What to do — blow myself up or study engineering at Caltech?

Sometimes the answer to a problem isn’t as hard as we think it is. In fact, it may be downright easy. But something in our makeup prevents us from either seeing or pursuing the answer. We continue to tread the more arduous path and, in the process, not only perpetuate, but compound the problem.

In a Washington Monthly article, “How many of you want to study in America?,” Kenneth Ballen reports on the extensive polling that his organization, Terror Free Tomorrow, has done around the world. First, he describes a meeting in Jakarta, Indonesia with young Muslims in apparent thrall to bin Laden. Though they didn’t give him credit for 9/ll, which, Ballen writes, they felt was the work of “the CIA and the Israeli intelligence service — how else to explain the fact that there were no Jews in the World Trade Center when it was destroyed?”

The students, however, were surprised to learn that Ballen knew Jews who had been killed in the Twin Towers. Then, after a night of conversation, “their insistent questioning took an unexpected turn: how could they obtain visas to study in the United States?”

The truth comes out.

Ballen continues:

“After that, whenever we had the chance to speak with young radicals in Indonesia, out of the hearing of their leaders and late at night, we’d always ask: How many of you want to study in America? Invariably, almost everyone said yes, and those who still disdained the Great Satan were eager to study in Canada, Australia, or France instead.”

You can’t help but laugh at how quick radical Muslims (those, that is, who are sympathetic to, but not actual members of terrorist organizations) are to sell out. Showing their cards that fast suggests not only a lack of conviction but of pride.

Maybe, but Ballen writes that “stories of upstanding Muslims denied entry to the United States for seemingly arbitrary reasons are a staple of the Muslim press.” Extending to them the right to study in the US and Europe is, instead, a symbol of what they most crave from the West — respect.

“Like most analysts,” he continues, “we had assumed that radical views in the Muslim world were the outgrowth of a deeply held ideology. [Instead] Muslims feel that the United States does not respect their views, values, identity and the right to determine their own affairs.” Extending student, as well as work, visas to Muslims is perceived as a show of respect, as are humanitarian aid and trade agreements.

The trouble is that many in the West believe that any expression of support for bin Laden, no matter how reflexive, is the deepest form of disrespect you can show us. If we make concessions like inviting them into our country to study, they’ll think they can walk all over us (not to mention form terrorist cells while on spring break from Caltech).

In fact, Ballen writes, the next president doesn’t even, as progressives assume, “need to pull all troops out of Iraq right away, or solve the Israel-Palestine conflict overnight.”

Hold on a minute: No problem wants to be solved that easily. All that time and energy spent wrestling with radical Muslim terrorism can’t be swept away just because the answer is staring us in the face. The entire defense establishment — from policy wonks to the military — has too much invested in the concept of an implacable foe.

Dangle a degree in front of your enemy’s face and he’s putty in your hands — where’s the fun in that?

For more on “winning the hearts and minds” of Middle-Easterners, see Connor O’Steen’s stunning “Letters from Afghanistan”:

Installment 1: Dogs, generals and orphans

Installment 2: The hard-working orphans of Chaghcharan

Installment 3: Nasim’s story: making and unmaking terrorists

9 replies »

  1. Ah, education and respect as ways to defuse hatreds. Too radical for us, I guess.

    Great post, Russ.

  2. Opportunity and understanding might work better than bombing the shit out of someone? Maybe right now Dick Cheney is smacking his forehead and saying,”D’OH!”

    Or maybe not. But it’s another fantastic post all the same.

  3. Not really too radical.

    The US needs to acknowledge that it has for many many generations not really welcomed the unwashed masses, but actively sought out the best and brightest from around the world to lure to our country and seduce with our lifestyle and our tolerance for diverse points of view. Only then can we actively say to the rest of the world “fix your education and economic problems, so you can lure your own graduates back to their homelands.” Most “radicals” turn into conservatives once they experience the other side of being well fed and not having a 15th century religious culture inflicted upon them.

    just my .02 cents, as usual.