OpinionMeister

Monday, April 25, 2005

US Acts to Strengthen Moderate Islam vs Radicals

US News & World Report has an article by David E. Kaplan subtitled "In an Unseen Front in the War on Terrorism, America is Spending Millions...To Change the Very Face of Islam." It details how the US government has moved beyond promoting political democracy in Muslim countries to acting to influence the internal fight within Islam between the radicals and the moderates. Link.
In at least two dozen countries, Washington has quietly funded Islamic radio and TV shows, coursework in Muslim schools, Muslim think tanks, political workshops, or other programs that promote moderate Islam. Federal aid is going to restore mosques, save ancient Korans, even build Islamic schools. [...]

The CIA is revitalizing programs of covert action that once helped win the Cold War, targeting Islamic media, religious leaders, and political parties. The agency is receiving "an exponential increase in money, people, and assets" to help it influence Muslim societies, says a senior intelligence official. Among the tactics: working with militants at odds with al Qaeda and waging secret campaigns to discredit the worst anti-American zealots. [...]

Approved by President Bush, the Muslim World Outreach strategy is now being implemented across the government. But it has stirred controversy. "The Cold War was easy," says a knowledgeable official. "It was a struggle against a godless political ideology. But this has theological elements. It goes to the core of American belief that we don't mess with freedom of religion. Do we have any authority to influence this debate?" The answer, for now, appears to be yes. "You do it quietly," says Zeyno Baran, a terrorism analyst at the Nixon Center who advised on the strategy. "You provide money and help create the political space for moderate Muslims to organize, publish, broadcast, and translate their work." [...]

The role of Saudi Arabia has repeatedly come up in discussions of the new strategy, sources say. Fueled by its vast oil wealth, the Saudis are estimated to have spent up to $75 billion since 1975 to expand their fundamentalist sect, Wahhabism, worldwide. The kingdom has funded hundreds of mosques, schools, and Islamic centers abroad, spreading a once obscure sect of Islam widely blamed for preaching distrust of nonbelievers, anti-Semitism, and near-medieval attitudes toward women. [...]

Many of the shock troops for America's new war of ideas are coming not from the CIA, nor from the State Department, but from the low-profile U.S. Agency for International Development. In the three years since 9/11, spending by the government's top purveyor of foreign aid has nearly tripled to over $21 billion, and more than half of that is now destined for the Muslim world. Along with more traditional aid for agriculture and education are the kind of programs that have spurred change in the former Soviet Union--training for political organizers and funding for independent media. Increasingly, those grants are going to Islamic groups. [...]

Elsewhere, U.S. officials are working quietly through third parties to train madrasah teachers to add math, science, civics, and health to their curriculum. The most ambitious program is in Pakistan, where sensitivities run so high that allegations of U.S. funding are enough to prompt parents to pull their children from schools, USAID staffers say. The agency is working through private foundations and the Pakistan Ministry of Education on what officials call a "model madrasah" program that may eventually include over a thousand schools.

As long as the funds are spent only overseas, I do not see a problem with the Establishment Clause. The courts are pretty clear that government funds within the US cannot be spent in ways that favor one branch of a religion over another. And clearly this use of funds is not intended to favor one branch of Islam over another for religion's sake, but to weaken religious or pseudo-religious forces that wish to harm us militarily. Cutting off recruits for radical Islamofascism is a very-long-term project. The large presence of Saudis in the terrorist ranks proves that poverty is not the driving force, but religious ideology. Changing of the thinking of the young in Islamic societies can help to isolate and shrink the terrorist organizations, which need a constant flow of new recruits.

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