Osama bin Laden has issued another statement denouncing George W. Bush as the leader of a Christian "Crusader" army. "It is a certain fact that Bush carried the cross high" in this "religious war," he announced on Saturday from a secret location. Bin Laden insists that all good Muslims must oppose the United States, the United Nations, Israel, "moderate" Arab regimes and - presumably - the designated hitter rule, sliced bread and Britney Spears or risk being designated "infidels."
The Bush White House was quick to respond, putting an Arabic-speaking American diplomat on Arabic-language TV within three hours of bin Laden's broadcast, in a sign that the administration has finally recognized that this is also a propaganda war.
Such a war is harder than it sounds. Already, millions of Muslims around the world buy bin Laden's story that this is a Muslim vs. Christian holy war. Newspapers, including government-supported ones, in Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Iran, Pakistan and Saudi Arabia regularly accuse the United States of waging a "crusade" against the Muslim world.
In other words, the United States has a lot of catching up to do.
What makes our task even harder is that we're arguing with people who don't know what they are talking about.
Look at it this way: Nobody in America is calling this a Christian crusade. I don't think the president of the United States has said a word about Jesus - except maybe in a prayer for the fallen innocents. He certainly hasn't shouted "Deus lo volt!" (God wills it!), the rallying cry of Pope Urban II in 1095 that launched the first Crusade.
It's doubtful that any of our men and women in uniform see Operation Enduring Freedom as a Holy War. And it's equally unlikely that a high-ranking officer could call this a Holy War and keep his job for long.
And, lastly, the vast majority of the American (and German, French, British, Italian, etc.) public would guffaw if one of our political leaders announced this was a bona fide war for Christ against the heathens of the East. Usually, warriors for God are pretty upfront about their motives. The one time Bush even said the word "crusade," the White House apologized.
This conflict between Islam and Christianity is much like the rivalry between Ithaca College and Cornell University; everyone at Ithaca knows about it and no one at Cornell has any idea what the kids from Ithaca are talking about.
The "Christian world," to the extent that phrase describes the advanced, industrialized West, simply doesn't see things in the antiquated "Crusade vs. Jihad" prism that the Islamic world does.
This illuminates how the United States should fight the propaganda war. First, ditch this "war on terrorism" stuff. Sure, fighting terrorists is part of what we're doing, but it's clear by now that, sadly, "terrorism" is in the eye of the beholder in the Middle East. Besides, terrorism is the symptom, not the disease.
This is a war between the New World and the Old World; between those who still cling to the barbarity, cruelty and tribal corruption implicit to the medieval thinking of the Taliban and the authoritarian rule of Iraq, Iran and even Saudi Arabia or Egypt.
There's a reason so many people from the Middle East want to live or study in America - and, for the most part, it's not to launch terrorist attacks on us. With the exception of Turkey and maybe Qatar, it is exceedingly difficult to live in the modern and Muslim worlds simultaneously.
Consider science. Unlike capitalism or democracy, which are allegedly "culturally biased," science is supposed to be culturally neutral. Two plus two equals four here, there, everywhere.
Well, The New York Times recently reported that Pakistani science teachers were issued guidelines recommending that students not be taught cause and effect. Dr. Pervez Hoodbhoy, a physicist at Quaid-e-Azam University in Islamabad, explained to the Times, "You were supposed to say that when you bring hydrogen and oxygen together then by the will of Allah water was created."
Of course, scientific advancement is not the only measure of socioeconomic development. But, if you are afraid to question what happens when hydrogen and oxygen mix, you certainly cannot feel safe when questioning your own government or advocating equality for women. And, simultaneously, you cannot become a prosperous society.
I think everyone, Muslims included, understands this in their bones. I think they want to live normal lives, in control of their own destinies.
The United States cannot win a war (ital) on (end ital) something without simultaneously fighting a war (ital) for (end ital) something. If America makes it clear that we are not fighting against Islam but rather we are fighting for freedom, I think we will win over more converts than the Taliban ever could.