Ambassador Mark L. Asquino (ret.) Senior Public Diplomacy Fellow, SMPA (2010-11)
The Central Asian nation of Uzbekistan is in the news, but unfortunately, not in a positive way. Media coverage of the horrific, vehicular attack in New York City, which took the lives of eight people, six of whom were foreign tourists, highlights the fact that the alleged killer legally emigrated from Uzbekistan in 2010 on a diversity lottery visa. The latter allows citizens from countries with low emigration rates to the U.S. to enter a lottery for an immigrant visa. All those selected in the lottery must go through vigorous background checks and other vetting.
I was in Uzbekistan’s capital of Tashkent on 9/11. I will never forget the outpouring of grief and sympathy Uzbeks showed toward our country. Within hours of the attacks, there were piles of flowers and condolence notes in front of the U.S. embassy. Uzbeks often came up to my wife and me, put their right hand over their heart, and said how sorry they were for what had happened. An Uzbek was among those who died in the 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center.
The Uzbekistan I fondly remember, from my three years there as Public Affairs Officer at the U.S. embassy, is filled with remarkable and wonderful people. The diversity visa lottery has allowed a number of them to come here where they are hard-working, patriotic and greatly add to the cultural mosaic that enriches our society. We are fortunate to have them as our friends and neighbors.
Conflating the act of one, deranged individual with the nation from which he emigrated is wrong. All indications are that the alleged killer was radicalized in the U.S. after he came here from Uzbekistan. And, in my view, politicizing this terrible tragedy to attack the diversity visa lottery program is disgraceful.
Caveat: The opinions expressed in this blog are those of the author. They do not necessarily reflect the views either of the Institute of Public Diplomacy and Global Communications or The George Washington University
In his September 19 address to the United Nations General Assembly, President Trump chillingly threatened to “totally destroy North Korea,” a country of twenty-five million people. Ironically, that same evening, Barry McGuire’s 1965 ballad, “The Eve of Destruction,” was featured on the third episode of Ken Burns’ and Lynn Novick’s haunting series “The Vietnam War.” I first heard “The Eve of Destruction” as a 16-year-old high-school sophomore. It had a strong impact on me. Although Vietnam was not mentioned specifically, the song was clearly intended as a protest against that war. Its iconic, opening lyrics make this perfectly clear:
“The eastern world, it is explodin’
Violence flarin’, bullets loadin’
You’re old enough to kill, but not for votin’
You don’t believe in war, but what’s that gun you’re totin’?”
As the documentary shows, 1965 was a pivotal year in the Vietnamese war. The Johnson administration rushed increasing numbers of U.S. combat troops into Southeast Asia, with casualties mounting as a result.
It was a confusing time to be a young person. Although I was moved by McGuire’s anti-war lyrics, I also believed my government was telling the truth in justifying the war as defending democracy in the struggle against world-wide communism. It was only later that it became overwhelmingly clear to me just how false this was.
In my senior year of high-school, the national debate topic was on the pros and cons of the war in Vietnam. As a debating team member, I delved deeply into both sides of the topic, preparing myself to argue either for or against the war. But even when arguing as a debater against the war, I still wanted to believe that the U.S. was in Viet Nam to fight for a just cause.
I focused in college on my studies and steered clear of politics and the burgeoning anti-war movement. But after the Nixon administration’s April 1970 invasion of Cambodia, I finally joined in the marches and other protests against the war. However, the war never personally affected me. I received student deferments throughout college, and my high draft lottery number exempted me from being drafted into the military afterwards.
Decades have passed. For many in my generation “The Vietnam War” brings back memories of a time when we were coming of age. It leads us to revisit the personal choices we made during the 1960’s and 1970’s. It causes us to reflect on the lies and deceptions of our government during those years and how they have had an impact on everything that has followed. And finally, the series forces us to recognize the devastating human costs of that war, especially for those who fought in it and for their families.
This documentary could not be more timely. The military once again dominates our government with generals in key foreign policy positions. Diplomacy is taking a back seat as the Trump administration increases troop levels in Afghanistan and proposes massive cuts to the Department of State’s and USAID’s budgets. And it is apparent from his United Nations speech and other statements that the president is confronting a dangerous situation with North Korea by prioritizing military options, including nuclear ones, over diplomatic approaches. Truthfulness in government seems scarcer now than at any other time in my life.
