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Ignoring Progress: Fear and Loathing In America

In the Finanacial Times, Peter Wehner posits that al-Qaeda is losing the war of minds. As he points out, to whatever degree he is correct, you'd never know it by listening to America's ongoing presidential campaigning.

During a recent Democratic debate, for example, Mr Obama declared: "We are seeing al-Qaeda stronger now than at any time since 2001." Mrs Clinton says President George W. Bush's policies in Iraq have "emboldened our enemies". We should leave Iraq, she says, so we can better focus on the threat of al-Qaeda.

In fact, in large measure because of what is unfolding in Iraq, the tide within the Islamic world is beginning to run strongly against al-Qaeda - and this, in turn, may be the single most important ideological development in recent years.

In November 2007 Sayyid Imam al-Sharif ("Dr Fadl") published his book, Rationalizations on Jihad in Egypt and the World, in serialised form. Mr Sharif, who is Egyptian, argues that the use of violence to overthrow Islamic governments is religiously unlawful and practically harmful. He also recommends the formation of a special Islamic court to try Osama bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, al-Qaeda's number two and its ideological leader, and calls the attacks on September 11 2001 a "catastrophe for all Muslims".

Mr Sharif's words are significant because he was once a mentor to Mr Zawahiri. Mr Sharif, who wrote the book in a Cairo prison, is "a living legend within the global jihadist movement", according to Jarret Brachman, a terrorism expert.

Another important event occurred in October 2007, when Sheikh Abd Al-'Aziz bin Abdallah Aal Al-Sheikh, the highest religious authority in Saudi Arabia, issued a fatwa prohibiting Saudi youth from engaging in jihad abroad. It states: "I urge my brothers the ulama [the top class of Muslim clergy] to clarify the truth to the public . . . to warn [youth] of the consequences of being drawn to arbitrary opinions and [religious] zeal that is not based on religious knowledge." The target of the fatwa is obvious: Mr bin Laden.

That which he cites - and continues to cite more - is not insignificant. The issue is that most Americans have little clue.

The larger war before us - one which we did not declare - is long in duration and global in scope. It is, has been, and will remain full of ebbs and flows, highs and lows, and victories and losses.

But you'd seemingly never know it by following the 'popular narrative' created by the bulk of our own media coverage and political hay-making.

This is no way to win a war. It is, however, one hell of a way to lose it, with context escaping and victories obscured by relentless magnification of losses - both real and perceived.

My grandfather was a Pearl Harbor survivor. No, I should take that back. He was Pearl Harbor fighter, a soldier in the Army Air Corps who manned a machine gun pit on the airstrip taking aim at the buzzing Japanese Zeros. Surely he would be sick with grief over his nation that would certainly seem to him today so undetermined to defeat its enemies and ever eager - in some twisted measure of intellectualism - to criticize and debase itself.

Let us never forget that America, while imperfect, remains the freest nation on Earth, with more liberty enjoyed, earned and preserved than anywhere else. And with that comes enormous responsibility.

And let us never forget also that our enemies are not 12-foot giants of super-human strength. They are men. Men with powerful ideas and skill in religious persuasion. But their ideas are neither superior nor invincible.

Liberty - not to be confused with democracy - is far more powerful. It is universal and transcends even religious divides. And it must be wielded in this War of Ideas.

But so often, it is not. Instead, we are treated to the self-inflicted wounds of self-loathing oblivious to the very liberties which allow for this. Where else on Earth, ask yourself, can a press or people so freely and vehemently criticize their governmental leadership? And does such levels of regular and vocal criticism mean that we are the worst nation and unworthy of victory? Hardly.

It would be refreshing to see someone in the American Presidential campaigns speak of what's so great about America rather than the verbal onslaught criticizing failures and emphasizing brokenness. So uninspiring.

Instead, guys like me are left to query the graves of our grandfathers. We are ever determined to do something, but often resigned to feeling rather alone in doing so. Perhaps in living up to their expectations more so even than our own, we persist regardless. We are, after all, at liberty to do so.