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Supporting the Moderate Voice

Supporting the Moderate VoiceTo win the battle against Islamic extremists, Fletcher School student Lorenzo Vidino says the West must support and connect with the more moderate voices in Islam.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [05.17.07] With the United States battling Islamic extremism in both Iraq and Afghanistan, the impetus to find a way to combat such movements is high. According to one Fletcher School Ph.D. candidate who has extensively studied terrorism, the best way to fight radical Islam is not by force or diplomacy, but ideologically, as was done during the Cold War.

"Only by tackling the ideology that motivates potential jihadis from Baghdad to London can the United States hope to win what will undoubtedly be a generational conflict," Lorenzo Vidino, an analyst at both the Investigative Project and the Jebsen Center for Counter-Terrorism Studies at The Fletcher School, wrote in an op-ed for The Boston Globe.

He cites a recent study by the RAND Corporation explaining that Saudi Arabian financing is fostering the expansion of religious extremism in some Muslim countries. "Only by correcting this resource imbalance can we defeat extremists," Vidino wrote in the newspaper.

Vidino, who last year authored the book "Al Qaeda in Europe," recommends that funds and support be allotted to moderate brands of Islam that are often drowned out by more radical elements.

"Why not empower moderates within the Muslim world?" he asks in the op-ed. "Why not intervene in what is often defined as a civil war for the soul of Islam in support of those who espouse positions that are compatible with our national interest?"

For instance, Sufi Islam, prominent in parts of Africa, Central Asia and Indonesia, features a "mystical, moderate and tolerant message," he writes.

Vidino also explains that even within Sunni Islam, the branch most often identified with the Iraqi insurgency, there are both secular and traditional progressive perspectives that are seeking outlets.

For example, he discusses Naser Khader, a Syrian national in the Danish Parliament, who formed an organization called the Democratic Muslims Network in the wake of the Muhammad cartoon incident. The group, Vidino writes, has helped steer young Danish Muslims away from radical groups by advocating democracy and providing employment opportunities.

Khader is just one of many Muslims around the world who, despite the obstacles posed by organized extremist groups, are working to promote democracy and tolerance, according to the Fletcher graduate student.

"They preach a reformation through which Muslims, while remaining loyal to its key tenets, would be able to reconcile Islam with modern life," Vidino wrote. "It is in the West's best interest to support these voices of reason, as they represent the best antidote to the radical ideology that is generating most of the terrorism and violence throughout the world."

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