Fear of Freedom

© 2008 FrontLine Security (Vol 3, No 1)

History reminds us that the advent of freedom is regularly confronted by campaigns of terror. Today’s elevated levels of terrorism, in my view, are largely the result of the increasing availability of information to nations where information has long been censored or unavailable. This block of nations is a ­disparate agglomeration of states with serious internal struggles. Let’s examine some current terrorist trends and relate them to our own counter-­terrorism strategy in the War on Terror.

Whenever a major freedom is about to be won, those with the most to lose, have been known to resort to fear to thwart its achievement. A few well-known examples occurred in our own western evolution. For instance, fear tactics occurred during the abolition of slavery, the Christian Reformation, and the emancipation of women. Much like the pre-Reformation lords and priests of Europe, the radical leaders and fundamentalist Imams of the world have much to lose should their adherents gain equality and freedom of conscience. They will make their displacement as difficult as possible.

The Fears
While Western leadership predominantly fears the loss of physical assets and its economic consequences, the Jihadist leadership, for the most part, fears apostasy and with it, the loss of psychological control.

The West is largely unaware that its advancements, especially the birth of the Information Age, accelerated the War of Terror. This “Information Age” began when the personal computer became accessible. By the early 1990s, modems were facilitating the worldwide sharing of high volumes of information. As this giant network – the Internet – began to surround, then penetrate previously insulated cultures. It posed a challenge to controlling leaderships. With renewed purpose, jihadist-based terrorism blossomed.

Those whose prime aim is control, fear liberty. The initial Jihadist attacks of this era could thus be viewed as counter-attacks against the invasion of the Information Age. Previously, large pockets of the Muslim world lived securely behind censorship and extremist interpretations of the Koran. This culture is now being assailed by modern communications. Many Muslims now have the means to see and judge for themselves how others live.

They are confounded by how little their culture, which excelled Europe in the 6th century, has advanced in the last millennium. Over a thousand years ago, Iran and Iraq led the world in science. Now, they depend on Western engineering, medicine and money. Restricting the education of women ensures that more than half the children they raise do not reach their potential, and thus, the gap widens.

Internet postings speak of achievement, equality, and freedoms enjoyed elsewhere. The Imam’s voice at daily prayer must now compete with other messages. This lack of control of access to other messages is a major concern of radical leadership. The strength of Jihadist terrorism is based on control of conscience and soul – espousing suicide bombing as instant redemption. The dogma of Fatwa empowers the Imam to make this so.

This is not so different from some ­elements of Judeo-Christian history. The difference, for instance, between a pre-Reformation priest selling “Indulgences” to sinners and an Imam assuring access to heaven for acts of Jihad, is marginal – both assume divine authority in matters of ­conscience and soul. However, in true Judeo-Christian teachings, only God decides who has eternal life; in Islam, the Imam is allowed to interpret for God and make pronouncements of eternal consequences.

Christian Evangelists believe the church, especially outside North America and Europe, is currently undergoing a global revival. Thousands of Chinese Christians are reportedly studying Arabic in preparation for missionary work – a cause for serious concern among the political and spiritual leaders of the Muslim world.

Surrounded by rapidly developing nations, jihadist leaders may be in a precarious position. Modern communications offer differing world views to its people. It is becoming clear that internal political and spiritual power struggles weaken the very essence of extremism.

Global Strategy
To reach its present state, Europe suffered a prolonged war over conscience and soul. The Reformation distressed spiritual and political power across Europe for over a hundred years, and the people suffered. In the Nuclear Age, the Western world has deduced that it is less dangerous to help accelerate the transformation of the Muslim world than it is to sit back and hope that Islam will reform itself. In my view, this approach has merit.

The current form of War on Terror has been relatively benign in terms of effects on both the developed and developing world. Global combat fatalities and casualties are less than deaths and disabilities caused by medical malpractice annually in Canada. The world economy has experienced unprecedented growth. Health, longevity and standards of living are improving. In a world of 200 nations, less than 20 are stuck in reverse, our so-called “failed states.”

The Western strategy of bolstering homeland security and establishing presence in such failing states protects the Informa­tion Age base and serves as a conduit of information to those perceived to be in need of modernization. Containment keeps Sunni and Shiite Muslim debates in a crucible that might bring a better future. A new, more palatable and shared blend of liberal and fundamental doctrines might thus emerge. The average Muslim citizen is tiring of suicide bombers and the continuing violent assassinations of fellow Muslim leaders. Millions that fled the ravages of internal disorder in Iraq are slowly returning as conditions of security and freedom improve. Once the people and their leaders tire of internal struggles, they may seek a peaceful co-existence both internally and with others. The advent of technology, like the solar-powered $100 laptop, will further accelerate the transformation of the ­pre­viously censored world.

The USA’s 50-year strategy of declining dependence on Middle East oil should reach its goal of zero barrels by 2020. From an energy perspective, the Middle East would then become an Asia-Europe concern. Contrary to popular myth, the War on Terror, while partially funded by oil revenues, is not a resource-based war.

A looming question, however, is whether Western nations will succumb to the counter-information war that is being fought daily in the world media. Appeasement could lead to Western disengagement that would embolden radical leadership, prolong transformation of fundamentalist Islam, and place Europe in a more dangerous situation. Add to this the potential of nuclear terrorism, and the necessary infrastructure hardening costs could far exceed forward presence strategies.

The War on Terror is best viewed as a by-product of the long march to freedom for all peoples. The plenary issue is removing religious restrictions on freedom of conscience and equality. However, new-found freedoms can cause watershed changes in authority, however fear tactics are often successful in delaying these freedoms.

The West’s strategy of containment, forward presence and accelerating access to information should continue. Religious reformation can be nasty long-term affairs. The rest of the world, having spent over a century in reformation itself, knows it cannot afford a century-long reformation of Islam. This western global strategy, while valid, needs to embrace the central issue in religious transformation – conscience and eternal salvation. At present, Imam authority trumps Western sensibilities.

The battle of conscience is the vital ground in the War on Terror and it needs to become a strategic determinant in this global campaign on the “battlefield of information.” Given that internally-led religious transformation is either unlikely or very slow in the Muslim world, an external ­catalyst is required. The West should aim to reduce the influence of the radical voice and raise doubt in the mind of young jihadists. Neutralizing the Jihadist bomber would reduce suffering and chaos in the Muslim world and lessen fears in the West. This common goal would benefit all.

Howard Marsh served in the Canadian Forces, was the Senior Defence Analyst of the Conference of Defence Associations and the Senior Policy Advisor to Minister of Defence O’Connor.
© FrontLine Security 2008