US Congress Urged to Engage with Muslims


Washington , DC : Muslim militants do not see modernization as a threat as many of them are highly competent in using modern techniques, the US Senate was told.

At a special hearing on violent extremism at the Senate Armed Services Committee on Wednesday evening, experts told lawmakers that while the militants viewed westernization as a threat, they were not averse to modernization.

“Westernization is a threat? The answer is yes. Modernization a threat? No. Many — many — many of these individuals are highly competent, in terms of modern techniques,” said Douglas Stone, a Marines general who has served in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Gen Stone, who speaks Arabic, Pashto and Urdu, observed that what caused the militants to take on the West is the difference between the two world views.

The militants, he said, did not believe in the separation of church and state while in the West, these two institutions have been separated.

To deal with this problem, Gen Stone suggested greater engagement with Muslim communities around the world “because that information will be our defense. And their alignment, just as it was in Iraq, just as it can be in Afghanistan, will be our defense.” 
“We need a comprehensive strategy that works, and a strategy that will counter this violent extremism that is now coming out in various forms,” said Senator Bill Nelson, the chairman of the committee while explaining why the panel held a special hearing on this subject.

Gen Stone noted that the real threat was the extremists’ effort to “convert the ummah” and emphasized the need to reach out to ordinary Muslims to win this war.

In this ideological war, he said, “non- violent Muslims must feel empowered and our government needs to facilitate that end objective, that they are empowered and that they cause the violent Islamists amongst them to be marginalized.”

Dr Scott Atran, a professor of anthropology and psychology who has engaged extensively with militants in Pakistan and the Middle East, warned that the Americans were “fixated on technology and technological success” but that would not win the war for them.

“We’re spending billions of dollars on widgets and very little on engaging socially sensitive people who know what the dreams and visions of these things are, how to leverage non-military advantages, how to create alliances, how to change perceptions,” he said.

Dr Atran also regretted how people in the US insisted that the militants were ‘brainwashing’ and recruiting people.

“I see almost none of that. I see young people hooking up with their friends and going on a glorious mission,” he said. “I mean, nothing is more thrilling, adventurous, and glorious than fighting the greatest power in the world today, and jihad is an equal opportunity employer, and anyone can do that.”

Garry Reid, deputy assistant secretary of defense for special operations and combating terrorism, said the Pentagon recognizes that “we cannot capture and kill our way to victory.”

In Iraq and Afghanistan, the US Department of Defense’s role was creating a security forces capability to allow these counter-ideology initiatives and efforts to take root.

Elsewhere, he added, the Pentagon was working with the State Department to combat violent ideologies.

Ambassador Daniel Benjamin, coordinator for counterterrorism, at the State Department, told the panel that he believed the US had done a great job at tactical counterterrorism, at taking people off the street and keeping them from harming others. And now it was focusing on curtailing the influence of militants and preventing further recruitment, he added.

“It is absolutely essential that we do what we can to undermine the Qaeda narrative and prevent the radicalization of more individuals,” he said.

The primary goal of countering violent extremism, said the ambassador, was to stop those most at risk of radicalization from becoming terrorists.

He underlined many different approaches for doing this, including social programs, counter-ideology initiatives, working with civil society to de-legitimate the Al Qaeda narrative and, where possible, to provide positive alternatives.


Editor: Akhtar M. Faruqui
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