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Changing Muslims' Perceptions of the West

June 09, 2004

Marc Sageman argues that terrorists can be defeated only by attacking their ideas, by altering "Muslims' perception that their interests are hostile to the West" (Opinion, June 6). We must, he says, engage them on "the battlefield of interpretations." That certainly beats the prevailing idea that we can defeat terrorists by killing them all.

But what if the jihadist imagination is fired by what the headline of Jessica Stern's insightful piece (on the same page) calls "a caldron of humiliation"? Then it would seem that we will never "alter Muslims' perceptions," as if they had only some bad ideas and not a lot of bad experiences. Muslim perceptions can thus be changed only when we work to remove the sources of their humiliation -- to which American foreign policy has made its sad contribution. In the process, perhaps we will discover that it is not only Muslim perceptions that stand in need of revision.

Stanley R. Moore

Claremont

*

Your two pieces start by showing understanding for the sources of Arab/Muslim terror but end with wishful thinking. Arabs have a justification in longing for the good old days when they were at the forefront of science, literature and philosophy. They crushed the Christian Crusaders, defeating Richard the Lion-Hearted. Today they can't escape being drowned by the invasion of Western ideas, merchandise, Christianity and pornography. Like Christians, Muslims want to make the world one religion. You can't persuade missionaries not to go to Muslim lands any more than you can persuade Muslims not to hate what the West represents. It is now a renewed Crusades era.

Albert Reingewirtz

Carlsbad

*

Sageman has it exactly right: You can't defeat an idea with a gun. You can only prevail with a better idea. Instead of our current hegemony, we should be exerting every effort to demonstrate that the U.S. represents benevolence and the empowerment of others. Those who quote Theodore Roosevelt's "big stick" observation would do well to recall that, in context, it was an admonition that the U.S. should never flex its muscle unnecessarily, lest, like the proverbial bully, it finds itself alone, desperate and friendless.

Eric Sowers

St. Louis

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