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?