And the lyrics of the second stanza of “The Eve of Destruction,” which I first heard so long ago, are as relevant to these times as they were back then:
“Don’t you understand, what I’m trying to say?
And can’t you feel the fears I’m feeling today?
If the button is pushed, there’s no running away.
There’ll be no one to save with the world in a grave.”
Ambassador Mark L. Asquino (ret.) Senior Public Diplomacy Fellow (SMPA 2010-11)
In his 2004 book, “Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Power,” Joseph Nye defined “soft power” as follows:
“A country may obtain the outcomes it wants in world politics because other countries –admiring its values, emulating its example, aspiring to its level of prosperity and openness –want to follow it. In this sense, it is also important to set the agenda and attract others in world politics, and not only to force them to change by threatening military force or economic sanctions.”
In announcing the preliminary, 2018 budget proposal in March, which includes a nearly 10% proposed increase in defense spending, Director of the Office of Management and Budget, Mick Mulvaney, could not have been clearer about the Trump administration’s view of soft power, when he announced:
“This is a ‘hard power’ budget. It is not a ‘soft power’ budget.”
In my view, such a reliance on military hard power at the expense of soft power is not only unfortunate, but also indicates a fundamentally different approach to international engagement from what we’ve seen since the end of World War II.
During the past seven decades, U.S. foreign policy has combined “soft power” with “hard power.” In 1948, the passage of the Informational and Educational Exchange Act was a major initiative by the U.S. government to use the power of cultural diplomacy, which relied on attraction, to counteract Soviet propaganda. It was followed by the 1961 Fulbright-Hays Act, which expanded educational exchanges even further. Both pieces of legislation focused on promoting “mutual understanding,” through employing U.S. information, cultural and educational exchange programs as a means of engaging foreign audiences and governments to promote dialogue.
Similarly, the establishment of USAID and the founding of the U.S. Peace Corps, both in 1961, indicated the importance John F. Kennedy and all presidents since him have accorded “soft power” tools.
There has already been strong bipartisan opposition to what I regard as a short-sighted approach regarding the vital role soft power plays in foreign policy. In this present fiscal year, Congress rejected the Administration’s proposed cuts to the State Department’s budget, and instead actually increased funds for exchange programs by 9%.
During tough Senate hearings with Secretary Tillerson in June, Republican Senator Lindsay Graham criticized the Trump Administration’s putting hard power above soft power. Graham said:
“I want the country to know that this budget request is radical and reckless when it comes to soft power.”
Such opposition is a hopeful sign for me that our representatives in Congress will provide adequate resources for the sort of soft power tools, including highly successful exchange and cultural programs, that have been a mainstay of U.S. foreign policy during both Democratic and Republican administration.
Caveat: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Diplomacy or The George Washington University.
Ambassador Mark L. Asquino (ret.), SMPA Senior Public Diplomacy Fellow (2010-11)
In Phoenix on September 22, President Trump once again bitterly complained about his alleged ill-treatment by journalists. He disputed criticism of his reaction to white supremacist violence in Charlottesville from the media and others, including some in his own party.
Speaking to supporters, the president praised Fox News’ Sean Hannity and defended former Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who was recently found guilty of criminal contempt by a U.S. District Court. Mr. Trump said the sheriff was being unfairly punished for “doing his job.” Mr. Trump signaled that based on this he might pardon Mr. Arpaio, who has long been accused of racially-profiling Hispanics.
But there were no such words of praise from the president for Heather Heyer, the 32-year-old woman murdered as she peacefully protested racism, white supremacy and hatred in Charlottesville. He made only passing reference to her as “Heather,” saying the driver of the car that killed Ms. Heyer was a “murderer.” What Mr. Trump failed to mention is the fact that the accused killer was a professed Nazi sympathizer. Just hours before allegedly taking Ms. Heyer’s life and injuring nineteen other peaceful protesters, the man being held for the crime had demonstrated with white supremacists.
During her short life, Heather Heyer was courageous and outspoken in opposing racism, unfairness and cruelty. No one would ever have questioned her willingness to condemn the KKK or neo-Nazis. Ms. Heyer died as a direct result of her attending a rally to protest against such groups. Earlier this month, I participated in a “Rally Against Racism” here in Santa Fe, New Mexico. I took a photo of a woman with a sign that read: “I am Heather.” I found her message a simple, moving tribute to Ms. Heyer’s memory.
All of us would do well to emulate Heather through advocating the values she died defending.
