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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Default Viral Extremism?

    My wife and I were having a discussion on what makes this war different. She asked “Since we are at war, how should people act different?” The thought had never really occurred to me, other then the criticism me as a serving soldier had considered when dealing with the idea of “America goes shopping”. Even though she has a husband who just got back, she really did not understand the threat. She asked, “what would happen if we just pulled out of Iraq?” For her, like many Americans I suspect, the war is confined to the geography of the Middle East. She does understand that terrorism is a threat, but even that is somewhat remote – it primarily affects icon like super cities, capitols, and mass transit systems such as air-planes & cruise ships.

    This idea of communicating the threat present in the war bothers me to no end. It is the key to engaging the public and allowing the politicians to take the political risk that accounts for political leadership. I know that sounds cynical, but as was pointed out, “all politics truly are local”.

    You often hear that this threat is most dire for free and open societies, but how do we account for that. I think we tend to consider in light of our borders and immigration process. We naturally link it to something physical. We sort of understand the connection between the information age and violent extremism – lets call that the physical act of coercing others to abandon their beliefs in favor of yours through terror and intimidation. We also wrestle with the idea of ideology by trying to link political and religious philosophies together such as “Islamo-fascism”. I’m not sure the term does a good job at describing the threat, and probably does a poorer job at communicating the threat because for most of today’s Americans, the terror and threat of Hitler is too far removed.

    So what would be a good description? What is a good way to communicate the threat? I’m not sure about the description, but I am willing to take a look at the threat. The danger of the threat is that it does not need to penetrate a border, or immigrate. In fact, the best way for it to achieve its purpose is to attack us from the inside out. Because we are a free and open society that recognizes, encourages and draws strength from pluralism we are susceptible to organisms that masquerade as just another pluralistic component seeking to provide diversity and fit in. It attempts to show us one face when we see it on the street, but in private attacks those freedoms which allow it to prosper. It is viral in nature in that it hunts similar types of healthy cells (those people who are moderate and tolerant in their religious views and seek to prosper in the pluralistic corporate whole.) It infects those cells gradually, by identifying ways to encourage divisiveness and incite passions such as racism, prejudices, and feelings of community isolationism). It knows where to look – passion and energy are most readily found in a population’s youth, which as luck would have it is also where the least amount of balancing responsibilities is found.

    This is they type of judo that I think others have applied to economics, etc, but in this case its applied toward our national philosophy. The enemy seeks to use the weight of our most defining convictions against us. The part of the equation that seems to be missing most from our strategy of homeland defense is not the wall at the border or the comprehensive immigration reform, but the strengthening of our social institutions that bind us together and give us strength. I’m not talking about the ones a government might create as they are artificial. I’m talking about the ones we engage in willingly to build and sustain communities. You might be talking churches/mosques/synagogues, social clubs, CoPs such as SWJ/SWC, scouting, VFW, rotary clubs, civic groups or the multitude of community building/strengthening organizations.

    The next step would be to link those communities together. There has to be a catalyst that brings new people into existing organizations and convinces existing organizations to link with others. This means a sober communication of the threat that does not breed exclusion, but focuses on inclusion. The goal is to make the links to our society stronger and less easy for extremists to slice away members who they can then exploit to conduct acts of terrorism. This means American leaders regardless of faith or philosophy must first believe and acknowledge the threat to their American way of life.

    By doing this we’ll find the unity to accomplish our goals where we truly need it. We’ll have more informed and better decisions about how we move forward in the world. When Americans understand that this is a threat that seeks to destroy us from the inside, they may understand how to deal with its external manifestations as well.

    Maybe the word we need is something more akin to “Viral Extremism” since a virus is insidious, spreads, corrupts, mutates, infects, masquerades, deceives, exploits, grows, and destroys.

  2. #2
    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Thornton View Post
    My wife and I were having a discussion on what makes this war different. She asked “Since we are at war, how should people act different?” The thought had never really occurred to me, other then the criticism me as a serving soldier had considered when dealing with the idea of “America goes shopping”. Even though she has a husband who just got back, she really did not understand the threat. She asked, “what would happen if we just pulled out of Iraq?” For her, like many Americans I suspect, the war is confined to the geography of the Middle East. She does understand that terrorism is a threat, but even that is somewhat remote – it primarily affects icon like super cities, capitols, and mass transit systems such as air-planes & cruise ships.

    This idea of communicating the threat present in the war bothers me to no end. It is the key to engaging the public and allowing the politicians to take the political risk that accounts for political leadership. I know that sounds cynical, but as was pointed out, “all politics truly are local”.

