Chapter 5 -- 5.4. Struggle of Ideas in the Islamic World

Country Reports on Terrorism
Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
April 30, 2008

Public diplomacy is essential to a successful foreign policy and to America's national security. The United States recognizes that the global and generational challenge of countering terrorism is, at its heart, a contest of ideas and values. America is more secure when people around the world share the same hopes and freedoms.

Goals for Winning the Struggle of Ideas

The State Department's public diplomacy work is guided by three strategic imperatives. First and foremost, it offers a positive vision of hope and opportunity rooted in the enduring U.S. commitment to freedom. It promotes the fundamental and universal rights of free speech and assembly, the freedom to worship, the rule of law, and rights for women and minorities. It strives to isolate and marginalize violent extremists and undermine their efforts to exploit religion to rationalize their acts of terror. Finally, it fosters a sense of common interests and common values between Americans and people around the world.

Tools to Accomplish Such Goals

The United States advances these strategic objectives by vigorously engaging foreign publics to explain and advocate American policies. Reaching foreign audiences with core policy messages on democracy, tolerance, and the universal values of liberty, justice, and respect are at the center of U.S. efforts to counter extremist rhetoric and disinformation coming from hostile groups.

The United States is promoting increased exchanges, which exemplify the transformative power of American global engagement. The significance of people-to-people exchanges has never been more clear or compelling. The 9/11 Commission Report recognized the essential contribution exchanges make to national security. The National Intelligence Reform Act of 2004 reaffirmed the importance of America's commitment to exchanges.

The United States is expanding educational opportunities as the path to hope and opportunity. English language programs not only provide crucial skills but also open a window to information about the United States, its people, and its values. Americans must also better educate themselves about the world. The President's National Security Language Initiative will encourage more American students to study critical languages such as Chinese, Russian, Hindi, Persian, and Arabic.

Responding to and quickly debunking misinformation, conspiracy theories, and urban legends is crucial for success in the war of ideas. That is a key objective of the State Department’s Digital Outreach Team, whose members post comments on well-trafficked Arabic, Persian, and Urdu language blogsites. Additionally, State maintains a public "Identifying Misinformation" website in both English and Arabic, which is devoted to countering false stories that appear in extremist and other web sources. The site focuses on disinformation likely to end up in the mainstream media. Embassies have used information from this site to counter disinformation in extremist print publications in Pakistan and other countries. One article, "A Trio of Disinformers," was the subject of a 1,100-word front-page article in an issue of the influential pan-Arab newspaper al-Sharq al-Awsat. "Identifying Misinformation" is featured on the website and is listed first of 17.6 million sites in a Google search for the term "misinformation." At least 49 websites have direct links to “Identifying Misinformation”.

The Internet, radio, television, and video products remain powerful tools for bringing America's foreign policy message to worldwide audiences. The State Department produces a wide array of print and electronic materials describing for foreign audiences, in their own languages, the need to counter those who have committed or wish to commit terrorist acts, as well as achievements made in this area.

The State Department's premier web page to explain U.S. counterterrorism policy is "Confronting Terrorism," featured on the web site. The site is listed among the top 10 of more than 200 million sites in a Google search for the terms "terrorism U.S.” At least 133 websites link directly to it. In addition to ‎featuring articles, texts, and transcripts from key policymakers, this site provides valuable links to the Electronic Journals series, the National Strategy for Combating Terrorism, the designated Foreign Terrorist Organization list, and the State Department's Country Reports on Terrorism.

Support for and understanding of the United States go hand-in-hand with strengthening and empowering the voices most credible to speak out in favor of tolerance and rule of law to counter the violent extremists' message of hate and terror. One of public diplomacy's greatest assets is the American people. Empowerment of individuals and groups, from all walks of life, is a key aspect of the Department's public diplomacy efforts.

As we actively prosecute the struggle of ideas, we need to recognize that this will require a long-term effort spanning years and generations. For that reason, we are placing increased emphasis on programs directed at younger audiences, including undergraduate and, in select cases, high school students.

The USG's assistance programs, administered through USAID, the Middle East Partnership Initiative, the Millennium Challenge Corporation, and other U.S. entities, advance U.S. interests in this area directly through programs to increase access to education, improve health care, and empower people to build better lives. Civic engagement is an important component. Assistance programs to strengthen and professionalize independent media and civic society contribute to opening the "marketplace of ideas," as well as support development and reform across the board.

The United States appropriated $66 million in FY-2006 supplemental funds and almost $60 million in FY-2008 funds for civil society development, broadcasting, and exchange efforts related to Iran, allowing us to dramatically increase our ability to speak directly to the Iranian people. This funding supports efforts to clarify U.S. policy objectives to the Iranian people.

Benchmarks for Measuring Success and Linking Resources to Accomplishments

In 2004, State established the Public Diplomacy Evaluation Office (PDEO). Its mandate is to evaluate all major public diplomacy and exchange programs individually as well as provide an overall strategic framework for public diplomacy assessment.

Organizations as diverse as the Peace Corps, Department of Defense, the British Council, the World Bank, and non-profits in Italy, Japan, and the Netherlands have all consulted with the PDEO on how to measure public diplomacy activities.

The measures used by the PDEO are based upon recognized social and behavioral science methodologies and include measuring changes in audience attitudes (knowledge, skills, perceptions, and understanding), behavior, and condition. Examples include:

  • Improved or increased understanding of the United States, its policies and values;
  • Initiated or implemented "positive" change within an individual's organization (positive referring to changes that support U.S. ideals and values);
  • Institutional partnerships and linkages and on-going collaboration; and
  • Changes in editorial content in major media.

Participation in International Institutions for the Promotion of Democracy and Economic Diversification

The United States is a leading participant in many international organizations, such as the United Nations and NATO. We also play a leading role in other initiatives, such as the Forum for the Future and the Community of Democracies, which stimulate cooperation with other nations to advance the agenda of freedom. For the first time since its creation in 2000 and in response to USG recommendations, the Community of Democracies created regional dialogues which brought together governmental and non-governmental organization representatives from each region to discuss the particular challenges and solutions unique to their area. We will continue to seek opportunities to build on the momentum coming out of the April ministerial, particularly in support of the Forum for the Future and the Broader Middle East and North Africa (BMENA) processes.

U.S. Assistance Sufficient to Convince Allies and People in the Islamic World that the United States is Committed to Winning this Struggle

USG assistance programs are intended to improve economic conditions and opportunities in developing countries around the world, thereby serving the United States national interest in a more prosperous and secure international community. Our assistance can have the additional impact of demonstrating our commitment to help poorer countries or countries in special need, as we saw after the tsunami of 2004 and the Pakistan earthquake of 2005. There is, however, no set amount of money or time that we could identify as being sufficient to win the struggle of ideas.