Promoting democracy is a vital element in the war of ideas against violent extremism, writes James Glassman, former U.S. undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs.
Public diplomacy and public relations are not the same thing, and efforts to improve the image of the United States will be less effective than active solidarity with Muslim democrats, especially Iran’s Green Movement.
The U.S. is not at the center of the war of ideas, but is affected by conflicts within Muslim societies. The first conflict involves violent reactionaries such as al Qaeda, the Taliban, and allied groups attempt to impose “a sweeping totalitarian doctrine, inconsistent with the tenets of Islam,” he writes.
But a second, broader conflict is between Muslim citizens and governments over democracy and human rights.
“Many Arab governments have denied their citizens what Egyptian activist Saad Eddin Ibrahim has called ‘the infrastructure of democracy’: rule of law, an independent judiciary, free media, gender equality, and autonomous civil society,” he argues.
The US needs to do more to take advantage of the emergence of Iran’s Green movement, providing moral and educational assistance, and furnishing technical support in the form of new telecommunication, Internet and satellite technologies:
The great fear of the Iranian regime is that a nonviolent civil resistance in the form of a color movement, like those in states of the former Soviet Union, will gain authority and legitimacy and, ultimately, power through democratic means. The regime is right to be afraid.