Just as it fought the spread of Communism during the Cold War, the United States must do more to develop and support networks of moderate Muslims who are too often silenced by violent radical Islamists, according to a RAND Corporation report issued today.

“The struggle in much of the Muslim world today is a war of ideas,” said Angel Rabasa, a RAND senior policy analyst and the lead author of the report. “This is not a war of civilizations; it’s not Islam versus the West. It’s a struggle within Islam to define the character of Islam.”

“We cannot come in as outsiders, as a non-Muslim country, and discredit the radicals’ ideology,” Rabasa said. “Muslims have to do that themselves. What we can do is level the playing field by empowering the moderates.”

Rather than an afterthought, the building of moderate Muslim networks needs to become an explicit goal of U.S. government policy, with an international database of partners, a well-designed plan and “feedback loops” to keep it on track, according to the study.

The report by RAND, a nonprofit research organization, is intended to serve as a “road map” to build these networks and to serve as a practical guide for policymakers to implement.

Rabasa said the United States has a critical role to play in aiding moderate Muslims, and can learn much from the way it addressed the spread of Communism during the Cold War. The efforts of the United States and its allies to build free and democratic networks and institutions provided an organizational and ideological counter force to Communist groups seeking to come to power through political groups, labor unions, youth and student organizations and other groups.

Broad parallels stand out between the Cold War environment and the situation in the Muslim world today.

“At the beginning of the Cold War, the threat was a global Communist movement led by a nuclear-armed Soviet Union; today it is a global jihadist movement striking against the West with acts of mass-casualty terrorism,” the report notes. In both cases, policymakers recognized that the United States and its allies were engaged in an ideological conflict that had to be contested across diplomatic, economic, military and psychological dimensions.


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