Violent Extremism, East and West

Next Wednesday the White House is convening a summit on ‘countering violent extremism.’ The details are sketchy — a press release announces that the meeting will “highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting, or inspiring individuals or groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence”.

The details of the summit are sketchy — a press release declares that the meeting will “highlight domestic and international efforts to prevent violent extremists and their supporters from radicalizing, recruiting, or inspiring individuals or groups in the United States and abroad to commit acts of violence”.

Meanwhile this week President Obama has asked for a limited three-year extension of war powers in Iraq, with his staff still hoping “to degrade and ultimately destroy” the Islamic State. We’re asking about the long-term plan to solve a long-term problem of grievance and retribution in the Muslim world: is there one? and what does it look like?

We’re in the last week of our Kickstarter campaign, and every dollar given now is matched 2 for 1. Please give, if you haven’t already!

In the 14th year of the ‘long war’ in the Middle East, we’re trying to contain a new threat: to catch would-be terrorists before they turn into the Tsarnaevs, or the Kouachi brothers who shocked Paris last month with their assault on Charlie Hebdo, or one of the hundreds of people worldwide who have flocked to Syrian battlefields.

There will be sessions on detecting warning signs on Twitter and Facebook and case studies from Singapore and the European Union. The National Counterterrorism Center has already drafted a checklist that will score families on their vulnerability to political and religious violence, on a sixty-point scale, based on factors like “perceived sense of being treated unjustly,” “witnessing violence,” and “experiences of trauma”. It’s pretty technocratic stuff!


On the other hand, Newt Gingrich, sometimes thought of us as the Republican Party’s thinking man, isn’t beating around the bush in the pages of the Wall Street Journal: we’re at war with radical Islam, we’re losing, and we don’t have a clue how to win. If, as Gingrich suggested last month, the ‘long war’ on Islamic extremism needs a grand strategist like George Kennan, what would the ‘grand strategy’ be?

So set aside the checklists and the so-called “clash of civilizations”. Let’s look at the biggest possible picture. What kind of common sense do we need to break this decades-long cycle of violence and revenge in the Middle East and here at home?

Moazzam Begg’s Story

Born in England, captured in Pakistan, and now twice freed on terror charges, Moazzam Begg is a controversial figure, but he’s one of the people we most wanted to hear in a conversation about the low moments of the terror war and the hope of a better future.

We knew his story and the horrible content of his testimony, but he surprised us by telling us just how well he’d come to know some of the guards at Guantanamo Bay. And he told us that he hoped that reconciliation could come in the form of truth and reconciliation, on the South African model.

Guest List
Roger Cohen
columnist for The New York Times and author of the new memoir, The Girl from Human Street.
Moazzam Begg

former Guantanamo prisoner, author of Enemy Combatant, and present director of outreach for CAGE, a British nonprofit "working to empower communities impacted by the War on Terror".

Karima Bennoune
Algerian-American professor of international law at the University of California-Davis and author of Your Fatwa Does Not Apply Here: Untold Stories from the Fight Against Muslim Fundamentalism.
Reading List
US officials: 9/11 plotter's claims Saudi royals aided al-Qaida 'inconceivable'
Spencer Ackerman, The Guardian
The US intelligence establishment is dismissing the idea that high-ranking Saudis in business and government funded or participated in the attacks on 9/11. The so-called '20th hijacker,' Zacarias Moussaoui, made the allegations against the Saudis last month, and it was laid out on Gawker here.  
The World War Inside Islam
James Traub, Foreign Policy
Traub acknowledges a dynamic inside Islamic extremism too often forgotten: jihadis since Sayyid Qutb have spoken of a 'near enemy' (corrupt, Muslim-in-name-only regimes like Sadat's) and a 'far enemy' (the West), with the theory was that it would be best to fight the near enemy. All the same, since 9/11, we have traditionally assumed the jihad was entirely about us — why do they hate us? — when it really is only about us in one subset of the movement, some of the time. Call it national narcissism.  
When people of Muslim heritage challenge fundamentalism (video)
Karima Bennoune, TED
Our guest talks about her own life story — and the ignored reality that only 15% of al-Qaeda's victims are Westerners. This is a fight inside Islam, she's saying, and she celebrates the bravery of moderate resistance to Islamic extremists.
Is your child a terrorist? U.S. government questionnaire rates families at risk for extremism
Murtaza Hussain, Cora Currier, and Jana Winter, The Intercept
This is a tour of the technocratic nuts-and-bolts of the administration's CVE program, including a checklist of 'warning signs' for extremism.
Why extremism thrives in the Middle East today
Barbara F. Walter, Washington Post

Related Content

  • Cambridge Forecast


    In order to begin to tackle the Climate Change and the world-economy/world-finance
    repairs, one absolutely must have a rendezvous of civilizations. Such a
    rendezvous is blocked, inter alia, by the Palestine problem and in fact, the
    way to reset the relationship between the West and the Islamic world is by
    creating a Palestine ’67 followed by a nuclear-free Middle East covering both
    Israel and Iran. The rest will fail since piecemeal won’t work.

