U.S., West Need to Fight the ‘Stealth Jihad’, Terrorism Experts Tell Intelligence Panel
By Matt Korade, CQ Staff
As al Qaeda transforms from discrete terrorist network to a franchising organization for frustrated, religious-inspired nationalists, the need to counter Islamist, anti-Western propaganda grows ever more urgent, three terrorism experts told the House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday.
And yet it is in “the War of Ideas” in which the U.S. government has performed the poorest, said Robert Grenier, the former chief of the CIA’s Counterterrorism Center.
“It is widely understood that in a contest in which our enemy is more properly understood as a popular movement, countering the enemy’s propaganda and undermining his popular appeal become critical elements in the strategic battle,” Grenier said. “Otherwise, we run the risk of waging a highly competent and effective tactical struggle at the potential cost of strategic defeat.”
A number of seemingly mainstream Muslim groups in the United States had their progenitor in the Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamic fundamentalist group from which many of these terrorist groups have derived their ideologies, whose stated goal is to subjugate and overthrow the Western world from within, Emerson said.
“I call this almost the stealth jihad,” Emerson said. And unless the United States sees the equal importance of battling al Qaeda and the radicalization that gives rise to such groups, it cannot win the war, he said.
The radical propaganda espoused by such groups serves to obscure the goal of terrorism movements, which in the near term is to overthrow secular regimes as part of the struggle for the Islamic world, Grenier said. Al Qaeda and its spin-offs have focused on the West to remove the main prop of unpopular Muslim governments and prepare the way for Islamist domination.
The West is depicted as broadly anti-Muslim, not just attacking Muslims in Iraq and Afghanistan but also supporting non-Muslim oppressors in such places as Palestine, Kashmir, Bosnia and Chechnya, he said.
The West thus becomes a common enemy against which different terrorist groups can rally and also serves as a broader focus of criticism around which more moderate Muslims can agree, Grenier said. This has the effect of forcing allied Muslim governments to act covertly in dealing with the United States and also makes the larger Muslim population ambivalent toward the West.
And yet, Grenier said, it’s important to understand that the problem of Islam’s relationship with the West isn’t just one of Muslim perceptions, but also policy. While the Muslim world is rife with conspiracy theories regarding the motives of the West, the environment from which these ideas spring is nurtured by the absence of definitive action from the United States and other Western nations to resolve decades-old problems such as the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the India-Pakistan dispute over Kashmir.
“If U.S. policy were more clearly oriented, both rhetorically and substantively, toward addressing instances of fundamental injustice in the Islamic world and elsewhere,” Grenier wrote in his submitted testimony, “it could have a profound impact in countering the [al Qaeda] narrative. Again, this does not necessarily mean bringing about a solution to endemic conflicts which meet maximalist Muslim goals, but it does mean solving them in a manner which fairly addresses fundamental needs and concerns of the Muslims.”
“While the need for engagement is widely understood, from my perspective, there has been little coherent, realistic, or effective thought given to the issue within government, and still less effective policy implementation,” Grenier said.
1) U.S., West Need to Fight the ‘Stealth Jihad’, Terrorism Experts Tell Intelligence Panel