Religion Building; US Policy Towards Islam

By Ibrahim abu ishaq

There’s a common trend these days among authors, policymakers and so called think tanks, in publishing and advocating strategies that may be adopted by the West in dealing with the 0Muslim world. One such report titled “Civil Democratic .Islam, Partners Resources and Strategies” by Cheryl Benard, was released by the US-based RAND Corporation in 2003.

The report was sponsored by the conservative Smith Richardson Foundation, a trust that distributes in excess of $120 million to universities and other research institutions. Ideas such as the ones proposed in this report are increasingly being adopted in the US governments policies towards the Islamic world. A much more detailed and extensive report titled “The Muslim World after 9/11”, was published in December 2004, followed in 2005 by a third report titled “Three Years After: Next Steps in the War on Terror”, a product of a conference sponsored by the RAND Corporation.

Sponsors for these reports include the United States Air Force, and the U.S Department of Defense. Civil Democratic Islam was authored by Cheryl Benard, an American sociologist, who has written a number of works about Muslim women. She is married to Zalmay Khalilzad, who is a Special Assistant to President Bush and the chief National Security Council (NSC) official for the Persian Gulf and Southwest Asia. Khalilzad is known to be probably the first and only Afghan-American neoconservative. During the 1980s he was able to secure himself a permanent position in the State Department’s Policy Planning Council, working under neoconservative mastermind Paul Wolfowitz.

Zalmay Khalilzad, was appointed US ambassador in Kabul in November 2003, and has played a “hugely influential role in Afghanistan’s transition process” [BBC]. In 2005 the Afghan-American was nominated to replace John Negroponte as US ambassador to Iraq.


In Civil Democratic Islam, the report is unequivocal in the overall strategy it proposes; in the words of the author “It is no easy matter to transform a major world religion. If “nation-building” is a daunting task, “religion-building” is immeasurably more perilous and complex.”

The author leaves no doubts that the overall goal is to redefine Islam, the proposed aim is “to encourage a moderate, democratic interpretation and presentation of Islam”. In order to achieve this, the direction proposed encompasses “devising a judicious approach [requiring] a finely grained understanding of the ongoing ideological struggle within Islam, to identify appropriate partners and set realistic goals and means to encourage its evolution in a positive way.”

The aim is to achieve this by carefully choosing “elements, trends, and forces within Islam they intend to strengthen” in order to influence Islam and the Islamic world so that their outcome is favourable to the interests of the West.

In crafting their strategy, the author draws from the pages of history on how the West dealt with Christianity. This strategy “included the necessity to depart from, modify, and selectively ignore elements of the original religious doctrine”. This was accomplished by equating the literal text of Judaism and Christianity as history and legend, and reinterpreting their religion in accordance with their own vision. This article identifies the modernists as the strain within Islam that will help them accomplish this vision.
[RAND2003, p37]

A Proposed Strategy

Benard divides the Islamic world into the following four categories: she describes the Fundamentalists, Traditionalists, Modernists and Secularists:

• Fundamentalists who “reject democratic values and contemporary Western culture. They want an authoritarian, puritanical state that will implement their extreme view of Islamic law and morality.”

• Traditionalists who “want a conservative society. They are suspicious of modernity, innovation, and change.

• Modernists who “want the Islamic world to become part of global modernity. They want to modernize and reform Islam to bring it into line with the age.”

• Secularists who “want the Islamic world to accept a division of church and state in the manner of Western industrial democracies, with religion relegated to the private sphere.”

The report identifies the “modernists and the secularists as being the closest to the West in terms of values and policies. However, they are generally in a weaker position than the other groups, lacking powerful backing, financial resources, an effective infrastructure, and a public platform.”

It recommends a strategy of providing financial and political support to the modernists and more selectively to the secularists. This would include publishing their works, encouraging modernists to write for mass audiences and the youth, to develop curricula and text books for Islamic schools. Enhancing the modernest vision of Islam by providing them with a broad platform to articulate and disseminate their views, including regional media, radio and the internet. Facilitate and encourage an awareness of their pre- and non-Islamic history and culture, in the media and the curricula of relevant countries.

Divide and Conquer

The strategy further recommends that the US should “encourage disagreements between traditionalists and fundamentalists”, “discriminate between different sectors of traditionalism”, by encouraging certain schools of law versus others, to “Build up the stature of Sufism”, and encourage “Sufi influence over school curricula, norms, and cultural life”.

The recommendations made in “Civil Democratic Islam”, despite their hostile and seditious nature towards Islam, is but one of a series of policy papers that have been prepared and considered among US policy makers.

Muslim World Outreach

The U.S.News & World Report magazine, recently published a report titled, “Hearts, Minds, and Dollars – In an Unseen Front in the War on Terrorism, America is Spending Millions...To Change the Very Face of Islam”. The magazine’s findings include a classified new strategy approved by the White House, dubbed Muslim World Outreach.

The NSC has been working on preparing the White House’s National Strategyfor Combating Terrorism. “In 2003, officials had released an earlier, public version of the document, but there is a larger, classified edition that includes annexes dealing with key objectives, among them terrorism finance and winning the war of ideas. Staffers rewrote the ideas section with bold, new language and fashioned it into a strategy called Muslim World Outreach. Aimed at strengthening the hand of moderates, the plan acknowledges that America has done poorly in reaching out to them. But it goes one big step further, stating that the United States and its allies have a national security interest not only in what happens in the Islamic world but within Islam itself, according to three sources who have seen the document. ” [USNEWS p6]

Throughout the Muslim world, “ 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”. “The CIA is revitalizing programs of covert action that once helped win the Cold War, targeting Islamic media, religious leaders and political parties.” [USNEWS p2]

The US administration kicked off two major initiatives in foreign broadcasting – Radio Sawa, a pop music-news station in 2002, and Alhurra, a satellite-TV news network, both aimed at Arab audiences. The article mentions that many of the ideas for implementing the strategy is “coming not from the CIA, 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.” [USNEWS p8]

In the array of targets the US is aiming at are Islamic schools. The report describes how the U.S. Military is directly competing with Islamic schools, in the Horn of Africa. “Military officers gather intelligence on where militants plan to start religious schools, Marine Maj. Gen. Samuel Helland told U.S. News ; they then target those areas by building up new public schools and the local infrastructure.” [USNEWS p9]

It is strange how the United States administration and its policy makers expect to win the hearts and minds of the Muslims when they choose to adopt such seditious policies towards Islam.

These actions they have opted for are having exactly the opposite effect of what they are supposedly meant to achieve. The least the United States government could do is to be true to its core values that it proclaims, that it doesn’t mess with freedom of religion. Instead they are adopting a path in which they want to mould the beliefs and religions of others in its own image.

RAND: Civil Democratic Islam: Partners, Resources,and Strategies , by cheryl Benard, 2003. [http://www.rand.org/publications/MR/MR1716/ ]

RAND: The Muslim World After 9/11, by Angel Rabasa, Cheryl Benard, Peter chalk, c. christine Fair, Theodore W. Karasik, Rollie lal, Ian O. lesser and David E. Thaler, 2004. [http://www.rand.org/publications/MG/MG246/]



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