Today, in the United States, a cultural as well as a security challenge is posed by radical Muslims who deny the need for assimilation. Those hoping to deal with the challenge posed by young Muslim females attracted to groups like ISIS must confront domestic adversaries who are part of a culture war against the values of Western civilization.
By Stephen R. Bowers and Rachel Steenburgh l December 13, 2017
Linda Sarsour/Photo Credit: Sam Hodgson for The New York Times
In the United States, a cultural as well as a security challenge is posed by radical Muslims who deny the need for assimilation. One vocal representative of this approach, someone who offers herself as a role model for young Islamic girls is Brooklyn born Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour. In 2017, Sarsour, who co-chaired the January 21st “Women’s March” enjoys conspicuous support from the ranks of “mainstream” Democratic politicians, attracted attention with her rejection of calls for U.S. Muslims to assimilate into American society.
This phenomenon is part of a long-term trend which can be traced to the foundation of the Frankfurt School in post-World War I Germany and its Marxist dialectic: critical theory; the philosophy of criticizing everything, everywhere, in an attempt to tear down society’s social fabric. (Michael Walsh, The Devil’s Pleasure Palace, Encounter Books, 2015, pp. 1-6.) Under the influence of this philosophy, the American confidence that made possible the defeat of Nazism in World War II was undermined and America lost faith in its culture. Instead of optimism, we have a shabby culture characterized by coarseness of dialogue and a willingness to indulge in endless self-criticism. During the Obama years, we routinely denied our own worth and opened our doors to those who came to the U.S. demanding material benefits but critically rejecting the idea of assimilation into the American culture which had welcomed them.
Not surprisingly, the U.S. is now home for people who claim that our pledge of allegiance and flag constitute a form of anti-Islamic aggression. Not surprisingly, this climate encourages young people to reject American values. Paul Sperry, writing in the New York Post on 13 May 2017, described how Muslim girls living in the U.S. under the influence of this culture are, in increasing numbers, attempting to join ISIS and become part of a global Islamic jihad.
With the emergence of Islamic terrorism as a major international threat came the prospect of domestic terrorism in the United States. Although American Muslims had long been regarded as effectively integrated, the European experience is demonstrating that the U.S. model might not be universally applicable. Even worse, in recent years there have been indications that U.S.-Islamic integration was becoming less effective. As failings of domestic integration have become increasingly apparent, Americans have struggled to develop strategies for countering this problem.
In this new and unsettling environment, some form of psychological operations (PSYOPS) must be considered. For the U.S., the concepts of psychological operations were largely a product of World War II and the subsequent Cold War period. In both conflicts, there were explicit measures undertaken to identify enemy vulnerabilities to develop consistent themes to exploit those vulnerabilities and to penetrate our foes’ mindset. For the most part, our adversaries embraced many Western notions of good and evil and our conceptions of a good life.
As a result of so-called “multi-cultural” influence in the United States, we are forced to consider the extent to which the concept of psychological operations may now be relevant for our own society.
An important feature of 20th century thinking on this aspect of special operations was an assumption that both the West and the adversaries of the West wanted much of the same thing. In the Soviet period, examinations of the lives and desires of the Soviet nomenklatura revealed that things such as Black Sea vacations and Formica cabinet tops in the Soviet kitchen were clearly recognized values.
The 21st century brought the West into conflict with a foe generally dismissive of such bourgeois values and inclined to view death not as a much-feared event but rather as an honor associated with the struggle to create a worldwide caliphate.
Consequently, as the U.S. has seen the rise of Islamic radicalism, the penetration of the Islamic mind, along with an identification of associated vulnerabilities, special efforts have been required. In order to identify a weak point in Islamic society, there is merit to examining the perspective of the lowest strata of Islamic society – Islamic females. It is likely that the most malleable sector of the Islamic community in the West is that of Islamic girls who have been exposed to the benefits of non-Islamic society.
