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The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy

The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy

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by Walid Phares

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From Afghanistan and Iraq to Europe and the United States we are engaged in one of the most heated wars of all time. In this incisive new book, the man that has been called--the only one to understand the mind of the jihadist--shows that the most important battle is actually taking place in the hearts and minds of the world's population. This is the war of ideas,


From Afghanistan and Iraq to Europe and the United States we are engaged in one of the most heated wars of all time. In this incisive new book, the man that has been called--the only one to understand the mind of the jihadist--shows that the most important battle is actually taking place in the hearts and minds of the world's population. This is the war of ideas, where ideology is the most powerful weapon of all. Phares explores the beliefs of two opposing camps, one standing for democracy and human rights, and the other rejecting the idea of an international community and calling for jihad against the West. He reveals the strategies of both sides, explaining that new technologies and the growing media savvy of the jihadists have raised the stakes in the conflict. And most urgently, he warns that the West is in danger of losing the war, for whereas debate and theorizing rarely translate into action here, ideas and deeds are inextricably linked for the forces of jihad.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

“9-11 woke a lot of us up and prompted us to learn what was going on, to seek answers to that 'why do they hate us?' question. Phares was writing about jihadism for years before that terrible day. We should have listened to him then, but we were preoccupied and didn't listen. We need to listen to him now.” —The Red Hunter

“Phares . . . is a voice of calm and reason. . . . Provocative reading.” —Kirkus Reviews

“Reading this book will give you the ammunition you need for the war of ideas to come.” —NewsMax

“Walid Phares has long been among the most knowledgeable and incisive scholars of the Middle East--its peoples, its cultures, its religions, and its radical movements.” —U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman

“This book is a 'must read' for those who want to understand the jihad radical Islamists are waging against democracies. Walid Phares has a gift for being able to identify the root causes of the war and what the West and the free world must do to prevail.” —Oliver North, host of FOX News' War Stories

“The work of Professor Walid Phares is a beacon that helps us to see and understand the extent of the Jihadist threat the World is facing. Nobody who reads his analysis will have any doubt left about the existential peril posed by the radical Islamists and Jihadi terrorists to democracies. A must read.” —Jose Maria Aznar, Former Prime Minister of Spain

“Dr. Phares's knowledge of the War of Ideas and the complex conflicts of the Greater Middle East is exceptional. His ability to communicate intellectually among various cultures is noted regionally and internationally.” —Dr. Barham Salih, Deputy Prime Minister of Iraq

“If you want to understand the War of Ideas being waged by Jihadists, Walid Phares is your man.” —U.S. Congresswoman Sue Myrick

“Dr. Walid Phares shows us clearly who is waging the War of Ideas and what their goals are. His book is a pioneering work in history and politics. It shows clearly how Jihadism has become a strategic threat to democracy worldwide.” —Paulo Casaca, Chairman of the NATO commission to the European Parliament

“Democracy is locked in an existential struggle with Jihadism and Walid Phares' voice is one of our wisest. It is crucial that it be heard. Dr. Phares understands like no one else the depth of Jihadi ideologies and how they have developed long-term strategies to counter and crumble free societies, both in the West and among young rising democracies in the Middle East.” —Richard W. Carlson, US Ambassador (ret.), former Director of Voice of America, former President and CEO of the Corporation for Public Broadcasting

“As an Arab Muslim academic from Jordan I have witnessed Professor Walid Phares engaging in powerful debates with intellectuals from both the West and the Arab Muslim world. His knowledge of both cultures gives him the ability to understand and explain the War of Ideas between radicalism and democracy. This book is needed by the public.” —Professor Shaker Nabulsi, Chairman, American Interuniversity Consortium (AIC) for Middle Eastern and Islamic Studies

“Walid Phares is the leading expert on the War of Ideas between Jihadism and democracy. His book is a must read for all.” —Alireza Jafarzadeh, Fox News analyst and author of The Iran Threat

“Walid Phares is both an incisive scholar and a skilled communicator. His insights into the psychologies and pathologies of the Middle East are unrivaled.” —U.S. Senator Joe Lieberman

