American Jihad: 7 strategies for how we can defeat ISIS

American Jihad

An appeal to fellow American Millennials on the 13th anniversary of 9/11

By Nael Sanaullah & Naufal Sanaullah
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A map of the area ISIS aims to control, including: Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Syria, Iraq, & Lebanon (in black), and eventually parts of Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, & Iran (in white). Image courtesy of the Soufan Group.

ISIS is the real deal. It claims control over large swathes of Syria & Iraq, from Aleppo to Mosul to Fallujah, and much of the 35,000 sq miles between. Its goal is to establish a puritanical, neo-Salafi Islamist “caliphate”, across the entire Mashreq (or as ISIS calls it: “Iraq & al-Shams”), including Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Lebanon, Syria, & Iraq.

ISIS’s leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi effectively orchestrated a power grab from Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri. Baghdadi’s tactics, too extreme even for Al-Qaeda, ruthlessly exploited the power vacuums in Iraq & Syria, besting the US, Assad, the Syrian rebellion, & Al-Qaeda, in various areas. ISIS membership has skyrocketed from less than 2,000 before the Syrian Civil War began in 2011, to an estimated 80,000 today. And a potential alliance with a new Pakistani Taliban splinter group may be brewing. The only thing more concerning than ISIS’s radical ambitions & violent strategies is its financial, operational, & communicational success with those strategies.

“(ISIS) is as sophisticated and well-funded as any group that we have seen. They’re beyond just a terrorist group.” — Chuck Hagel

ISIS is the best-funded extremist group in history, with an estimated $2 billion in assets, boosted by its massive looting of the Mosul central bank ($429 million in Iraqi dinars and hundreds of millions in gold bullion) in its July capture of the city. It operates a complex financial network, utilizing oil sales, crime, taxation (including giving Assyrians, Armenians, & Yezidis the choice of converting to Islam, paying “a hefty jiziya tax”, or death by sword for the males & raping of women & children), and other tactics. It has seized a vast array of American & Iraqi military assets brought over during the Iraq War, including arms & ammunition. Its seizure of Syrian military assets includes an air base, several planes, and pilots that are being detained for the purpose of training militants how to fly. It has combined al-Zarqawi’s operational tactics of hostages & beheadings, and al-Awlaki’s communication strategy focusing on social media & the Western Muslim youth.

An infographic summarizing ISIS’s financing sources, courtesy of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.

In fact, as of last month, an estimated 3,000 Westerners are fighting in Syria & Iraq, many of which joined the ranks of ISIS. The 2013 Boston Bombings (perpetrated by Americans radicalized by Chechen extremists, a growing amount of which are fighting for ISIS) underscore the risk of Western fighters in the Levant turning into “homegrown terrorists” attacking their home soil. Indeed, the Saudi King Abdullah predicts ISIS will reach Europe within a month & the US within two. Of course, this statement has to be taken into the context of Saudi’s geopolitical interests & strategies, and further along in this piece, it is. Nevertheless: ISIS is the real deal — it is an unprecedented enemy whose defeat will require our very best.

My proposal is to pursue a 7-pronged thematic strategy:

  1. History — We should seek to better understand Muslim history and the impact Western foreign policy, which we as Americans inherit, has had on its development, and the roots of Muslim rage
  2. Intelligence agencies — We should stop feeding extremist conspiracy narratives with the actions of unchecked intelligence agencies
  3. Geopolitics — We should use the ISIS crisis as an opportunity to realign the power balances in the Muslim world, to reflect both American and global interests, and to strengthen our bonds with the non-extremist Muslim world and its economic potential
  4. Defense — We should use more creative, non-military strategies against ISIS, and Islamist extremism overall, in addition to targeted operations with assistance from the international community and local fighters
  5. Economics — We should make the economic development of the non-extremist Muslim civilian population an American national security and long-term economic priority
  6. Culture — We should make better strides to foster cross-cultural and -faith dialogue and respect, especially through social media and humanitarian aid
  7. Human rights — We should look inward, to our fundamental roots, inspired by the European Enlightenment, which in turn was influenced by the Islamic Golden Age, in turn influenced by the Ancient Greeks, Indians, Egyptians, & Chinese, and so on, in a long chain of scientific advancement & humanist pluralism

“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the results of a hundred battles.” — Lao Tzu

Both our pre- & post-9/11 foreign policies for defeating extremism have seemingly failed, including War on Terror alliances with Pakistan & Saudi, mass NSA surveillance, & the assassination of Osama Bin Laden. ISIS has discredited the views of both supporters & opponents of interventionism. The Iraq War led to the power vacuum that created proto-ISIS groups (Al-Qaeda in Iraq & Islamic State of Iraq), while non-interventionism in Syria led to the power vacuum that birthed ISIS. A more nuanced debate is required. In order to defeat extremism, we have to understand its origins & nature, as well as tailor our own response to take advantage.

ISIS is the latest in a long string of radicalism that increasingly combines Islamic fundamentalism with fascist state ambitions. Why does this brand of extremism exist? Is it because “they hate our freedoms”? I certainly hope not, otherwise “they” may be winning, considering the dilution of First Amendment rights & executive checks since 9/11. History suggests that, instead, this radicalism lies at the intersection of post-WWI geopolitics, religious exclusionism, & economic inequality between the Muslim & Western worlds. This disorderly clash of cultures has led to a dynamic in which the West unwittingly perpetuates mass oppression in the Muslim world, extremists become the voice of the oppressed, and the natural resources and culture of the region are looted. It has led to a world in which Muslims cannot distinguish between modernization and Westernization, and dismiss the former in rebellion to the latter, and in turn Westerners cannot distinguish between Islamism and extremism, and dismiss the former in rebellion to the latter.

“Free people do not relinquish their security. This is contrary to Bush’s claim that we hate freedom. Let him tell us why we did not strike Sweden, for example.” — Osama bin Laden

I. We should seek to better understand Muslim history and the impact Western foreign policy, which we as Americans inherit, has had on its development, and the roots of Muslim rage

When did this seemingly perpetual conflict in the Muslim world begin? A boomer, having seen it escalate for decades on end, may cynically assert the false narrative that this conflict has persisted forever. However, early Muslim history was devoid of today’s conflict, and its first six centuries are today referred to as a Golden Age. Islam began in 610 when an Arabic sage named Muhammad, after meditating in seclusion for an extended period of time (like Buddha, Jesus, Zoroaster, and many others before him), had a religious experience that included the first Qur’anic revelation. In the following 22 years until his death, Muhammad and his followers grew Islam from a small, new branch of Judeo-Christian monotheism, to relatively diplomatically uniting the entire Arabian Peninsula’s warring tribes under a new Islamic state, the first caliphate.

