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Waging the War of Ideas

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There is growing recognition among U.S. government officials, journalists, and analysts of terrorism that defeating al-Qaida - arguably the preeminent challenge to U.S. security - will require far more than neutralizing leaders, disrupting cells, and dismantling networks. From its inception in the mid-1990s, al-Qaida has been both a terrorist organization and an international revolutionary movement, which today stretches across North America, western Europe, and the global south. The extremist ideology articulated by bin Ladin and his circle ties together this widely dispersed, multiethnic extremist movement, characterized by one specialist as an idea-based network, self-organizing from below, inspired by postings on the Internet. Al-Qaidas message, disseminated widely and effectively through all forms of mass media, including the Internet, has a powerful appeal in much of the Muslim world. Cutting off the supply of recruits to this movement, eliminating its financial support networks, and preventing it from metastasizing into new regions will thus require a campaign to undermine its ideological appeal. But as Clausewitz famously observed, in war everything is simple, but even the simple things are extremely difficult. Fundamentally, waging a blatantly ideological struggle seems quite unnatural to Americans and other Westerners, who tend to downplay intangible factors such as ideas, history, and culture as political motivators, preferring instead to stress relatively more concrete driving forces such as personal security and physical well-being. Whatever the explanation, it is clear to most informed observers that the United States has so far failed to conduct anything approaching an effective counterideological campaign against al-Qaida. In this chapter we will take the first tentative steps toward suggesting an ideological counterstrategy.

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  • Government and Political Science
  • Personnel Management and Labor Relations

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