“The Jihadists began their War of Ideas against democracies decades ago. Walid Phares's book is a unique analysis of the roots and future of this terror campaign against the free world.” —Magdi Khalil, Egyptian journalist, Elaph.com

“I have followed and respected Dr. Walid Phares' academic work and reasoned commentary for years. He has a unique ability to articulate the central ideological conflict in the struggle against Jihadism. Dr. Phares consistently stands out as an invaluable resource and authentic voice in the global effort to understand exactly who the enemies of democracy are, what they believe, and how we can defeat them. The book is a must read.” —Dr. Zuhdi Jasser, Chairman, American Islamic Forum for Democracy

“Professor Walid Phares's The War of Ideas is a must read on the geopolitics of the war on terror. His book puts fifty years of Cold War and Jihadi offensives against democracies in an ultimate global perspective. This is a central resource for classrooms, newsrooms, and war rooms.” —Dr. Jacob Keryakes, NBC Senior Arabic Linguist

“Walid Phares makes a compelling case for why winning the War of Ideas is indispensable to winning the war on terrorism, and he points the way toward how to do so. It is a must read not only for policy makers and those who advise them, but for everyone with a stake in the fight of our generation.” —Clark Kent Ervin, former Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security and author of Open Target: Where America is Vulnerable to Attack

“Dr. Walid Phares is the leading authority on the War of Ideas between totalitarian forces and the rising democracies in the Greater Middle East. His profound understanding of radical ideologies and pluralist societies makes his scholarship unique in the West and the Arab and Muslim world alike. His book is a must read.” —Munir Mawari, Washington correspondent, Asharq Alawsat daily Arabic newspaper

“Professor Phares is the leading analyst of the War of Ideas. His ability to see through the strategies and moves of the Jihadists in their quest to crumble democracies is unparalleled. This book will change your way of seeing the war on terror.” —Dr. Jacob Keryakes, NBC Senior Arabic Linguist

“Phares's Future Jihad is among the most insightful books about the nature of this global threat I have ever read. Its lessons are not to be ignored by free societies. Phares's contribution to our understanding of the War of Ideas between Jihadism and democracy is unique.” —Daniel B. Kennedy, Ph.D., Professor of Sociology, University of Detroit Mercy

“For twenty-five years, Walid Phares's writing and public speaking have shown a deep, masterful knowledge of both Western and Islamic cultures. As an Arab Muslim reformer I admire his leading ability to understand and explain the war of ideas between radicalism and democracies.” —Omran Salman, Director of the Arab Reformists Project, Bahrain

“Walid Phares understands the conflict between Jihadism and democracy and explains it like no one else. The War of Ideas is a must have for the public and decision-makers alike.” —Ret. Colonel Jack Jacobs, NBC Military Analyst, Lecturer at West Point, and author of Medal of Honor

“Those who believe that the war between radical Islamism and everybody else is about 'oil' or 'the Israeli occupation' or the insults of nineteenth-century colonialism need to read this book, and think again. No one knows more about the ideology of jihad than Walid Phares, who has been watching it and studying it for 25 years, and no one can afford to be ignorant of the things that Walid Phares knows. The War of Ideas is an indispensable guide to the world's most dangerous political problem.” —Dennis Hale, Associate Professor of Political Science, Boston College

“Walid Phares provides considerable insight into the strategy and operational tactics of radical Islamists. With his considerable knowledge of Middle East history and politics as well as of terrorist strategies, Dr. Phares is uniquely able to sort through the considerable noise so often generated in the media and academia. His analysis is refreshingly clear and cogent, and not only experts but general readers will gain from his observations.” —Dr. George L. Simpson, Jr. Professor of History, High Point University

“Professor Walid Phares is teaching the world about one of the greatest threats in history. Only a mind equally immersed in two civilizations and their ideologies can produce a book like The War of Ideas.” —Dr. Franck Salameh, Professor of Arab Culture, Boston College

“With his book The War of Ideas, Professor Walid Phares has become the third global teacher on the Jihadi conflict with democracy, along with Samuel Huntington and Bernard Lewis. His new book gives crucial answers never provided before to classrooms and the public. It is a benchmark contribution to comparative politics.” —Dr. Robert Rabil, Professor of Middle East Studies and director of Graduate Studies, Department of Political Science, Florida Atlantic University