Over the next century, the first two caliphates grew the Islamic Empire into the largest the world had yet seen (and the fifth-largest in history — by far the most peaceful and tolerant of the ten largest) by conquering land from the competing Byzantine/Eastern Roman & Sassanid Empires. The spread of the Muslim faith during this time was largely nonviolent, and sociopolitically, most subjects of the Byzantine Empire felt freed by its rule rather than oppressed by Muslim rule, as opposed to European and American colonialism centuries later. A century later, the third caliphate presided over the beginning of one of history’s great enlightenment periods, with Baghdad as its capital.

The Islamic Empire at its greatest extent, in the 8th century during the Umayyad Caliphate, comprising 10% of global land area and 30% of global population. Image courtesy of Wikipedia.

The Muslim world became the global leader in intellectualism, feminism, artistic expression, sexual liberalism, skeptical philosophy, democracy, racial equality, & technological innovation. For centuries, the Muslim world was home to a progressive, tolerant, multicultural society: Jewish stonemasons even helped lay the foundation for the Great Mosque in Spain. Also during this period, Muslim academics translated vast amounts of ancient Greek, Persian, Chinese, & Indian texts, kicking off an academic revolution and providing the seeds for the European Renaissance centuries later. The caliphate heavily funded the sciences, with some top scholars even earning the equivalent of today’s professional athletes, and one caliph founded the world’s first university, the House of Wisdom. Even as the caliphate became fractured & overextended, culminating in the Mongols sacking Baghdad in 1258, Islam pervaded the region and religious relations were peaceful. Out of the fog of sovereign ambiguity arose the Ottoman Empire, a Turkic people who had adopted Islam and moved the capital to Constantinople (Istanbul), from which all state power emanated. For centuries, Muslims & non-Muslims alike lived in relative peace in Ottoman land, with local regions having semi-autonomy. ISIS is the modern-day version of extremist, ultra-conservative rebellion against Islamic Golden Age caliphate rule, not the actual leadership itself.

So when did the perpetual violence in the region arise? Unlike a typical boomer, a millennial may trace today’s conflict in the Muslim world back to 9/11, or perhaps the Gulf War. But this is not a recent phenomenon, nor one that arose in a vacuum. It didn’t begin with 9/11, nor the Gulf War, nor the Iranian Revolution, nor the Arab-Israeli Wars; it began a century ago, when the Ottomans (and Central Powers) lost in World War I to the British, French, & Russian Empires. The Brits & French took control of the region, but were unable to cultivate sustainable peace, creating power vacuums. Anti-imperialist backlash arose, driving political weight toward rising secular Arab nationalist movements, like Ba’athism. These autocracies failed in reversing the effects of Western imperialism, and economic & political inequalities created new power vacuums. Islamist extremists filled these power vacuums, by exploiting anti-secularist populist sentiment and propagating a narrative of Western persecution. The latest in this string of power vacuums is the post-Arab Spring void, which in the Mashreq (where both Assad & Hussein were Ba’athist leaders) has been filled by ISIS.

“For tumult and oppression are worse than slaughter.” –The Qur’an, 2:191

Post-WWI geopolitics is a fundamental source of the conflict in the Muslim world that has led to the emergence of ISIS. Originally, the Arab Hashemite dynasty was supposed to inherit rule over most of the Middle East after the Ottomans lost. Claiming direct ancestry from Muhammad, the Hashemites had continued semi-autonomous rule over the Hejaz (coastal Western Arabia, including the holy cities of Mecca & Medina) for seven centuries, including under the Ottoman umbrella. During WWI, they made a deal with the Brits through Lawrence of Arabia known as the McMahon Correspondence, in which they agreed to lead a pan-Arab revolt against the Ottomans in exchange for dominion over a future pan-Arab Islamic state encompassing most of the region between Egypt & Persia (excluding Arabia).

However, unclear negotiation terms, as well as evolving British interests, caused the Brits to renege on this agreement. Before the end of World War I, the British & French empires secretly made the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which divided up Ottoman land more along French interests. This agreement, along with the Anglo-French Declaration two years later, led to an invalidation of Arab-British agreements, as well as troublesome borders created along external interests. ISIS specifically refers to the Sykes-Picot Agreement as unlawful demarcation of Muslim land. The Kurds, which are the world’s largest ethnicity without their own nation-state, were intentionally left out of the planning, mainly due to French interest in the energy assets of the region. The Balfour declaration, a letter from the British foreign secretary to Baron Rothschild (a leader in the British Jewish community) emphasized British interest in a Jewish safe haven in Palestine, further diluting British promises to Arabs. In the end, the region was split into the Hashemite Kingdom in the Hejaz & Jordan, the French mandate of Syria & Lebanon, and the British mandates of Palestine, Iraq, & Trans-Jordan.

“Religion is very easy, and whoever overburdens himself in his religion will not be able to continue in that way. So you should not be extremists, but try to be near to perfection and receive the good tidings that you will be rewarded.” — Muhammad

Western imperialism had prevented a pan-Arab state, but it also changed the shape of Arabia. The Saudis, who ruled over the conservative, remote Najd and were the main rival to the Hashemites, successfully lobbied British support away from the Hashemites and annexed the liberal, metropolitan Hejaz. The Saudis practiced Wahhabism, an ultra-conservative, sectarian brand of Islam influenced by the teachings of Muhammad ibn Wahhab, who created the Saudi state with Muhammad ibn Saud and whose family (Al ash-Sheik) comprises the majority of the Saudi state clergy today, with state-sponsored moral authority. The influence of this fundamentalist dominant minority increased dramatically decades later, as the oil boom provided the Wahhabis large windfalls, through the Chevron-Saudi partnership Arabian-American Corporation.

“An Arab has no superiority over a non-Arab nor a non-Arab has any superiority over an Arab; also a white has no superiority over black nor a black has any superiority over white, except by piety and good action.“ –Muhammad

Instead of a pan-Arab Islamic state ruled by the Hashemites, the Muslim world was divided among the colonial powers and the theocratic Saudis. Anti-imperialistic populist backlash manifested in Arab nationalist movements forming, both religious and secular. In postwar Palestine, conflict between increasingly violent Arab and Jewish nationalist movements (including both proto-Salafi & Zionist insurgencies & terrorist attacks) led to the UN adopting the Partition Plan, which split Palestine into Arab & Jewish states. Despite Jewish support, the Arabs dismissed the proposal as undermining their right to self-determination, and the Arab-Israeli War began. When the dust settled, Israel had retained all of the land allotted to it by the Partition Plan, gained 60% of the Arab land, as per the 1949 Armistice Agreement, and still no Arab state existed. Two more Israeli-Arab Wars occurred, with Israel gaining Gaza and Sinai from Egypt, among others.