    You often hear that this threat is most dire for free and open societies, but how do we account for that. I think we tend to consider in light of our borders and immigration process. We naturally link it to something physical. We sort of understand the connection between the information age and violent extremism – lets call that the physical act of coercing others to abandon their beliefs in favor of yours through terror and intimidation. We also wrestle with the idea of ideology by trying to link political and religious philosophies together such as “Islamo-fascism”. I’m not sure the term does a good job at describing the threat, and probably does a poorer job at communicating the threat because for most of today’s Americans, the terror and threat of Hitler is too far removed.

    So what would be a good description? What is a good way to communicate the threat? I’m not sure about the description, but I am willing to take a look at the threat. The danger of the threat is that it does not need to penetrate a border, or immigrate. In fact, the best way for it to achieve its purpose is to attack us from the inside out. Because we are a free and open society that recognizes, encourages and draws strength from pluralism we are susceptible to organisms that masquerade as just another pluralistic component seeking to provide diversity and fit in. It attempts to show us one face when we see it on the street, but in private attacks those freedoms which allow it to prosper. It is viral in nature in that it hunts similar types of healthy cells (those people who are moderate and tolerant in their religious views and seek to prosper in the pluralistic corporate whole.) It infects those cells gradually, by identifying ways to encourage divisiveness and incite passions such as racism, prejudices, and feelings of community isolationism). It knows where to look – passion and energy are most readily found in a population’s youth, which as luck would have it is also where the least amount of balancing responsibilities is found.

    This is they type of judo that I think others have applied to economics, etc, but in this case its applied toward our national philosophy. The enemy seeks to use the weight of our most defining convictions against us. The part of the equation that seems to be missing most from our strategy of homeland defense is not the wall at the border or the comprehensive immigration reform, but the strengthening of our social institutions that bind us together and give us strength. I’m not talking about the ones a government might create as they are artificial. I’m talking about the ones we engage in willingly to build and sustain communities. You might be talking churches/mosques/synagogues, social clubs, CoPs such as SWJ/SWC, scouting, VFW, rotary clubs, civic groups or the multitude of community building/strengthening organizations.

    The next step would be to link those communities together. There has to be a catalyst that brings new people into existing organizations and convinces existing organizations to link with others. This means a sober communication of the threat that does not breed exclusion, but focuses on inclusion. The goal is to make the links to our society stronger and less easy for extremists to slice away members who they can then exploit to conduct acts of terrorism. This means American leaders regardless of faith or philosophy must first believe and acknowledge the threat to their American way of life.

    By doing this we’ll find the unity to accomplish our goals where we truly need it. We’ll have more informed and better decisions about how we move forward in the world. When Americans understand that this is a threat that seeks to destroy us from the inside, they may understand how to deal with its external manifestations as well.

    Maybe the word we need is something more akin to “Viral Extremism” since a virus is insidious, spreads, corrupts, mutates, infects, masquerades, deceives, exploits, grows, and destroys.
    I like the phrase. Have you read Brian Jenkins' Unconquerable Nation: Knowing Our Enemy, Strengthening Ourselves? It's one of the best general overviews I've come across.
    Last edited by SteveMetz; 07-01-2007 at 06:32 PM. Reason: Even fatter fingers

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    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Steve,
    Maybe sometime we could have lunch after I get out of BSAP. We could hit the Mexican place out the gate. I'll link to the Jenkins article later today - the title sounds very relevant.
    Best Regards, Rob

  4. #4
    Council Member SteveMetz's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Thornton View Post
    Steve,
    Maybe sometime we could have lunch after I get out of BSAP. We could hit the Mexican place out the gate. I'll link to the Jenkins article later today - the title sounds very relevant.
    Best Regards, Rob
    Sure. I'm in Root Hall, A224. Will spend tomorrow in the heart of evil. Not the Sunni Triangle, but the State Department.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Rob Thornton View Post

    (snipped for brevity)

    The next step would be to link those communities together. There has to be a catalyst that brings new people into existing organizations and convinces existing organizations to link with others. This means a sober communication of the threat that does not breed exclusion, but focuses on inclusion. The goal is to make the links to our society stronger and less easy for extremists to slice away members who they can then exploit to conduct acts of terrorism. This means American leaders regardless of faith or philosophy must first believe and acknowledge the threat to their American way of life.

    By doing this we’ll find the unity to accomplish our goals where we truly need it. We’ll have more informed and better decisions about how we move forward in the world. When Americans understand that this is a threat that seeks to destroy us from the inside, they may understand how to deal with its external manifestations as well.

    Maybe the word we need is something more akin to “Viral Extremism” since a virus is insidious, spreads, corrupts, mutates, infects, masquerades, deceives, exploits, grows, and destroys.
    Rob, this is truly excellent advice. Terrorism flourishes in chaotic, combative environments. Building unity is a perfect deterrent. It's too bad that the U.S. is becoming more devisive, and growing worse as we get closer to the 2008 elections.