    Roger Cohen on the ROS show glancingly mentions the perception of an Israel backed in
    every way by America and Adam Schatz (sp?) (commentator from “London Review of
    Books”) on the previous show with Naomi Klein, quickly mentioned “Israel’s occuption of Palestinian lands bankrolled by America.”

    It’s here that the apparent “clash of civilizations” epitomized and symbolized.

    The Muslim “ummah” (Muslimdom) is seen by Muslims as under siege: Chechnya is a
    moonscape, Muslim Uighurs in China are bullied and killed and abused, Kashmir
    drags on, Prime Minister Modi of India seemed to welcome and back anti-Muslim outrages in
    Gujarat in1992, Bosnian Muslims faced genocide as the UN troops left knowing fully what
    awaited the Muslims at the hands of the Serbs, and so on. All of this degradation is symbolized by Palestine.
    A hysterical sense of powerlessness, the basis of inter-group violence, ensues.

    It’s also true that the Muslim world suffers from some kind of “gynephobia” and by
    resisting the democratic and scientific historic tides, have locked in their preexisting
    backwardness. Where is there a Weizmann Institute or Technion in the whole
    Muslim world? The one Muslim science Nobel Prize winner, Abdus Salam, had to flee Pakistan for Trieste
    since he belongs to a minority Islamic sect deemed illegitimate by the radicals in Pakistan.

    All of these issues have to be put on the table at the same time, which is what the
    nature of a historical crisis is like.

    Obama sensed all this vaguely but was blocked and now the world is adrift with a Fed-based
    pseudo-boomlet providing tranquilization.

    Andre Malraux, the great French novelist, says something intriguing in his novel “The Royal

    “In the last analysis, of course, no civilization is ever understood by another one.”

    (“The Royal Way”, Modern Library/Random House paperback, page 50, 1935)

    In Malraux’s famous novel “Man’s Fate” from 1933, there’s a scene in Kobe, Japan where
    somebody says of civilizations, “each needs some kind of intoxification. The
    West has Woman.”

    Malraux’s 1920’s epistolary novel, “The Temptation of the West” explores these questions
    and warns of Western hubris, exactly what we encounter in February 2015.

    The “anti-systemic” forces whether Islamic or neoconservative, have to be subdued and a rendezvous
    of civilizations must begin to address global governance vacuums without which the world will careen from old economic bubbles to new bubbles interspersed with violent rampaging on all sides.

    Richard Melson

  • Cambridge Forecast


    You may
    know the name Robert Baer, the CIA Middle East agent, whose books were the
    basis of the movie “Syriana.”


    On a BBC
    interview a few days ago he stated pointblank that osama Bib laden and his
    entourage were forever radicalized by the Israeli murder of thousands of
    civilians in Beirut in the Lebanon War of 1982, the Sabra Shatilla of Palestinians
    mass murder war.

    Scheuer, another counterterrorism official, says and writes that America’s willful
    blindness to Israeli atrocities tells Arabs and Muslims, worldwide, that they’re
    the new “Indians” and land is going to be seized by the new cowboys, the Israelis.
    Palestinians are the new Cherokee Indians awaiting bombardments and torture. (At
    one point in Lawrence Wright’s “The Looming Tower”, the author glimpses this
    when he talks about the effect of Israeli planes seen on Arab television bombing
    entire apartment complexes in Beirut with corpses and limbs and blood all over
    the streets and in the rubble.)

    In the
    Israeli documentary, “The Gatekeepers”, consisting of interviews with Israeli
    security chiefs, one of them muses, “We’re becoming like the Germans.”He doesn’t
    mean Beethoven and Angela Merkel.

    purpose of the neocon war, Iraq 2003 forwards, was to “mayhemize” the world
    starting with the Middle East, radicalize the Muslims of “Eurabia,” all of
    which would frighten the Jews of Europe who would be resettled in Israel. Netanyahu
    would tell them: “You see the world hates us forever.”

    and the neoconservatives want to make the world conform to their ideological
    visions and this represents what might be called a “history-pathology”. Like all
    radicals, for them, “worse is better.”