The expansion of Israel via the Partition Plan and post-Six Day War settlements. Image courtesy of Palestinian Awareness Coalition / Wikipedia.

Over the next few decades, Israel used its land gains and geopolitical alliance with the United States as leverage to induce ceasefires and peace treaties with its neighbors. Many in the Muslim world viewed this as acquiescence, and particularly in conservative Muslim circles, resentment began to bubble against Arab leaders making peace with Israel. As anti-Israeli sentiments brewed both inside and outside Palestine, militant attacks against Israel escalated, leading to Israeli settlements in Gaza and the West Bank. Despite cries from the UN & NGOs about the human rights situation (especially after the Gazan blockade began in response to Hamas’s rise to power in 2007) and international calls for a return to the 1949 borders, the US has continually vetoed all UN Security Council resolutions condemning Israeli settlements, which only increased the radicalization, and anti-US sentiments, of Arabs. This is more characteristic of Hamas sentiments than ISIS at present, which itself causes issues because the Gazan blockade only serves to further radicalize Gazans, making Gazan elections as effective at eliminating populist support for extremists as an election in a ghetto. But it is also indicative of the misattribution of the Palestinian crisis to a “Crusader-Zionist” alliance, against which ISIS has explicitly declared war, with the caliphate aiming to extend its reach westward all the way to Palestine.

“Many of our children are being indoctrinated, in religious schools, that the Arabs are Amalek, and the bible teaches us that Amalek must be destroyed. There was already a rabbi (Israel Hess) who wrote in the newspaper of Bar Ilan University that we all must commit genocide, and that is because his research showed that the Palestinians are Amalek.” –Shulamat Aroni, member of Israeli Knesset

II. We should stop feeding extremist conspiracy narratives with the actions of unchecked intelligence agencies

After World War II, anti-imperialistic sentiments increasingly brewed outside Palestine, this time taking the form of secular socialist Arab nationalism. Ba’athist autocrats took over in Syria (Bashar al-Assad’s father) and Iraq (Saddam Hussein), and although they helped stem the still-small tide of religious extremism in the region, they had ideological alliances with the Soviets and often harbored imperialist attitudes, causing tension with the West against the Cold War backdrop. Although socialized oil revenues boosted the economies, corruption, autocracy, and imperialist foreign policy led to two vicious cycles between: 1) declining popular support & rising authoritarianism, and 2) declining Western support & rising foreign policy aggression. Iraqis & Syrians blamed the West for installing puppet governments, the West blamed the people for supporting Ba’athism, and the dictators become increasingly radical in response. This culminated in the Persian Gulf War, Saddam Hussein’s alleged assassination attempt of George H.W. Bush, the Iraq War, and the Syrian Civil War. The latter two created the power vacuum from which ISIS emerged.

“The best type of jihad is speaking truth before a tyrannical ruler.” — Muhammad

The failure of secularist nationalists to sufficiently counter neo-imperialism led to an even more radical populist backlash, this time co-opted by Islamist extremists. As the Cold War began, the US CIA implemented anti-communist interventions globally, including supporting the Afghan mujahedeen against the Soviets, as well as the right-wing Pakistani President General Muhammad Zia-ul-Haq. Osama Bin Laden, who had been exiled from his home country Saudi Arabia, considered the Saudis as having sold out the Arab cause, and began forging a rebellion from Afghanistan. Through Operation Cyclone, the CIA provided funds and arms to Bin Laden and the mujahedeen, who forced the Soviets to retreat and played a crucial role in the United States winning the Cold War. After the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan, previous allies became uncomfortable enemies, as Bin Laden & the mujahedeen created Al Qaeda. New iterations of radical ideologies arose with Qutbism & its spread through the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

Operation Cyclone worked through Pakistan and its ISI intelligence agency (which has connections to the Taliban), a result of the friendly relations between Pakistani President Zia-ul-Haq and the US. Zia-ul-Haq was a fervent sectarian, Islamist, anti-communist authoritarian who rose to power in a coup that some say the US supported. His Islamization campaign (of a secular country) was ultra-conservative, dogmatic, and persecutory to religious minorities, as well as propagated a revisionist, sectarian, ethnocentric national history in the state-mandated school curriculums. The Ahmadiyya sect of Islam, whose motto is “love for all, hatred for none” and who emphasizes heterodoxy between all religions, was targeted in particular, with Ordinance XX in 1984 officially declaring members of the sect as non-Muslims and, with cooperation from Saudi Arabia, preventing them from performing the obligatory Muslim practice of hajj, or pilgrimage to the holy city of Mecca. All of these policies were of course polarily opposite to the original aim of the architect of the Two-Nation Theory that birthed Pakistan in the first place.

Religious intolerance continues to run rampant in Pakistan, particularly in the northern and western tribal regions. During the Afghan mujahedeen campaign, Saudi Arabia sent funds and arms to Pakistan, as well as financed the construction of madrassas (religious schools), which essentially served as indoctrination camps of Deobandi-Wahhabi ideology. This strengthened the Saudi-Pak alliance, as well as increased the Saudi cultural sphere of influence in the Muslim world, with help from Zia-ul-Haq’s brand of “Islamization”. American support for Saudi, Zia-ul-Haq, and the mujahedeen have both bred extremism Afghanistan & Pakistan, as well as funneled that extremism toward the United States. Today, the United States is attempting to prevent another coup in Pakistan, while still droning Waziristan and at war in neighboring Afghanistan, against a backdrop where ISIS may partner with Taliban splinter groups in Pakistan.

“Though it took a decade to find bin Laden, there is one consolation for his long evasion of justice: He lived long enough to witness what some are calling the Arab Spring, the complete repudiation of his violent ideology.” –John McCain

A political cartoon showing Assad’s strategy of surreptitiously radicalizing the Syrian opposition, for geopolitical leverage against the West. Image courtesy of Vox.

