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.
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 wantedglobal exposure and inflated notoriety. Religious legitimacy became a
vital enabler for rallying public support and action in support of bin Ladens (or
any other charismatic extremists) global jihad.
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
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.
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.
see the depths of Muslim despair in the trend to rally behind any Muslim who appears
powerful and, most importantly, who challenges Americas 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 todaythe breeding ground
of Americas 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.
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.
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 worlds 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.
information objectives/themes for the first phase of the center could include
promoting the values of freedom by supporting civil-society institutions, both local and
regional, that are working to promote and defend democracy;
both secularists and moderate Islamists who renounce violence and advocate democracy,
freedom, and equality for all citizens;
on young people, pious traditionalist populations, Muslim minorities in the West, and
people, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, on the critical questions related to the
compatibility between Islam and democracy;
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
divisions among extremists by, among other things, encouraging journalists to investigate
issues of corruption, hypocrisy, and immorality in extremist and terrorist circles.
Air Force doctrines likewise must be flexible at all times and entirely uninhibited by
Gen Henry H. Hap Arnold
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