Lessons from the Front Line in the Battle for "Hearts and Minds"

(Washington Institute for Near East Policy) Robert Satloff- The spread of radical Islamism is the most serious challenge to U.S. interests in many Arab and Muslim societies. The solution cannot be found in reaching an accommodation with the Islamists. Washington must abandon its longstanding reluctance to talk directly to Arab and Muslim audiences about difficult issues such as terrorism, radical Islamism, the Arab-Israeli conflict, and Iraq. The most important element in U.S. public diplomacy - the need to invest in both current allies and the potential for future ones - should have three components: Identify allies. The U.S. should identify potential allies among non- and anti-Islamist Muslims and build networks of common purpose among them. Washington also needs to support these individuals in the currency that matters, i.e., visibility and money. Very few local NGOs have actually rejected offers of U.S. financial aid in protest of U.S. policy. Empower allies. Anti-Islamists share a growing alarm at the spread of Islamist social-welfare activities, some of which are linked to terrorist front groups. Many civic activists, including journalists, would take up the cudgel against these groups if they knew about their possible terrorist connections. Nurture future allies. The U.S. needs to invest time, effort, and money in developing new and future allies. Promoting English-language education should be America's top priority. English is a portal to both Anglo-American culture and the Internet-based information revolution. Knowing English gives someone the opportunity to make judgments about the U.S. without the filter of translation or reliance on sources that may present a skewed image of reality. Specific initiatives could include creating English after-school programs throughout the Muslim world at no or nominal cost to parents; supporting the development of U.S.-style, English-language universities in every country in the Middle East; and expanding financial support for American schools abroad, which would provide merit-based scholarships for lower- and middle-class Arab and Muslim children. There are millions of Muslims who are not only willing to fight against radical Islamists, but are already engaged in fighting them on a daily basis in their own communities. Their victory will be America's victory, too. The writer, who lived in Morocco for the past two years, is executive director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

2004-08-05 00:00:00

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