Writing in the New York Times, Richard Stengel, who served as Obama’s under secretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, is now open to admitting that the unnamed “violent extremism” against which the USA has been struggling with for more than two decades is actually “radical Islamic extremism.” He has the following reason why they were unable to name the enemy for so long:
But the reason was a much more practical one: To defeat radical Islamic extremism, we needed our Islamic allies — the Jordanians, the Emiratis, the Egyptians, the Saudis — and they believed that term unfairly vilified a whole religion.
And then, suddenly, we find out instead of picking up the Qur’an or studying 1,400 years of history for themselves, they just accepted whatever the Saudis or the king of Jordan told them:
They also told us that they did not consider the Islamic State to be Islamic, and its grotesque violence against Muslims proved it.
Thanks for clearing that up, allies, because the Islamic State (and Al Qaeda and the Muslim Brotherhood and other) proudly and repeatedly claim that the leaders of the modern Islamic nations are not Muslims either, because they don’t follow Sharia properly.
This next sentence puzzles me:
We took a lot of care to describe the Islamic State as a terrorist group that acted in the name of Islam.
I don’t remember the Obama administration ever making the firm linkage between Islamic terror (as they called it, “violent extremism”) and Islam.
Sure, behind the scenes, our allies understood better than anyone that the Islamic State was a radical perversion of Islam, that it held a dark appeal to a minority of Sunni Muslims, but it didn’t help to call them radical Islamic terrorists.
Calling them Islamic terrorists wouldn’t help who? The “moderate” Arab rulers who know theologically that their positions are very precarious, as Islamic State theologians are acting completely along mainstream Islamic lines, especially when calling for the deposition of Muslim rulers who have strayed from the path of Islam.
It is a misconception that the Islamic State is focused on fighting us. I led the State Department’s agency that sought to counter the Islamic State’s propaganda efforts and saw this firsthand. More than 80 percent of the Islamic State’s propaganda is in Arabic. Russian is the second-most-used language, while English and French are tied for third. The United States is not the Islamic State’s main audience. We have always been the distant enemy.
This is interesting and almost certainly correct, but it represents exactly what you’d expect once you understand that the most important aim of the Islamic State’s propaganda is to convince Muslims of their righteousness according to the Qur’an and the traditions of Mohammed. The Islamic State is not the correct organisation to call infidels to revert to Islam. The Islamic State knows there are other, usually less violent, Islamic groups deeply embedded in Western societies who gently call the lost and confused to Islam. That’s the gateway. The Islamic State is targeting most of its propaganda and social media at Muslims. The message for non-Muslims is strictly one of “striking terror into their hearts.”
The Islamic State is not just a terrorist group, it is an idea. Its rallying cry is that the West is hostile to Islam and that every good Muslim has a duty to join the caliphate.
Correct: the Islamic State is the embodiment of the idea of Islamic supremacy. As to a rallying cry? No, no and thrice NO! As the Islamic State has made perfectly clear, that is just not the case. In the 15th issue of Dabiq, in the essay “Why we hate you and why we fight you,” the Islamic State gave six reasons why they fight. It isn’t till the fifth of six reasons that any action of the West in defending itself against Islamic jihad is given.
Most of the group’s propaganda was not violent at all. I saw thousands of tweets about how beautiful the caliphate was. There were videos of kids on Ferris wheels and jihadi fighters distributing cotton candy. I remember one tweet showing a shiny apple and the words, in Arabic, “The caliphate is bountiful.”
Which is precisely because most of the propaganda is aimed at Muslims, calling them directly to join the Islamic State both physically and, if that isn’t immediately possible, ideologically.
It is not up to us to say what is Islamic and what is not. Only the voices of mainstream Muslims and independent clerics in Muslim countries can create a narrative that refutes the Islamic State’s and offers a more positive alternative. A tweet from the United States government saying the Islamic State is a distortion of Islam is not going to hurt the group. Instead, it will help its recruiting.
And here is the disaster of what most of the West did under Obama’s reign: they empowered the political Islamic organisations in the west, even though so many of them, like CAIR or ISNA, are connected ideologically to the same Muslim Brotherhood roots that even Islamic State would claim. And all of this because, theologically, Islam is the common root.
Thus, the black flag of the Islamic State became a flag of convenience for any complaint. Now the travel ban, despite being blocked by the courts, has given the group ammunition to weaponize grievance here in America. President Trump may become its No. 1 recruiting tool.
It is seemingly impossible for someone like Stengel to listen to the Islamic State properly. Thankfully, people like Stengel are going to be a long way from the levers of power for some time now. The number one recruiting tool of the Islamic State is now and shall forever be the holy texts of Islam and the example of its warrior founder, Mohammad.
The Islamic State will go away, but violent extremism will not. The way to defeat radical Islamic extremism is to help our Islamic allies and promote the voices of mainstream Islam that reject everything the Islamic State does and stands for. Defeating the Islamic State on the military battlefield is only temporary. Violent extremism — or whatever you call it — must be defeated on the battlefield of ideas.
Richard Stengel is a fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School.
After all these years and all these tears, and the bodies piling up around, Richard Stengel of Harvard’s Kennedy School is still waiting for the “religion of peace” to show itself in public. Thankfully, as I wrote in my last article, the doctrine of “Islam is a religion of peace” seems to have come to an end, and the Trump Administration will deal with the Islam we see manifested around us today, not a dream of a future Islam that has set aside the half of the Qur’an that we don’t like.