Aug 20, 2007

Sharing a Common Playbook

The U.S. and Great Britain are each introducing new programs in line with the main GWOT Strategic PSYOP plan:

[There is] something new in Britain's mosques: an effort to teach basic citizenship issues in a special curriculum designed to reach students who might be vulnerable to Islamic extremism.

Over the long haul, the British government hopes that such civics classes, which use the Koran to answer questions about daily life, will replace the often tedious, and sometimes hard-core, religious lessons taught in many mosques across the land. Often, these lessons emphasize rote learning of the Koran and are taught by Pakistani-born imams who speak little English and have little contact with larger British society.

Written by a Bradford teacher, Sajid Hussain, 34, who holds a degree from Oxford University, the new curriculum is being taught in some religious classes in a city that is increasingly segregated between South Asians and whites.

The effort has the backing of the Labour government as part of a hearts-and-minds campaign to better integrate the country's mainstream Muslims into British culture. Approximately two million Muslims, mostly of Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin, live in Britain.

Since four British Muslim suicide bombers attacked the London transit system in July 2005 and two other major terrorist plots supposedly planned by British Muslims were alleged last year, officials have been struggling with how to isolate extremists.

The new prime minister, Gordon Brown, said at his first news conference last month that he wanted to demonstrate the "importance we attach to nonviolence, the importance we attach to the dignity of each individual," and in the process make unpalatable the "extreme message of those who practice violence and would maim and murder citizens on British soil."

"The question for us," he said, "is how we can separate those extremists from the moderate mainstream majority."

One of the virtues of the curriculum in Bradford in applying Brown's vision, according to his aides, is that it is taught by forward-leaning imams and is based on matching messages from the Koran to everyday life in Britain. The Labour government has been particularly concerned because, in part through its involvement in the Iraq war, it lacks credibility with large swaths of British Muslims.

An estimated 100,000 school-age Muslim children attend religious classes held at mosques in Britain daily, generally after regular school hours, said Jane Houghton, a spokeswoman for the Department of Communities and Local Government. "The impact this teaching could have is quite considerable," she said.

And along the same basic lines (albeit being enacted exclusively abroad):

The State Department is launching what it says will be the first comprehensive public diplomacy effort targeting children, hoping to shape the views of Muslim youths ages 8 to 14 with a series of summer camps and enrichment programs designed to counter negative images of the United States.

The new initiative is the brainchild of Karen Hughes, a confidante of President Bush who has become the most powerful public-diplomacy czar in decades. Hughes has argued forcefully that the US government must reach out to children younger than age 14, a population the State Department has largely neglected because they are too young for traditional exchange programs.

"By the time kids get to high school, their impressions are already pretty well shaped," Hughes said in an interview Monday. She said she began to plan the initiative last year when she realized that the US government's programs for young people "weren't reaching down really young enough."

As a test of her idea, Hughes asked embassies in 14 Islamic countries this summer to come up with pilot programs for that age bracket, and spent nearly $1 million on projects that involved about 6,000 youths and hundreds of local partnering organizations. Participants included more than 2,000 girls in Turkey who attended a basketball camp and 80 children from rural schools in Malaysia who learned about Thomas Jefferson and other US heroes on an American-style camping trip with embassy staff and families.

But the programs also carry risks in nations with virulent anti-American sentiments, which are where most of the programs are aimed.

For example, 41 Iraqi students learned about baseball and the English language for three days this summer in Baghdad. A photo of the group meeting with US Ambassador Ryan Crocker hangs on the door of Hughes's office at the State Department -- but it cannot be publicly released for fear that the children may be harmed by terrorists because of their connection with the United States.

"There's always a risk, whatever you do, in a country where they really don't like you, particularly if you are talking to the kids," Patricia Kushlis, a retired State Department foreign service officer who now runs a public diplomacy blog called WhirledView. Nonetheless, some foreign policy specialists praised the notion of targeting public diplomacy efforts at average people, rather than elites and opinion-makers, and said children often develop their world view during ages 8 to 14.

"There is a generation, in the Middle East in particular, of 15 to 22 year olds, that during the most formative years of their lives has only seen the US as an imperialist nation," said Joshua Fouts, director of the University of Southern California Center on Public Diplomacy, a Los Angeles-based think tank. "If kids aged 8 to 14 are all that's left, then it is important that we engage them." ...

The success of the new initiative will probably define the legacy of Hughes, whose initial efforts to reach out to average people in the Arab world were widely criticized as naive. In 2005, on her first trip as assistant secretary of state, she drew criticism for breaking cultural bounds by extolling the joys of having the freedom to drive a car to groups of women in countries where driving is limited to men.

Hughes modeled her program for children in the Muslim world on American summer camps and intended to use the term "Camp Friendship." But after critics said people abroad might associate "camp" with reeducation camps or even the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, the State Department switched to calling them "youth enrichment programs."

Hughes said she hopes to greatly expand this summer's pilot project with $8.5 million she received from Congress this year. State Department officials will plan the expansion of the project after seeing exit interviews with the children.

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