Hearts, minds and mindlessness

Shortly after posting the piece by Shibley Telhami, I heard Professor Telhami on local radio intoning that the U.S. is losing the battle for the “hearts and minds” of Arabs each day that we wage war against Saddam. If we are fighting a battle for hearts and minds, then we deserve to lose it. The war against Islamofascism should no more be a battle for the hearts and minds of Arabs than the war against Hitler’s fascism was a battle for the hearts and minds of Germans.
The problem with the “hearts and minds” conceit is that it casts members of Arab street mobs as rational arbiters of a dispute between the U.S. and the likes of Saddam Hussein and bin Laden. The mindless assumption is that ordinary Arabs are sitting on the fence waiting to be persuaded that we are morally superior to these adversaries, but unable to reach that conclusion in good conscience because we persist in supporting Israel and dropping bombs on civilians. In reality, of course, the hearts and minds we are supposed to be trying to win hate the U.S. for irrational reasons — a combination of ignorance, exposure to vile propaganda, intense jealousy, and relgious fervor. They hated us when we liberated Kuwait, when we rescued the Muslims of Kosovo, and when we forced Israel to make concessions to Arafat. If we bombed Tel Aviv, they might stop hating us for a little while, but they still wouldn’t like us much. In short, these folks don’t hate the U.S. because they hate our war effort in Iraq, they hate our war effort because they hate the United States. Our approach to these residents of the Arab street should be straightforward — you can like us, you can hate us, or you can be indifferent, but if you attack us we will destroy you.

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