A recent article by John Peters on Lew Rockwell's site includes a remarkable quote from a report by the Pentagon. It actually answers the rhetorical "Why do they hate us?" question about which American apologists don't want you to think too much.
Curious about whether the quote was taken out of context, I followed the link back to the source, a Defense Science Board report on strategic communication that takes a frank look at why the "struggle for 'hearts and minds'" abroad is failing so miserably.
I was bemused to discover, after years of choking on the Bush administration's candy floss of war rhetoric, that the assessment was refreshingly candid. I think it bears quoting more extensively, because it clearly explains why the government's current approach is actually aggravating and escalating the conflict.
The information campaign - or as some still would have it, "the war of ideas," or the struggle for "hearts and minds" - is important to every war effort. In this war it is an essential objective, because the larger goals of U.S. strategy depend on separating the vast majority of non-violent Muslims from the radical-militant Islamist-Jihadists.
But American efforts have not only failed in this respect: they may also have achieved the opposite of what they intended.
American direct intervention in the Muslim World has paradoxically elevated the stature of and support for radical Islamists, while diminishing support for the United States to single-digits in some Arab societies.
Muslims do not "hate our freedom," but rather, they hate our policies. The overwhelming majority voice their objections to what they see as one-sided support in favor of Israel and against Palestinian rights, and the longstanding, even increasing support for what Muslims collectively see as tyrannies, most notably Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Pakistan, and the Gulf states.
Thus when American public diplomacy talks about bringing democracy to Islamic societies, this is seen as no more than self-serving hypocrisy. Moreover, saying that "freedom is the future of the Middle East" is seen as patronizing, suggesting that Arabs are like the enslaved peoples of the old Communist World - but Muslims do not feel this way: they feel oppressed, but not enslaved.
Furthermore, in the eyes of Muslims, American occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq has not led to democracy there, but only more chaos and suffering. U.S. actions appear in contrast to be motivated by ulterior motives, and deliberately controlled in order to best serve American national interests at the expense of truly Muslim self-determination.
Therefore, the dramatic narrative since 9/11 has essentially borne out the entire radical Islamist bill of particulars. American actions and the flow of events have elevated the authority of the Jihadi insurgents and tended to ratify their legitimacy among Muslims. Fighting groups portray themselves as the true defenders of an Ummah (the entire Muslim community) invaded and under attack - to broad public support.
What was a marginal network is now an Ummah-wide movement of fighting groups. Not only has there been a proliferation of "terrorist" groups: the unifying context of a shared cause creates a sense of affiliation across the many cultural and sectarian boundaries that divide Islam.
Finally, Muslims see Americans as strangely narcissistic - namely, that the war is all about us. As the Muslims see it, everything about the war is - for Americans - really no more than an extension of American domestic politics and its great game. This perception is of course necessarily heightened by election-year atmospherics, but nonetheless sustains their impression that when Americans talk to Muslims they are really just talking to themselves.
Thus the critical problem in American public diplomacy directed toward the Muslim World is not one of "dissemination of information," or even one of crafting and delivering the "right" message. Rather, it is a fundamental problem of credibility.
Simply, there is none - the United States today is without a working channel of communication to the world of Muslims and of Islam. Inevitably therefore, whatever Americans do and say only serves the party that has both the message and the "loud and clear" channel: the enemy.
(Report of the Defense Science Board Task Force on Strategic Communication, Office of the Under Secretary of Defense For Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics, Washington, D.C. 20301-3140, September 2004, pp. 40-41)
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