Combating Muslim Extremism | The Nation


Combating Muslim Extremism

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America does itself no favors by neglecting to promote knowledge of the United States, of its political philosophies and social and political system, in the Muslim world. The United States Information Service was gutted and folded into the State Department in the late 1990s. There are very few American Studies programs at Arabophone universities, and very little US political philosophy or history has been translated. Likewise, Congress funds the study of the Middle East at American Universities at shockingly low levels, given the need for Americans who understand the region and its languages.

About the Author

Juan Cole
Juan Cole, who maintains the blog Informed Comment, is the Richard P. Mitchell Collegiate Professor of History at the...

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Extremist Muslim networks have a specific history, almost entirely rooted in reaction to many decades of European colonial domination or in the Reagan jihad against the Soviet Union, during which the United States gave extremists $5 billion, pressured Saudi Arabia to do the same and trained the extremists at CIA facilities in Afghanistan. Much of their subsequent violence can properly be seen as a form of blowback--black operations that go bad and boomerang on the initiating country.

Marc Sageman, a CIA case officer in Afghanistan in the late 1980s who is now at the Foreign Policy Research Institute in Philadelphia, has estimated the number of extremists who could and would do violence to the United States at less than a thousand. There is a larger group that supports the creation of Taliban-style rigid theocracies in their countries and who are willing to deploy violence to achieve that goal. While their ideology may be unpleasant, they do not necessarily pose a security threat to the United States.

American politicians should cease implying that Muslim nations and individuals are different from, or somehow more dangerous than, any other group of human beings, a racist idea promoted by the Christian and Zionist right. They should acknowledge that most Muslim nations are US friends and allies. A wise American policy toward the small networks of Muslim extremists would reduce their recruitment pool by the quick establishment of a Palestinian state and by a large-scale military drawdown from Iraq, thus removing widespread and major grievances. An increase in visible humanitarian and development aid to Muslim countries has a demonstrable effect on improving the US image.

The reconstitution of the United States Information Service as an independent body would allow better public diplomacy. Promoting American studies in the Muslim world, in its major languages rather than just in English, would help remove widespread misconceptions about the United States among educated Muslim observers. Increasing federal funding for Middle East studies at home would better equip this country to deal with this key region. More adept diplomacy with the Muslim states, most of which are as afraid of terrorism as we are, could lead to further cooperation in the security field. Better police work and cooperation with the police of Middle Eastern states would be much more effective than launching invasions. It would also help if we stopped insulting Muslims by calling their religion "fascist."

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