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Today's word on journalism

Friday, November 10, 2006

Q&A with Ed Bradley:

Q: What single issue should be covered more at CBS News?
A: Foreign news.

Q: Have you ever been assigned a story you objected to? How did you deal with it?
A: When I first started in New York at WCBS radio, the assignment editor automatically assigned any story that had a minority in it to me. I objected to being typecast and told him if I didn't get a variety of stories -- as other reporters did -- then I would take it up with the news director.

Q: If you were not in news, what would you be doing?
A: If I had the talent, I'd play bass guitar and sing in a kicking band.

--Ed Bradley, reporter, "60 Minutes," died yesterday of leukemia at age 65 (2006)

A war of ideas, not icons

By Leon D'Souza

October 17, 2006 | A few months ago, when I arrived at my current duty station in the eastern United States, military scholars and those in the know whispered apprehensively about the enormous clout of one man standing in the way of a safe handover of security operations in Baghdad.

Moqtada Al-Sadr, they cautioned, was not a cleric to be trifled with. One word from him, and his Mahdi Army -- an armed militia, thousands strong -- would abandon all restraint and run amuck in streets already plagued by indiscriminate violence.

The ensuing carnage would be catastrophic, jeopardizing the mission of coalition troops endeavoring to bring order and civil society to a country teetering on the brink of unbridled chaos. Al-Sadr, they counseled, needed to be won over; persuaded to adopt a more moderate position.

Six months later, we seem to have had some success in that direction. Al-Sadr, by most accounts, is now a more pliable figure, amenable to negotiation. The bad news, however, is that he hasn't carried his followers along in this conversion. They remain staunchly antipathetic, dedicated to retaining their stronghold in the Iraqi street.

According to a recent Newsweek report, "Mahdi Army members, Iraqi politicians and Western officials describe an organization in which local commanders are increasingly independent of Sadr, splintering into cells of fighters committed to civil war." Some are even "taking orders from Iran."

Evidently, in focusing our attention on Al-Sadr's disposition, we seem to have ignored the theology of Muslim fundamentalism that underlies the Mahdi Army's politics of terror. To put it another way, in obsessing over an icon, Bush administration officials appear to have squandered yet another opportunity to understand and attack the idea at the root of this war.

We are fighting a concept -- the ideology of radical Islam -- not the lunatics who have become its public face. As Newsweek writer Evan Thomas observed in a recent report, no matter how often U.S. forces "capture a 'high-value target' -- a top Qaeda leader -- a new one seems to emerge as the shadowy terror network metastasizes. It is unclear if a Qaeda Central, a hierarchal command structure, still exerts authority, but it may not matter: with the Internet and fanatical inspiration Al Qaeda can morph and spread."

Put simply, this is a war against Bin Ladenism, not the man himself.

It would be patently illogical to combat a mosquito menace by chasing after the bloodsuckers with a flyswatter. The only real way to fight the insects would be to treat the stagnant water where they breed.

Likewise, the only way we can hope to reform the Middle East is by presenting an ideological opposition to the cesspools of Islamic fundamentalism -- by building secular schools where only madrassas exist, by funding social development initiatives, by supporting secular governments without ties to radical elements, by educating and empowering Muslim women. These are the policies that will ensure our victory in the long-term War on Terror.

An obsession with icons, on the other hand, will only distract us from the important work of dismantling the software of terrorism. And that is a fight we cannot afford to lose.

For additional reading on this topic, visit


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