Sun Tzu said, “If you know yourself and know the enemy, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself and not the enemy, for every victory, you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.”
There have, over the last decade plus, been two wildly divergent views of the Islamic world. The Left prefers to see the Ummah as a poor, oppressed ethnic/religious minority that needs protecting from the evil American imperialist military-industrial complex. The Right tends to see it as nothing but a pack of savages, cutting heads off and stoning women. Both are wrong, if only because they are nothing but emotional reactions.
Shortly after the recent Ft. Hood shooting, while Fox News was repeating that the would-be jihadist who got kicked out of the Army prior to Basic Training was not associated with the shooting, while simultaneously beating the dead horse that “maybe it was,” certain even more low-information types were posting the likes of this:
Yet those who breathlessly report on Islamist atrocities, and then post such morally bankrupt drivel as the above, never get around to seeing this sort of thing:
Yes, the video is Ahrar al Sham propaganda, or perhaps more accurately, Information Operations. But it is still happening. Ahrar has been distributing aid to victims of the Syrian Civil War almost since its inception. There are plenty more videos of this taking place. At the same time, Ahrar is a hardcore Sunni Salafist organization, a part of Jabhaat al Islamiya, and has been known to conduct its own stonings for violations of Shariah law.
Does the distribution of aid make them good guys? Do the stonings make them sulfur-breathing demons? No to both.
The problem with the demonization of an enemy, just like the idealization of the same for purposes of pacifism, is that neither one holds up to reality. You are then faced with the truth that the pure evil monsters actually occasionally do some good, weakening your argument that they are pure evil monsters, or that your poor downtrodden angels occasionally bury a woman to her waist and stone her to death for adultery, or get a 10-year old boy to chop a man’s head off with a knife.
There are those who have argued that demonization of an enemy is necessary for soldiers to kill them. Not entirely true. History is replete with examples of opposing warriors who respected each other greatly, even liked each other, yet strove mightily to kill each other because it was their duty. The kind of rhetoric we’ve seen about Islamic terrorism is rank emotionalism, and has no place in war. War is too important to let emotionalism affect decision making.
But aren’t the people spouting this stuff, both the idealization and the demonization, just the low-information blocs? Sure. Should we brush it off rather than correct it? No. The US is supposed to be a constitutional republic, with an informed citizenry. Just because so much of the citizenry isn’t informed is no reason to brush off stupidity. GK Chesterton once wrote, “The only true free-thinker is he whose intellect is as much free from the future as from the past. He cares as little for what will be as for what has been; he cares only for what ought to be.” (Emphasis added.) Low-information voters can affect the direction of strategy, especially as politicians pander to them. Perspective is necessary at whatever place you are in the decision-making chain.
This is not to say that emotion has no place in war; emotion is inescapable. Emotionalism is acting on emotion instead of fact and logic. There are plenty of WWII Marines who still hate all things Japanese after what they saw in the Pacific. Many of us who have been to Iraq and Afghanistan detest all things Arab or Pashtun. This is an inescapable effect of dealing with a people who have made a concerted effort to kill you, many times. But again, that emotion cannot be a basis for action or decision making. It is inherently unbalanced and separated from reality. War is reality distilled down to life and death in the blink of an eye. No more, no less. As Sun Tzu said, “The art of war is of vital importance to the State. It is a matter of life and death, a road either to safety or to ruin.” It must be approached coldly.
Just because your enemy performs a good act does not lessen the fact that he is your enemy. However, to turn him into a caricature creates blind spots that he can exploit.