Isobel Coleman

Democracy in Development

Coleman maps the intersections between political reform, economic growth, and U.S. policy in the developing world.

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Guest Post: Ed Husain on How to Counter Islamic Extremism

by Guest Blogger for Isobel Coleman
September 10, 2013

The "Tribute in Lights" illuminates the sky over lower Manhattan on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, September 11, 2011 (Courtesy Reuters/Jim Young). The "Tribute in Lights" illuminates the sky over lower Manhattan on the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York, September 11, 2011 (Courtesy Reuters/Jim Young).

This guest post is written by my colleague, Ed Husain, a senior fellow for Middle Eastern Studies at CFR. Here he discusses his latest Policy Innovation Memorandum, which lays out a plan for countering violent extremism. 

Five years ago in London, I co-founded Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism think tank, dedicated to improving understanding of the ideas underpinning al-Qaeda’s terrorism and, in turn, rebutting those concepts.  The demands put on Quilliam’s staff from governments, global media outlets, universities, and Muslim activists in Europe and the Middle East were huge. However, even as Quilliam’s work charted new ground, influenced government policies, and confronted extremism in powerful ways, the organization faced an abiding problem: funding. And in this difficulty, they were not alone.

As I traveled and met with Muslims in Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, and across Europe who sought to cleanse their religion from the impurity of al-Qaeda’s extremism, I learned that they had the same complaint.  They struggled to plan projects, fund events, pay salaries, print leaflets, create ads on satellite TV channels, rent offices, translate books, maintain high-end websites, visit areas of extremist activity, or even travel to campuses to speak against violent extremism.

It is easy to say, “Well, why don’t Muslims pay for it?” The simple answer is that wealthy Muslims still prefer to build mosques, hospitals, schools, and orphanages named after themselves, rather than invest in the battle of ideas against Islamist extremism.  But al-Qaeda’s fanaticism affects us all, and it is time to be stop being tribal in the effort to counter it. Western governments, Muslim-majority countries, individual philanthropists, and assorted endowments should come together to create a long-term funding mechanism for this crucially important work.

My CFR Policy Innovation Memo, published yesterday, explains how a fund of $300 million could counter extremism by educating Muslim thought leaders on university campuses, establishing alternative satellite television channels, and supporting Muslim professionals who challenge al-Qaeda propaganda in chat rooms around-the-clock. Click here to read more.

Post a Comment 1 Comment

  • Posted by Kir Komrik

    “Five years ago in London, I co-founded Quilliam, the world’s first counter-extremism think tank, dedicated to improving understanding of the ideas underpinning al-Qaeda’s terrorism and, in turn, rebutting those concepts.”

    Congrats to the guest and thanks for sharing this news. As for rebuttal, if you’ve ever been involved in deconversion you will learn with some work that it really isn’t as difficult as it seems to temper a belief system. If the author is interested, I wrote a long paper on this subject which you can find here:

    http://kirkomrik.wordpress.com/decompression-seeding/secrets/
    (On the Means and Methods of Mass Deconversion)

    “As I traveled and met with Muslims in Pakistan, Egypt, Syria, and across Europe who sought to cleanse their religion from the impurity of al-Qaeda’s extremism, I learned that they had the same complaint. They struggled to plan projects, fund events, pay salaries, print leaflets, create ads on satellite TV channels, rent offices, translate books, maintain high-end websites, visit areas of extremist activity, or even travel to campuses to speak against violent extremism.”

    imo, religion and ideology are both deeply seated, critical liabilities in humanity’s quest to survive. The most effective thing one can do is eradicate both. The problem; however, is that:
    1.) I don’t believe in coercion in religion, politics or atheism
    2.) It is the nature of human existence that some portion of the population will naturally be drawn to these … things … probably.

    Ergo, I think the only long-term solution is impartial education and the economic conditions that enable it. More immediately, Islam needs a charismatic leader to center the faith toward a more favorable theology. I suspect Shia Islam as being more amenable to this approach. And this requires human capital more than financial might. I wonder if atheist groups might be interested in crowd sourcing donations?

    - kk

    “It is easy to say, “Well, why don’t Muslims pay for it?” The simple answer is that wealthy Muslims still prefer to build mosques, hospitals, schools, and orphanages named after themselves, rather than invest in the battle of ideas against Islamist extremism.”

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