Saturday, July 14, 2012

Logically and strategically counter violent extremism VS jumping to conclusions and calling it news

Many pundits, talking heads, and self-proclaimed experts are attacking the results of a recently published, grant-funded study on How Islamist Extremists Quote the Qur’an

The authors noted that Islamist extremists make heavy use of the Qur’an in their strategic communication. The report raised questions about the veracity of claims often made by analysts. They concluded that verses extremists cite from the Qur’an do not suggest an aggressive offensive foe seeking domination and conquest of unbelievers, as is commonly assumed. Instead they deal with themes of victimization, dishonor, and retribution. They recommended that the West abandon claims that Islamist extremists seek world domination, focus on counteracting or addressing claims of victimage, emphasize alternative means of deliverance, and work to undermine the “champion” image sought by extremists.

I suggest folks actually read the report before jumping to conclusions -- it could be a great piece of strategy if taken in context.

It appears to me, having taken more than a couple of seconds to examine the recommendations, that they did not make these recommendations because they were wrong, but because they defeat the (strategic) purpose. READ ON!

Consider this the Cliff's Notes and the Rest of the Story.

The authors offer four practical implications for strategic communication to counter violent extremism:

Abandon claims that Islamist extremists seek world domination.
  • These claims also undermine the credibility of Western voices, because the audience knows that extremist arguments are really about victimage and deliverance.
Focus on counteracting or addressing claims of victimage.
  • Of course, where these claims are true, they should be acknowledged and addressed. Otherwise, when claims of harm are demonstrably false, they can possibly be disputed factually. 
  • Another strategy is to emphasize cases where the West has come to the aid of Muslims (or attempted to do so), as in the cases of Kosovo and the various Arab Spring conflicts. 
  • Finally since Qur’an verses are used as analogies to present day events to justify violent behavior, it may be possible to undermine the analogies themselves
Emphasize alternative means of deliverance.
  • Even if one accepts the premise that Muslims are in need of deliverance, it does not follow that violence is the preferred means of achieving it. 
  • Here again, the Arab Spring conflicts provide a rich reservoir of such alternatives (e.g. nonviolent new media campaigns). 
  • Late last year the State Department’s Digital Outreach Team posted a video on YouTube12 mocking Ayman al-Zawahiri using clips from an al-Qaeda video 
    • These quotes were intercut with scenes from the Arab Spring protests in Egypt.
Work to undermine the “champion” image sought by extremists.
  • Extremists use a deliverance narrative to position themselves as the champion that can deliver the community from evil. However, as we have argued elsewhere, extremists do little that is champion-like. 
  • Two-thirds to three-fourths of civilian deaths in Afghanistan are caused by anti-government forces. 
  • So there is an argument to be made that even if one believes that violent action is required to deliver Muslims, Islamist extremists are not competent to occupy the role of champion.
What do you think?

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I found this analysis to have faulty analysis and is full of fallacious arguments. Starting from the top:
1) The authors of the study appear to be biased concerning the rule of abrogation. They suggest extremist reliance on the later Medina period Surahs is perhaps unreasonable and indeed suggest “zealous scholars” apply it in a “radical” way. My understanding of the rule is that the later parts of the Koran supersede the earlier parts. This is a function of time—not of extreme. If it is right of the timeline, it is the greater truth. This is the reason why extremism has appeal and traction—moderates have no legitimate argument against their ideology. This explains exactly why there is such reliance on later Surahs.
2) The authors use descriptive and extreme language to suggest they are not encouraging a “culture of naked aggression”. Who says they are encouraging a culture of “naked aggression”? Extremists if nothing else work within the scope of what is allowed according to the Qur’an and interpretations and/or rulings from clerics (Fatwas). They believe they are conducting a defensive jihad. It does not make it any less bloody or threatening. A future offensive jihad may be justified in the future at which point, the authors would see more justification in statements. However, in this phase, extremists are promoting today’s conflict as a defensive one.
3) I assert there is a disconnect in the logical argument behind the recommendation to “Abandon claims that Islamist extremists seek world domination.” My understanding is the argument goes like this: Extremists do not use Qur’anic quotes to call for world domination; therefore, they do not seek world domination. I recommend the authors examine the goals and objectives of extremist groups to identify goals and objectives (al-Qaida, HuT, Muslim Brotherhood). Does establishment of Shari’a over the earth suggest a desire for world domination?
4)Regarding the assertion that Islamists seek world domination, the authors “poison the well” when they make the following statement: “More objective analysts regard these claims as alarmist.” Really? A University uses this kind of critical thinking?
5)The authors twist the argument citing an extreme from Robert Pape: “The idea that Islamic fundamentalism is on the verge of world domination . . . is pure fantasy.” The argument went from extremism to fundamentalism; went from an objective to time-associated “on the verge”. In the author’s analysis, we are to presume this is objective thinking. This objective writer, Robert Pape, goes on to use ad-hominem attacks calling others “fearmongers” who use “delusions” to “whip up hysteria.” Is this a critical thinker worthy of consideration for his argument?
6) The authors then cite Michael Scheuer who asserts that extremist calls for world domination are “merely pro forma” and their true objective is the Middle East. The authors provide no evidence to support this opinion of one. I invite the authors to examine extremist literature about Khorasan (Central Asia), to view what is happening in West Africa, to explain the growth of extremism in Thailand and Indonesia; and, to explore extremist websites in Europe. There, they may find evidence.
7) Remarkably, the authors conclude that because extremists do not use the “Verse of the Sword” as often as they expected, their stated objective of world domination is irrelevant. Their evidence: 1) that is what objective analysts would say; 2) Robert Pape tells us domination is pure fantasy; 3) Michael Scheuer assesses their desires are only in the Middle East; and 4) extremist use of the Qur’an does not fit the author’s narrow criteria for evaluating intent. Really?
8) The authors then make the following claim: “Members of the target audience, the contested populations of the Muslim World, realize that extremists are not really preaching world conquest” without providing a shred of evidence.