The Power of Freedom

By Lieberman, Joseph | Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly, April 15, 2007 | Go to article overview

The Power of Freedom


Lieberman, Joseph, Hampton Roads International Security Quarterly


Distinguished delegates

As the discussions at this important conference have made dramatically clear, we gather at a time of grave and deepening dangers to our community of nations. Since meeting here a year ago, there have been disappointing developments in the war we are in with radical Islam and more directly, the civil war within Islam, against radical Islam. The insurgency in Afghanistan has strengthened. The situation in Iraq has grown worse. Iran continues to develop its nuclear weapons program. Despite hopes of a thaw in the political order across the greater Middle East, the forces of extremism are surging now in Lebanon and in Palestine.

In the face of these setbacks, the clarion calls for democratization heard just a short while ago have grown quieter. Where once we spoke confidently about more political and economic liberty as the best response to the violence of radical Islam, we now hear far less of that. Others go further. They look at the violence in Iraq and say that not only has democracy failed to be the solution; it is a significant cause of the problem. They look at the election of Hamas in the Palestinian Territories and conclude that the people of the Middle East are not ready for the democracy so much of the world enjoys. This morning I want to explain why I believe these arguments, and the approach they counsel, are mistaken, why they misunderstand the nature of the terrorist threat we face, and ignore the larger war of ideas we must fight and win. Today, a vast number of nations in the world find themselves part of a global struggle within Islam. It stretches from the mountains of Afghanistan to the deserts of Iraq, from the cities of Europe to the jungles of Southeast Asia. Although this enemy has headquarters in Waziristan and Teheran, it is neither a monolithic movement nor a single organization that can be isolated and destroyed by military force alone. Terrorism is its chosen method, but not its primary motivation.

War of Ideology

What we are fighting is an ideology the totalitarian ideology of radical Islam, as brutal and hostile to personal freedom as the fascism and communism we fought and defeated in the last century.

To prevail against an ideology requires more than battlefield victories; it demands that we fight, and win, a larger, longer, harder war of values and ideas, competing with Islamist extremism for the hearts and minds of Muslim men and women across the greater Middle East and throughout the world, including right here in Europe.

Radical Islam has positioned itself carefully in this ideological contest. It has effectively exploited a deep reserve of anger, frustration, and disappointment about the status quo. It has tapped into local grievances about economic inequality and corruption, about political oppression and disenfranchisement and attempted to globalize them.

In this sense, the war of ideas I am talking about is an asymmetric war, against us, which goes around our vast military capabilities. The movement of ideas cannot be tracked like the march of armies, the shipment of weapons, or the flow of money. Ideology cannot be intercepted by force of arms. And when ideas clash, the outcome is both unpredictable and opaque, unfolding on a battlefield where culture, psychology, history, religion, and education provide the most critical terrain.

My point is that to defeat the ideology of radical Islam we must not just fight for our security against terrorism; we must argue for our ideas and values against the totalitarian ideology that animates terrorism. To discredit a totalitarian vision committed to the use of violence, we must offer our own, more powerful shared vision of freedom, justice, and opportunity.

These values are not just Western values. They are universal values. In fact, of the three largest democratic states in the world today, two are not Western namely India and Indonesia. …

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