Caveat: The views expressed in this blog are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Institute for Public Diplomacy and Global Communication or the George Washington University.
U.S. public diplomacy efforts are about attraction, rather than coercion. A major variable in measuring “attractiveness” of the U.S. is through attitudes of potential foreign exchange students. The ability of the U.S. to attract bright minds from around the world has bolstered the country’s development since its inception and fuels the U.S. “melting pot” narrative. China is now the primary source of these foreign exchange students. The recent release of Institute for International Education’s 2016 Report revealed that numbering almost 330,000, Chinese international students comprise 31.5 percent of the total number of international students in the U.S. Sheer volume holds weight, but from a public diplomacy perspective, the numbers are less important than the attitudes behind them. Why do Chinese students choose to study abroad in the U.S.? Will this trend last? Research I conducted in 2015 concludes that unless the U.S. sees major education and public diplomacy policy shifts, we have reason to doubt it will.
In 2015, I completed an in-depth study of the evolution of Chinese students’ motivations to study abroad in the U.S. Its findings highlighted a need for the U.S. to foster policies that attract foreign talent as the web of international politics becomes increasingly multipolar. These conclusions ring true today.
The rapid influx of Chinese exchange students, who make up the majority of foreign students in the U.S., will play an unprecedented role in Sino-U.S. relations, as well as in the U.S. economy as potential future skilled immigrants. Through historical contextualization, observations at U.S. Consulate Guangzhou, as well as primary interviews of study abroad participants from the 80s, 90s, and today, my research concluded:
The student exchange trends described above call for the U.S. to adjust its education policies to continue attracting foreign talent, a factor that is crucial to the economy’s continuing success. Giving international student policies a more important role is not a betrayal to the “America First” rhetoric on the rise. In a recent interview, Thomas Friedman described his new book as a “manifesto for the eye people”. The “eye people” are those who thrive in the middle of the hubbub of globalization and interconnectedness and draw power from it. The “wall people” are those who withdraw into extreme nationalism. To thrive, the U.S. needs to maintain its status as a hub of global leadership. America’s largest group of international students is beginning to perceive the eye-to-wall shift. When will we?
Click here to read the full study.
In April 2013, Foreign Affairs published “Social Diplomacy: Or, How Diplomats Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Tweet,” written by digital communications expert and Columbia SIPA professor Alexis Wichowski. Four years later, we live in an era where the public, the media, even politicians and members of government, wake up every morning, furiously refreshing their smartphones to see whether the President of the United States tweeted, and if so, what the topic du jour will be for at least the first half of the day’s news cycle, and how much damage may have been done to a crucial alliance or to the stock market.
Wichowski wrote this article during a time when diplomats and governments shied away from digital media as a mode of communicating with foreign publics. Burson-Marsteller’s 2013 edition of “Twiplomacy,” a study that evaluates social media usage of governments, diplomats, and world leaders found that neither the U.S. Department of State, nor then-President Barack Obama were among the top 25 most-connected users on Twitter, indicating that although President Obama was among the most-followed on the platform (33,510,157 followers in Summer 2013), his tweets may not be reaching the “digital influencers” the office is hoping to reach. According to the study, a quarter of the world’s leaders unilaterally followed @BarackObama–meaning he did not follow them back. This practice is commonplace on Twitter for key “influencers;” Twitter users tend to have a higher ratio of followers to those they follow on the platform. African leaders were among the most controversial on Twitter. Countries like Haiti, which experienced an earthquake and a cholera outbreak two years prior, saw Prime Minister Laurent Lamothe use social media to bring attention to the plight of his people.
The world saw digital media’s revolutionary effect of connecting activists in Egypt, Tunisia, and across the Middle East in 2011, forever changing the way public diplomacy foreign service officers study political movements and craft diplomatic responses to them. However, the largest question mark looming over the future of digital diplomacy hangs over an Android phone in the hands of the man who lives in the White House.
There is no doubt that the 2016 presidential election and President Donald J. Trump’s tenure in office are altering our understanding of how candidates and governments will use Twitter and other digital tools to communicate, and will shape our understanding of the day-to-day governing practices of a president that is highly active on Twitter.
While President Trump (@RealDonaldTrump) has tweeted about many different topics since taking office, one of his tweets from December 2016 raised concerns among the American diplomatic community about the future stability of U.S.-China relations.
