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Politics & Current Affairs

How to Defeat Radical Islam

“In the long term the best way to beat radical ideas is to make them redundant,” says Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a politician and ardent critic of fundamentalist Islam. 

What’s the Big Idea?

“In the long term the best way to beat radical ideas is to make them redundant,” says Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a politician and ardent critic of fundamentalist Islam. During her recent Big Think interview, she told us that this could be done by making clear to young Muslims that there are alternative narratives than those offered by radicalism. Given the death of Osama bin Laden’s and the democratic revolutions sweeping the Arab world, are we now witnessing exactly that shift?

Hirsi Ali harkens this strategy to boosting “the immune systems of young minds” so that they are able to recognize totalitarian ideologies and to defend themselves against them, citing a two-pronged approach:  

“Part of it is, I would say, a defensive approach to prepare young people that they are going to be targeted by Islamists, that this is the message Islam is going to impart, this is the model framework that they want, these are the goals that they want to achieve. On the other hand, there must be an offensive strategy too where you provide that young group with a completely different narrative: when the Muslim Brotherhood says Islam is the answer to our political and economic and social problems, we must provide reasons why Islam cannot be the answer to all of those.  Islam may satisfy your spiritual needs, but can it really be the answer to our economic and political problems? And then provide the answers to that and why it can’t. That way you prepare young minds when they are approached by radicals to not only ask the question, but to throwback an answer.”

There is a historical precedent for this approach, she adds, pointing to the fall of communism. “The communists or Marxist ideologies of the 1950s, 1960s were defeated by providing Eastern Europeans and people living in the Soviet Union behind the Iron Curtain with reasons, arguments why communism was a bad or why Marxism was a bad ideology for the state, why it wasn’t a solution for the economic or social or political problems.”

Your Part in the Revolution

Social media tools like Facebook like Twitter contributed, at least in part, to the recent Arab Spring uprisings, evidence of new political narratives blossoming in the Middle East. {eople in the West can also use these technology to help combat radical Islam, says Hirsi Ali. The first step in taking part in this debate is to understand truly what the Islamist movement is all about:  

“Listen to what the Islamists are saying.  Go visit and do your own research on for instance, the brand and movement the Muslim Brotherhood.  What are their objectives?  How do they want to get to their objectives?  What are their recruiting tools?  What are they doing?  What are their activities?  What are they doing to get people on their side?  Once you understand that, you visit the mosques, the Muslim centers, their websites, etcetera, and you can then compose a counter message.  You go to and you approach the same people that they’re trying to appeal to and that they’re trying to persuade to take their side, and you provide the same people using the same methods that they are with a counter narrative.”

For every website created by radical Islamists, our goal should be to put up a counter website with a counter message, says Hirsi Ali. “Doing this, you’re applying technology to not only explain to young people what is wrong with these totalitarian ideologies, but also to help them actively come up with solutions and answers for their own social problems.”

Well, what are you waiting for?


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