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?

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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!

Radicalization-diagram

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

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