While tweeting about taking a phone call from a foreign leader in and of itself does not mean a diplomatic crisis is forthcoming, the public acknowledgement of praise from the leader of Taiwan signaled a potential departure from the U.S.’ decades-long adherence to the One China Policy. This caused a shockwave to reverberate through the media, prompting several explainers like this one from The Washington Post, and this one from The Atlantic. Whether this call was meant to change the diplomatic landscape the U.S., China, and Taiwan face, or the then-president elect did not consider the ramifications of his tweet, this is an example of Mr. Trump quickly learning the currency valuation of his tweets when conducting diplomacy.
More recently, President Trump used the platform to comment on tensions with North Korea, and put the onus of solving the conflict squarely on China’s shoulders. Below are tweets that were sent over several days that reflect a departure from the collaborative nature of the Six Party Talks-approach to diplomatically solving this issue.
President Trump is not the first world leader to stir controversy on the digital communications platform. In August 2014, President Ilham Aliyev of Azerbaijan’s Twitter account appeared to go on a random rant threatening war with neighboring Armenia.
However, it was later revealed that the tweets were excerpts from a longer speech that was later posted to the president’s website. These tweets were also from the English language account for President Aliyev, which indicates the audience for these tweets was outside of Azerbaijan and for a primarily English-speaking audience.
Wichowski’s assertion that diplomats stop dismissing the platform’s importance has certainly held up, even while the practices surrounding how diplomats use social media have changed. In Burson-Marsteller’s 2016 edition of Twiplomacy, the authors discuss the digital divide between those governments like the U.S., U.K., Mexico, and Nordic states, that have embraced digital media, and the few governments that still view digital communications as an afterthought. Today, social media is used by embassies, ambassadors, and even individual public diplomacy programs to communicate with foreign publics about a variety of issues. Ambassadors often use Twitter to “humanize” themselves to the public. For example, when Samantha Power was the U.S. Ambassador to the UN, she tweeted often about her love of the Boston Red Sox. Sometimes, she intertwined sports and diplomacy, like in the tweet below with a photo of Power and Henry Kissinger at Yankee Stadium.
Given that the landscape has changed so much Twitter since Wichowski’s article was published, here are a few recommendations for diplomacy practitioners to use when using Twitter to communicate:
Don’t try to make or change policy only through tweets: This may seem like an obvious suggestion, however, given that President Trump’s tweets were recently referenced by the North Korean regime as reason for a ratcheting up in hostilities, I’ve included it here. The nature of the platform is such that it purposefully limits the actual space for a Twitter user to express his or her point with true detail and nuance. Therefore, tweets should be used to highlight events or articles rather than be the sole platform to announce a shift in complex policy details.
Use well-made infographics and video: When working within the limited confines of 140 characters, it’s important to use every bit of space the platform gives to communicate with detail. This means using infographics and video to further communicate statistics and facts. For example the U.S. Department of State’s Exchange Programs Twitter account does an excellent job of combining media with tweets. Below is an example that promotes a program by highlighting due dates for the application by using links and an infographic:
Remember that Twitter doesn’t exist in a vacuum: Social media managers are often overlooked, or considered an afterthought in the communications process. Leaving them out of the overall strategy formulation is where mistakes are most likely to occur. By ensuring that the entire communications team views Twitter and other platforms as important tools in the communications toolkit, in addition to press releases, television spots and other press hits, is critical to an effective communications strategy. However, the converse is also true, especially if an ambassador or a head of state manages their own account. We saw a scenario regarding this suggestion break down when President Aliyev’s account tweeted out inflammatory tweets without linking to a longer statement or speech to contextualize them. Having a plan for if a tweet goes viral, for good or for bad reasons, is integral to an effective communications strategy. Keeping people in the loop regarding what tweets will be sent is critical to ensuring any response is coordinated and deliberate.
In the four years since Wichowski’s article was published, diplomats have undoubtedly learned to embrace the tweet, and even the SnapChat story, and the Instagram post. Practitioners no longer view Twitter as some “bizarre or childish revolution” as Wichowski said, and its impact on diplomatic relations and communications will only become more prevalent, especially due to “breaking news” nature of President Trump’s use of the platform. Given all of this, it is critical that diplomats and heads of state alike treat social media as a component of their communications strategy and not as a stove-piped communications apparatus.