Although anti-secularist backlash did gain ground in Pakistan, it was funneled mainly to nationalist anti-India sentiments. In the Arab world, the backlash targeted the heads of state, and when the Arab Spring erupted, secular Arab nationalism fell, creating a massive power vacuum. Although the Arab Spring protests were originally peaceful and popular demonstrations, they soon became hijacked by Islamist extremists, making a mockery of the above John McCain quote. This was most evident in Syria, where attrition against the Assad regime has turned Syria into a battleground, filled with radical militants. Assad in fact intentionally caused the rise of extremism within the Syrian rebellion, including a mass release of jihadist prisoners whom had been radicalized by proto-ISIS group AQI in Iraq, where Assad had sent them to prevent the US’s invasion of Iraq to continue westward to Syria. In fact, former NATO Allied Commander, Retired 4-Star General, West Point valedictorian, & Rhodes Scholar Wesley Clark claims that a senior American military commander said in late 2001 that an Iraqi invasion was “being discussed as part of a five-year campaign plan … and there were a total of seven countries, beginning with Iraq, then Syria, Lebanon, Libya, Iran, Somalia and Sudan.” Such a campaign could have birthed several ISIS-like threats across the entire Middle East & North Africa.

Assad’s festering of extremist elements within the Syrian rebellion allowed the Alawite (minority Muslim sect) Assad to force the US into choosing between him and Sunni jihadists, preventing a Saddam Hussein- or Muammar Gaddafi-like ending by relying on Russia’s veto in the UN Security Council. This however backfired, when ISIS began filling the resulting power vacuum with unilateral, violent, and sectarian strategies. The United States did not recognize that Assad was creating a self-fulfilling prophecy of extremist rebellion, and so missed the opportunity early on in the Syrian crisis to intervene, although the Iraqi analogue suggests even if that succeeded, a power vacuum would still have erupted.

III. We should use the ISIS crisis as an opportunity to realign the power balances in the Muslim world, to reflect both American and global interests, and to strengthen our bonds with the non-extremist Muslim world and its economic potential

However, the Syrian War did help accelerate a material shift in American foreign policy, revolving around Iran. Iran is a Shia state whose largest enemies are Israel and Saudi Arabia, the latter being the Sunni powerhouse competing for religious influence in the region. For decades, the US has had unilateral alliances with Israel & Saudi, as Saudi provides an OPEC alliance and Israel provides a Western regional medium of influence. Meanwhile, US-Iranian relations have been strained since the Iranian Revolution, when an Islamist Shia cleric led a coup against the Western-backed shah. Since 2010, the United States has underwent an energy output renaissance, due to the fracking boom, which has significantly diminished Saudi’s strategic importance to the United States. This is crucial to understanding US foreign policy and potential costs & benefits.

As a result, the US has begun a process of pivoting marginally toward Iran, effectively “neutralizing” its stance between rivals Iran & Saudi. This also opens the door to incrementally neutralizing its stance regarding Israel, which views Iran as a greater enemy than Hamas. The US is doing this gradually, as highlighted by the Saudi-based coalition against ISIS, which doesn’t include Iran & Turkey, in a push for Sunni-driven defeat of ISIS. This tactic is a carrot-and-stick measure with Saudi & Israel, and if the fight against ISIS devolves, Iran, Turkey, & Lebanon will be equally key allies as the Kurds, Jordan, & Saudi. This is especially the case if the CHP opposition party in Turkey (led by an Alevi) generates a large voter turnout in the Turkish general elections next year, and if Iran, Hezbollah, & Hamas can agree to mutually swapping marginal neutrality with Israel & Saudi.

“We will never be a pawn in someone else’s game. We will always be Afghanistan.” — Ahmad Shah Massoud

Why would the US want to trade marginal relations with Saudi & Israel for marginal relations with Iran? For one, unilateral support for Saudi & Israel has bred extremism & insurgencies across the region, and necessitated unnecessary & costly American foreign engagements, so it increases political pressure on Saudi to combat the spread of Wahhabi ideology and on Israel to tone down its disproportionate response to Hamas threats. But more importantly, it creates an opening to a new potential power structure in the Muslim world that isn’t dominated by Wahhabi-peppered mainstream Sunni dogma.

The devolution of the Syrian War came with the rise of sectarianism as a characteristic component of the conflict, and ISIS embodies this ethos to an unprecedented degree. Many commentators have noted that ISIS realigns the region’s powers along the lines of “the enemy of my enemy is my friend”. For example, Shia militant group Hezbollah prevented an ISIS terrorist attack in Lebanon and has been actively engaged against ISIS. Hezbollah is designated by the West as a terrorist organization, primarily because of their armed resistance to Israeli forces. The ISIS fight along sectarian Muslim lines opens the opportunity to shift perceptions of the United States in the region. The Kurdish peshmerga have been fundamental to the American fight against ISIS, and its effectiveness in preventing a Turkish insurgency has driven Turkey to make the historic step of accepting a prospective Kurdish state in northern Iraq. Given the current power vacuum in the region, a locally dominant minority ethnic group rising to fill the void with a secular ideology is an optimal scenario, and this alliance shift allows it. And we need to not give room for the Iranian Ayatollah to continue to equate US policy goals against ISIS to its drone campaign in Pakistan & Yemen.

Since ISIS wants to spread a caliphate to include Lebanon, Jordan, & Israel/Palestine, the US should take the opportunity to realign incentives. The US should leverage the Hashemite ruling family in Jordan to pressure Hezbollah in Lebanon and Hamas in Gaza to renounce extremist attacks and aggressive policies (including an indefinite ceasefire and recognition of Israel’s statehood) and strengthen its unity government with Fatah (especially considering the massively disproportionate civilian tolls in the latest Hamas-Israel bouts), in a coalition against ISIS, drawing in Iran through Hezbollah and the Jordanian dynasty representing Arab interests over the Saudis, in exchange for pressuring Saudi against its export of Wahhabist ideology and Israel against its settlements & disproportionate policy in Gaza. This is perhaps the best game-theoretic outcome for the US, using ISIS to bring Hamas & Hezbollah to agreeing to diplomacy, putting pressure on allies like Saudi & Israel to prevent blowback policy mistakes against American national interest, and creating a pan-Arab coalition against ISIS (perhaps with a UN promise for redrawing borders in exchange for helping to eliminate ISIS, similar to the original McMahon-Hussein agreement, whose reneging sparked this entire conflict).

“There is no compulsion in religion.” –Qur’an, 2:256

The United States needs to ally itself with Muslim minorities, and ensure that the post-ISIS Muslim world looks at the United States as protectors of the oppressed & persecuted. Religious pluralism is the name of the game, both at home and abroad. Cutting off political and financial support to radical Sunni extremists and sectarian governments, as well as neutralizing America’s stance on Israeli policy, is critical to regaining credibility in the Muslim world. The ISIS, Syria, & Gaza crises are all humanitarian crises, first and foremost, and only if United States policy stances reflect this fact can it stop reinforcing extremist narratives and propaganda.

