Online moderates can counter violent Muslim extremism, RAND says


The same Internet that Islamic extremists use to whip up fury against the West can be used by more moderate forces to counter that extremism, according to a new Rand Corp. report.

The report (.pdf) notes that American Muslims already use the web and social media to provide an opposing voice to and undercut extremists.

In its most direct form, American Muslim group's counter-radicalization uses scripture to "delegitimize the radical narrative." They also counter extremist messaging through Twitter and videos posted on YouTube.

Less directly, a number of American Muslim groups operate virtual mosques espousing more moderate, mainstream views of faith for Muslims in America. These groups expand their online presence through sites such as Facebook, the report notes.

More can be done to help counter-messaging efforts, the RAND analysts say. But there are barriers, including:

  • Negative perceptions of U.S. counterterrorism policies;
  • limited leadership voices and funding for countering violent extremism;
  • being viewed as "sell-outs" to those sympathetic to jihadi causes;
  • First Amendment restrictions on government funding of counter-extremism messaging.

The restriction, though, also "frees Muslim groups of the taint of government funding and prevents the government from having to 'choose sides' in intra-Muslim discourse and debate," the report notes.

The State Department and Google Ideas, termed by Rand as a "think-do tank," have independently recommend desecuritizing efforts to counter violent extremism, addressing sources of mistrust among Muslims, educating social-media influencers and ways to counter extremism, improve the reach of social media, getting private-sector groups to fund and engage with counter-extremism groups, and finding ways to increase government funding.

"The U.S. government and private funders must play the role of facilitator rather than orchestrator," Rand cautions.

"The challenge comes in appreciating that … authenticity and criticism only serve to empower what is hoped to be a core message of peace and tolerance," the authors concluded. "Ultimately, the U.S. government and private sponsors must allow credible Muslim voices to reach their own conclusions and find their own message."

For more:

download the report (.pdf)

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