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Effects-Based information battle in the muslim world

par Rémy Mauduit (Madoui)





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Immediately following the terrorist attacks of 11 September 2001 in the United States, Western political leaders and policy makers were quick to recognize publicly that Islam and the majority of its followers were not to blame for the violence. Liberal scholars inside and outside the Muslim world proffered intellectual arguments that supported liberal, tolerant Islam. In spite of such efforts, the indiscriminate use of terms such as fanaticism, terrorism, fundamentalism, Islamism, and jihadists by Western leaders and the media has led, at best, to confusion and has helped suggest that terror and Islam are one and the same.

Exacerbating the already-charged communication environment, the terrorists’ rhetoric asserted that their mission and methods were mandated directly by Islamic tenets. Early attempts to demonize Osama bin Laden only increased his stature and perceived power among his followers. In a sense, Western political and, subsequently, media dialogue unwittingly created a “David and Goliath” image of bin Laden standing toe-to-toe with the most powerful man on earth, the president of the United States, giving al-Qaeda exactly what it wanted—global exposure and inflated notoriety. Religious legitimacy became a vital enabler for rallying public support and action in support of bin Laden’s (or any other charismatic extremist’s) “global jihad.”

Contemporary Islam is in transition, engaged in an internal and external struggle over its values, identity, and place in the world. Rival sects are contending for spiritual and political dominance.

For some, Islamic rhetoric became an instrument of mobilization, serving as a cover for nationalist, anti-imperialist, and reformist objectives. However, it also had a social component, including denunciations of the injustices, corruption, and tyranny that have characterized the reigning oligarchies in the Islamic world. Islamism thus became one of the few available outlets for effective protest and action.

Generalizations about the various Islamic movements and parties have caused confusion and ignore significant distinctions among the groups. Islamic political parties are, in fact, quite dissimilar, often having nothing in common other than references to the Prophet and Islam, which they interpret in a number of conflicting or contradictory ways that span the political spectrum from left to far right. Thus, dangerous misunderstandings are inevitable when people talk about “fundamentalism.”

We see the depths of Muslim despair in the trend to rally behind any Muslim who appears powerful and, most importantly, who challenges America’s power. This form of adulation is largely without moral scruple, as exemplified by the widespread support of Saddam Hussein, a most unscrupulous and anti-Islamic leader, and bin Laden, a self-admitted mass murderer who contemptuously disregards all Islamic prohibitions on killing innocent noncombatants. Such is the conflicted state of disillusionment, humiliation, and desperation throughout the Islamic world today—the breeding ground for terrorists.

One of America’s most difficult challenges in the war on terrorism concerns the information battle now waging in the Islamic world. To mitigate these challenges, we must separate Islam from terrorism in Muslims’ consciousness. Therefore, it is critical that US political, business, cultural, and religious leaders and their spokespeople refrain from framing terrorism in an Islamic religious context.

We could take a first step by establishing within the Department of Defense a permanent Islamic Information Center chartered to assess, develop, disseminate, and coordinate information to the international Muslim public. The main long-term objectives of this center would entail contributing to the promotion of democracy, good governance, freedom, and human rights in the Muslim world. Democracy will open the door for reinterpretation of Islamic sacred texts based on the needs, conditions, and priorities of Muslim societies in the twenty-first century. Interagency collaboration, coordination, and integration are keys to this strategic-communication approach.

In the short range, we should assess the capability of the United States Air Force to support this center by developing informational programming and broadcasts aimed at a large segment of the world’s Islamic public. Repetitive broadcasting of various humanitarian missions to the predominantly Muslim world would serve as a springboard for more ambitious endeavors. Such activities would complement growing Air Force involvement in the cyber domain.

Key information objectives/themes for the first phase of the center could include

•actively promoting the values of freedom by supporting civil-society institutions, both local and regional, that are working to promote and defend democracy;

•supporting both secularists and moderate Islamists who renounce violence and advocate democracy, freedom, and equality for all citizens;

•focusing on young people, pious traditionalist populations, Muslim minorities in the West, and women;

•educating people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, on the critical questions related to the compatibility between Islam and democracy;

•discrediting extremist ideology and delegitimizing individuals and positions associated with extremists by challenging their interpretation of Islam, exposing inaccuracies, revealing their linkage to illegal groups and activities, and publicizing the consequences of their violent acts; and

•promoting divisions among extremists by, among other things, encouraging journalists to investigate issues of corruption, hypocrisy, and immorality in extremist and terrorist circles.

The Air Force doctrines likewise must be flexible at all times and entirely uninhibited by tradition.
                                                                                                                  —Gen Henry H. “Hap” Arnold

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