The Ahmadiyya and Baha’i sects of Islam have a pan-Abrahamic, pluralist, humanist approach to religion, espouse peace & rationality, and offer a liberal, modern interpretation of Islam (the former’s founder even began a fight against extremist jihadist ideology before even the Sykes-Picot Agreement), but they are persecuted without any American response. The United States supported the Pakistani leader who institutionalized Ahmadiyya persecution (which has manifested in the 2010 Taliban attacks on a Lahore Ahmadiyya mosque), and it ignores Iran’s rampant persecution of Baha’is while lambasting its statements against Israel. This becomes even more relevant when considering a new Pakistani Taliban splinter group has allegedly showed an oppenness to harboring ISIS militants. If such a partnership forms, sectarian violence in Pakistan (particularly against Ahmadiyya and other small sects) will skyrocket, and the United States will have almost no realistic chance of withdrawing from Afghanistan. The House of Saud is the direct source of these sectarian tendencies across the Muslim world, through its export of Wahhabi ideology.

“As far as Islam is concerned, it categorically rejects and condemns every form of terrorism. It does not provide any cover or justification for any act of violence, be it committed by an individual, a group or a government. I most strongly condemn all acts and forms of terrorism because it is my deeply rooted belief that not only Islam but also no true religion, whatever its name, can sanction violence and bloodshed of innocent men, women and children in the name of God.” — Mirza Tahir Ahmed, fourth Ahmadiyya caliph

IV. We should use more creative, non-military strategies against ISIS, and Islamist extremism overall, in addition to targeted operations with assistance from the international community and local Iraqi, Kurdish, Lebanese, Jordanian, & Turkish fighters

The key to defeating ISIS politically is to look at the problem as simply the latest in a long-string of post-WWI power vacuums. Doing so highlights the need for a holistic approach to defeating not only ISIS, but also the underlying extremist dynamic, which is manifesting in increasingly violent & Leninist flavors in each successive cycle. The United States needs to take steps to stop reinforcing the jihadist narrative of American persecution of the Muslim world, neutralize state actors that perpetuate the rise of jihadism, and build alliances with anti-jihadist Muslim leaders. It needs to employ a humanitarian approach to the region, specifically for national interest. The Islamic caliphate’s early success was due to allying with persecuted peoples, which is the narrative that should be espoused by the Islamic Civil War occurring right before our eyes. Employing a brute strategy of “might is right”, on the other hand, only will continue the vicious cycle that has persisted for the last century, bolstering the jihadist narrative.

Women in Iraq in the 1970s, in contrast to the power vacuum being filled by ISIS today. Image courtesy of Dawn.

Reactionary extremism and strategic blowback have come along each step of the way of Western involvement in the Muslim world. For example, during one day of Arab Spring protests in Egypt last year, a total of 80 sexual assaults took place in Tahrir Square. Why is this kind of news so unsurprising coming out of a Muslim country? Stereotypical, racist attitudes may play a role, but at the end of the day, misogyny is quite rampant in the Muslim world. However, this problem doesn’t have an endogenous source, whether it be Islam or Arab culture (even though Arabs make up less than a fifth of Muslims, worldwide, anyway). Instead, the answer lies in colonialism.

“Your body has a right over you, your eyes have a right over you and your wife has a right over you” –Muhammad

During the Ottoman Empire, the ruling Turkish elite imposed their political dominion over their subjects, the Muslims especially of whom were predominantly Arab. The Ottomans did this with the Arabs through a “patriarchal bargain,” in which the Arab men traded away their political rights for the right to wholly rule over women and their domestic affairs. Men, especially religious leaders, who were willing to participate in this bargain were elevated to relatively loftier leadership roles, while the opposite was true for those who didn’t follow suit. This had widespread effects on the culture of the Arabs, not only through the influence of the resultant misogynistic local and/or religious leadership, but also translated into the pervasive emasculation of the Arab male, which in turn spurned more misogyny, extinguishing any faint glimmer of hope for a feminist movement transpiring in the Arab world.

After the breakup of the Ottoman Empire, this practice continued in one way or another during British and French colonial rule, and although the practice was no longer in use by state governments after their independences, misogyny, and by extension ultra-conservative thought, was espoused by anti-neoimperialists during times of political leadership by secular, authoritarian puppets heads of state, as a reaction to Western influence. These puppet leaders also helped rob their citizenries of the ability to distinguish between Modernization and Westernization, as any elements of what was even perceived as constituting Western culture became demonized. This in turn created the destructive dichotomy of Modernization vs. Islamism, which prevented Muslims all over the world from modernizing within their respective cultures, which is precisely the train of thought that the disillusioned members of ISIS are slaves to. Eliminating this dichotomy, and allowing for an alliance with the Muslim world along scientific and secular lines, is crucial; Iran is very useful in this strategy because it is one of the most scientifically advanced countries in the world, unlike much of the Muslim world.

This is especially relevant given Russia’s recent statement that unilateral strikes against ISIS would go against international law. Russia & the US are competing for Iran’s alliance, particularly as Russia attempts to increase its control of European energy markets and de-dollarize the global energy market. In 2012, Saudi attempted to pull Russia closer to it and away from Iran, by offering to protect Russia’s gas pipeline interests and to include Russian interests in a post-Assad Syria, in exchange for Russia ceasing support for Assad. Russia declined, which isolated Saudi & the Gulf states, who had been supporting and arming the Syrian rebellion, in a proxy conflict against Iran and in an attempt to prevent Russia’s Gazprom from taking control of pipeline pathways and the critical Levant Basin. Russia taking a stance against the US regarding ISIS, albeit softly, is a tough sell to Iran, which sees ISIS as enemy number one. Iran will be a key point of leverage in the US’s strategy against not just ISIS, but Russia. Indeed, supporting minority religious sects across the world will aid in the fight against Russia, including helping Muslim Tatars in Crimea.

“O ye who believe! Do not squander one another’s wealth in vanities, but let there be amongst you traffic and trade by mutual good will.” — Qur’an 4:29

V. We should assess the persistent post-WWI conflict in the Muslim world, the young & growing demographic profile of the region, and the intersection of the Muslim youth, social media, & the Arab Spring, to make the economic development of the non-extremist Muslim civilian population an American national security and long-term economic priority

Besides sending global geopolitics into a tailspin, one of the keys to ISIS’s success in propagating a narrative of being the voice of oppressed Muslims is its “Robin Hood” strategy with rural Muslim populations across the Levant. This helps create alliances with tribal chiefs, particularly during times of economic crisis like the Syrian & Iraq Wars. The economic effects of imperialism, the War on Terror, and oil privatization serve to both easily radicalize the Muslim population, as well as channel that radicalization against the United States. For the hundreds of billions of dollars the United States has spent on the War on Iraq, and hundreds of billions of barrels of increased oil output, very little oil revenue has reached the hands of everyday Iraqis.

