To Combat Islamism: Think Global, Act Local

Illustrative picture. (Photo: Creative Commons/Travis Wise)
Illustrative picture. (Photo: Creative Commons/Travis Wise)

At Clarion, we always stress that Islamism is an international problem. It is a toxic political ideology (separate from the religion of Islam as a whole) that seeks to dominate the world and impose its vision of theocratic rule first onto Muslims and then everyone else on earth.

At the same time, far-right ideology has a codependent and destructive relationship with Islamism. It paints a picture of a global clash of civilizations between Christendom and Islam and makes every Muslim into a possible threat.

These two global movements each provide their own recruiting propaganda. They similarly establish networks between key activists in different countries, communicate effectively to each other using modern technology, and coordinate messages and propaganda strategies across continents and oceans with ease.

Therefore any real attempt to stop them has to be able to organize internationally. The counter-Islamist movement has to build effective transnational partnerships, coordinate strategy across multiple time zones and be clear and concise in its message to the world: no to theocracy — not in its Islamic form and not in any form.  

Maintaining that global consciousness is vital to success. But individuals don’t operate on a global level. We operate in our own countries and in our own communities.

That means considering one’s local context and community when assessing the most urgent needs in the battle to combat Islamism. In a place like Iraq, for example, the biggest problem may be jihadi groups running rampant murdering people. These Islamists need to be stopped militarily. Afterwards, the causal factors need to be taken into account and action taken to halt the runaway corruption which is undermining public faith in the legitimacy of the state and giving power to the Islamists.

In the United Kingdom and France, the problem has more to do with integration. Urban ghettos have developed. They are full of disenfranchised young men with a chip on their shoulder who are preyed on by recruiters. Figuring out how to improve integration efforts and equip disaffected young Muslims with a sense of purpose would be a good first step in the fight against Islamism in these countries.

In the United States, jihadism is less of a threat (although still a possibility that must be guarded against). Here the problem is more soft Islamism, which seeks to divide communities with a narrative that Islam is threatened by America and promote Islamist ideas. The other problem in America is the deep partisan divide between Republicans and Democrats, which prevents a nuanced and accurate conversation on the issue.

Any effort to combat Islamism, if it wants to be successful, should therefore consider the local context before acting.

Once we are having an impact locally, then we can turn our attention to the international arena and forge global partnerships with other activists, organizations and leaders who are building change on the ground in their own countries and communities.



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Elliot Friedland
Elliot Friedland is a research fellow at Clarion Project.

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