Approved for public release; distribution is unlimited.
Document created: 1 March 2008
Air & Space Power Journal - Spring 2008
LTC Michael R. McGee, USA, Retired*
After reading Col William Darley’s article “Strategic Imperative: The Necessity for Values Operations as Opposed to Information Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan” (Spring 2007), I believe that the author misconstrued the nature of the current conflict by labeling it “strife between civil religions.”1 In point of fact, the national security strategy of 2006 explicitly states that “while the War on Terror is a battle of ideas, it is not a battle of religions.”2
I do concur that we are engaged in a very different kind of war. However, we must be careful to state that this war is with terrorists, not with the Muslim populations of Iraq or Afghanistan.3 We are chasing criminals—not fighting a nation’s army. This distinction is important because it changes the dynamic that exists between the US, Iraqi, and Afghan governments (i.e., they can join us in the pursuit of criminals only if we are not fighting their countries).
According to Colonel Darley, “Culture . . . is the battlefield. Therefore, we must logically and frankly understand the end objective as the transformation of those cultures and the values that underpin them in a manner that makes them compatible with the values underpinning our own culture and political objectives for being at war.”4 I disagree with this construction. First, the United States’ end objective is not the transformation of cultures. Second, we do not intend to make other cultures’ values “compatible with the values underpinning our own culture.” The United States is trying to spread democratic ideas (hence a “battle of ideas”), but we are not trying to conquer anyone; nor are we trying to impose our “civil religion” on the Muslim world.
Later in his article, Colonel Darley says,
In other words, to attain conditions conducive to democracy, the Iraqi people should shift the Koran to the same respected cultural niche within their society that the Judeo-Christian Bible now occupies in developed Western democratic societies—a resource for examining the traditions and wisdom associated with the history of Islamic moral judgments but entirely excluded from official legal standing as representing the authority for enforcement of civil law.5
First, his presumption that the goal is to “attain conditions conducive to democracy” ignores the reality of Islam, in which no separation of religion and state exists. Next, he focuses on Iraq and its people as if that country were somehow the bellwether for Muslim culture in the wider Middle East—implying that if Iraqis would only comply by “shift[ing] the Koran to the same respected cultural niche,” the rest of the Muslim world would follow. This is wishful thinking at best; more importantly, it is not palatable to Middle Eastern culture and therefore not helpful for furthering US foreign policy. Better to accept the reality of the Muslim state and work to enrich its cultural fabric than to try to destroy those manifestations of that civilization that we find unacceptable.
From the above, I infer that no route to democracy passes through the gate of Islam; further, there is no acceptable path to a place where the Muslim community can absorb and live out unabridged Western ideas (culture or civilization). The fact that America would like Muslims to “delink Islamic religion and religious clergy” does not mean that Muslims feel they can do so, which does not even address whether they want to do so.6
Some authors (often professors at US colleges and universities) write that Islam is compatible with Western ideas about democracy.7 However, “prominent Muslim scholars argue democracy to be incompatible with their religion. They base their conclusion on two foundations: first, the conviction that Islamic law regulates . . . every area of life, and second, that the Muslim society of believers will attain all its goals only if the believers walk in the path of God. In addition, some Muslim scholars further reject anything that does not have its origins in the Qur’an.”8
As an illustration, note the following:
Islam is a complete way of life. . . . The preeminent rule which the Islamic state must observe is stated in the Qur’an. . . . It is clear that the state’s obligation of obedience to the Creator is as important as the obedience of the individual. Hence, the Islamic state must derive its law from the Qur’an and Sunnah. This principle excludes certain choices from the Islamic state’s options for political and economic systems, such as pure democracy, unrestricted capitalism, communism, socialism, etc.9 (emphasis added)
If we are to succeed in Iraq (and the Middle East), we cannot simply dismiss those elements of culture and civilization with which we disagree. Instead, we must acknowledge them, find means to discuss their application in new ways, and, finally, help Muslim leaders and their populations use those new methods to solve real cultural (social, economic, educational, etc.) issues throughout the Middle East. The United States should concentrate on helping to transition Muslim culture into the twenty-first century; killing terrorists is also necessary but almost incidental.
Michael Rubin notes that, as with all societies, “until Arab citizens hold their leaders accountable, in the press, on the Internet, and on the street, the democracy debate will be moot.”10 Here, Rubin speaks of the broader Middle East, but the application seems clear: cultures which lack a venue for open discourse on issues of concern to the populace that composes it are innately incapable of sustaining representative governments (including democratic ones). As part of the worldwide Islamic culture, Arab Muslims must decide to act and establish this environment so that debate can be open and forthright. This is a tall order for societies accustomed to poverty, authoritarian leaders, lack of personal freedoms, poor economic growth, lack of advanced education, and underfunding of research in science and technology—all within a culture permeated by a religion with an innate belief in its own righteousness.
America cannot “win” a cultural war with the Muslim world, and we should not let anyone tell us that this is what we are really doing. Instead, America must be satisfied (over the long term) with encouraging academic endeavors that leverage Muslim scholarship where the benefits can propel economic and political capital that is inextricably linked to developing formal self-awareness and incentives to join the globalization efforts of Western civilization. We should promote all reasonable means that encourage Muslims to expand their mental, societal, economic, or religious endeavors. We need an integrated, holistic strategy and the requisite plan of execution so that all appropriate elements of our government can participate.
*The author, who retired after 20 years in the US Army, currently works in the Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Functional Integration Office of the National Security Space Office.
1. Col William M. Darley, “Strategic Imperative: The Necessity for
Values Operations as Opposed to Information Operations in Iraq and Afghanistan,”
Air and Space Power Journal 21, no. 1 (Spring 2007): 39, http://www.air
2. The National Security Strategy of the United States of America (Washington, DC: The White House, March 2006), 9, http://www.whitehouse.gov/nsc/nss/2006/nss2006.pdf. The strategy does not use the term civil religions.
3. Note that the term global war on terror is not useful. First, it is a poor choice of words (i.e., how does one make war on terror, a noun that means fear, horror, fight, dread, and so forth?). Second, we might prosecute those who use terror tactics or who commit terrorist actions, but we cannot make war on a concept, method, or emotion.
4. Darley, “Strategic Imperative,” 33.
5. Ibid., 39.
7. See, for example, David Bukay, “Can There Be an Islamic Democracy?” Middle East Quarterly 14, no. 2 (Spring 2007): 71–79, http://www.meforum.org/article/1680; and Najib Ghadbian, “Democracy or Self-Interest? An Investigative Look into Islamic Democracy and US Policy,” Harvard International Review 25, no. 2 (Summer 2003): 78–79, http://hir.harvard.edu/articles/1128.
8. Bukay, “Can There Be an Islamic Democracy?” 77.
9. “Ten Misconceptions about Islam,” in USC-MSA [Muslim Students Association] Compendium of Muslim Texts (Los Angeles, CA: University of Southern California, n.d.), http://www.usc.edu/dept/MSA/notislam/misconceptions.html.
10. Michael Rubin, “The Middle East’s Real Bane: Corruption,” Daily Star (Beirut), 18 November 2005, Middle East Forum: Research and Writing, http://www.meforum.org/article/790.
The conclusions and opinions expressed in this document are those of the author cultivated in the freedom of expression, academic environment of Air University. They do not reflect the official position of the U.S. Government, Department of Defense, the United States Air Force or the Air University
[ Home Page| Feedback? Email the Editor]