In developing strategies for this “war of ideas,” it is important to keep certain considerations in mind. The first is that this contest does not enjoy the relative protection of PSYOPS conducted by a government. In the American system, such activities are not allowed on the home front. Second, there are domestic adversaries to such efforts which are no less determined and relentless than those U.S. psychological operations. In this environment, those hoping to deal with the challenge posed by young Muslim females attracted to groups like ISIS must confront domestic adversaries who are part of a culture war against the values of Western civilization. Third, given U.S. law, this is work that can only be accomplished within the “private sector.”
Therefore, we must look to the network of like-minded non-governmental entities and cultural organizations for partnership in social justice actions against those who are undermining our Western ideals. Social clubs that focus on the interests of young Islamic females can play a positive role. These organizational efforts must be supplemented by literature reflective of the genuine interests of such young people and other components of a popular culture.
These clubs and their allied media must embrace appropriate themes and concerns. While it is inappropriate to speak of psychological operations in this context, it is possible to develop themes that would discourage recruitment of young Islamic females into the ranks of radical groups. By identifying non-governmental delivery methods, it is possible to address concerns and develop themes to reduce radical appeals to Islamic girls.
1. A first concern is that the primary Islamic voices about Muslim women in America are those who have only good things to say about the Islamic community and cite “bigoted Americans” for their abusive behavior. Most media outlets are not accessible to women abused by husbands, fathers or brothers. As a result, the victims do not have a voice.
2. A second concern is that Muslim youth whose parents are moderate and came to the United States with an intention to integrate often develop a renewed interest in their parent’s religion. Under the influence of the Islamic media in the U.S., they embrace an American version of fundamental Islam. Women who are part of this community but have not yet tasted the actual wrath of fundamental Islam toward women still feel obligated to obey male spokesmen of their faith. This isolation makes it harder for them to accept American ideals that might counter the more militant aspects of their Islamic faith.
3. A third concern is the selective targeting of women who are most open to counter-radical influence. This would be women who are: (1) married to fundamentalist Islamic men; (2) those who are in the process of an arranged marriage; or, (3) unmarried women who are thus denied access to the outside world. Women in these situations more often enjoy access to television and books. Yet, a word of caution is in order; if those who are susceptible are targeted, they face reprisals from men who feel they are turning against their faith.
Such an undertaking would require either a complete disregard for the safety of these women and their children or a program put in place to provide secure shelters. As a counter terrorism strategy, domestic unrest within the American Muslim community could provide distractions and disruptions on the terrorist planning cycle that counter terrorism specialists could exploit. However, such endeavors may generate “collateral damage.” By creating shelters for abused or endangered Muslim girls, shelters ostensibly under control of a mock humanitarian organization, counter-radical planners could minimize dangers that any U.S. agency could be directly accused of operating within American borders.
4. ISIS would not fight women because they thought being killed by a woman would rob them of heavenly rewards. The fact that being killed by a woman is so shameful as to preclude them from a martyr’s reward illustrates their tendency to disparage women. Highlighting this Islamic attitude should discourage American Muslim women from volunteering to join Islamic terrorist groups.
As can be seen from the slick magazine, Muslim Girl, Islamic leaders who want to appeal to those women are, in effect, outcasts in American society. Its articles advance the view of an America that violates all rules of modesty, sexuality, and religion. While few would deny the pervasive effects of such a negative culture, selected media can emphasize the positive side of youth culture seen in our many Christian colleges and associations.
The challenge with this undertaking is that we must accomplish what might be regarded as a PSYOPS effect without utilizing actual psychological operations. If private entities can achieve a positive impact without employment of the traditional government-based strategies, civil society can reach out to young women who might otherwise miss the positive benefits of Western society.
Stephen R. Bowers, Ph.D. is a professor of government in the Helms School of Government at Liberty University. Professor Bowers is also a contributor to SFPPR News & Analysis of the conservative-online-journalism center at the Washington-based Selous Foundation for Public Policy Research. Rachel Steenburgh is a Personal Security Specialist at Xcelerate Solutions.