“The War of Ideas is a crucial battleground in the global war with Jihadi terrorism. Democracies must wage this ideological struggle with keen intelligence and relentless determination. Walid Phares's new book sets out a strategic plan for success. It is essential reading, and is highly recommended.” —Dr. Joseph Morrison Skelly, Department of History, College of Mount Saint Vincent

“Walid Phares has an uncanny ability to encapsulate and explain clearly the central issues in the confrontation between the civilized world and the violent radicals who threaten it. In so doing he reminds us why our civilization is worth defending.” —Dr. James S. Robbins, National Defense University

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The War of Ideas

Jihadism Against Democracy

By Walid Phares

Palgrave Macmillan

Copyright © 2007 Walid Phares
All rights reserved.
ISBN: 978-0-230-60353-0



The ideological confrontation between Jihadism and democracy has spread into a vast array of areas, from international relations to legal interpretations and mass movements. In the 1990s, most of these debates were developing unilaterally. The Islamic fundamentalist intellectuals and their academic sympathizers in the West were "revealing" to the world their views on international politics, views they claimed had been suppressed by colonialism and imperialism for more than a century. Western intellectuals, in their overwhelming majority, made significant efforts to legitimize the arguments of their counterparts from the East, instead of debating them or at least investigating them.

In subsequent chapters, I'll expand on the key players in these historical debates on both sides of the Atlantic, the Mediterranean, and the Indian Ocean and will make the case that the dominant debate was not inclusive of all trends and ideas. In fact, the exchange of ideas on world politics wasn't taking place on merely a one-way street, but on a one-lane street: the public in the West was denied an alternative explanation of trends on the other side of the world, particularly after the collapse of the Soviet Union. The intellectual spokespersons of the Arab and Muslim world on both sides of the international divide developed a single dominant paradigm, ignoring opposing views. As I will show later, these elites claimed that the sole crisis in the Middle East was the Arab-Israeli conflict, and that all other problems were caused by it and would find their way to resolution only with the end of the Palestinian-Israeli quagmire. But had this unilateral debate been characteristic of the Eastern sphere only, Western pluralist culture could have helped generate a greater multiplicity of opinions among the Greater Middle Eastern elites toward international matters in general and political culture in particular. The drama after the Cold War was that Western elites largely reflected the views of their dominant counterparts across the water, and sometimes even the specific interests of regimes east and south of the Mediterranean.

The post-9/11 ideological debates and the War of Ideas between democracies and jihadists and their allies are not new. They are familiar in concept, substance, and subject. Most of the theses advanced by leaders, politicians, and opinion makers in the West are in fact either a reference to what their predecessors came up with, decades if not centuries ago, or fragments of previously marginalized concepts by various influential figures and authors. Indeed, the strategy of "spreading democracy" in countries still ruled by dictatorships and authoritarian regimes, advocated by the Bush administration and gradually considered by some of its allies, is a natural extension, although in radically different contexts, of the American and French Revolutions and of Western liberal doctrines toward Eastern Europe, Latin America, and even Africa. The novelty, perhaps, of Washington's grand strategy after the New York and Washington massacres of 2001 was to apply this old doctrine to countries in a cultural zone that had been forbidden from debating democracy by their own ruling elites and their allies within the West. The ideas of democracy, separation of powers, identity, equal opportunity, rule of law, secularism, and justice for all have traveled in time from Mesopotamia, Greece, Rome, and Enlightenment Europe to the League of Nations, the United Nations, and the Tribunal of the Hague. Other civilizations have reached democracy by their own different paths, via the same consensus of international principles: self-determination, liberty, and freedom for all humankind. These principles have been destined to be universal, not selective, even if historical circumstances impeded their implementation. The issue is one of essence, for the universality of these democratic principles is valid only if at every opportunity the international community works to expand them to reach more people.

