Informed Opinion

Informed Opinion

It is common place in discussions about the war in Iraq for people on opposing sides of the argument to talk past each other.  As with many of our disagreements, basic assumptions determine how we perceive and incorporate new data into our paradigms.  Tony Blankley, in Is There Writing on the Wall? describes the problem in the clearest terms possible:

It would appear that the great divide in both public opinion and between politicians is not Republican-Democrat, liberal-conservative, pro or anti-Bush, or even pro or anti-war (or, in Europe: pro-or anti-American). Rather, the great divide is between those, such as me, who believe that the rise of radical Islam poses an existential threat to Western Civilization; and those who believe it is a nuisance, if, episodically, a very dangerous nuisance.

His conclusion is apt:

And so the debate stands. Every political decision — from the Iraq war appropriation vote this week, to the Patriot Act, to the status of Guantanamo Prison, to NSA intercepts, to the presidential election — is seen through our conceptual squint of the threat or non-threat from radical Islam.

Neither side seems remotely capable of persuading the other of the accuracy of our respective foresights. Two years ago, I wrote a book on the subject. I have talked to thousands and thousands in speeches and millions on radio and TV (as have so many authors these last five years). But the net effect seems to be to re-enforce the opinions of those who already share my view, rather than persuade others to change their mind.

Thus, while others and I will continue to make our case in public, it seems probably inevitable that the correctness or incorrectness of our views will only become persuasive to the multitude when history teaches its cruel, unavoidable lessons. It was ever thus, which is why history is strewed with broken nations and civilizations that couldn”t read the writing on the wall. Of course, it is also strewed with sad hulks of false predictors of doom.

Dean Barnett, in the process of deconstructing the rhetoric on both sides of the political discussion, links to an important survey of Muslim Public Opinion on US Policy, Attacks on Civilians and al Qaeda.  Dean”s summary is short and to the point:

WHAT WE HAVE HERE IS AN EXAMPLE of a subtle bipartisan agreement to ignore the true menace that will face us during the next president’s term. John McCain offered sentiments of a similar strain during his otherwise stellar address on Iraq when he insisted that Al Qaeda types and their supporters represent only a teensy-weensy portion of the Islamic world.

We could go on believing this comforting notion, but it’s just not true. Allah (the blogger, not the deity) calls our attention today to a poll of Egyptians, Moroccans, Pakistanis and Indonesians. Happily, the Indonesians are more moderate than the others. That’s it for the good news. The bad news is that a stunning majority of those polled like the idea of making their countries subject to Sharia. The exact number is 74%. 71% of those polled support the idea of the Islamic world coalescing into a caliphate. For those of you unfamiliar with Islamic ideology, it’s not particularly likely that the caliphate would form and then peacefully coexist with the world’s other nations.

Especially jarring are the numbers from Egypt. Because our government maintains cordial relations with Egypt’s dictatorship, one might have a sense that there’s a friendship between us and the Egyptian people. Unfortunately, no one thought of consulting the Egyptian people on that matter. 91% of Egyptians support attacks on U.S. troops in Afghanistan. 92% think it should be a goal of theirs to drive the U.S. from the region.

There are several questions which might be interpreted to support the views of those who believe that Islamic terrorism is more nuisance than existential danger.  For example, majorities in Indonesia, Morocco, and Pakistan purport to disapprove of groups that attack Americans.  The results from Egypt are more equivocal.  Large majorities believe such attacks are counter-productive.  (Any relationship between the two questions is left unremarked.) 

The prevailing opinion is that 9/11 was bad for the Islamic World.  At the same time, significant majorities do not believe al Qaeda was behind 9/11 and there is very significant support, across the board, for the goals of al Qaeda and significant positive or mixed views of Osama bin Laden.

When the results are reported in the MSM (if they are reported in the MSM) you will certainly be told that large majorities in all four countries support democracy and globalization and oppose violence.  Further, there will certainly be much made of the fact that most do not believe a Clash of Civilizations is inevitable.  Only in Egypt is the proportion even close, with 45% believing such a clash is inevitable and 49% believing “it is possible to find common ground.”

The survey is worth reading in its entirety, if only to get a flavor of the cognitive dissonance at work in people who support Sharia yet suggest they oppose the violence that is inherent in Sharia. 

Another point that the survey reports without interpretation: significant minorities refused to answer some of the most pointed questions.  24% of Egyptians admitted they would speak favorably to family and friends about organizations that attack Americans and 46% refused to answer.  Among Pakistanis, 27% refused to answer whether or not they would lend financial support to such groups; 7% admitted they would.

The question for America is two-fold:  Is Islamic terror supported by a tiny fringe of Islam or is there significant support, amounting to millions of active and passive supporters of violence against America?  And, the related question, does such an ocean of support suggest that Islamic terror (Caliphate Islam, Expansionist Islam, Islamofascism) represents an existential threat to America and our friends?

Allow me to leave you with a comment from someone who had thought long and hard about related issues and leveraged less support than is evident in this poll to take over a nation similar in size to the prospective Caliphate:

“The guerrilla must move amongst the people as a fish swims in the sea.”