Nearly a year after the Brussels attacks, the GW Program on Extremism, coordinated an event analyzing The Jihadi Threat in Europe: Insights from Belgium. The goal of the discussion was to promote thoughtful commentary from multiple perspectives on the Belgian approach to countering violent extremism and how such tactics might be implemented elsewhere. The panelists included Professor Thomas Renard from the Egmont Royal Institute for International Relations, Matthew Levitt who worked as an analyst on extremism for both the FBI and Department of State, and Cedric Janssens de Bisthoven, a representative from the Belgian Embassy in the U.S. Throughout the discussion, several themes continued to arise pointing to the reasons for such a large threat in Belgium, and their successes and deficiencies in thwarting the expansion of the terrorist community living within Belgium.
Thomas Renard explained that part of the threat in Belgium comes simply from geographic location. Situated in between Germany and France, Belgium often serves as a stopping point for immigrants and refugees on their way to begin anew, or a final destination for those seeking a new beginning. The problem with this is that these immigrants often come to Belgium expecting a welcoming society filled with opportunity, but instead find a country that lacks integration and is grappling with social discrimination and ethnic prejudice. The jobs these people were hoping to find are not available and the dreams of upward mobility and social satisfaction in the West come to a screeching halt. The lack of integration cannot be fully attributed to Belgium nor the immigrants, yet it is evident that the failure has created societal divisions and tensions surrounding the various ethnicities living independently of one another. This social division plays into the ISIS call for offensive jihad, violence against non-Muslims in regions outside of the caliphate, making the situation very dangerous.
Source: Fact Monster Atlas: Belgium
Belgium’s size contributes greatly to terrorism’s ability to flourish. Recruiters and fighters communicate through a network which is substantially smaller than other large countries, thus eliminating the issue of proximity. Moreover, Belgium has the highest ratio of foreign fighters per capita and lacks the capacity and the facilities necessary to combat the number of foreign fighters re-entering the country. Generally, these fighters are thrown in prison. Yet because Belgium’s prisons are not large enough to contain all of these extremists in solitary confinement, prisons become an incubator for terrorists’ recruitment and plotting. Also contributing to the proliferation of Islamic extremists in Belgium, is the isolated communities which foster the development of homegrown terrorism. Salafism, a radical sect of Islam, is quite pervasive in Belgium and facilitates a growth in the number of radicalized people. Belgium’s strategy to prevent extremism is to develop a new narrative steering Muslims away from radicalization. This plan would include creating a distinct Belgian Islam to help people find solidarity within the Belgian community and cut ties with Saudi Arabia.
Cedric Janssens de Bisthoven told of how Belgian security and CVE policy has undergone many dramatic changes in recent years. Following the Brussel’s terror attacks, European laws on terror acts and arms proliferation have been modified. This reflects the Belgian emphasis on security and prevention of attacks rather than a soft power approach aimed at turning people away from terrorism. Another recent complexity involves the transfer of CVE responsibility from the federal government to regional systems. This modification can lead to problems in cohesion and ability to perform some of the more sophisticated measures carried out by the national government. Huge changes in security procedures. Cedric Janssens de Bisthoven from the Belgian embassy, spoke to the recent technological developments and their implications for the CT effort in Belgium. Telephone companies are now allowed to store metadata, making the hunt for terrorists more efficient. Additionally, there are efforts to make the database of suspected terrorists more accurate and well maintained. This improvement can help in other efforts to keep terrorists from travelling by air and crossing national borders. One area that is relatively cohesive, is the training undergone by police to help them recognize and deal with early signs of terrorism.
Matthew Levitt from the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, was eager to emphasize the ways in which Belgian strategies can be implemented in other nations. He cited the example of the terrorism prevention partnership between Columbus, Ohio and cities in Belgium. Additionally, the BRAVE program in Montgomery County, Maryland is adapted from the police training programs used throughout Belgium. Though other nations can take several lessons from the Belgian CVE strategy, it was agreed amongst the panel that in order for Belgium to succeed in its fight against terror, there must be a transnational European force to develop proactive solutions to the influx of foreign fighters and their transit across borders.
The classroom’s matriculation to the web, where larger audiences can be reached and wider breadths of information are available, is a natural course. Such transformation has already taken place from casual discussion of academic material on blogs and forums like this one, to more structured and sophisticated online learning platforms like Khan Academy.
Since their arrival over fifteen years ago, MOOCs, Massive Open Online Courses, have not only been an interesting development in higher education, but an inevitable one.
