Exposing the Hidden War

By Laurence Footer
April 12, 2007

The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy
by Walid Phares

 Palgrave Macmillan, 250 pp

What is the war of ideas? Is it a byproduct of the clash of civilizations proposed by Samuel Huntington? Is it the battle for the hearts and minds of the Arab street? In The War of Ideas: Jihadism against Democracy, Dr. Walid Phares exposes a very different war of ideas waged by Jihadist groups and authoritarian Arab states to obfuscate the West's understanding of both Jihad itself as well as the core strategies utilized by the Jihadists to confront Western civilization.

The author sizes up this war of ideas as a general would a battlefield. Central to this analysis are the answers to one critical series of questions: "what do [Jihadist] strategies aim at, what tactics and practices do they expect to see implemented, how do they read each other, and how do they react and reshape their arguments?" [1] By examining the objectives, strategies and tactics stated and utilized by Jihadists against democratic nations, The War of Ideas is uniquely positioned to suggest a course of action for Western governments (especially the United States) to counter such an ideological assault.

Phares defines the war of ideas as more than merely a conflict between al Qaeda and the United States, instead focusing upon the forces of democracy and those aligned against democracy - including both Jihadi groups as well as Arab dictators and monarchs. While The War of Ideas does not claim that these two groups have actively conspired with one another, it does highlight an alignment of interests in the desire of Arab states to retain power and the Jihadi objective of restoring the caliphate and confronting Western civilization.

Most significantly, the author exposes how this war of ideas is being waged within the very same halls from where the great ideas of Western civilization arose: the most prestigious universities of the civilized Western world. Specifically, The War of Ideas exposes how Arab governments, especially the Saudis, have funded Middle Eastern studies programs at hundreds of leading Western universities to both influence Western educators' and elites' opinions of the Arab world as well as prevent the West from understanding Jihadist objectives. It is from this base, within an infiltrated academia, that Phares explains the war of ideas has been waged: by influencing the West to believe that democracy wasn't meant for the Middle East, thwarting Western understanding of Jihad and the violent nature of Jihadism, concealing the Jihadist vision of restoring the Islamic caliphate, deflecting Western attention to the Arab-Israeli conflict, and convincing the Muslim world that the West has been waging an ongoing war on Islam.

While examining the strategic aspects of this non-military conflict, The War of Ideas builds upon the works of great military thinkers such as Clausewitz and Sun Tzu.  Citing Clausewitzian notions such as "it is no secret that politics has long been a major reason behind war and peace among nations," [2] and observations reminiscent of Sun Tzu including, “in war, if you are able to define how your enemy perceives you and acts toward you, you have already won, [3] the author examines the implications of both Eastern and Western strategic thought on the manner in which the war of ideas is being waged.

            Additionally, Phares highlights the impact of the war of ideas on the Global War on Terror by suggesting that:
The consequences of this War of Ideas were enormous: the average citizens in North America lost track of the struggle for freedom in the Greater Middle East; they didn't know that Middle Eastern peoples were oppressed, but thought that they "naturally" disliked America and democracy.  The Western public never was exposed to the true histories of the Arab world or made aware of the mounting threat of Jihadism. On September 11, 2001, the workers entering the two towers in Manhattan had no idea that their vision and that of their society had been obstructed, even subverted. [4] 

As such, the policy prescription presented in The War of Ideas is simple: provide information at home and abroad to confront Jihadist ideology while actively promoting pluralism, political dissidents, democratic movements and education reform in the Greater Middle East. Phares contends that such a plan could prevent the War on Terror from being “extended into the next generation.” [5]

This particular author brings a unique perspective to the raging war of ideas waged by Jihadism against democracy. Born and raised in Lebanon, Walid Phares bore witness to both its golden age of pluralism as well as the bloody civil wars that followed. Currently serving as a Senior Fellow at the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies in Washington D.C., Dr. Phares has published dozens of books and articles since 1979 in both Arabic and English on pluralism and democracy in Arab nations, radical Islamic ideology and militant Islamic groups.

Phares has delivered an eye-opening analysis of the once-hidden ideological war waged by Jihadism against democracy. While politicians and pundits wax rhapsodic in opposition to or in favor of the war in Iraq, the war of ideas does not await their participation and continues to be waged against America and the West. The War of Ideas exposes this effort by the Jihadists and their allies against Western civilization and makes a compelling case in favor of more robust democracy promotion, public relations, and education reform efforts in the Greater Middle East.

[1] Walid Phares, The War of Ideas: Jihadism Against Democracy, (New York, NY: Palgrave Macmillan, 2007), page xxi.

[2] Ibid, p. xiii

[3] Ibid, p. 183

[4] Ibid, p. 170

[5] Ibid, p. 245

To obtain a signed copy of the War of Ideas, as soon as it is released, go to
To schedule an interview and receive a copy, please contact Phares@walidphares.com