In the war of ideas, our core task in 2008 is to create an environment hostile to violent extremism. We do that in two ways: by undermining extremist ideologies and by encouraging young people to follow productive paths that lead away from terrorism.
The Colombian experience is relevant to both these tracks. It also reminds us that there is nihilistic violence in the world that is built on ideologies that have nothing at all to do with Islam. The intellectual historian Paul Berman puts the case very well in his important book Terror and Liberalism:
“Camus…noticed a modern impulse to rebel, which had come out of the French Revolution and the nineteenth century and had very quickly, in the name of an ideal, mutated into a cult of death. And the ideal was always the same, though each movement gave it a different name. It was not skepticism and doubt. It was the ideal of submission. It was submission to the kind of authority that liberal civilization had slowly undermined, and which the new movements wished to reestablish on a novel basis. It was the ideal of the one, instead of the many. The ideal of something godlike. The total state, the total doctrine, the total movement.”
That describes the FARC, which emerged from the Colombian Community Party. It describes Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It describes the Iran of ayatollahs and the other threats we face in the 21st century.
Beyond ideology, what most violent extremists around the world have in common is that their leaders hijack impressionable young people to carry out their crimes of terrorism. These young people are exceptionally vulnerable. A terrorist leader fills the hole in the heart of a young person searching for identity with what is sometimes seen as the most alluring game in town, linking adventure with a doctrine of hatred, fantasy, greed, and hysteria.
The reality – as young people who join Al Qaeda and the FARC soon learn – is quite different.
In Saudi Arabia two weeks ago, I met a young man severely disfigured with burns when the fuel truck he was driving for Al Qaeda in Iraq was blown up by his supposed comrades by remote control. He was driving a guided missile and did not know it. Now, after prison and rehabilitation in the Saudis’ remarkable deradicalization program, he serves enthusiastically as a living warning to others of the nature of the Al Qaeda death cult.
In Colombia, I met a young woman named Flor who had joined the FARC at age 12 because she was bored. She soon found she had made a terrible mistake, living in an organization where babies were literally ripped from the wombs of pregnant women fighters. But she was trapped in the jungle for seven years.
The question that my colleague Jared Cohen and I asked after meeting the leaders of Million Voices movement in Bogota was this: Are there other anti-violence, anti-extremist, anti-oppression organizations out there that were using new online techniques to build movements? Could these young people both undermine pernicious ideologies and find a productive outlet, a way to create positive identities through a global network that promotes peace and freedom rather than death and totalitarianism?
We found 17 for starters – organizing against violence and extremism in South Africa, the UK, India, Cuba, Lebanon, Saudi Arabia, Darfur, and Egypt. And, in partnership with such private-sector institutions as Google, MTV, AT&T, Howcast.com, Access 360 Media, Columbia University, and Facebook itself, we are bringing them to New York for a summit starting on Wednesday. These groups will be joined by about a dozen others that do not have an online presence but want one – from places like Indonesia, Iraq, and Venezuela.
The purpose of the summit is to share best practices, produce a manual and an online hub, and create a giant global conversation about how young people can oppose violence and extremism.
To return to Paul Berman, these young people subscribe to the “ideal of the many,” not “the ideal of the one.”
This project is an example of how we see public diplomacy changing. We have arrived at the view that the best way to achieve our goals in public diplomacy is through a new approach to communicating, an approach that is made far easier because of the emergence of Web 2.0, or social networking, technologies. We call our new approach Public Diplomacy 2.0. ...
... Public Diplomacy 2.0 is more than interactivity. It is a holistic approach, an attitude. Monroe E. Price, director of the Stanhope Centre for Communications Policy Research in London, recently wrote about a short book by the French deconstructivist philospher Jacques Derrida called “Of Hospitality.” This is a tome that has nothing at all to do with strategic communications but that vigorously analyzes the term beginning with the idea of the foreigner in Plato, showing that hospitality has two senses. First, to host implies to control or to own. But at the same time, to host means to welcome unconditionally, to open up one’s property.
In Price’s reading, Derrida would argue that public diplomacy should move from being “primarily a means of projecting perceptions of the U.S…to one which would be a platform for cooperation, mediation, and reception – a mode of being informed as well as informing.”
I like this paradigm: from the host as owner to the host as welcomer. The concept goes to the heart of what our research shows is a major reason for animosity toward the United States: the view by others that we don’t respect their opinions, that we do not actively listen and understand.
Derrida’s notion, as filtered through Price, is a good description of Public Diplomacy 2.0. We in government act as a facilitator or convener. The risks inherent here are absolutely necessary if we want to: 1) have our ideas heard and respected, and 2) be seen as what we are – a society that itself hears and respects the views of others.
Read Under Secretary Glassman's complete remarks.