One of the most fascinating events last Sunday was the nearly simultaneous broadcast of speeches by President Bush and Osama bin Laden. In truth, the speeches were remarkably similar, for they were the first salvos in the most important campaign of this new war ? the PR campaign.
To that end, both Bush and bin Laden accepted (or all-but-accepted) responsibility for actions committed, both praised those carrying out the missions, and both claimed that the other was twisting the true message of Islam.
But the most important and profound similarity between the two speeches was the delineation of a choice that must be made by every Islamic nation.
President Bush said, ?The battle is broader. Every nation has a choice to make. In this conflict, there is no neutral ground. If any government sponsors the outlaws and killers of innocents, they have become outlaws and murderers themselves.?
Similarly, bin Laden set out stark options, saying, ?These events have divided the world into two camps, the camp of the faithful and the camp of infidels … Every Muslim must rise to defend his religion.?
These two speeches represent two opposite ideals – fundamentalism and modernity – and are two vastly different calls that must be answered in every Islamic country.
President Bush offers modernity ? a civilization based on the rule of law, where pluralism is an objective and differences are settled through debate.
Bin Laden offers fundamentalism ? a civilization based on an absolute truth as decreed by un-elected rulers, where opposition is disallowed and differences are settled by murder.
It would be a mistake to assume that most would reject fundamentalism. In many respects, bin Laden?s ideology is little different from Nazism, Communism, or perhaps a better comparison, the ideology of the crusaders.
Each of these beliefs was and is premised on the belief that the ideology of its supporters is the truth, and it is the duty of true believers to either convert non-believers or eliminate them.
Religious fundamentalism is particularly inviting, for it promises Paradise to believers and Hell for non-believers. A true believer is thus compelled for purely selfish reasons to pursue his belief at all costs.
When these option are combined with terrible economic conditions, the conditions are ripe for fundamentalist fervor.
That is why we must be concerned that the lure of fundamentalism will topple other Muslim regimes and destabilize the world.
Some Islamic countries have encouraged fundamentalist minorities to direct their militancy towards the West, thus diverting attention from their own illegitimate governments. Thus the choice of allying with the United States or with the terrorists is made especially dangerous for these governments.
Already, violent protests are taking in place in Pakistan, a nuclear power supporting the U.S. The idea of fundamentalists taking control is a thought too frightening to comprehend – except that we must, for the plausibility is clear.
Similar situations are found in Egypt and Saudi Arabia, critical allies of the U.S. A fundamentalist takeover of Egypt would have grave military consequences considering the vast amount of U.S. military technology given to Egypt, while the fall of Saudi Arabia would be catastrophic for the U.S. economy.
This potential for disaster is why the most important part of this campaign must be fought in the court of public opinion. The U.S. must continue to emphasize this is a war on terrorism, but the message must reach more than the United States. The message must reach the public in Pakistan, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and any other wavering Islamic country. Leaders of these countries must be persuaded that terrorism is a threat to everyone (bin Laden long ago singled out moderate Arab governments), and they must relay that conviction to their people.
Weapons in this war will be radio broadcasts, leaflets, and the U.S. backing of these governments. Dropping leaflets and transistor radios into Afghanistan was a good first step, but it is a step that must be mirrored in some way in other countries. Never before has the public relations part of a war been more important. Islamic countries the world over have been offered a choice by bin Laden and President Bush. A world war may hang in the balance.