Al Queda is an Idea

December 11, 2008

Al Queda is not a group or organization so much as it is an idea. That is to say, the power (and danger) of Al Queda comes less from its plots and actions than from its ability to inspire others to act.

A look at history, whether we choose the soviets in Afghanistan, Nazi Germany and imperial Japan during the Second world war, the American revolutionary war, or perhaps the second US invasion of Iraq as our model, shows us that an insurgency armed with an ideology can and will fight against overwhelming odds and at great cost. Further, these ideas have a tendency to gain influence in proportion to the strength, brutality, and cost of the opposing side’s military efforts. In short, an ideologically driven force grows stronger, not weaker, as it becomes outmatched militarily.

It does so by inspiring other poor, disenfranchised, desperate souls to follow the same path. The idea of poor, outmatched religious warriors standing up to the powers of the world works to inspire the worst off of the Islamic world  to similarly attack the west.

This works especially well when backed up by a network of religious schools, as is the case in Pakistan, where Al Queda has its roots. Any serious military action taken against the militants simply reinforces their ideology. To complicate matters, a long-term occupation like we used in Iraq would likely accelerate the radicalization of Pakistani youth.

Therefore, it would appear the best way to fight this ideology is to create and present an alternative view, and convince those likely to be swayed by extremist ideology (the young, impoverished, and desperate) that ours represent a better course of action.

We cannot hope to defeat an idea with guns and bombs. This lesson has been learned by occupying nations throughout history, and unless we change tactics, the United States is set for another Vietnam in Afghanistan.

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