Sunday, July 25, 2010

Preventing Extremists - Changing Belief Systems

Posted by Chris at 7/12/2008 12:29 PM ...

Tim Stevens at does another great service by linking to Kathleen Meilahn's article The Strategic Landscape: Avoiding Future Generations of Violent Extremists (PDF). I haven't finished it yet, but the paragraph he quotes is very important in light of the recent BAA regarding proposal review for Project Minerva:

Psycho-social and political factors play an important role in radicalization. Where Islamist Violent Extremist Organizations (VEO) are concerned, these factors play a significant role in recruitment—versus just theology. However, once recruited, theology becomes the justification for violent actions. In the initial stages of al-Qaeda’s ascendancy, theological values that became politically radicalized were a driving factor motivating the core actors. As al-Qaeda (AQ) and other VEOs aim to increase in size, their recruitment process has become more oriented toward—or broadened to include—political issues, and those foot soldiers who volunteer are often psycho-socially motivated. Yet, in effect, AQ is “engaged in an unprecedented exercise of corrupting, misinterpreting and misrepresenting the word of God to generate support for their political mission.

The highlighted sentence is what I'm most interested in here. This is an argument my wife and I have been making with people who try to blame terrorism on something inherent in Islam, but more importantly, it also allows us to approach that questionable sentence in Topic #4 of the BAA in a manner that doesn't evoke the excesses of the Vietnam War.

Research on belief formation and emotional contagion will provide cultural advisors with better tools to understand the impact of operations on the local population. This research should also contribute to countermeasures to help revise or influence belief structures to reduce the likelihood of militant cells forming.

If research into belief formation and "countermeasures" is oriented toward countering the influence of al-Qaeda's violent theology and political message, thats not as morally questionable as say, trying to convince people to give up their faith or surreptitiously alter established tenets of faith for our own purposes. This points to a need both for basic research, but also for a coordinated and effective campaign of Information Warfare. This needs both a counter to al-Qaeda's ideology of violence, but also a repudiation of Qutbist theory in toto. This requires alliances with mainstream Muslim religious and political leaders throughout the world brave enough to publicly denounce violence in the name of religion. To work, this campaign could not be seen to be allied with the United States, or promoting U.S. goals. In other words, it would have to be promoting peace, stability, and change as a positive good for the people living in the Middle East.

Contrary to popular belief since 2001, antipathy for Americans and the United States government is not about "who we are", but about "what we do". U.S. policy in the Middle East drives anti-American sentiment through support of Israel, basing of troops in Saudi Arabia, and the invasion of Iraq. Those policy items are unlikely to change, so we must make efforts to be smarter in how we deliver our message and how we fight against terrorism.

More on this over the next few days...

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