While most MOOC courses originate from American universities, majority of MOOC users live abroad and welcome the often-free resource with open arms. In fact, the bulk of MOOC users are living in developing nations. This statistic is not lost to the U.S. State Department, who saw the diplomacy potential in these courses early on.
Back in 2013, as part of their EducationUSA program, the State Department began hosting MOOC Camps in U.S. embassies across the world. Today, foreign students enrolled in Coursera MOOCs, one of the largest online-education platforms, can still attend weekly meetings where Fulbright Fellows are ready to discuss their course material.
The MOOC Camp program even offers each student the opportunity to meet with an EducationUSA advisor one-on-one to discuss a continuation of their studies through attending college in the U.S.
As State Department officials described at the onset of the program, both MOOCs and MOOC Camps aim to ensure access to high-quality education where it is lacking so as to promote a more peaceful and prosperous world.
There’s just one problem: we may be over stepping our boundary. While U.S. led MOOCs are benefiting millions of students on a global scale, they may be harming the long-term development of local education systems.
For instance, Kepler University in Rwanda, a U.S. accredited MOOC program, has advertised in the past its superiority over any other cheaper education option in the area. However, while Kepler may be beneficial to the few Rwandans who are able to pay the tuition, it simultaneously detracts attention away from pre-existing university programs and regional efforts to develop the education sector at large. (It’s the supposedly superior nature of private U.S. universities that’s left American public schools in the lurch).
At the heart of MOOCs, is the idea that those with knowledge should share it with large and diverse audiences, who without the Web, and without the knowledge being low-cost, would not have access to valuable information. It is a generous, selfless concept.
However, if the U.S. wants to build long-term relationships and genuinely benefit our foreign partners, figuring out how MOOCs can enhance local education systems, instead of just challenging them, is the issue at hand.
Unfortunately, not much progress has been made in this area since the issue’s emergence a few years ago. Currently, EducationUSA remains solely dedicated to connecting U.S. higher education professionals with international students, and familiarizing foreign institutions with the U.S. system of higher education.
Additionally, and unlike most soft power initiatives, the Department has the unique opportunity to measure the programs’ successes through completion rates and grades; there is truly little room for the lack of improvement thus far.
In order to continue providing access to quality education, while building soft power and promoting U.S. interests, the State Department may want to double down on the face-to-face components of their MOOC Camps and other online learning programs.
Despite the great proliferation of online learning, the power of face-to-face interactions suggest that person-to-person learning will never fade away and are crucial to student success. In fact, face-to-face interactions in concert with online lectures is what has led to better, widespread student engagement in online courses around the world.
By uniting students through face-to-face interactions, foreign education institutions can use MOOCs as a learning tool instead of a crutch. Simply by physically coming together, can individuals recognize their need for better educational spaces, greater technology, or even for more rudimentary school supplies, such as pen and paper. In these ways, attention toward local education infrastructure will be renewed and strengthened.
Additionally, the State Department should encourage greater face-to-face interactions between higher-education MOOC users. Instead of solely focusing on connecting U.S. higher education professionals with international students, the State Department should focus on connecting foreign higher education professionals to other foreign professionals.
By facilitating engagement amongst highly educated citizenry, the State Department would be facilitating conversation between that foreign nation’s leaders. The State Department might even consider curriculum for foreign diplomacy officers specifically and create a platform where MOOC users can design their own educational system. In these ways, MOOC learners could use EducationUSA to more effectively realize local projects. With meaningful face-to-face interactions alongside accredited course material, the possibilities are endless.
No country is safe from the Islamic radicalization process. On November 13, 2015, three coordinated teams of gunman and suicide bombers attacked the busy streets of Paris, France. 130 innocent people were left dead, hundreds others were injured, and the Western world was left shaken. Although not the first incident, it was the largest scale ISIS attack on the West since the formation of the caliphate in 2014. Other ISIS linked terrorist attacks have followed, striking the countries of Germany, France, Belgium, and the United States. What is most startling is that these attacks were not conducted solely by Middle Eastern men and women jihadists, but by those born and raised in the West.
ISIS is able to manipulate the minds of individuals through targeted campaigns appealing to the weakness and desires of the most susceptible. The United States, as well as other international governments, have enacted programs that are designed to try and limit the influence of ISIS propaganda on those in Islamic countries. Little attention, on the other hand, is given to enacting policy to combat the radical message of ISIS in other Western states. However, based on the Suffran Groups statistics, Western countries have the largest proportion of Muslims joining ISIS compared to that of the rest of the world. While Western countries are combating the threat through their own domestic programs, there is still a need for international assistance. The threat of ISIS is of international concern, thus no country should have to combat the message alone.
