Washington Finally Gets It on Radical Islam
by Daniel Pipes
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Does the Bush administration really believe, as its leadership has kept repeating since right after 9/11, that Islam is a "religion of peace" not connected to the problem of terrorism? Plenty of indications suggested that it knew better, but year after year the official line remained the same. From the outside, it seemed that officialdom was engaged in active self-delusion.
In fact, things were better than they seemed, as David E. Kaplan establishes in an important investigation in U.S. News & World Report, based on over 100 interviews and the review of a dozen internal documents. Earlier arguments over the nature of the enemy – terrorism vs. radical Islam – have been resolved: America's highest officials widely agree that the country's "greatest ideological foe is a highly politicized form of radical Islam and that Washington and its allies cannot afford to stand by" as it gains in strength. To fight this ideology, the U.S. government now promotes a non-radical interpretation of Islam.
In "Hearts, Minds, and Dollars: In an Unseen Front in the War on Terrorism, America is Spending Millions to Change the Very Face of Islam," dated today, Kaplan explains that Washington recognizes it has a security interest not just within the Muslim world but within Islam. Therefore, it must engage in shaping the very religion of Islam. Washington has focused on the root causes of terrorism – not poverty or U.S. foreign policy, but a compelling political ideology.
A key document in reaching this conclusion was the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, issued by the White House in February 2003, which served as the basis for the bolder, more detailed, Muslim World Outreach, completed in mid-2004 and now the authoritative guide. (A government discussion of this topic, dating from August 2004, is available online.) The U.S. government, being a secular and predominantly non-Muslim institution, faces many limitations in what is at base a religious dispute, so it turns to Muslim organizations that share its goals, including governments, foundations, and nonprofit groups.
The tactics for fighting radical Islam and promoting moderate Islam vary from one government department to another: it's covert operations at the CIA, psyops at the Pentagon, and public diplomacy at the State Department. Whatever the name and approach, the common element is to encourage the benign evolution of Islam. Toward this end, the U.S. government, Kaplan writes, "has embarked on a campaign of political warfare unmatched since the height of the Cold War." The goal is:
In at least two dozen countries, Kaplan writes:
In all, various agencies of the U.S. government are active in this Islamic activity in at least 24 countries. Projects include:
Madrassahs, or Islamic schools, are a particular concern, for these train the next generation of jihadis and terrorists. Washington deploys several tactics to counter their influence:
Kaplan quotes one American terrorism analyst saying, "We're in the madrassah business." But not all aid has an explicit Islamic theme. American money is partially funding a satellite version of the Sesame Street in Arabic stressing the need for religious tolerance.
Funds for the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) has nearly tripled, to more than $21 billion; and of this, more than half goes to the Muslim world. In addition to the familiar economic development programs, political projects involving Islamic groups, such as political training and media funding, are moving to the forefront. Spending on public diplomacy by the State Department has risen by nearly half since 9/11, to nearly $1.3 billion, with more expected. This largess has funded, among other programs, the Arabic-language Radio Sawa and Alhurra Television. Despite many complaints, Kaplan says they are showing signs of success. Plans ahead include making Alhurra available in Europe, and expanding programming in Persian and other key languages.
1. Working to change how Muslims understand their religion, of course, raises some difficult implications. It is one thing to want to help moderate Muslims and quite another to locate them. As I noted in "Identifying Moderate Muslims," there is great confusion over who really is a moderate Muslim and the U.S. government so far has a terrible record in this regard. I sure hope those implementing the Muslim World Outreach agenda are engaging in the necessary research to get it right.
2. The possibility exists that U.S. taxpayer dollars funding Islamic media, schools, and mosques will beef up their capabilities, for influencing Islam and promoting Islam are easily melded, especially given the pro-Islamic attitudes of American political leaders. (For this reason I have criticized the building of a mosque in Iraq and madrassahs in Indonesia.) To promote Islam contravenes the First Amendment ("Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion") and one constitutional expert, Herman Schwartz, deems the sponsorship of Islamic institutions to be "probably unconstitutional." This again points to the need for extreme care.
3. I heartily endorse the Muslim World Outreach approach; this is hardly surprising, for it closely aligns with my own recommendations. Here are excerpts from my January 2002 article, "Who Is the Enemy?":
4. It is very good that David Kaplan has made available the outlines of Washington's efforts to fix Islam. This is a project too large for the government alone to work on; the body politic as a whole needs to argue it out.
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