Unfortunately, the story of the twentieth century was one of great exceptions—wars, genocides, and oppression. But fortunately, after every descent into cataclysmic bloodshed, such as World Wars I and II, the Soviet oppression, and the ethnic cleansings of the last quarter of the century, international principles still prevailed, recognizing the wounds of the victims, sometimes healing them but usually waiting for them to heal. Still, at least in the public declarations, foreign policies, and diplomatic announcements, democratic powers were unanimous that humans have rights inherent in their very nature. Whether these rights are respected or not, violated or protected, legislated or interpreted, at the end of the day, they are part of the constitution of the international society. The differences in putting them into practice come from how governments, organizations of states, political movements and parties, and economic interests perceive them and are willing to serve them. Contemporary world history has witnessed the recognition of these principles by stages and, despite raging conflicts, moved to shape them into documents. That is, until the jihadists began to wage war against democracies and against the ideas they had put forth for over two centuries.

To put it simply, the current War of Ideas is not introducing new ideologies and doctrines, but pitting against each other two forces with opposing world visions: democracies limping forward and jihadists rushing backward. The followers of fundamentalism, unlike their interlocutors across cultures, do not seek to integrate their views and values within the modern world; they reject the contemporary web of values and institutions. Instead, they propose, or in fact want to impose, a world of their own, wholly and holy, on the ashes of the current international society. Hence today's conflict of ideas is between the global consensus, reached by the international society, and the forces working to reverse or replace it. Between the mosaic of democracies and the panoply of Jihadism, the disagreement is philosophical, historical, and doctrinal: it is about how the world has functioned for centuries and how it should evolve. This debate bears on questions of war and peace, the clash or coexistence of civilizations, questions of nations and nationalism, and socioeconomics.


For all the progress that has been made in the modern world in diplomacy, signing treaties and making collective agreements on resolving conflicts, social scientists have largely agreed on the impossibility of eradicating wars and collective violence without a full satisfaction of human societies. Indeed, theologians discount the establishment of world peace short of divine intervention. Therefore, what modern international society has been able to achieve is a consensus on the principle that wars are the exception that should be limited, restrained, and, when necessary, bound to humane rules. In sum, peace should be the constant objective, and war the unavoidable evil to be contained.

In the current international legal system, which includes the UN Charter and the subsequent documents related to peaceful relations among nations and governments, legitimate reasons to go to war involve clear concepts such as defense of the national soil, rebellion against a foreign military occupation, or intervention to salvage a civilian population under threat of massacre. It took centuries to reach the present stage of consensus on war and peace—still imperfect, however. Without delving into the entire history of international relations, we can review the development of peace as a universal concept, efforts to challenge the legitimacy of all wars, and measures to protect the victims of conflicts including prisoners and civilians and to establish security systems to stop aggressors who breach the laws of war.

It was the Romans who introduced a now familiar nuanced justification of wars: the search for peace. From republic to empire, Rome developed two new components to the equation. One was to seek peace as a national policy, but only as a result of military might: Si vis pacem para bellum (If you want peace, prepare for war). An old precursor to the modern realism of the West, this rationale at least spoke of peace as a preferred state, though it legitimized power as the sole foundation for it. But this first component was coupled with another, showing the deeper sense of early realism: the Pax Romana (peace of the Romans). This was an attempt to provide a somewhat secular motive for conquests, other than divine sanction. It is in the interest of the conquered to be conquered, because of the "peace" that will be installed. The Romans, followed by most other empires, including Arabs, Europeans, and Asians, rationalized the conquests of other nations and territories by devising a doctrine of "in the name of future peace, we are now bringing war and invasion to you." The aim obviously was to legitimize conquest and ultimately colonialism, but the notion of "ultimate peace" signified that peoples were increasingly attracted to a "state of peace," even at a high price. In the path of the Romans and the Byzantines, for example, the Arab armies of the Rashidun caliphs and the following Umayyad and Abbassid dynasties claimed they were bringing salaam (peace) to the conquered peoples of the Middle East, such as the Arameans, Copts, Berbers, and Persians. In many accounts, Arab classical historians said the invading armies of the Fatah were actually "liberators" freeing the oppressed societies outside Arabia. These armies kept "liberating" peoples, like the Romans had done before, until the "Arab Pax" reached the Pyrenees to the west and China to the east. Centuries later, Spanish conquistadors marched through the jungles and mountains of Central and South America, bringing "Iberian peace" to the Indians. So did the Anglo-Saxons and other Europeans in North America. The French added a new concept in the nineteenth century: La mission civilatrice, a special mission to "bring civilization" into North Africa. In other words, all these powers from antiquity to modern times invoked a state of peace that would be expanded in parallel with their colonial rule. And on top of sociopolitical values, religions often played a dominant role in justifying war and peace.