Just like in the US, demographics play a fundamental role in the Muslim world’s economics. Like the US, a conservative dominant religious minority from the rural countryside has significant foreign policy sway in Saudi Arabia. Additionally, conflict-displaced refugees have created massive population imbalances, such as Gaza, one of the most highly concentrated places in the world with the third-fastest growing population. The US’s support for Israel, which has blockaded Gaza (effectively cutting it off from any external trade or migration), only further emasculates poor Muslims, and empowers Hamas’s “by any means necessary” strategy over Fatah’s more multilateral approach.

Israeli PM Binyamin Netanyahu has tried equating Hamas to ISIS, but this line of reasoning will not see any international support, as the latter has already shifted power alliances in the region around it. The US needs to pivot away from such rhetoric from allies, and indeed a center-left coalition is forming through the Mayor of Tel Aviv, and political support for Netanyahu is declining despite Israel absolutely crushing Hamas in the most recent conflict. We need to push for more moderation from allies like Israel, as Netanyahu’s rhetoric does nothing but disrespect Palestinians and empower the narratives of both Hamas and ISIS. The future’s Israeli state and American Religious Right will be much different and more pluralistic (especially considering demographic trends within US religions and religious areas), and the US needs to position itself ahead of this trend now.

While the region’s politics are largely dictated by the West, the region’s energy assets are mainly owned by autocrats and Western transnational corporations. Iraq, Saudi, and Iran are classic examples of Western influence on the economic development of the Muslim world. The British Iraqi Oil Corporation held a monopoly on oil exploration & production in Iraq from 1925 to 1961. In Saudi, a present-day Chevron subsidiary struck oil in 1938, forming the Arabian-American Company (Aramco). After the Saudi King threatened to nationalize the country’s oil facilities, Aramco agreed to a 50/50 profit sharing agreement with the Saudi Kingdom. Over time, the Saudis have also acquired full equity ownership of Aramco, which is now called Saudi Aramco and is the world’s largest company, at a $10 trillion valuation. Iran had a similar early experience to Saudi, with a Western company finding oil and forming a company — this time, the precursor to BP. However, when the Iranians threatened to nationalize the oil fields unless they received the Saudi 50/50 profit sharing agreement, they were turned down. This is fundamental to the Iran-Saudi dichotomy, as well as to anti-US sentiment in Iran.

“We can fight war through dialogue, peace and education.” — Malala Yousafzai

Today’s global system of Western central banks, Asian FX reserve managers, and transnational corporations has created cross-currency, financial asset/liability, and net international investment position imbalances, by inflating twin credit bubbles in deficit economies and export bubbles in surplus economies. OPEC nations are an important part of these surplus economies and their role in the global financial system, in a similar way as China and Germany. This has created a system where Western transnational corporations, Western banks, and autocratic rulers control and collect the windfall from the massive energy assets of the region. The masses receive little from these activities, and resentment builds, with extremists easily propagating an anti-American narrative.

The interconnectedness of the Muslim and Western economies is underappreciated. The 1979 energy crisis set off by the Iranian Revolution caused Federal Reserve Chairman Paul Volcker to venture into unorthodox territory with quantitative tightening to combat inflation, sparking a severe recession. More recently, the US financial crisis and global credit rebalancing caused labor and credit markets in the Muslim world to suffer. In 2010, in order to combat rising deflation risk and the European debt crisis, Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke instituted what’s now dubbed as “QE2". The market misinterpreted the signal, driving a temporary but dramatic spike in commodity prices, which fell back down a year later. However, the spike was enough to cause a food price spike in the Middle East. It was in protest to food inflation and authoritarian corruption that Mohamed Bouazizi self-immolated himself, setting off the Arab Spring.

Surely, US government bondholders couldn’t blame Iranians for the late-70s bond crash, and Arabs can’t blame Bernanke for the Arab Spring. But it’s important to realize how anti-American sentiment can naturally brew in an environment where the Muslim world’s economic capital is exploited and held captive to capitalist ebbs and flows. This is particularly so with the Muslim world because its economic system shirks the Western debt- and interest-driven model for an equity-driven model, so the financial crisis and its impact on the Muslim world are looked upon with that much more antagonism.

Concurrently, the US has sanctioned countries that attempt to nationalize their oil, like Iran & Iraq. Sanctioning countries is only sensible to the extent it is a successful deterrent; otherwise, it is a structural impediment to free trade that only breeds more economic inequality and anti-American sentiment. This is especially the case with Iran, and why improving relations with Iran is crucial to the US fixing its image problem in the Muslim world and defeating ISIS.

VI. We should make better strides to foster cross-cultural and -faith dialogue and respect, especially through social media and humanitarian aid

Part of that is acknowledging and understanding Muslim history. While the centers for scientific, philosophical, technological, and artistic progress in the Muslim world from times past now lay in decay, the progenitors of modern medicine, algebra (Algaurizin), surgery (Albucasis), sociology (Ibn Khaldun), pediatrics (Rhazes), chemistry (Geber), optics, experimental physics, and most importantly, the scientific method (Alhazen) all lived within a 150 year span (save for one) and were inspired by the verses of the Quran to pursue their fields of inquiry. Contemporary mainstream Islam, however, has failed to reconcile itself with science for a lot of the same reasons feminism and secularism have been stifled; mostly due to anti-imperialist backlash. Extremist forces like ISIS seek to emphasize a dichotomy between Islam and the West. Thus, the solution doesn’t lie in the elimination of Islamic notions from legitimate scientific inquiry, but rather in the facilitation of a resurgence of religious pluralism within the Muslim world, and in fact all religions, through the Jewish concept of tikkun olam. The use & prevalence of excommunication, takfir, is precisely the line by which we should draw our alliances in the Muslim world. Takfir has been prominent in conservative Islamist circles, like the Wahhabis, is responsible for wanton persecution of religious minorities, and was characteristic of the extremist rebellions against Muslim reign during the Islamic Golden Age, not the leadership itself.

