January 25, 2005 Special Dispatch No. 852

Tunisian Progressive: 'Islamism is The Mother of All Big Lies'

January 25, 2005
North Africa, Tunisia | Special Dispatch No. 852

In an article titled "Adolf Hitler on the Making of a Successful Lie," Abu Khawla (Muhammad Bechri), a human rights activist and former chair of the Tunisian section of Amnesty International, claims that Islamism is "a very successful lie," and not "a remarkable social and political force." In his view, "only Arab/Muslim secular forces can effectively undermine Islamism." The f ollowing are excerpts from the article: [1]

'The Mother of All Big Lies: Islamism'

"A contributor to a secular forum did well recently in reminding us about Hitler's dictum on how to lie and have a great impact on the masses… This raises a set of interesting questions. Why would a particular lie succeed while others fail? And why would a liar suddenly succeed in a particular period of time and not before that? To answer these questions, we need to understand what makes for a successful lie. I will elaborate on this point first, then I will go on to speculate on the effective way to counter the mother of all big lies: Islamism (or political Islam, since Islamism is nothing but politics in a religious garb).

"Adolf Hitler said: 'the broad mass of a nation will more easily fall victim to a big lie than to a small one.' Hitler also taught us that to succeed, the lie should be told loudly. In case you didn't notice, he would generally start his speeches in a relatively quite manner, [and] then as he starts shouting he gets more and more applause. The foolhardy German masses honestly believed that if their beloved Fuhrer is taking such a pain to talk loudly, he should be telling more truth.

"By these two accounts, Islamism is expected to be a very successful lie, indeed. Amir Taheri estimated the Islamist propaganda machine's bill to be about 100 billion dollars during the last two decades alone, which makes it the largest propaganda machine in history, even larger than the communist propaganda machine during the Soviet era. People wouldn't obviously spend that much unless they know they have to defend a huge lie.

"The mosque (especially the Friday prayer sermon) is particularly used by Islamists to spread their message. [Egyptian progressive] Saadeddine Ibrahim recently lamented how he would face a propaganda machine that uses a network of 150,000 mosques in Egypt. In many countries, Fatwas issued by the Mullahs could be binding on social and political matters, and the religious authorities are granted wide powers for censorship of whatever they consider to be blasphemous.

"In addition, an infiltration of culture and education spheres gives Islamists an upper hand, especially in the conception of school curricula and media programs. And since the early 1990s, a turn to the worst was inaugurated by the advent of satellite TV. In the Arab world, this important tool of communications is so far completely monopolized by fundamentalists."

'The Most Effective Way to Counter a Lie is Obviously to Undermine It'

"To view Islamism as a lie (not a remarkable social and political force, a mistaken belief largely shared in the West) could have many implications on the conception of an effective strategy to counter Islamist terror and win. The most effective way to counter a lie is obviously to undermine it. That is what Ronald Reagan did with communism. As soon as the peoples of the former Soviet Union and central Europe realized that they fell victims to a lie, the communist edifice fell suddenly like a house of cards, without having America to fire a single shot.

"The same is needed with Islamism today. But so far, what is happening is just the opposite. Arab/Islamic governments are rather colluding with the Islamists, hoping that anti-Western diatribes will help deflect the attention of the masses from their own failures. And some of them are even adopting the Islamists' agenda as a way of containment. Examples include denying women rights to vote in Kuwait, and postponing reforms of women codes and educational systems in countries like Algeria and Egypt. To quote the great Tunisian secular thinker Lafif Lakhdar 'these governments are implementing Islamism without the Islamists.'"

'Freedom in the West Gave Islamist Terror Masters Ample Opportunities to Mount an Effective Propaganda Machine'

"Western countries have also been active in putting oil on [the] fire. Since the creation of the Muslim brotherhood in Egypt, Western democracies chose either to support the Islamists as a counterweight to communism or to adopt a neutral position. In all cases, freedom in the West gave Islamist terror masters ample opportunities to mount an effective propaganda machine.

"One would have hoped that 9/11 will change all that, but to no avail. The media dimension of the so-called 'global war on terror' consisted so far of an America counter-propaganda (Hi Magazine and Radio Sawa for Arab youth, Al-Hurra TV…). Serious doubts, however, remain about the effectiveness of this approach. The declared objective is to disseminate 'American values.' But while this is a noble objective, it is not the effective way to counter political Islam. The reasons are: (1) Most - if not all - of these values are already known to Arabs; as a result, not much will be achieved by re-advertising them, and (2) Many of these values are considered to be decadent (thanks to the powerful impact of the Islamist propaganda). As a result, counter-arguments, especially when they come from American propagandists will almost certainly fall on deaf ears in the Arab/Islamic world."

'Only Arab/Muslim Secular Forces Can Effectively Undermine Islamism'

"To be sure, only Arab/Muslim secular forces can effectively undermine Islamism. As the recent Iranian example clearly shows, attempts to portray modernists as Western stooges will be futile. At the end of the day, truth will always prevail. But so far these forces are kept on the sidelines. In a recent op-ed article, U.S. defense secretary Donald Rumsfeld explained well the need to wage 'a war of ideas.' That may mean there is still hope in sanity. But until that happens, America and the West will be kidding themselves if they believe that the current military campaign alone will lead them anywhere close to their objective of uprooting Islamist terror."

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