Saturday, December 10, 2005

Libraries: Our Secret Weapon?

Want to know how we could win the "war" on terror? (I'm still waiting for Congress to declare war; until then we are not at war.) (And let's assume for a moment that by "war on terror" we really mean "on terrorists." ...a big stretch, I know.)

The problem with military solutions is that when you kill one terrorist, another arises to take her/his place. Or when you do it the way we do in Iraq (kill a terrorist, plus 5 bystanders, plus shrapnel wounds to another dozen bystanders, plus 3 other bystanders "disappear" and end up at Gitmo w/o charges), you kill one and another dozen take his/her place. This doesn't work very well. The numbers are against us...and eventually most of the world will be, too.

Why do people become terrorists anyway? It is always because of ideas. Bin Laden is a man possessed with an idea, an ideal, in fact -- a vision of re-establishing the Caliphate and re-instituting God's laws on earth. It's a moral vision, although hardly anyone on our side wants to admit this. But that's why it inspires so many to fight to the death.

Now, how can you kill ideas? There's only one way: with counter-ideas. Not propaganda, not disinformation, not politically-corrected dogma, but ideas -- better ones. The only way to beat the doctrines that terrorists use to recruit is to 1. eliminate the injustices that terrorists thrive on by espousing and consistently practicing ethics based first of all on respect for individual rights...everybody's individual rights. 2. Offer ideas that are based on reason and evidence -- the best of the Western tradition of thought. 3. Spread these ideas...not by packaging them with a phoney, sappy, idiotic message about how wonderful we are and how wonderful things are for Muslims in America -- just send books. Build libraries. Let the foreign people enter and see what they can learn. Forget propaganda. Just give them access to ideas, and let them do what they will.

There's no constituency for this, I know, but humanity's problems stem, fundamentally, from how we think and what we believe. We cannot force better thinking. We can't deceive people into better beliefs. WE can only make better ideas available, and let them take root wherever someone begins to understand.

Want to fix problems? Build libraries.

(For an interesting discussion on this see Stalinist Orange Dec 5 and 8 2005 where Brian Radzinsky, Nikolas Gvosdev, and I have been mulling over the roles of NGOs and soft power.)

Great idea! I'm organizing a major shipment of books (economics textbooks, Friedman, Coase, Mises, Hayek, Becker, Rothbard, Mill, Rand, Tocqueville, Barzel, Libecap, Constant, Lane, and many, many others) for Iraqi university libraries. (The universities are now promoting English as the language of study at the higher levels, so English-language books are very much welcome.) Also, many texts are now available in Arabic at and I've been commissioning translations of Bastiat and Hayek into Kurdish.
It figures that my bright idea turns out to be something that you are already working on.

Is there anything that I or others could do to help?
Elsewhere Tom replied to my question: anyone wishing to donate to this excellent project can do so by sending a check to the CAto Institute, attn Tom Palmer, and specify it is for the Jack Byrne Middle East fund.

I donated, and Tom bought a great selection of books with the money. They are in Iraq now.
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