“You know, I turn back to your ancient prophets in the Old Testament and signs foretelling Armageddon, and I find myself wondering if — if we’re the generation that’s going to see that come about. I don’t know if you’ve noted any of those prophecies lately, but believe me, they certainly describe the times we’re going through.” — Ronald Reagan speaking to head of AIPAC

Part of the issue is in cross-cultural communication. There is a vast amount of cross-cultural ignorance between the Muslim & Western worlds, which has been exploited and exacerbated by opportunistic politicians and religious figures. Similarly to the eschatologically-inspired radical foreign policy of ISIS, both Israeli & American foreign policies have been heavily influenced by Zionist Judaism and Evangelical Christianity. The latter has specific sects that believe in a dispensationalist eschatology, in which God has promised a literal State of Israel. Dispensationlists were awaiting and predicting a re-establishment of a Jewish state in the Holy Land almost a century before even the First Zionist Congress. This minority religious theology has managed to dictate American foreign policy, thanks to the demographics of American Evangelicals and their strong lobbies. There’s nothing inherently wrong with differing eschatologies and religious beliefs, but as Neil DeGrasse Tyson summarizes, when it comes to foreign policy, no religion should inform US strategy: “If your belief system is not founded in an objective reality, you should not be making decisions that affect other people.” As Paul D. Miller of RAND Corporation (and ex-National Security Council under Bush & Obama), who predicted the Russian invasion of Crimea, explains: “America’s Middle East policy has been a haphazard blend of hard-headed realism, idealism and dispensationalist theology. The result has not served US interests well.”

“I hope I live to see the day when, as in the early days of our country, we won’t have any public schools. The churches will have taken them over again and Christians will be running them. What a happy day that will be!” — Jerry Falwell

In addition to pushing for more religious pluralism in Iraq & Syria, in opposition to ISIS, we should push for the same here at home and with our allies like Israel. Instead of clinging to ultra-conservative, exclusionary interpretations of Christianity & Judaism, Americans should adopt a more pluralistic stance toward religion that bridges the gap between the Muslim & Judeo-Christian worlds, which historically & fundamentally is very small, as well as limit the intersection of religion and foreign policy. This strategy will have multiples of the success that military strategies will have in the fight against ISIS and global Islamist extremism.

“I think Muhammad was a terrorist. I read enough by both Muslims and non-Muslims, [to decide] that he was a violent man, a man of war.” — Jerry Falwell

The US may not have a more crucial task in this fight than allying itself with the Muslim youth. Besides the fact that MENA is home to some of the most fertile demographics on the globe, and the fact that much of the Muslim world will be among the world’s highest growth rates over the next few decades, the Muslim youth are important because they are the most vulnerable to radicalism. Ali Soufan explains in The Black Banners how tactics like Qur’anic debates with radicals have shown more empirical success in gather actionable intelligence against Al Qaeda than water-boarding suspects. Fostering an image of tolerance and understanding is vital to discrediting the extremist narrative.

Utilizing social media to engage the youth across the Muslim & Western worlds, particularly with cross-faith outreach initiatives (perhaps even on any of the exploding number of jihadist forums & websites popping up online), has been an underemployed tactic, especially considering ISIS’s success in co-opting Anwar al-Awlaki’s “Internet jihadism” strategies. It is the online youth, both at home and abroad, that is ISIS’s target recruit. We must beat ISIS at this game. Al-Awlaki succeeded with it, including inspiring the Boston bombers, because he was originally a moderate American cleric who preached against extremists after 9/11 but was self-radicalized in response to the US’s War on Terror (specifically its undeclared bombings in Yemen), a compelling story to oppressed online youth in the West and East alike. We cannot feed his narrative.

“The Muslim world, with its history and cultures, and indeed its different interpretations of Islam, is still little known in the West… The two worlds, Muslim and non-Muslim, Eastern and Western, must, as a matter of urgency, make a real effort to get to know one another, for I fear that what we have is not a clash of civilizations, but a clash of ignorance on both sides.” — Aga Khan IV

VII. We should look inward, to our fundamental roots, inspired by the European Enlightenment, which in turn was influenced by the Islamic Golden Age, in turn influence by the Ancient Greeks, Egyptians, Indians, & Chinese, and so on, in a long chain of scientific advancement & humanist pluralism

Although many cultural critiques of the Muslim world are valid in the right contexts, aside from interventionism by their own governments, Americans must paradoxically look inward to stave of the threat from terrorist groups abroad. Any claims by the US government of political ethnic exclusion in Iraq, human rights violations in Syria, or unwarranted nuclear ambitions in Iran, are taken with a grain of salt (to put it lightly) by most nations, especially Muslim ones. The US has compromised its credibility in the international community regarding human rights, and the lack of this credibility is specifically what allowed Russia to use its Security Council veto to undermine any “red line” President Obama designated in Syria.

However, if Americans focus more on eradicating the prison-industrial complex, sexist wage gaps & campus rapes, and the mistreatment of undocumented immigrants (plaguing the disadvantaged black, women, and Latino populations, respectively) at home, i.e. practice what they preach, the US could more effectively benevolently export its ideals to the rest of the world. Human rights is a buzz kill of a buzzword in much of the Muslim world for this exact reason, but it’s also because it’s wrongly seen as a “Western invention,” in the same vein as feminism, intellectualism, and modern science. In this regard, 1) US and other Western nations must discontinue their neo-imperialist activity in the Muslim world, and 2) Muslim political and religious leadership must promote philosophical, theological/inter-sect, and cultural inclusion. The vast majority of victims of Islamist terrorism and civilian victims of state counterterrorism are Muslims, and the vast majority of terrorism-related deaths in Iraq, Syria, & Pakistan have been since the US invasion of Iraq in 2003.

The worldwide perception of American hypocrisy needs to be addressed. The US is against a one-state solution for the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, supporting Israeli ethnic nationalism, but is against the same for Iraq. Should the US change its policy, or even by extension promote the redrawing of borders in post-colonial Muslim countries, on the basis of national security? It is hard to tell, but somehow we must acknowledge, rectify, and move past the unfair drawing of borders, for example with Iraq and Kuwait, drawn so the West could control Persian Gulf ports through a tiny pro-West state.