Before the main monotheist religions began to impact world history, almost all beliefs were used as incentives to territorial aggrandizement and overseas invasions. And even when polytheism receded in front of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam in Europe and parts of Africa and Asia, the "marching orders" of the monotheist religions continued to rely heavily on the divine. To ancient Hebrews, for example, the "marching order" was to head toward a specific land, Canaan, and seize it in the name of God. Christians received a wider marching order, to bring the "godly good news to all peoples." Islam went even further by following a more powerful marching order: to "bring all peoples under the word of Allah." Each one of these religious projects developed a different geopolitical history. An ancient Israel was established, with shrinking and expanding borders for centuries, with the Jewish religion as its soul, in war and peace. Christianity sought to separate the affairs of Caesar from those of God, rejecting violence among humans. Christian politics wasn't supposed to exist, let alone Christian wars. But Christian emperors and kings continued to clash as those before Jesus had. Islam expanded within Arabia and into the outside world as a result of major battles, with Fatah and jihad as the epicenter of the caliphates. In short, the divine remained involved in war and peace, regardless of how far and deep the theological, warlike orders from one religion against the other. Monotheist faiths and most other religions are part of the history of nations and civilizations, with their continuous conflicts. But with intellectual revolutions, enlightenment, political development, and reforms, a consensus emerged as the modern nation-state came into existence: more and more, political philosophies and cultures prescribed a more earthly source for the norms of conflicts, and the rationale for religious war slowly shrank. With the American and French Revolutions, British reforms, Italian-Vatican agreements, and the Russian Revolution, state and religion were separated, and theological regimes collapsed in the West. The last religious injunction for military action before the formation of the League of Nations was the Ottoman sultan's call for jihad against the Allies and in favor of the Central Powers during World War I. Indeed the call by the Ottoman sultan for state jihad in 1914 was the last before the fall of the sultanate in 1922.

But the disappearance of direct religious wars from world politics and of religious influence from the making of wars in the early twentieth century didn't stop nationalist and social ideologies from producing conflicts that were just as destructive, reaching higher levels of technological violence. In World War I, millions died for the sake of nationalism, but democracies emerged victorious. World War II witnessed Nazism and Fascism obliterating tens of millions of men and women before being defeated again by the forces of transatlantic democracies and their Soviet ally. A third global conflict resumed between Western democracies and the Communist bloc but did not end with a world war. The nuclear dilemma on both sides prevented mutually assured destruction. Although regional wars across the planet have taken place in subsequent decades, from the Middle East to South Asia, a belief in international peace has unified diplomatic claims on all continents, at least in theory. Since 1954, the United Nations—at least in principle—has elevated peace to a worldwide political philosophy. Under the United Nations, peace keeping and peace building received vast endorsement, albeit depending on state interest. But during the Cold War, the threat of destructive ideological wars persisted. Pro-Soviet forces and their allies often took to the battlefield to conduct wars against the "enemies" of the proletariat. From Vietnam, Cambodia, and the crushing of East Europe's popular uprisings to international Soviet-inspired terrorism, state Communism appeared to be the last threat to democracies. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 and the collapse of Moscow's Soviet establishment in 1991, world peace was supposed to have been reinforced. Without the nuclear duel between the United States and the USSR, the Cold War ended. On a planetary scale, it was thought that no global movement aimed seriously at world domination, or at least intended to reestablish a past empire. War obviously hadn't been eradicated, however, as nationalism, ethnic strife, and other tensions persisted across the continents. The two Yugoslav conflicts, the Rwandan genocide, Sudan's civil war, and a score of local violent conflicts proved that.

