture. Few imagined that the services of the U.S. Information
Agency (USIA), originally established to counter Communist
propaganda in the Cold War years, would be required again – and so

In the post-Cold War years, USIA was integrated into the State
Department. Many of USIA’s public diplomacy functions were turned
over to regional divisions, or to the State Department’s Public
Diplomacy division. Several important projects, including 
public libraries and book translation programs, were either closed
or their funding was stopped. International TV and radio
broadcasting efforts were slow to adjust to the new

The Pentagon’s Office of Strategic Influence ceased to exist
shortly after it went through the blueprint stage. Critics argued
it was an attempt to blend things that never go together: public
relations and psychological warfare. The battle for hearts and
minds will require a discreet and realistic approach, and highly
qualified and dedicated specialists in a given region, and with
public relation experience, will have a special role in those
efforts. Overcoming the hostile attitude of part of the population
will not be easy. Perhaps at the initial stage the U.S. National
Security Council will have to take over these vital efforts.

In the same way as the National Security Council has taken over
Iraq’s reconstruction efforts from the Pentagon, the Council – a
vague equivalent of the Soviet Communist Party Central Committee’s
International Department in its coordination, not ideological,
function – should take over the hearts-and-minds campaign. The Cold
War “tool box” should be opened. It could even receive support from
Russia’s (Soviet) experience of those times – especially with
regard to global information support for  combat operations
and foreign policy initiatives. Other measures should include joint
use of Russian techniques: this would include the reorganization of
intellectual resources and expertise, such as orientalists,
linguists, geographers, etc., as well as the best achievements from
the past methodologies on both sides of the Atlantic. Perhaps, the
U.S. and Russia should conduct a joint study of the employment of
the two countries’ informational and ideological methods in the
Cold War years, and work out concrete recommendations.

The Cold War experience has demonstrated that the most effective
instrument in the U.S. ideological arsenal is journalism, namely
mass media expressing alternative points of view and promoting free
exchanges of ideas. However, Muslim journalists and immigrants
pursuing their own political goals must be supervised by Western
editors and managers.

The U.S. State Department has launched several projects
concerning the Arab mass media, which involve several former U.S.
ambassadors fluent in Arabic, and several web sites abounding in
information. Yet, this was obviously not enough. The Middle Eastern
Broadcast Network took a very long time to go on the air. An
Arabic-language radio network never started operating even six
months after the terrorist acts in the U.S., whereas in February
1942 the Voice of America radio program first went on air only
three months after the bombing of Pearl Harbor – during World War
II. Also, international broadcasting professionals doubt the
effectiveness of editorial control over Muslim journalists. It is
well known that Muslim regimes and terrorist organizations widely
use intimidation against Islamic and Western journalists and their

Radical Islam’s propaganda of jihad must be outlawed and made
taboo, exactly like the propaganda of human sacrifice, cannibalism
or slave-owning. These efforts will require publications in
national languages propagating new ideas such as religious
tolerance, equal rights for men, women and ethnic minorities, more
open television and radio broadcasting, people-to-people contacts,
and exchange programs. This must become the main mission of the
U.S. and its allies in this one part of their struggle against
global terrorism.

Overtly Where Possible, and Covertly Where Necessary

In approaching the new battle of ideas, one does not need to
reinvent the wheel. Many approaches are time-tested, and have
worked well in the past. Others need to be fundamentally rethought
and restructured, primarily in the area of stimulating inter-faith
and intra-faith dialog, not to mention the long-term goal of
separating mosque and state. Other instruments of U.S. public
diplomacy, such as expensive cultural exchange programs, may have
to be revised and reorganized. There are not many people in the
Muslim world at the present time who are particularly keen on
American jazz or modern ballet.

The nature of the enemy, the spectrum of the threats, and the
environment in which the conflict is waged require that the war of
ideas be conducted overtly where possible, covertly where
necessary. Al Qaeda and other terrorist organizations operate by
stealth. So do their supporters who subsidize radical Islamic
brainwashing in the guise of religious “education.” Most foreigners
are not allowed to attend religious seminaries in Pakistan and in
the Gulf, where agent penetration may be required, while the
regimes in Iran, Libya and Syria do not welcome U.S. foreign
service officers with public diplomacy expertise. Thus, the Central
Intelligence Agency’s and other services’ political action
capabilities need to be rebuilt. Intelligence agencies should
realize the possibilities for conducting covert political
activities within the frameworks of the CIA and other
organizations. These capabilities have become almost forgotten
since the 1970s.

The war of ideas, which will last a long time, must be waged
cautiously so that it does not create the impression that the U.S.
and its allies oppose Islam per se. The war between Islam and the
Jewish/Christian civilization is unnecessary and unwise. The
expansion of inter- and intra-confessional dialog would help
improve the educational and religious aspects of the Islamic
culture. Successful efforts to win over the Islamic elites and
modify their views, as well as involve them in the ideological
struggle on the side of civilization, would guarantee victory. The
main weapon of the United States in the battle of ideas should be
simply the truth – truth about the societies, their rulers, and
terrorist leaders. The promotion of individual freedom and respect
for the life, faith and property of other people must remain at the
heart of the suggested strategy.

Ideas may have a destructive power. The effective use of words,
images and symbols can be compared to the use of guns and missiles.
If the entire free world, led by the U.S., fails to score a victory
on the new ideological front, the expansion of existing terrorist
organizations and the emergence of new ones would only be a matter
of time. And this time they may possess real weapons of mass