Thursday, May 6, 2010

Blowing Into The Wind

At times, I feel like a little old lady.  I DVR & watch CBS Sunday Morning and 60 Minutes, wanting to stay informed, but also realizing there are so many people in my generation who either don't have a DVR to record and watch these two shows or who just don't care.  But I do it anyway as one of the multitude of ways I gather information for my general knowledge.

And I'm glad I do because often I'm surprised by just how much I can learn on any given show.  In fact, only fifteen minutes ago, I barely knew anything about "the Narrative," but 60 Minutes is an awfully good show. 

Since I barely knew anything, I'm guessing others may be in the same boat, or I may be the last one among my circle of internet influence to come into this knowledge.  Either way, I'm going to talk about it a little.

"The Narrative" is what Muslims, often well off and highly educated individuals, are told about the United States and, by extension, "the West", to convert them to radicalized views.  They are told we invaded Iraq because it is a country of Muslims and we attacked ourselves on 9-11 as a reason to invade Afghanistan.  (Yup, they are Truthers.)  They're told the CIA secretly setup Al Qaeda (which with Charlie Wilson's war is an easy lie to pass).   They're told the West wants to destroy the Islamic faith by attacking countries to do so, and the only way to stop the US is to attack them on all fronts possible.

As you might expect, I was taken aback by this.  I knew some of this already, the trying to destroy Islam through wars part, but I had no idea of the extent of the mania.  It reminded me of the mental manipulation cult followers or domestic terror organizations (Waco, KKK, Weathermen, etc.) use to convert their members.  And then it dawned on me: Al Qaeda is a religious and extremist cult, gone international.  It is the KKK, but more effective.  And, just like with the KKK, the best way to counter their actions is through our own actions and the truth. 

In the 60 Minutes piece, a gentleman named Maajid Nawaz was profiled.  Nawaz is British and was once a member of the Party of Liberation, a group with members from Indonesia to London that doesn't advocate terrorism, but is deeply anti-Western and committed to spreading the Narrative. 

Nawaz joined the Party of Liberation in college and recruited others to "fight against the West."  It wasn't until he was arrested in Egypt and sentenced to prison time that he was converted the assassins of Anwar Sadat and the leaders of the Muslim brotherhood.  In the twenty years since they were locked up, these men had abandoned their radical beliefs.  Nawaz thought they had sold out, and tried to bring them back into the fold.  But in trying to re-convert them, his own views and beliefs were brought into doubt.  These assassins and former leaders showed Nawaz his views were not true Islam, but closer to fascism than anything else. 

After Nawaz left prison, he set up a think tank in London and has been traveling all over the world holding talks and workshops to counteract the Narrative, and, in essence, take back all the things he'd done when he was young.  

60 Minutes showed a clip of him standing at the head of a long rectangular table talking to people around my age about the West and railing against the Narrative.  He asked them if they knew how many Muslims lived in the US, if they knew how many mosques were in the US, if they knew the President's father was Muslim.  He argued that the US went into Iraq for the wrong reasons, but those reasons had little to do with religion and more to do with money and oil.  He acknowledged the US has killed civilians with drone attacks, but asked why suicide bombers, who've killed thousands of Muslims, are just given a free pass.  To me, he was very convincing.  To the attendees, I don't know.

I mention all this as a jumping off point for my bigger questions: Why haven't we done more to counteract the Narrative?  Why aren't we out there in the Muslim world, everyday, talking to them and railing against all the lies?  Why isn't their a specific counterintelligence program just for this? 

The reporter, Leslie Stahl, likened Nawaz's efforts to "tilting at windmills" or "blowing into the wind."  Instead of his window fan, why not give Nawaz some jet engines?  The way to stop Al Qaeda and the attacks is to cut off the flow of followers, to choke their supply of suicide bombers, to shine the light of truth on their veil of lies every day, every minute, every second we are still here. 

If a campaign of influence, an anti-Narrative initiative, isn't currently being implemented, why not start now, this very day?  I'm just a passionate progressive American, but even I can think of multiple ways to push the truth out their into the ether.  I'm sure there is someone else, with higher credentials than mine, that can do more and think of more ways to push back against the lies. 

I know we all live with the knowledge now that taking a plane ride or a train ride could be the last act we ever do.  When in the area, I frequently use the DC Metro system.  I haven't been scared to use it, even though I know it would be a perfect target for terrorism.  At rush hour, thousands of people cycle in and out, often hundreds per line of train cars. 

I'm not sacred to use Metro because I refuse to live a life of fear.  It's when you change your life, or refuse to do something out of fear, that the terrorists win.  But why not stop them before they convert college students looking to fit in, to find their place, to know who they are.  If people really knew our country, with its beauties and its flaws (and oh do we have many of them), maybe we all could be a little safer and a little less scared. 

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