But democracies felt they had the upper hand in the 1990s and began to prepare for what they thought would be an advanced international peace process, with mechanisms and teeth. At the United Nations, the traditional Soviet veto was gone; Communist China didn't choose to replace the older Communist brother in world affairs but to secure its economic dominance first, learning from Moscow's mistakes. Multinational forces, mostly put together by an expanding NATO, seemed to be efficient in Bosnia and Kosovo. The Rwandan disaster, apparently, only encouraged the United Nations and Western powers to put more effort into preempting future catastrophes. And it appeared that the Arab-Israeli conflict could be contained by a Palestinian-Israeli peace process. Regional crises and local violence were thriving still, but the international community seemed able to close in on the renegades, though not without difficulties. South Africa was emancipated, Germany was reunified, East Timor was granted independence, and all former republics of the Soviet Union were recognized. In conclusion, the 1990s projected democracies as the long-term victors of a very bloody twentieth century.

This view of the world was enhanced by the fact that after the demise of the Soviet threat, there were no significant forces on the world stage challenging the very essence of international law or of the political philosophy hailed by Western democracies and their allies around the world. Even when governments, regimes, and organizations collided and fought against each other, they all referred to the same set of ideas and principles. Yugoslav president Slobodan Milosevic was tried in The Hague for "crimes against humanity," as were militia leaders from Africa. Israel and the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) disagreed on many items but referred to the same charter of the United Nations. Anti-Americans, antiglobalists, pro–free marketers, nationalists, secessionists, opposing political parties in Western democracies, transitional regimes in the former Soviet Union, Scandinavian social democracies, Japanese political parties, Arab and Third World dictatorships, regardless of the degree of democratization within one or the other system, referred to one higher set of ideals and overarching principles in international relations, of which they all claimed to be part. Liberal democracies such as Canada and New Zealand and oppressive regimes such as Zaire and Burma all knew the worldwide standards of respect for human rights, but applied them differently. In short, the international community seemed to have become a large basket of various governments and regimes, with a set of ideas about war and peace recognized in theory but practiced dramatically differently.

In this setting of the early 1990s, liberal democracies felt they were leaders in a unified vision of a world hoping for international peace, though there were obvious failures in reaching it. Unfortunately for these democracies, they were wrong in their assessment. For there were players on the world stage who not only disputed the leadership role of the advanced democracies in international relations, but also rejected the very system of values upon which modern society had based its advances. These were the jihadists.


Excerpted from The War of Ideas by Walid Phares. Copyright © 2007 Walid Phares. Excerpted by permission of Palgrave Macmillan.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Meet the Author

Walid Phares is a world-renowned terrorism and Middle East expert. He is a senior fellow at The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a visiting fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy. He has testified before the State Department many times and led NGO delegations to discuss Middle East terrorism with the UN Security Council. He has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, MSNBC, C-SPAN, al Jazeera, al Hurra, Fox News, and Abu Dhabi TV, among others, and is a frequent contributor to U.S. and international radio programs. A professor of Middle East Studies at Florida Atlantic University, he holds a doctorate in international relations and strategic studies. He is the author of several books, including Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against the West.

Walid Phares is a world-renowned terrorism and Middle East expert. He is a senior fellow at The Foundation for the Defense of Democracies and a visiting fellow at the European Foundation for Democracy. He has testified before the State Department, European Parliament and U.N. Security Council many times. He is a Fox News analyst and has appeared on the Oprah Winfrey Show, CNN, MSNBC, C-SPAN, al Jazeera, and al Hurra, among others. He is also a frequent contributor to U.S. and international radio programs. A professor of Middle East Studies at Florida Atlantic University, he holds a doctorate in international relations and strategic studies. He is the author of several books, including Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies against the West and The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy.

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War of Ideas: Jihad against Democracy 5 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 1 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The author is an Arabic spealing scholar who has produced a referenced work depiocting the three phases of the War of Ideas that the jihadis have successfully launched. His conclusion in part is that if we do not defeat the jihadis there will be no safe place to hide. Excellent discussion of the way petrodollars were used to 'buy off' our own academic expertise often without the academics realizing it.