The Battle of Ideas

In his now-famous memo, Donald Rumsfeld posed the question whether the madrassas are turning out terrorists faster than we can kill them. What to do about the madrassas is the subject of this article by Walter Pincus in the Washington Post.
Pincus describes a speech by Paul Wolfowitz on Thursday: “One way to counter those schools, Wolfowitz said, would be to cut off the funding that often comes from Saudis promoting Wahhabism, a particularly austere and rigid form of Islam. But he suggested that a better way would be to channel support to people who oppose the schools, though he acknowledged that ‘we’re not very good at doing that yet.’
Wolfowitz recalls the mixed experience the U.S. had with funding non-communist thought in Eastern Europe through the National Students Association during the Cold War. The CIA’s funding of the NSA turned into a “scandal” when it came to light in the 1960’s–a fact that might puzzle some of our younger readers, but needs no explanation for those of us who were there.
Anyway, Wolfowitz acknowledges the obvious problems with funding a similar effort to support moderate Islamic schools: “Senior intelligence officials believe there would be a need to hide the U.S. role in such an activity because the Muslim populace would mistrust and thus not accept open Washington support for its religious schools. In addition, as Wolfowitz noted, ‘this country isn’t very good at supporting religious schools; we have some constitutional difficulties there.'”
Indeed, it would be odd for the government to be supporting Muslim schools abroad while cracking down on the singing of Christmas carols at schools in the U.S. But Wolfowitz goes on to acknowledge the real problem with any U.S. effort to influence the direction of Islam: “Muslims are the only ones who can dispute theologically the extremist teachings that are distributed free to millions.”
I’m afraid that’s true. And it brings us back to where this discussion started. The heart of the problem is the failure of a “moderate,” anti-terrorist Islam to emerge in opposition to the Wahhabists and other extremists. It is certainly true that most Muslims do not participate in mass murder; it is equally true that most Muslims have done little or nothing to express opposition to or condemnation of Islamofascism. And, specifically with reference to schools, it appears clear that for some reason, most Muslims do not share the devotion to “normal,” practical education for their children that is second nature to both Christians and Jews.
All of which means, I guess, that for now the most practical defense against the madrassas is to try to cut off their funding, most of which comes from Saudi Arabia.


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