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Posted Online on Saturday, 21 April 2007 02:50 IST

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Muslim Islamic NewsRand Corporation's new recipe to handle the Muslim World

By Abdus Sattar Ghazali

The Milli Gazette

7 April 2007

The semi-official U.S. think tank, Rand Corporation, suggests creation of networks of the so-called moderate Muslims to promote US policy objectives in the Muslim World.

In its latest report, titled "Building Moderate Muslim Networks" the Rand Corp advocates that the building of moderate Muslim networks needs to become an explicit goal of the U.S. government policy, with an international database of partners and a well-designed plan.

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 the Rand Corporation report issued on March 26, 2007.

Lead writer of the report Angel Rabasa says that 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."

The report defines a moderate as a Muslim who supports democracy, gender equality, freedom of worship and opposition to terrorism. This looks an amplification on its two previous reports - "Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources, and Strategies" (March 2004) and "US strategy in the Muslim World after 9/11" (December 2004) - which also suggested supporting moderate Muslims and exploitation of inter-Muslim religious differences. Interestingly, a novelist turned research scholar, Cheryl Benard is the author of "Civil Democratic Islam" and co-author of Dec. 2004 and March 2007 reports.

In the December 2004 study Rabasa had suggested to exploit Sunni, Shiite and Arab, non-Arab divides to promote the US policy objectives in the Muslim world. Echoing this theme, the latest report recommends reaching out to Muslim activists, leaders and intellectuals in non-Arab countries such as Turkey as well as in Southeast Asia and Europe. The report recommends targeting five groups as potential building blocks for networks: liberal and secular Muslim academics and intellectuals; young moderate religious scholars; community activists; women's groups engaged in gender equality campaigns; and moderate journalists and scholars.

The report warned that moderate groups can lose credibility and therefore, effectiveness if U.S. support is too obvious. Effective tactics that worked during the Cold War include having the groups led by credible individuals and having the United States maintain some distance from the organizations it supports. "This was done by not micro-managing the groups, but by giving them enough autonomy," Rabasa said. "As long as certain guidelines were met, they were free to pursue their own activities." 

To help start this initiative, the report recommends working toward an international conference modeled in the Cold War-era Congress of Cultural Freedom, and then developing a standing organization to combat what it called radical Islamism.

The recent summit of "Secular Islam Conference" in St. Petersburg, Florida, almost coincided with the release of the latest Rand Report. A small group of self-proclaimed secular Muslims from North America and elsewhere gathered in St. Petersburg for what they billed as a new global movement to correct the assumed wrongs of Islam and call for an "Islamic Reformation."

The St. Petersburg conference, held on the sideline of the Intelligence Summit, was carried live on (Islamophobe) Glenn Beck's CNN show. Some of the organizers and speakers at the convention were well known thanks to the media spotlight: Irshad Manji, author of "The Trouble With Islam," and Ayaan Hirsi Ali, the former Dutch parliamentarian and author of "Infidel," were but a few there claiming to have suffered personally at the hands of "radical" Islam. One participant, Wafa Sultan, declared on Glenn Beck's show that she doesn't "see any difference between radical Islam and regular Islam." Other participants were the now public ex-Muslim Ibn Warraq and self-proclaimed ex-terrorist Tawfiq Hamid.

Surely, the "moderate" Muslim agenda is promoted because these ideas reflect a Western vision for the future of Islam. Since the Sept. 11 attacks, everyone from high-ranking officials in the Bush administration to anti-Islam authors have prescribed a preferred remedy for Islam: Reform the faith. 

The Rand Reports about Islam appear to be part of a grand strategy to "change the face of Islam" as revealed by the US News and World Report on April 15, 2005. The report entitled - Hearts, Minds, and Dollars: In an Unseen Front in the War on Terrorism, America is Spending Millions...To Change the Very Face of Islam - reads: "From military psychological-operations teams and CIA covert operatives to openly funded media and think tanks, Washington is plowing tens of millions of dollars into a campaign to influence not only Muslim societies but Islam itself." 

According to the well planned leaks to the US News and World Report, this strategy for the first time stated that the United States has a national security interest in influencing what happens within Islam. The report also confirmed that it is, in fact, the US which has been funding an American version of Islam, called "Moderate Islam." 

The Rand reports try to create a fictitious vision of Muslims and of Islam, where it is antihuman, uncreative, authoritarian, and intrinsically against Western societies. It is an ethnocentric view of Islam that dominates current representations of Islam that are reductive, predominantly negative, and encouraging a culture of Islamophobia.

The complexities of the so-called fundamentalism and extremism in the past 100 years or so, whether it be Christian, Hindu, Jewish or Muslim, need to be understood in the context of modernization, the process of secularization, the changing nature of religious institutions, the post-colonial experience in developing countries, globalization, the divide between wealthy and poor, contesting political power, and the impact of totalitarian regimes on civil society.

What is not mentioned in the RAND reports is that the reason for the alienation of Muslims from the West, is the issue of "double standards" the West so brazenly practices when dealing with Muslim nations. America already has a very tarnished image in the Islamic world. It has already alienated a great majority of Muslims throughout the world through its misguided foreign policy. Who in the right mind will believe that this asinine assault on Islam and Muslims will win America friends in the Islamic world? 

Now a word about the Washington-based semi-official think tank the RAND Corporation. Among other government departments, the Rand Corp conducts studies for the Office of the Secretary of Defense, the Joint Staff, the Unified Commands, the defense agencies, the Department of the Navy and the U.S. intelligence community. Obviously, writers of the three under discussion reports on Islam may be considered as neo-Orientalists with clear intention to belittle Islam.

When the European nations began their long campaign to colonize and conquer the rest of the world for their own benefit, they brought their academic and missionary resources to help them with their task. Orientalists and missionaries, whose ranks often overlapped, were the servants of an imperialist government who was using their services as a way to subdue or weaken an enemy. The academic study of the Oriental East by the Occidental West was often motivated and often co-operated hand-in-hand with the imperialistic aims of the European colonial powers. The foundations of Orientalism were in the maxim "Know thy enemy". This equally applies to the modern day Orientalists of such semi-official think tanks as the Rand Corporation.

Abdus Sattar Ghazali is the Executive Editor of the online magazine American Muslim Perspective

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