How to Stop ISIS Recruiting

At the Council for Foreign Relations lunch there was a vigorous and useful discussion about the need to amplify the voices of peaceful and socially conscious Islam so as to drown out the shouts of the extremists.

Since I promised to report:

1. Wood spoke the classic language of hard power and soft power. While his focus was on how soft power could create social conditions in which extremists were marginalized he also asserted that hard power was necessary and legitimate against the head of ISIS in order to break the hold of its narrative. The majority of the parliamentarians really didn’t want to hear this. Indeed some tried to shout him down. It was a clear example of the extraordinarily exclusivist nature of many who claim to be interested in dialogue. They don’t see dialogue as a path to mutual understanding, but as a way of garnering power to a cause.

2. Farah Pandith focused much more on how to break the recruiting cycle. She duly noted the following:

a. Muslim young people face an unparalleled identity crisis, making them easy picking for extremist recruiters claiming to represent real Islam.

b. Many of them have experienced persecution in the US and Europe, and are therefore ripe for anti-western rhetoric.

c. Their parents are largely computer illiterate, often don’t have good English, and are working hard just to make it in America.

d. Their parents and even the leaders of their mosque don’t understand their experience as young Muslims growing up in America, and can do little to communicate to their needs and fears.

e. So the young people turn to “sheik google” for answers, and quickly find one of the many web site fronts for extremists.

f. Unlike other religious websites, these are monitored and answers come quickly and personally, often making use of other social media.

g. The extremists are very internet savvy and sophisticated in using it as a tool for one on one recruiting. They target their prey much like sexual predators, and have local collaborators for face to face contact.

h. countering this requires a concentrated effort at empowering and educating parents, educating local imams and recruiting others in the Muslim community who can learn to work with youth.

i. and it means consistent engagement of the whole community in identifying at-risk young people and intervening in positive ways.

j. which requires resources that the government has almost completely failed to provide.

My note – On the contrary in most locations local politicians are Islamophobic bigots whose consistent targeting of Muslims with hate speech only makes extremist recruiting easier. The Republican presidential candidates are ISIS best recruiters.

3. No real conclusions here. We have ample knowledge and expertise on how to do what must be done. We need to put resources and a patient will to succeed behind that knowledge and expertise.

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