The Confrontation: Winning the War Against Future Jihad
by Walid Phares
(New York, NY, Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 296 pp.

Reviewed by Joseph Morrison Skelly, Ph.D., Associate Professor of History, College of Mount Saint Vincent, New York, NY; United States Army Reserve

Over the past several years Walid Phares has written a trilogy of books that collectively provide a set of intellectual armor for civilized societies engaged in the War against Islamic Terrorism. He has, in short, fortified liberal democratic resolve. In Future Jihad: Terrorist Strategies Against the West, published in 2005, he delineates the formation of Islamist “ideologies and movements” across the span of the twentieth century and traces the path they intend to follow until they triumph in their struggle. He makes the central, and accurate, point “that the West failed to realize a war was being waged against it by an ideological movement manifested in different forms of power: regimes, circles within governments, indoctrination institutions, and other organizations.” In The War of Ideas: Jihadism Against Democracy, released two years later, he addresses two major themes: first, the fundamental contradiction that exists “between the ideology of Jihadism and the political culture of democracy, including all aspects of public life, such as pluralism, international law, human rights, women’s rights, minorities’ rights, religious freedom, and other basic values;” and, second, “the three ‘wars of ideas’ waged by various Jihadi movements to defeat their opponents,” which are taking place on media battlefields inside the Muslim world, in the West itself, and throughout the rest of the globe.

In The Confrontation: Winning the War Against Future Jihad, Phares outlines a plan for ultimate victory. It will not be easy, however. He begins with a sobering assessment of the current situation, lamenting that nearly seven years after 9/11 “the bulk of the cultural establishment, a majority of artistic talents and celebrities, and a segment of the political elite are blocking the full mobilization of liberal democracies in what may be a fight for their existence.” The implications are serious: if the citizens of the free world “don’t believe that they are in the middle of a global confrontation with their nemesis, they will fail to resist, and so they will lose the will to survive.” Phares’ objectives, then, are to shake them from their stupor and, once awakened, to present them with a blueprint for success.

The strategy includes several moving parts, which are examined in a series of persuasive chapters. First, we must redefine the war, since, the author adroitly argues, “Defining the threat is already halfway to victory.” This is especially the case in the midst of a public debate where euphemisms such as “the War on Terror” inflate the intellectual currency. It is also essential considering that in this particular arena the “Jihadi camp has a better knowledge of the weakness of democracies than the latter” has of militant Islam. The former has employed sophisticated propaganda to further several aims: to obscure the existential threat they pose; to deny that their campaigns “are in fact a war;” and to place the blame on extraneous factors such as American foreign policy. Phares cuts through the smoke and mirrors to deliver a clear verdict. “The key terms in defining the war,” he asserts, “are that it is: 1. waged by the global jihadists; 2. targeted at civil societies and human rights around the world; 3. aimed at world domination; and 4. threatening international peace and security.”

Four chapters contain bold calls for “revolution,” by which the author means not violent upheaval but socio-political transformation. The first necessary adjustment is a “cultural revolution in the West.” Being steeped in a tradition of dissent, “Readers, viewers, listeners, and audiences must rise and pressure the press and audiovisual media to end the dominance of the apologists and open the media to a plurality of views on the terror wars.” They can tap into the new media – the internet, blogs, chat rooms – until more traditional outlets “readjust to the reality of the Jihadi menance.” The imperative of cultural change includes a political dimension. “Citizens will have to educate themselves on the most dangerous development of the twenty-first century and begin electing officials on the basis of their understanding of the threat and their will to combat it.”

In the economic sphere, revolution means, among other things, confronting the power of the oil establishment in the Middle East. “It is on the terrorist front,” Phares observes, “that the oil influence has produced the most lethal disasters. It has been clear for the last two decades that American and Western policies intended to counter Jihadi terror have been weakened under pressure from the oil regimes and interests.” He coins a telling phrase—“petro-Jihadism”—to describe the ideological warfare waged by some of these extremist governments, including Sudan, Libya, and Iraq before the fall of Saddam Hussein. What countermeasures can be taken? Phares lists eight concrete steps that range from legislation to curb the domestic influence of the oil states to the creation of a mega reserve and the development of alternative sources of energy—that may, over time, loosen the grip that these autocratic regimes have over democratic societies.

Two other transformations are necessary. A diplomatic revolution is one of them. Global in scale, it would begin in the United States with the overhaul of the foreign service apparatus; extend to the trans-Atlantic sphere by basing “U.S.-European relations in the War on Terror on a strategic alliance;” incorporate Anglophone countries such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand in a closer partnership; and encourage “a crucial readjustment of the strategic relations between the United States and the Russian Federation.” These and other steps, Phares believes, “would turn the international community from witnesses and viewers into active participants” in the confrontation with Islamic terror. Yet the Middle East must renew itself as well, which the author anticipates in a politically-oriented chapter entitled “Revolution in the Arab Muslim World.” He understands that the “road from authoritarianism and Jihadism to democracy and pluralism will certainly be rocky.” This may be something of an understatement: in some places the road is blocked; in others, detours beckon. Still, if the proper steps are taken he forecasts that the “victory of democracy will be decided within at least one generation from today. The years ahead will see three developments, one after the other: return to fundamentalism, reform of regimes, and revolution against Jihadism.” Most important, while the West can assist in this process, the “unleashing of the revolution in the region has to come from inside the walls; it has to be native and authentic.”

Subsequent chapters outline other dimensions of Phares’ strategy, including the need to intensify “the war of ideas,” the importance of isolating Jihadism, and an intriguing discussion of Russia’s conflict with Islamism. There is one serious problem to consider, though. What if works like The Confrontation manage to make sections of the West aware of the challenge facing them, but then these elitist elements choose, for whatever reason, not resistance but surrender? Perhaps Walid Phares can address this dilemma in his next study. For those willing to wage the fight now, his latest publication provides an arsenal of ideas. He warns that the “international community must be conscious of the fact that it is confronting an anti-human rights hydra backed by endless waves of foot soldiers and vast financial resources.” He proceeds not only to make us cognizant of this threat, but proposes how to slay the beast. His book should be read by all who seek to transform confrontation into victory.