Chapter 5. Terrorist Safe Havens (7120 Report) -- 5.4. Combating Violent Extremism

Office of the Coordinator for Counterterrorism
April 30, 2009

The United States recognizes that the global and generational challenge of countering violent extremism requires marginalizing violent extremists and undermining their effort to exploit religion to rationalize their acts of terror. While it is important to recognize that not all extremists are Muslim, we cannot ignore the large number of extremists who have distorted Islam to promote terrorism.

Tools to Accomplish Such Goals

The United States advances these strategic objectives by:

  • Amplifying credible mainstream Muslim voices.
  • Engaging foreign publics to explain American policies and debunk the myths about America and Islam
  • Creating networks of like-minded mainstream thinkers
  • Creating organic initiatives that go to the heart of the ideological appeal. This component of Public Diplomacy is not simply trying to “win the hearts and minds” of Muslim communities. Our interest is in helping these communities acquire credible alternatives to the violent extremists. Thus, the key measure is not whether they "like" America.

Learning about the United States through experience, is important. The United States is promoting increased exchanges. 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, both for study in the United States and for English language training. English language programs not only provide crucial skills but also open a window to information about the United States, its people, and its values. Education USA advising centers at U.S. embassies and affiliated organizations promote U.S. higher education opportunities, including English language study, to prospective international students in the region. Americans must also better educate themselves about the world. The National Security Language Initiative is encouraging more Americans 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 struggle 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 blog sites. Additionally, State’s website contains articles debunking false stories about the United States and a blog “Rumors, Myths, and Fabrications” is devoted to this issue.

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 violent 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 list of designated Foreign Terrorist Organizations, and the State Department's annual Country Reports on Terrorism.

Strengthening and empowering the voices most credible to speak out in favor of non-violence, respect for rule of law, and the compatibility of Islam and democracy, is central to our efforts. Providing Muslim youth with credible alternatives to messages coming from violent extremists is critical. We are doing this in new ways using a light U.S. government footprint.

The American people are one of public diplomacy’s greatest assets. Empowerment of individuals and groups from all walks of life is a key aspect of the Department's public diplomacy efforts.

We recognize 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 U.S. government'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 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 supporting development and reform across the board. (More information on these programs can be found in this chapter.)

The Ambassador's Fund for Counterterrorism. The State Department's Bureau of Counterterrorism has developed a strategic communication team to address the "soft" side of counterterrorism. The Ambassador’s Fund for Counterterrorism funds innovative activities and programs that aim to shift the perceptions of target audiences, undermine the enemy’s image, delegitimize extremist ideologies, and diminish support for violent extremism. In 2008, it funded 17 programs across all geographical regions (representing a total of $750,000).

Programs have included:

  • Promoting Civic Engagement and Community Law Enforcement by Moroccan Youth.
  • Affecting Institutional Change in Madrassa Schools in Bangladesh.
  • Empowering Women against Religious Violence in India.
  • Launching the Creation of a European Minority Media Network.
  • Supporting De-radicalization Among Incarcerated Terrorists in Indonesia.

Iran Programs

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 programs related to Iran, as well as efforts to explain 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 was to evaluate all major public diplomacy and exchange programs individually as well as provide an overall strategic framework for public diplomacy assessment. This function was modified in July 2008 with the creation of the Evaluation and Measurement Unit (EMU) within the Office of Policy, Planning, and Resources for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. The Evaluation & Measurement Unit builds accountability and improves the effectiveness of U.S. mission public diplomacy activities worldwide through program evaluation that include the application of rigorous data collection methods and innovative analytical approaches. The EMU evaluates U.S. mission public diplomacy programs, products and initiatives, and educational and cultural exchange programs supported by core operating funds, primarily carried out by the Bureau of International Information Programs (IIP) and U.S. overseas missions.

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 PDEO and EMU on how to measure public diplomacy activities.

The measures of performance and accountability used by public diplomacy 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);Reduction in level of anti-American sentiment among key foreign audiences;
  • Program participant (key/target audience) satisfaction scores of public diplomacy programs and public outreach activities, and
  • Institutional partnerships and linkages and on-going collaboration.

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 U.S. government recommendations, the Community of Democracies created regional dialogues which brought together representatives from governmental and non-governmental organizations from each region to discuss the challenges and solutions unique to their areas. 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.