TIME TO COUNTER HOSTILE MUSLIM IDEOLOGIES EFFECTIVELY

In March 2010 Hudson Institute published the long awaited report Organizing the U.S. government to Counter Hostile Ideologies. Authors Douglas J. Feith and Abram N. Shulsky rightly conclude that the Global War on Terrorism is a far-ranging challenge with military, law enforcement, economic, philosophical, and ideological components.

So far the American answer to the ideological dimension of terrorism has not been strong enough. There is much to do. How can information operations be turned into a key tool of national security policy? How can they receive the necessary resources and high-level attention? Is the right answer to create a new governmental agency like the old U.S. Information Agency (USIA)? Could private, non-governmental organizations also be a response to the political warfare of the internatioanl terrorist organizations?

Encourage Muslims to reject the understanding of Islam that condones and encourages violence and subversion against the United States and the West

This would be one of the more important objects of a strengthened strategic communications effort by the U.S. It is indeed of great importance to affect debate about Islam within Muslim societies. The Islamist totalitarians ought to be isolated by promoting anti-extremist Muslim voices. It is time to counter violent Islamist extremists in the field of political warfare. One problem, however, is that the U.S. currently largely lacks the personnel to conduct an effective information program. Both operational and regional expertise is needed including political operatives, intellectuals specializing in the Muslim world and people prepared to work in covert information operations. Building this cadre of ideological warriors will take some time and establishing a cooperative relationship between different sectors of American life will be vital.

The Cold War model is of great interest when building a new and more effective information tool. In the late 1940s the U.S. government could openly propagate the values of liberty. Meanwhile it faced opposition from sections of media that this was interference in the internal affairs of other countries. This resulted in some of the covert activities being instead funded openly like Radio Free Europe and Radio Liberty by means of Congressional appropriations.

In the new report the authors recommend serious consideration to the creation of a new government agency along the lines of the former USIA. More is needed, however, like a non-profit private organization to create a mechanism for influencing the debates within Muslim societies in favor of those who reject extremist Islamism. This could be done according to several different models of which one is the organization created by the Reagan administration, the National Endowment for Democracy (NED). An alternative to NED could be to create an international organization involving a group of prominent U.S. and foreign citizens which could in turn make grants to private U.S. or foreign organizations or individuals. Private counter-radicalization organizations already exist on several continents, which could be supported.

An important aspect could be the consideration of a possible covert action role. A potent weapon in the fight against religious and political fanaticism and intolerance is ridicule. This was a strong weapon against Nazi and Communist tyranny. Certain entertainment formats could be useful in spreading the anti-extremist message. Covert action operatives could pose as representatives of an extremist group and help sow dissension and confusion as part of a strategy to discredit extremist ideas.

There is interest in various places in official Washington for the ideas presented in this important report. The work continues. The stakes are high. Much more can be done by the United States to engage in a battle of ideas against the ideological enemies of the United States and the West.

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