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Precision in the Global War on Terror: Inciting Muslims through the War of Ideas

Authored by Dr. Sherifa D. Zuhur.
Source: http://www.strategicstudiesinstitute.army
SUMMARY [Strategic Studies Institute]                      

This monograph questions the messages conveyed to Muslims about their religion and extremism in the war of ideas. Why do American strategic messages on this issue play so badly in the region? Why, despite broad Muslim disapproval of extremism as shown in  surveys and official utterances by key Muslim leaders, has support for bin Ladin actually increased in Jordan and in Pakistan since some polling suggests bin Ladin’s approval in Jordan suffered a great deal after the hotel bombings?
A reason that the United States is winning so few “hearts and minds” in the broader Islamic world is confusion and imprecision in American strategic messages. The grand strategy of defining, isolating, and destroying Islamism or radical Islamism may not be possible if America does not proceed more carefully,and listen to what its allies think, know, and feel about their faith. This monograph will not revisit the origins of Islamist violence.
It is instead concerned with conceptual failure that wrongly constructs the War on Terror and discourages Muslims from supporting it. They are unable to identify with the proposed transformative countermeasures because they discern some of their core beliefs and institutions as targets in this endeavor.
 The ideology of violent extremists has been discussed requently since the tragic events of September 11, 2001 (9/11). It is clear that an ideology of Islamist or Islamic political opposition and radicalism has been key to understanding various events and movements that go back even further, to the Islamic Revolution in Iran, for example. Some policy analysts and public figures have challenged Muslims to change or reform aspects of their beliefs based on the aspects identified as “extremist.” However, there are many interpretations and misinterpretations of what those elements are, and how Muslims should go about reforming their faith. Just as controversial is the idea that there is a “war within Islam” and that the United States should be promoting one army in that war—ideological moderates—so they will defeat their foes.

The author of this monograph, Dr. Sherifa Zuhur, takes issue with some of these assumptions, views, and attacks on basic precepts. She identifies a trend of pathologizing beliefs and practices that are at the core of Islam. That pathologizing impulse may be beneficial in rallying Americans to the defense of their nation, but it might impede the international cooperation necessary to that endeavor. She also aims to educate the reader about the value inherent in particular concepts that may well be unpopular or two-edged, but are part of the historical legacy of Muslims.


SHERIFA ZUHUR is Research Professor of Islamic and Regional Studies at the Strategic Studies Institute, U.S. Army War College. She has lectured internationally, has been the recipient of a Fulbright Senior Scholar Regional Research award, and has been a faculty member at various universities including the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), the University of California, Berkeley, and The American University in Cairo. One of her research areas is the ideology and development of contemporary Islamist movements. She has published 15 books and monographs and more than 103 articles and chapters in edited books. Her most recent government monograph was Egypt: Security, Islamist and Political Challenges. She holds a B.A. in Political Science and Arabic Language and Literature, an M.A. in Islamic Studies, and a Ph.D. in Middle Eastern History, all from the University of California, Los Angeles.

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