This post may seem off topic, and it might be attributed to the fact that it is Thursday and on Saturday I leave for a week long vacation. But it is something I have been thinking about a lot, and was further triggered by a tv program that featured two of the top terrorist experts in the US, including one who teaches our soldiers at West Point about the nature of the battle they are in.
My plea is simple: it is time to call in the communicators. Actually, it is way past time. The war on terror, by these terrorism experts and it seems by all intelligent consensus is fundamentally not a military conflict. It is an ideological one, a battle of ideas and values. And the real battle is not between Islam and Christianity or even MidEast and West, or America vs Al Qaeda, as much as some want to picture it that way. The real battle is being waged within Islam. As Karen Armstrong points out, extreme fundamentalism of all stripes is a reaction of a few to the loss of a once dominant cultural position. As Christianity lost its traditional role and influence in America, exemplified by the Scopes Trial, a minority took a militant position in attempting to staunch the loss and regain the high ground. The same forces are at work today in the strong Islamic societies. An open communication world has exposed people–young people in particular–for a generation or two now, to the values and culture of the west. As a result dress changed, attitudes changed, ideas about proper government and individual freedom changed, the concept of the role of God in society and government changed, etc. The more conservative and radical elements saw these changes with alarm and believed that not only their cultural hegemony was at stake, but their religion and eternal destiny as well. Such things are worth fighting for and so they chose a militant, even violent reaction.
If I, and the terror experts are right, we are incredibly stupid to think this is a war that will be won with guns. Indeed, we have already seen that our guns have worked to solidify hatreds and prejudices. (I am speaking as one who has been a strong supporter of war in Iraq by the way). We cannot fight this war with our military might–as important as it is to help prevent more attacks against not only our innocent citizens but all innocent citizens of the world. But, we cannot lose this war either. So, it is time to call in the real soldiers–those who are experts in understanding the minds of key audience influence leaders, who understand persuasion, who are practiced in the arts of change and change management, who think strategically and with a long term perspective. In other words, we need the best that our communication profession has to offer.
It is my wish that some respected communication organization, perhaps PRSA, or the Council or some senior level group, or even ad hoc group of great communication minds, will come together, call for the biggest and most important brainstorming session in our lifetime and come up with some answers. We cannot simply talk about projecting American values to the rest of the world. We have to, in my mind, help those who come at these challenges with a different mindset, understand the changes that are underway and help them to resist the tendency toward militant fundamentalism. Such tendencies rest in all of us–liberal and conservative alike. But, the consequences of denial and inability to reign in the most violent and closed minded are potentially deadly. Not just to us, but to the world we leave our children.