    All of
    this mendacity, multiplied by Israeli false flag operations all over the world
    designed to promote tensions, ideological “pre-bending” of the world to fit
    that ideology, is causing a world to slide towards the global civil war that Netanyahu
    and company have always wanted, derailing both globalization and its symbol

    In this sense, violent extremism on the neocon/Netanyahu side is twinned with Islamic
    anti-systemic violence. Violent extremism on the Israeli side wants “Lebensraum”
    and the Muslim equivalent is “the caliphate.” They are mirror images of each
    other or isomers.

    There isn’t one American political or opinion leader who vaguely grasps this “global
    mayhemization” policy promoting a clash of civilizations.

    This can only be reversed by the creation of a Palestinian state along the 1967 lines and
    the implementation of the Arab Peace Plan of 2002, ie full recognition of
    Israel for full withdrawal from 1967 occupied lands.

    Richard Melson

  • Potter

    This was as even handed and searching a discussion ( is the word “dialectic” appropriate ?) as one could hope for on the subject. Could this be called a clash of dysfunctions, one challenging the other’s supremacy? Isil is spreading because (I feel) people, young people especially, desperately need purpose and meaning in their lives. Otherwise their lives are nothing. Our war-making approach either created or exacerbated this situation in the Middle East. George W. Bush’s War is the “gift” that keeps on giving.

    So mired, can we now simply end the atrocities, theirs, ours? One of your tweet street interviews seemed naive to suggest “talk talk talk” but maybe not so naive. Validate instead. In the past, and not so distant, before the talking could happen, there has been death, pain and suffering that brought people to that. Conscience and fear of worse happening kicks in.

    I think it was Chris who said that we have to see it, that is, see our own behavior. Roger Cohen, bless him and I don’t always agree with him though often do, had the most equanimity. Still no one had the answer entirely. But he is right that for the alienated, Jews and the West are easy targets. Of course this presses Jewish buttons about being the ultimate perennial victims. (Netanyahu crassly takes advantage of that.)

    We are dealing with such different historical processes,cultures. It’s hard not to think “clash” and no end to this. Yet Pinker says we are getting less violent. The problem with disbelief of Pinker is that we hear more about the violence we have… and it’s hard to turn away.

    The Palestine problem (as per Melson’s comment) if resolved tomorrow, which it should be, would hardly bring us to nirvana. It could be a first step,but it’s been demonstrably a high step to reach even as we know the solutions because of the imbalance of power and interests. I blame the US for enabling Israel’s intransigence when both the US and Israel hold the cards. I fear much more pain and suffering there.

    The Moazzem Begg interview is revealing. We stupidly try to make enemies out of someone like Begg. His punishment, led to a wisdom we can at least learn from.

    It was also heartbreaking and shameful to read this summary review of Mohamedou Ould Slahi’s book Guantanamo Diary. Everyone must at least read this. It is us, what we do.

    • In Notre Musique (2004), Jean-Luc Godard says that language is used to “cover up the field of vision.” Specifically, he says that the language of defeat is documentary and that the language of victory is fiction.

      00:37:19 –>00:37:27
      “There is much more inspiration and human richness…in defeat than there is in victory.”

      Just a thought…..

  • Cambridge Forecast

    Every CIA and DIA guest on programs like the “Charlie
    Rose” show on TV, tells a story of the world that is essentially a
    neoconservative/Netanyahu one,and is at a level of puerility and fawning that
    are shocking.

    To “walk a mile in the (historical) shoes” of the
    Islamic world, there’s a masterpiece of understanding that an ROS listener
    should ponder:

    Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Eyes (2009)

    By: Tamim

    See: DESTINY

    “Tamim Ansary is the author of the memoir West of Kabul, East of New York,
    co-author with Farah Ahmadi of the New York Times bestseller The
    Other Side of the Sky, and has been a major contributing writer to several
    secondary school history textbooks. Ansary is director of the San Francisco
    Writers Workshop. He writes for, the San Francisco Chronicle,
    Salon, Alternet, Edutopia, Parade, the Los Angeles Times, and other publications.”

    Bibliographic information:

    Destiny Disrupted: A History of the World Through Islamic Author

    Mir. Tamim Ansary