Letters to Trump, from a War Veteran: Part 3

Why empowering Muslims, rather than marginalizing them, is good Counter-Extremism


I want to give you the perspective of a veteran of both Iraq and Afghanistan as well as of the US Military’s Special Operations community. I served out of Fort Bragg for a number of years and have had the privilege of some of the best training and mentorship the Army has to officer, across a very interesting variety of skillsets.

I want to introduce something I refer to as the Non-Lethal Weapon: how working with the ‘human terrain’ — with people and with the wider population — can be an effective weapon against extremism, without even firing a shot. How it can even at times be a multiplier for our efforts against terror and extremism. On the battlefield, we refer to these as ‘effects multipliers’ or enablers- chiefly, because they increase the overall combat power of a campaign against an enemy, a narrative, or an idea. They enable us to accomplish our objectives, by shaping things for the better.

In this context, it is how we define ‘enemy’, and how we look at ‘combat power’, that greatly differs from the conventional definition of many politicians, commentators and voters. I am referring specifically to nonlethal combat power — that is, how we engage the human populations, leverage cooperation on the ground, and wage the war of ideas, in order to fight, win, and to increase our effectiveness across the ‘battlespace’.

True Innovation, True Security: Investing in social inclusion and human flourishing make us more secure

You often talk about innovation and entrepreneurship. I hope you agree that Social innovation will be among our best nonlethal weapons against extremism, radicalism, poverty, and social breakdown in the 21st Century. To summarize what I’ve written in other proposals for social enterprise and innovation, I have long advocated using a ‘building block’ approach to discovering the best ways to help secure our communities from much of the instability and dissonance that makes them less safe. To help secure them from the conditions that enable extremism to thrive and move freely.

Part of this will be finding better ways to work with marginalized communities here at home, and foster better relationships between police and security forces who operate in these neighborhoods, and the people they are aiming to serve. We all win when this occurs- it makes us safer, more secure, and enables police to better work with the local population. Perhaps more importantly, it is the right thing to do: it serves the innate dignity of the people themselves, including the most powerless and marginalized among us. It helps avoid perpetuating decades of stigmatized relations across our homeland.

This has profound implications for our future and our ability to flourish as a nation, as a society, and as a culture. It should be something to strive for within minority communities across our nation — and with Muslim communities here at home. Not only here in America, but abroad in the poor or socially conflicted neighborhoods of Europe where extremism often takes root, be it London, Paris or Frankfurt. To empower its people from the bottom up, and work with and alongside its residents, at the ground level. To listen with an open ear and work with them in good faith, and often through the time-tested lesson of trust, rapport and respect used so successfully by our Special Operations Forces and battle-tested soldiers, especially by our Green Berets. We need to respect the people as the center of gravity in the fight against Islamism and terror.

Kunar Province, 2012.

Lessons from community builders around the world, and from our Veterans and elite Special Operations Forces

We must look at patriotic as well as liberal, freedom-loving Muslims as the tip of this spear, and empower them rather than marginalize them. I implore you to see them as an asset, not as an obstacle. Make them part of the solution rather than stigmatize them as the problem. It is this crucial difference — and its deep tactical and strategic implications for our very ability to work with this ‘human terrain’ — that will likely make or break our future in winning the war of ideas, and the war for the heart of many Muslim communities besieged by a crisis of identity.

These communities — in parts of America, Europe and beyond — are at a critical juncture. They can resist cooperation, with the status quo ceding to social conflict and strained relations. Or, they can become cooperative with security forces and see such cooperation in a positive light, in a way that best serves the dignity of their situation and their lives, their future, their community. But this is a two-way street. We must — with no excuses — adamantly refuse to accept a status quo where community residents feel hopelessly stigmatized and insulted by the security forces and the state. This is a fundamentally unproductive way to do business.

From the paper One Tribe at a Time, on how important it is for Special Forces ODAs and other smaller tribal engagement teams to be able to work in solidarity and good faith with the Afghans of local villages. It underscores the importance of mutual respect, trust and friendship.

If you have any respect, trust and confidence in the collective wisdom and experience of our US and partner Forces abroad, you are highly encouraged to change your business model’. Listen to our veterans. Listen to our former Special Operations members and our anthropologists, social and behavioral scientists and counter-extremism and counter-radicalization experts who see non-radical Muslims as one of our biggest allies. We like to sue the term ‘permissive environment’ when describing the ‘Battlespace’ in which we operate. We need a permissive atmosphere in which we can more freely move around and work with people on the ground, build trust, listen to their concerns, earn their respect and cooperation.

Working effectively with the local population is not easy nor free — it must be earned. And our warriors who have worked with Muslims across our battlefields — often in places you can’t imagine — will testify to the immense value it added to the mission, the security of the civilian and military population. To the shared sense of accomplishment and belief in partnering. Partnerships such as the kind we need to continually build with Muslims and Muslim communities do not happen overnight, nor should they, on anyone’s part. Partnering is not just a means to an end — it is an end state in and of itself, a goal worth striving for wherever we are working to defeat extremism.