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Catfish and Cod
Tuesday, May 18, 2004
The only battlefield: II. Memetic victories are stronger than physical victories.
(Link path: King of the Blogs, The Right Coast, Belmont Club)

How can the war be won?

Neither side is capable of inflicting a physical victory over the other. Al-Qaeda cannot possibly destroy the whole of America or its army, no matter what they do. The West does possess the physical ability, via nuclear weapons, to destroy the Muslim peoples. But dictates of conscience negate the serious contemplation of such an action except in the utter last resort -- a last resort that shall not come in this struggle. Even the most serious physical damage contemplated by either side -- the razing of an Arab city by one side, the nuking of a Western city by the other -- will not diminish in the least the physical ability to continue to fight.

Therefore, the sort of total war experienced in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries is not at issue here. Neither side can physically deny the other the ability to fight. While physical force can be used in a tactical manner, it is useless in achieving strategic goals. A purely physical victory, therefore, is impossible.

So what sort of victory is possible?

What is victory?

Obviously, one cannot achieve victory in any war without an understanding of what victory entails. What would each side consider a victory?

Victory, as currently defined by the Western peoples, is as follows:

* The Muslim peoples relinquish the desire to destroy the West.
* The Muslim peoples desire to restrain their own extremists from inciting wars or attacking the Western peoples.
* The Muslim peoples specifically relinquish efforts to aid Muslims who incite wars or attack the Western peoples.
* The Muslim peoples desire peace, prosperity, freedom, and security, and are willing to work with the Western peoples to acheieve the same.
* The Muslim peoples believe in their own self-confidence and success, or believe that only hard work stands between their current situation and possession of same.

Victory, as currently defined by al-Qaeda, is as follows:

* The Muslim peoples are united by opposition to the Western peoples.
* The Western peoples are deterred from influencing the Muslim peoples.
* The Western peoples specifically relinquish efforts to aid Muslims who oppose al-Qaeda objectives.
* The Western peoples acknowledge the superiority, or at least the equality, of the Muslim peoples.
* The Muslim peoples acknowledge the superiority of Wahabbi/Qutbist doctrine, as applied by al-Qaeda.
* The Muslim peoples acknowledge the right of al-Qaeda to proclaim, and enforce the decrees of, a pan-Muslim leadership, i.e., a Caliphate.

Notice the similarities between the two sets of goals. They are as notable for what they do not consist of as for what they do entail. For instance, neither side primarily desires the other's land or resources. (Claims by al-Qaeda on Israel and Spain are, by their philosophy, considered to be unenforceable until the above victory conditions are met.) Neither side is insisting on the religious conversion of another. (Al-Qaeda would be delighted if America were to convert en masse to Islam; but far more important, in their consideration, is the domination of the American government by Qaeda-friendly interests.) Booty or other wealth is not at issue; neither are trade concessions. Populations are not to be exchanged. In short, none of the reasons that peoples traditionally go to war are present here. These reasons, usually associated with physical demands, are not at issue.

Instead, both sets of goals are memetic: they consist only of beliefs that are to be adopted or imposed, and actions commiserate with those beliefs. Each side desires to shape the thoughts of the other, and of the Muslim peoples who are at issue. Moreover, only acheivement of memetic goals can produce meaningful degradement of the enemy's ability to fight, since

This war, therefore, does not merely have "hearts and minds", or memetic considerations, as a component. The war is primarily memetic.

The only battlefield where victory can be acheived -- for either side! -- is thus the battlefield of "hearts and minds". The only battlefield where results matter is the thought-space of the various peoples.

Notably, this conclusion also follows directly from the democratic principle. If the consent of the governed is necessary for a government to be legitimate and take actions, then it follows that no war can be prosecuted and no peace secured without the consent of both peoples involved.

It follows directly that the Western peoples are not the only group battling for "hearts and minds", and the Muslim peoples are not the only "hearts and minds" being fought over. Al-Qaeda is fighting for "hearts and minds" too: for the "hearts and minds" of Muslim peoples it hopes to recruit, and the "hearts and minds" of Western peoples it hopes to dominate.

My next post will consider the implications of this strategic appraisal.