“Hercules was on his way back from the Hesperides when the giant [Antaeus, son of Gaia] challenged the hero to a wrestling match. No matter how many times Hercules threw Antaeus off and tossed him to the ground, it did no good. If anything, the giant appeared rejuvenated from the encounter.
“Hercules eventually realized that the earth, Antaeus’ mother, was the source of his strength, so Hercules held the giant aloft until all his power had drained away,” and then killed him (about.com).
The U.S. and other freedom-loving societies must undertake a similar Herculean task to defeat violent Islamism.
The Department of Defense acknowledged last year that the war in Iraq has made the world less safe, not more so. This is because every time the U.S. kills civilians, tortures prisoners, desecrates the Koran, or takes pictures of naked Muslim prisoners, the radical Islamist movement becomes stronger. There are thousands of young Muslim men on the fence at this moment waiting for the works of the western world to manifest its character. And each day many take the plunge into violence due to the West’s poor management of actions and words.
So how can we keep radical Islamism from its “mother earth” that renews its strength? The first step is to find out what the Iraqi people want. There must be a referendum held on the presence of American troops in Iraq. If they vote to retain the troops, it legitimizes the mission (inside and outside Iraq, including on the home front in the U.S.) as a peacekeeping effort rather than an occupation. If the Iraqis vote the U.S. military out of Iraq, then it proves that the effort is a waste of time, resources, and precious blood—it also puts the onus on the Iraqis themselves to solve the problem.
If there is no “keep the Americans in Iraq” vote (where my bets would be), then the U.S. occupation of Iraq becomes a wedge driving sympathies from our cause and toward the other side. If the fight against “Islamofascism” is truly the “defining conflict of our time” as George W. Bush is wont to say, then our occupation of Iraq only serves to increase the ranks, steel the resolve, and effectively train those with whom we will fight for the next decades. “Staying the course” is like giving (not selling) steel to 1936 Germany or like helping Saddam Hussein increase his military strength only to fight that same military in following decades.
Unfortunately, despite the Herculean strength in our military, we lack the perceptiveness of Hercules at the top of our government that would realize that “throwing Antaeus” is counterproductive. The new strategy that must be implemented must keep radical Islamism from its source of strength and suspend it in the air long enough to drain its strength and eventually strangle it.
The notion that a military solution won’t win the war is well-worn. But a political solution won’t do any better. The cliché of “winning hearts and minds” is where the answer lies, and it cannot be done on a military or political level; it must be done on a social, spiritual, and cultural level.
Separating this Antaeus from the ground requires getting the thousands of young Muslim men off the fence. This can only be done by making mainstream Islam more appealing than radical Islam, and that can only be done by the Muslim community. It can follow the pattern of the “Truth About Smoking” campaign that has been successful in the U.S. It is successful not because it preaches to rebellious teens, but because it informs and empowers rebellious teens to make grown-up decisions that teens yearn to make. Mainstream Muslim leaders likewise must make the differences clear between radical violent Islamism and true Koran-based Islam. These young men need to be given the information, justification, and opportunity to not only refuse but repudiate the violence that tries to hijack their faith.
With an effective, albeit difficult and protracted juggling of this Antaeus in the air, freedom-loving Muslims can reclaim their religion and Antaeus can be vanquished. But it can only be done by the Muslim community. The U.S. and other governments should open their minds and their treasuries to assist this effort, but it must be a Muslim movement, originated and led by Muslims. This will require the Bush administration to swallow some pride and begin consulting with various Muslim groups and to begin learning more about Islam. We should all read the Koran to get a better grip on the basics of the movement. We can all do our part in being an example of what a democracy can be—right now, however, the U.S. is not an attractive example of what a nation might want to become. Read up on Islam and don’t be afraid to talk about it with others.
If indeed the fight against radical Islamism is the decisive struggle of our time, then the most important grass-roots movement in the world today is the support of ordinary mainstream Muslims in their fight to reclaim their faith. We can all be a part of it.