Friday, February 20, 2015

A note to PDPBR subscribers/readers; plus an article, Seriously The White House summit on “Countering Violent Extremism” is six years late - James Glassman, Politico

JB note: As some Public Diplomacy Press and Blog Diplomacy readers/subscribers may have noticed, this blog has been taking a winter break. So allow me, if your busy schedule allows, to bring you up to date with the coverage by the PDPBR of a subject in which we are all interested.

As I prepare for the graduate-level course I am tentatively scheduled to give this summer at Georgetown -- Propaganda and U.S. Foreign Policy: A Historical Overview -- I will again be posting on public diplomacy (but initially in less detail than in previous editions of the PDPBR, due to other time-demanding commitments at this time). 

FYI, Am editing a piece on American cultural diplomacy in which American Diplomacy has shown a kind interest; doing final research work before the completion of the copy editing of "Janus-Faced Public Diplomacy: Creel and Lippmann During The Great War," which deals with the intellectual tensions/origins of modern American public diplomacy, a volume to be edited by Dr. Deborah L. Grant. Am also involved in helping to prepare -- thanks to the generous moral support of the Public Diplomacy Council (PDC) -- a discussion in on the first Monday in April at AFSA on the Foreign Relations of the United States publication by the State Department Historical Office pertaining to public diplomacy during WWI, in which State Dept. historians have kindly agreed to take part. On the "Public Diplomacy" edition of Foreign Relations, see.

Please note that the PDPBR is not meant to represent a particular point of view, but to provide to students (and other interested persons) with recent/relevant articles pertaining to public diplomacy. Students and I have discussed such articles in the classes I've been giving for years at Georgetown, when we deal with current (in addition to historical) issues pertaining to propaganda and U.S. foreign policy.

The below piece has been provided by the distinguished diplomat Len Baldyga in his invaluable email-messages containing the latest information on public diplomacy.

As for the relationship between public diplomacy and propaganda, that is one of the key issues students and I discuss in the course.


James Glassman, Politico

To start, some essential ground rules. First, the president himself has to make public diplomacy a top priority, with a whole-of-government approach and a strong leader with strategic communications experience in charge. Second, Americans, especially non-Muslim Americans, have to understand that we aren’t the best messengers. Islam has a strong intellectual tradition, and the most effective voices are Muslims themselves, especially in the religious centers of the Middle East. Third, we have to jettison our natural squeamishness about shaping messages or meddling in the realm where religion and ideology converge. In the information war, there may be collateral damage, but the cause is urgent. Some prescriptions:

1. Undermine. The most powerful narrative in Muslim communities is that the West is out to destroy Islam. It is a lie, but it is nearly impossible to neutralize head-on. A better approach is to undermine the purveyors of the message. ISIL is a vicious murderer of Muslims. We should expose its internal contradictions, the decadent and corrupt nature of its leaders, its preoccupations with sexual perversion and sadism, and its inevitable doom. Again, the best messengers are Muslims, especially disillusioned former members of terrorist organizations. Have them talk directly into the camera on You Tube videos, write articles and books. An example is Sayyid Imam al-Sharif, known as Dr. Fadl. He was a founder of Al Quaeda but turned on the organization in 2007 for its indiscriminate brutality, and, as defector, his writings from prison, based on Koranic arguments, were enormously influential. There are Dr. Fadls within ISIL as well. 

2. Inspire. The best counter-narrative to the West destroying Islam is an Islamic awakening—the development of a global movement based on pride in Muslim virtues like humility, courtesy, respect, mercy and justice. Again, this is not for American Christians and Jews to lead, but we can certainly help. The model for the recruitment and indoctrination of terrorists is well known. Find alienated young people, hurt by disrespect and searching for meaning in their lives; isolate them; bombard them with ideological messages; and send them off to blow themselves up. These same young people need a more benign inspiration, and Islam itself can provide it. 

3. Counter. “Problems of Communism” could become “Problems of Extremism,” with a journal, a website, a platform for conferences, a network of scholars, a robust social media presence—dominated by Muslim scholars and probably headquartered in Europe, the white-hot center of terrorist ideology, where Islamic extremism meets the tradition of suicide/murder that Camus talked about. We should seed other networks, giving them the funds to get off the ground and then standing back: families of victims of terror, young Muslims striving for democracy, online groups pushing for freedom of expression. 

4. Resist. Images of kneeling hostages about to be decapitated may disgust Americans and provoke Jordanians to scramble jets, but the scenes also communicate impotence, passivity and suffering. The truth is that not all Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis, Yazidis and Christians are lying prostrate in front of ISIL. Many of them are resisting. We need to spread images of that heroic resistance—similar to the resistance against the Nazis in France or against the communists in Hungary. The best images of resistance will come from the ground itself, from Iraq and Syria. Figure out how to get the pictures and beam them in real time. That’s what ISIL is doing. 

5. Proselytize. At the National Prayer Breakfast on February 5, President Obama reminded the audience that “during the Crusades and the Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ.” Well, yes, but this is the 21st Century, and notions of tolerance, pluralism, free expression, self-determination, and democracy are broadly accepted, not just in the West but throughout the world. We need to stand up for these values. Apology hasn’t been effective in winning us friends in the Middle East. Saying you’re sorry has its place, but not here, not in an ideological war with Al Qaeda and ISIL. We need confidence in our own guiding ideas.

The term “liberalism” may have been debased lately, but it is a good way to describe the set of values enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Enlightenment in general. Still, it is not easy to stand up for liberalism because, at its core, it’s an ideology that says that there are many good ways to pursue happiness—not just one, all-encompassing way, as Qutb believed. It’s complicated.

In connecting today’s terrorists to their precursors, Berman pointed to the simplicity of their messages. The Nazis saw World War II as a “biological battle between the superior race (them) and the mongrel and inferior races (us)” while the Soviets pictured the Cold War as between the proletarians and their bourgeois exploiters. “Islamism’s medieval image of jihadi warriors waving scimitars at the Zionist-Crusader conspiracy was no less fanciful, and no less demented.” But the point is that it is a clash of ideologies—a “war between liberalism and the apocalyptic and phantasmagorical movements that have risen up against liberal civilization.”

Yes, we need to deploy military power in this clash. But, as Robert Gates put it, “we cannot kill and capture our way to victory.” We have to engage in a war of ideas—which, by the way, is also a much less expensive way to fight terrorism than drones and missiles and troops—and probably more effective as well. Americans have always been skilled in the art of persuasion. We need our leaders to inspire this generation’s Brumbergs and Murrows to take up the cause.

Everything is at stake.

James K. Glassman, a visiting fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, served as under secretary of State for public diplomacy and public affairs and as chairman of the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors in the George W. Bush administration.

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