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    I love the term and I agree with the concept of immunization, if you will. The problem is, as you allude to, that some of our strengths make us weak (or at least appear so).

    If you sound the klaxon, you'll be accused of fear mongering.

    If you espouse traditional values -- school, religion, family, etc, you're just not post modern enough for this country.

    Can't wait to see some of the great ideas on how we progress from here.

  7. #7
    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Default Base lines

    Well - it seems the first step would have to be bi-partisan - so the urgency has to transcend party lines - to me this means the 2008 candidates basically provide the same answers to:

    1) the nature of the threat
    2) the ways we can respond domestically to the threat
    3) the Average American must play a role in those responses by strengthening our social fabric.

    All of those can be answered without trading any of the political beliefs which define the Democratic or Republican parties.

    The second step is a bit harder. It would mean linking the issue of domestic security policy and foreign security policy in ways we have not been very successful at communicating yet. This linkage would have to run both ways. In a very broad sense our foreign policy actions matter to our domestic policies, and our domestic actions matter to our foreign policy.

    Even though we have windows on the outside world in every household, I still think the average American does not contemplate why International events matter, or how they impact them and their families at home - I also don't think leaders ask them to. Conversely, many people who spend their time in the military live on base, or FS/FP types who work in D.C. don't really understand why the average American can't see the threats. Americans want to know why they should be involved and why they should sacrifice, but we have done a poor job of explaining how it matters as much in Memphis, Little Rock, or San Antonio as it does in D.C., Boston or New York.

    Equally we have done little to help Americans understand the threats of pandemics, the effects of global warming, global poverty and other non-war type threats, or how those threats impact the average U.S. citizen. Ex. - in the Democratic debate last week the question was posed to the candidates’ ref. the impact of Aids in minority communities & how they would address it. The response by NY Sen. Clinton was (paraphrased) "If AIDS was killing white women between ages 25-35 at the same rate we'd see action" was IMHO a poor job of answering the question. AIDS is a social disease; to address AIDS requires discussing the conditions which give rise to it. If tackling poverty, lack of dignity and self respect, ignorance from lack of education combined with greater R&D $$s, clinic out reach, etc. in neighborhoods/cities with high rates of infection had been pitched she'd have demonstrated she understood the problem.

    The domestic & foreign problems we face today are multi-faceted and require multi-faceted solutions. We require leaders who can communicate that and we require a public who understands and demands it. If you substitute viral extremism for AIDS you have the same type problem.

    The political leadership must espouse enough of a bipartisan message to communicate the need for domestic sacrifice and involvement as needed to provide a clear direction for the future domestic and foreign policy actions. I believe here also there is room enough to accomodate their peculiar party views and strategies to pursue foreign policy, but there are key points the Americans must at least acknowledge

    1) The world has changed since the the fall of the Berlin Wall, the disolution of the USSR, the Internet, and Sept 11, 2001 (and a host of other multi-causal events).

    2) That change requires us to acknowledge it, reflect upon it, and change the way we thought about how we see America's role in the world, and just as important how the World sees America's role.

    3) No matter what we do, there is no going back to the 1980s. The only direction we can move is forward.

    4) What goes on internationally does effect us domestically.

    The rest is probably debatable, but at least by acknowledging those points Americans can begin to view the world as it is, not as we wish it were.

  8. #8
    Council Member Rob Thornton's Avatar
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    Lightbulb Irony

    Does anybody else have the sense of irony that we have declared that Iraq requires a political solution, but in a very real sense - to be be successful - we also are going to have to implement a political solution.

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    I always liked the adage of teaching a guy to fish so he can feed himself but the part about people who take other people's fish always gets left out and our folk adages seldom address reality. I think our real-time world and instant access to what is happening all over the world does nothing to alter the intrinsic need to live a rather insular existence. We can all agree that people want the basics, they want some degree of justice and security in their lives, they want a reasonable amount of peace and quiet. I just think it's a tough sell for the average earth inhabitant to believe they must learn and know more about other cultures and in so doing, some problems and complications can be headed off. We are more reactive and always will be in this respect. I think that is why COIN is a tough sell. People are not that interested in learning that much about other people in other parts of the world. There is not going to be a one world community. That is not to say people aren't curious and aren't gregarious and social but in the work-a-day world of the aveage earth inhabitant, the luxary of knowlege and experience we here are privy to is notably absent. We sometimes forget that. Just as we know intelligent, successful, traveled, good people who are not really that interested in other cultures and don't make the connection between understanding and reaching out cross culturally as a means of problem resolution, so too do they wonder why we are doing what their knowledge and experience tells them is not necessary.

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