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by Major Gabriel C. Lajeunesse, Small Wars Journal
Day after day the global airwaves are filled with entertainment and sports, humor and drama - each program telling its own subtle story. Our ever-ready media is also filled with more serious fare, documentaries and news, debate and commentary, often delivered with substantial spin or half-truths designed to convincingly sell the proponent's themes and messages. In the mass of this media, those able to master the news cycle have an advantage. The same is true in the realm of new media, where the internet, blogs, instant messages, and streaming video provide a constant and on-demand barrage of messages from anywhere, to anywhere. In a world that is flat, ideologues of all kinds have increased capacity to communicate their messages at a very low cost through the use of these technologies. Al-Qa'ida, Wahhabists and Iran, along with their proxies, have made extensive use of these new tools, along with tried and tested techniques for distributing propaganda materials to individuals through person to person contact in Islamic Centers, radical madrasahs, and mosques. They are working hard to further propagate their message of enmity and compulsion. The US and its partners, the standard bearers of liberty and freedom, are struggling to compete with these themes and messages - with many calling for an increased emphasis on the battle for hearts and minds, the war of ideas.
The very idea of a war of ideas is contentious. What is this "war"? If it is a war, who are we fighting? Why a war; why not a competition - after all, in a marketplace of ideas shouldn't the concept of an inalienable right to freedom of conscience win out every time over repression and compulsion? Further, if we are competing in a marketplace of ideas what are we selling?