ISIS and their recruiting techniques in the West
The Islamic State, or ISIS, is a Sunni Muslim jihadist group, whose main goal is to establish a sovereign, utopian society rival to the Islamic empire that stretched across the Middle East during the days of Mohammed. The establishment of said state is vital in the preparation for the Day of Judgement, or the end of the world, brought about through a great war with the West. Their membership is made up of foreign fighters and cells of supporters living remotely who have pledged themselves to the new caliphate. Without a constant flow of devout followers, the organization is unable to sustain itself. Gathering devotees from the Western countries only solidify the ISIS’s claim to legitimacy.
There is no one motivation or a way to measure all the reasons for joining ISIS. There are, however, common similarities that can be assumed to have an effect. Despite popular belief, data gives evidence that the majority of foreign fighters do not join ISIS necessarily because of poor economic conditions, but rather from the feeling of alienation within a community. As a result, many of these fighters come from Western countries, since Muslims make up the minority of the population and often discriminated against. The growing fear of radical Islamic terrorism in the recent decades leads to increased anxiety from the non-Muslim population, only increasing the divide between the two cultures. ISIS is able to exploit this weakness in Western society through all platforms of media; including newspaper and magazine prints, social media, blogs, texting apps, and videos. The desire to belong to something trumps reason. While counter messaging and censorship of ISIS material is important, focusing on helping the targeted audience has greater long term outcomes.
Entrepreneurs programs against ISIS
In order to combat the Islamic State’s influence over the West, focus needs to be on closing the societal gap that leaves a population alienated. One of the best ways in doing so is through entrepreneurship promotion. Success in entrepreneurship is not based on culture, but on the ability to exploit the needs of a general population. As a result, an emphasis is on finding similarities across cultural and socioeconomic standings. The United States Government has done lots of work in promoting entrepreneurship on both the global and local level.
The largest scale entrepreneurial event that the United States plays a major role in producing is the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES). This annual event began in 2009 during the Obama administration with the goal of supporting individual economic opportunity around the world. Here participants can showcase their creations and ideas, gain investors, learn from experts in the field, and develop relationships with fellow self-starters. While this program is important in connecting the general global community together economically and socially, it falls short in connecting the divided society at the state level. The program also supports over 1000 smaller scale initiatives and programs globally to help projects get funding, but the large majority of these programs are for, and located in, developing countries. Western countries are often excluded because there are seen as comparatively economically established. As a result, Western citizens are missing the cultural and societal implications participating in entrepreneurship programs can have.
The U.S. Embassy in France is one of the few United States State Department run programs designed for developing entrepreneurs in the Western world. With the support of French business INCO, the program “Yes Oui Can,” was created. It provides the opportunity for young adults that have been marginalized in France for their lack of education to learn the tools in becoming successful entrepreneurs through a fun, social camp. The free two week long camp takes on twenty participants, aged 18-25, that have a business idea but lack the formal education and societal opportunities needed to get heard. Through an equal mixture of workshops and sports led by leading French and American experts, participants push themselves to their limits. When the camp is over, they enter back into French society with the means of combatting the cultural and societal division with confidence in themselves and a well-established goal.
Although these programs are considered successful, they are far from perfect. The greatest problem is that there are a limited number of people who can participate compared to the population that hopes to attend. Therefore, there is an overall limited influence had on a larger scale. Just knowing that these programs and events exist is not enough. The Islamic State is able to reach anyone that has access to the internet, which is well over the majority of the western population. Therefore, that is where the focus should be.
There is great material out on the internet teaching entrepreneurship, but because it isn’t heavily publicized, it is often overlooked. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) are courses taught online by prominent universities aimed at unlimited participation and open access information. These courses range in length, price, and amount of time per week. For the novice entrepreneur, there are beginner classes taught by United States schools such as MIT and UPenn, but also international universities like IIMB. There are also more advanced classes that help with the launch of a product or learning more about impact investing. Although these classes can be useful, the majority are taught solely in English. As a result, the Muslim population either in Europe or the Middle East that only speak Arabic, or any language besides English, are at a disadvantage. In order for these entrepreneurship programs to be most effective, the State Department should work with these online course providers and adopt them to global Muslim population.