Saturday, February 14, 2009

Soft Power and the War on Terror

This is kind of an older article, from November, but I thought it was very interesting given our discussions on soft power last week. Al Qaeda and sympathizers are a huge domestic problem for Saudi Arabia, and the country has developed this rehabilitation program for detainees. It's interesting because the heart of the program is this idea of "correcting" religious interpretations, putting these guys in a room with a religious scholar who explains why Al Qaeda doesn't interpret Islam properly.

The article also mentions some other initiatives in the same vein; one that I've heard more about elsewhere is this kind of ideological task force made up of psychologists and religious scholars who roam the internet looking for radical chat rooms and then start debating with people. Because these are domestic programs, they aren't technically Public Diplomacy, but they have elements of it, especially since the target audience is explicitly transnationalized through the jihad experience. I feel this case in particular highlights some of the tensions between PD as an effective strategic practice, and propaganda as a form of attempted brainwashing. On the one hand, the campaign outlined in the article seems much more intelligent and effective than just hunting terrorists down and locking them up at Guantanamo, but on the other hand I get just a bit of a "Clockwork Orange" feeling from the whole idea. Thoughts?

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