Cultural Programs

It is the unfortunate truth that most terrorists can only be stopped through military or law enforcement means. Physical restraint is the only deterrent that keeps them from their deadly job. But for all of the United States' wealth and ability, it simply does not have the resources to wage a perpetual war against armed terrorists. Instead, the American effort must combine the full strength of a military and intelligence operation to prevent the further activities of those who have already been radicalized and become terrorists with a preemptive strategy that presents the radical ideology and violence of terrorism as less attractive and unnecessary life choices. The best way to reduce the appeal of these decisions is through offering the people with geographical and ideological proximity to radical Islamism a vision of a better and more peaceful life. In doing so, we can give hope to families that may see their only chance at financial stability in sending their sons to the terrorist cause and can show those who would do us harm that Americans are a decent, honorable, and responsible people with no desire to undermine their way of life.

This objective is achieved through a complex assortment of programs and policies designed primarily to increase intercultural awareness and respect. Such programs are often the target of scorn from observers. Some will say that a terrorist's mind cannot be changed but that his actions can only be physically restrained, but the target of such programs is not the terrorist who already exists but those people who may turn to terrorism in the future. Other observers will suggest that such programs undermine a local culture and achieve American objectives through stealthy means. These claims are largely true, but are surely not as damaging to a way of life as if the American military is forced to act. Still other observers believe such programs are a waste of money, with little or no real effect. To them we must reply that the consistent story, repeated by countless voices that emerged from post-Cold War Eastern Europe, of the collapse of Communism praised the image of the West, transmitted through popular music, through Levi's blue jeans, and through popular youth culture, preserved the hope of a better life that eventually brought down the tyranny of the Soviet Union. If the Beatles undermined Communism, who knows what a healthy dose of free culture can do for radical Islam.

1. Public Diplomacy

While traditional diplomacy centers overwhelmingly upon contact between governments,public diplomacy focuses on the interaction between a government, or its people, and the people of a foreign country. It relies upon the presence of a responsive government, aware of the fact that only the most oppressive dictatorships can adopt policy choices that are entirely distinct from the wishes of their people. All others, even those that are not democratic, are subject in some degree to the popular will. If the people of a country support an American policy, their government is more likely to do so as well. If the people of a country like and respect Americans, they are less likely to support military action against the United States. Public diplomacy is not a new phenomenon, as leaders have understood for centuries the power of circumventing a foreign government and appealing directly to the people in certain situations. However, the development of mass communications and the modern media have greatly increased the importance and influence of public diplomacy. Information, images, and sounds can be easily transported across continents, whether on hardware such as compact discs or through satellite technology. The ability to exploit this rapidity and fluency of communication has become so important to policymaking that the United States now has an Undersecretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs position, specifically to oversee America's efforts in this area.

Public diplomacy includes many programs of particular relevance to the war on terror. It is often characterized, incorrectly, as simply "spin", or an effort to place negative policy choices in a positive light, but public diplomacy involves much more than sugar-coating a bitter pill for foreign audiences. Public diplomacy incorporates all those elements that portray the United States, its policies, objectives, and people to the population of a foreign country. It includes television and radio stations, developed specifically for a certain culture, that broadcast accurate news, educational programming, and American and local entertainment in the local language. It involves exchange programs, for students and for professionals, to allow foreign visitors to see the United States firsthand and foreign citizens to meet representative American visitors. Public diplomacy has a very important news component, in which American officials must recognize and counteract the distorted or inaccurate stories from the foreign press. All of these programs, and numerous others, are designed to introduce foreign citizens to the American people and the American culture, in the knowledge that it is more difficult to wage war against one's friends and to counteract the indoctrination of educational programs with distinctly anti-American elements.

2. Education

Closely related to public diplomacy is education. It is a well-established fact that childhood and adolescence are times of particular receptiveness to formative ideas and experiences. If a child is surrounded by teachers and religious leaders who all espouse a particular ideology, he is very likely to form his own belief structure in accordance with these teachings. In many parts of the Middle East, and within the Islamic diaspora worldwide, education has been absorbed by fundamentalist ideology sponsored by movements such as Saudi Arabia's wahhabi sect. These groups offer money and textbooks in exchange for teaching their views, which are often characterized by a distinctly anti-Western perspective and an interpretation of Islam shared by radical Islamists. In other countries, like Pakistan, parents face the choice between for-cost, mediocre state schools, and the free, but indoctrinating, madrassahs (religious schools). Even if family members, many of whom grew up in the days before Islamism became widespread, do not support the ideology taught in these schools, it is difficult for a child to resist such teachings.

The United States has made several efforts to counteract this. It has made textbooks available that do not have the ideological bias common to many local books and has also encouraged regional governments to end the indoctrination within their schools. The United States also sponsors educational programs in which talented students from Muslim countries can study in the United States, free from a radical ideology and exposed to the positive aspects of life as an American student. Yet American efforts in this field have still not made a substantial impact on the pervasive fundamentalist educational system within many parts of the Muslim world. Much of the impetus for this change may have to come from leaders within this community who demand a world-class education that allows their children to compete in a global economy rather than a forced indoctrination that relegates them to the hazy back rooms of third-world markets.

10 year FSM Anniversary

FSM Archives