Perhaps the UN should help solve post-colonial institutional deficiencies, power vacuums, and border disputes, as well as anti-neoimperialist extremist activity in Af-Pak, the Sahel, and the Mashreq through either an overhauled 4th Committee (Decolonization) of the General Assembly, or a reinstated, revamped Trusteeship Council. This is especially important given the increasing radicalization of Muslims in sub-Saharan Africa, particularly through Boko Haram, AQIM, & Al Shabaab. De-colonization, as well as the function of the Trusteeship Council would be redefined in the context of neo-imperialism and post-colonial power vacuums. This could potentially recalibrate regions, judging nations by metrics regarding minority rights, women’s rights, anti-extremist socio-political measures, etc. which could create coalition of interested parties who’ll leave those tactics for international support, rather than resort to violence, terrorism, and/or Leninism. This in turn could create a snowball effect in which most, if not all, extremist narratives would falter and effectively politically stamped, or at least be drowned out.

Additionally, we must reinstitute checks and balances to intelligence agencies. The NSA mass surveillance scandal highlighted the power of the state, even without our knowledge. But was knowledge that the NSA geolocates phone calls really an issue of national security requiring secrecy? The same can be asked about the connection between the Saudi monarchy and the 9/11 hijackers in redacted confidential documents, which multiple Congressmen (who have read them) have said should be declassified for public knowledge. In fact, the only intelligence failures of 9/11 were logistical failures between the CIA & FBI; the information was readily available using pre-Patriot Act means, but the FBI team didn’t receive it from the CIA until the day of 9/11.

Congress should be able to provide a check to both the NSA’s powers of surveillance and the CIA’s power to classify information, particularly regarding undeclared wars like in Yemen and Pakistan. Since the unchecked power of intelligence agencies is a global, and often collusive, problem, perhaps even the UN should have some sort of oversight or check to intelligence agencies, rather than the world relying on Julian Assange’s & Edward Snowden’s judgment in determining which information is in the public’s interest. Would all of the Western interventionist policies that ignited blowback been pursued if such checks existed? Checks and balances are perhaps the most fundamental part to the United States political system’s success since inception, but they are nowhere to be found when it comes to intelligence agencies.

“It is declared … that no pretext arising from religious opinion shall ever product an interruption of the harmony existing between [the United States and the Muslims]… The United States is not a Christian nation any more than it is a Jewish or a Muslim nation.” — The Treaty of Tripoli (carried unanimously by the U.S. Senate and signed into law by President John Adams)

As we Americans reflect upon the thirteenth anniversary of 9/11, and the first in years with an immediate extremist threat (this time with ISIS), I hope we do so with a humanist, globalist, and pluralist perspective. Many of the institutional problems facing the Muslim world, particularly those involving the intersection of religion, politics, & business, are rampant in America as well. The uninformed, emotional ignorance of many Muslims regarding the West is unfortunately often mirrored here at home. If we seek to better understand the Muslim world, and the nature of the extremist threat within it, we will have the power of one hundred armies against the jihadist narrative.

We must be better voters, looking beyond myopic self-interest and judging our candidates more closely as international stewards of American state power, with the responsibility that comes with it. We must be smarter consumers of media, researching foreign and contrarian perspectives, holding our country’s journalists to a higher standard of narrative objectivity, dismissing sensationalist and extremist attempts at using mass mania to sow discord. Renaissances historically have occurred because of cross-cultural synthesis of ideas and information; the Muslim & Western worlds haven’t figured it out yet, but the post-Civil Rights Era white American male experience shows that when we continue the persecutory policies we inherited from our forefathers using justifications of the past, it only leads to a future we often find threatening. We must show the Muslim world that, as a revolutionary republic ourself, we respect the right to self-determination and sovereignty, which Muslims in Palestine for example find hard to believe. This is especially crucial if ISIS does attempt to attack the United States in any way — we must learn from our post-9/11 experiences & mistakes and not give into reacting with fear and anger, but strength and understanding.

In Islam, there are two jihad’s: a greater and lesser one. The lesser jihad is of the sword, while the greater jihad is the inner struggle of patience against oppression. The extremists have chosen to use the lesser jihad, for an aim completely unsanctioned by any religion, including Islam. We Americans should choose the greater jihad in our fight against extremists. We should show solidarity with the Muslim world (particularly persecuted minorities like Shi’as, Sufis, Ahmadiyya, Alevi & Baha’i), rid ourselves of exclusionary ideologies (particularly eschatologically-inspired foreign policy), and make establishing our human rights credibility a strategic foreign policy aim (including adding checks to the powers of our intelligence agencies). We should ensure our future Religious Right, born into post-9/11 paranoia in a socially networked globe, learns the lessons of our 1970s-present experience and presents a tolerant, pluralist America to the rest of the world. And we should use the pen instead of the sword, the ear instead of the ego, the ballot instead of the bullet, if for no other reason except that we, as Americans, can. Many in the Muslim world literally die trying to earn that privilege everyday.

“The ink of scholars will be weighed on the Day of Judgment with the blood of martyrs, and the ink of scholars will outweigh the blood of martyrs.” — Muhammad

Please consider donating to the UN Refugee Agency to help Iraqi & Syrian refugees displaced by ISIS-related conflict. Please contact me if you would like to have me match your donation.

Recommended media

Harvard Pluralism Project
United Nations Alliance of Civilizations
The Soufan Group

Dr. Paul D. Miller/RAND/IISS — Evangelicals, Israel, & US Foreign Policy
Murtaza Hussein/The Intercept — America’s Incomprehensible ISIS Policy
Dr. Bernard Lewis/The Atlantic — The Roots of Muslim Rage
Rob Esham/Jewish Journal — Young Americans & Israel: A Disconnect
Max Fisher/The Atlantic — The Real Roots of Sexism in the Middle East

VICE News — The Islamic State
VICE News/VICE on HBO — Armageddon Now

Research reports:
The Soufan Group — Countering Violent Extremism: The Counter Narrative Study
The Soufan Group — Foreign Fighters in Syria
Harvard Pluralism Project — Post 9/11 Hate Crime Trends
People Demand Change — Iraq & Syria Maps Archive

Ali Soufan — The Black Banners: The Inside Story of 9/11 and the War Against Al Qaeda
Jeremy Scahill — Dirty Wars: The World is a Battlefield
Dr. Bernard Lewis — The Middle East: A Brief History of the Last 2,000 Years
Gen. Wesley Clark — Winning Modern Wars: Iraq, Terrorism, & The American Empire

Speeches & letters:
Dalai Lama — Religious Harmony
Caliph Mirza Masroor Ahmad — World Crisis & the Pathway to Peace
Pope Francis — Promoting Mutual Respect Through Education
Rabbi Marc Schneier — A New Paradigm For Muslim-Jewish Dialogue
Jon Stewart — Rally to Restore Sanity
Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran — A Message For The End Of Ramadan

Headline image courtesy of Pakistan Today. We welcome comments, questions, opinions, and any other correspondence here.