War on Terror Needs More Humanitarian Efforts ; Direct Help for Those in Need Will Do Much to Undermine a Terrorist's Call for Recruits

By Ballen, Kenneth | The Christian Science Monitor, March 2, 2006 | Go to article overview

War on Terror Needs More Humanitarian Efforts ; Direct Help for Those in Need Will Do Much to Undermine a Terrorist's Call for Recruits


Ballen, Kenneth, The Christian Science Monitor


It is time we heed what America's military leaders are telling us about the war on terror. Pentagon officials involved in writing the Joint Chiefs of Staff recently released counterterrorism strategy have acknowledged that "the American military's efforts to aid [2004] tsunami victims in Indonesia and to assist victims of Pakistan's [2005] earthquake did more to counter terrorist ideology than any attack mission."

Indeed, according to the Navy's commanding officer, Admiral Michael Mullen, the change of Muslim public opinion as a result of American aid is nothing less than "one of the defining moments of this new century." Admiral Mullen concluded: "Shame on us if, even through benign neglect, we allow those same opinions to turn against our best intentions again."

The statements of our military's leaders point to a dramatic reconsideration of the means necessary to prevail against global terrorists. Fortunately, recent history shows us exactly how we can help people who need help, and just as important, how to change public opinion favorably toward the United States, and against terrorists such as Osama bin Laden.

This means a commitment to following the path the US successfully forged last year in response to the tsunami that struck Indonesia and the earthquake that ravaged Pakistan. American assistance was direct, extensive, effective, and well-publicized on Indonesian and Pakistani TV.

For the first time since 9/11, both the Indonesian and Pakistani people - the largest and second-largest Muslim populations in the world - expressed a favorable opinion of the US, and at the same time, turned against support for Mr. bin Laden and terrorist attacks. It seems that if American efforts are focused on positive rebuilding and vision for the future, the foot soldiers for bin Laden and radical Islam will desert. Islamist extremism can indeed be effectively defeated in Muslim hearts and minds.

In fact, the number of Pakistanis who have a favorable opinion of the US doubled from 23 percent in May 2005 to more than 46 percent after American earthquake aid was received. According to a poll conducted by the nonpartisan not-for-profit, Terror Free Tomorrow, with fieldwork by ACNielsen Pakistan, for the first time since 9/ 11, more Pakistanis are favorable to the US than unfavorable.

At the same time, the number of Pakistanis who disapproved of bin Laden doubled at almost the exact same percentage as those who became favorable to the US. …

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