Memorandum submitted by Angel Rabasa,
Cheryl Benard and Lowell Schwartz
A ROAD MAP TO BUILDING MODERATE MUSLIM NETWORKS
The struggle underway throughout much of the
Muslim world is essentially a war of ideas. Its outcome will determine
the future direction of the Muslim world and will profoundly affect
the security of the West, determining whether the threat of jihadist
terrorism continues and some Muslim societies fall back even further
into patterns of intolerance and violence. Radical Islamists are
a minority almost everywhere, but in many areas they hold the
advantage because they have developed extensive networks spanning
the Muslim world and reaching well beyond it, to Muslim Diaspora
communities in North America and Europe. Moderate and liberal
Muslims, although a majority in most Muslim countries and communities,
have not created similar networks. Creation of moderate Muslim
networks and institutions is critical because such networks would
provide a platform to amplify their message as well as some measure
of protection from violence and intimidation.
The initial impulse for moderate network-building
may require an external catalyst. The United States and its allies
and partners, in levelling the playing field for moderates, have
a critical role to play. Many reservations have been expressed
about such a goal, and indeed, the obstacles to influencing socio-political
developments in the Muslim world should not be underestimated.
Nevertheless, there is in fact considerable experience available,
dating back to the U.S. and British efforts during the Cold War
to foster networks of people committed to free and democratic
It is widely acknowledged that U.S. and Western
initiatives in the "war of ideas" have not yet achieved
the desired momentum. The effectiveness of these effort is obstructed
by a system-wide inability to answer the three fundamental questions
at the heart of such an undertaking: what exactly we should be
doing, where should we do it, and with whom we should be doing
it. Drawing on a recently completed report issued by the RAND
Corporation, Building Moderate Muslim Networks, this paper proposes
solutions to each of these dilemmas and describes a roadmap for
a more effective conduct of the war of ideas on the foundation
of authentic and effectively networking moderates.
We begin by analyzing the Cold War precedent,
and describing how network building was found to be a key component
in the strategy to oppose Communism. Next, we summarise our findings
concerning current U.S. strategies and programs of engagement
with the Muslim world. We review how similar challenges were successfully
met during the Cold War, and describe how the United States and
its allies then identified and supported appropriate partners
and how they attempted to avoid endangering them. We discuss some
approaches for achieving a similar set of criteria for partners,
and for geographic areas of focus, under the different circumstances
prevailing today. Finally, informed by the findings of previous
RAND work on the ideological tendencies in the Muslim world, we
develop a "roadmap" for the construction of moderate
Muslim networks and institutions.
The Lessons of the Cold War Experience
The efforts of the United States and its partners,
primarily the United Kingdom, during the early years of the Cold
War to help build free and democratic institutions and organisations
hold lessons for the global war on terrorism. At the onset of
the Cold War, the Soviet Union could not only count on the allegiance
of strong Communist parties in Western Europe, but of a plethora
of organisationslabor unions, youth and student organisations,
and journalists' associationsthat gave Soviet-backed elements
effective control of important sectors of society. Outside Western
Europe, Soviet allies included a number of "liberation movements"
against colonial rule. In addition to the military shield provided
by U.S. nuclear and conventional forces, the success of the containment
policy therefore required the creation of parallel democratic
institutions to contest Communist domination of civil society.
Among the best known of these organizations were the Congress
of Cultural Freedom, Radio Free Europe, Radio Liberty, the Free
Trade Union Committee, and the National Student Association.
One important feature of this effort was the
linkage between the public and private sectors. As historian Scott
Lucas noted, in these "state-private networks" the impetus
for actions against Communism came from the private side of the
equation. Within the United States and Europe there already was
an intellectual movement opposed to Communism particularly among
the non-Communist left. These networks were not created out of
thin air; they came out of wider cultural and political realms
that the U.S. and other governments quietly fostered.
In almost all of these endeavours the U.S. government
acted like a foundation. It evaluated projects to determine whether
they promoted its strategic objectives, provided funding for them,
and then adopted a hands off approach to allow the organizations
it supported to fulfil their objectives without interference.
Like any foundation, the U.S. government set out guidelines on
how its money was to be spent. But in general, U.S. officials
realised that the more distance between it and the sponsored organisation,
the more likely it would be that their activities would succeed.
The United States was not the only nation engaged
in network-building activities at the beginning of the Cold War.
In early 1948, the British government set up the Information Research
Department (IRD), a secret part of the Foreign Office, to oversee
British Cold War propaganda efforts. The IRD was guided by the
principle that people in free countries would reject Soviet Communism
if they understood the real conditions in Communist-controlled
countries and the aims and methods of Soviet propaganda. To do
this the IRD embarked on "worldwide operation of factual
indoctrination" to counter Soviet propaganda.
The IRD surveyed the structures of various communities
both inside and outside Britain in order to identify opinion leaders
willing to cooperate with the British government in combating
Communism. The IRD was particularly interested in religious figures,
union leaders, intellectuals, and journalists. Individuals from
these groups were confidentially supplied with background materials
about Communism and life in the Soviet Union from open sources
and from British intelligence, enabling them to speak knowledgeably
on the subject. These non-official figures were able to promote
the anti-Communist message without appearing to be sponsored or
endorsed by the British government.
In constructing democratic networks in the Muslim
world today, the United States and its partners faces a number
of challenges that mirror those faced by policymakers at the beginning
of the Cold War. Three particular challenges seem especially relevant.
First, in the late 1940s and early 1950s, U.S and British policymakers
debated whether network building efforts should be offensive or
defensive. Some believed the West should pursue an offensive strategy
to roll back Communist rule in Eastern Europe. Others believed
a more defensive strategy focused on containing the Soviet threat
by bolstering democratic forces in Western Europe, Asia, and Latin
America was more appropriate. For the most part the defensive
strategy prevailed, although the United States also sought to
reverse the flow of ideas, so that instead of Communist ideas
flowing into the West via the Soviet Union and its front organisations,
democratic ideas could infiltrate behind the Iron Curtain via
the newly established information networks.
A second challenge policymakers in the Cold
War faced was how to maintain the credibility of groups that the
West was supporting. This was done in a variety of ways. One way
was to support the efforts of private or non-governmental organisations,
such as the AFL-CIO, with established relationships in the countries
where they operated. Another way of maintaining credibility was
through the appointment of reputable public figures as heads of
these organizations. The leadership of these public figures provided
a degree of credibility that helped to mitigate concerns about
the groups. Finally, it is important to note that many key individuals
and organisations were not averse to accepting Western funding.
They fully understood the political costs and risks that came
from accepting outside support. However, they believed in the
cause that they were fighting for and they wanted to exploit every
advantage that they could secure.
A third key issue was how broad the anti-Communist
coalition should be. For instance, should it include Socialists
who had turned against Communism but nevertheless were critical
of many aspects of U.S. policy? The decision was made that anyone
could be part of this effort as long as they were willing to subscribe
to certain basic principles. In the Congress of Cultural Freedom
the membership ticket was agreement to an anti-totalitarian consensus.
Disagreement with U.S. foreign policy and critic of American society
was allowed and even encouraged because it helped to establish
the credibility and independence of the supported organisation.
U.S. and Western network building activities
are today widely regarded as one of the key reasons for the West's
victory in the Cold War. The success of these efforts can broadly
be attributed to several factors. The development of democratic
networks was closely tied to a grand strategy that incorporated
all aspects of national power short of war, including political,
economic, informational, and diplomatic components. Also, U.S.
and British networking efforts tapped into already existing movements
and organisations in Western Europe. Government assistance was
a vital complement in nurturing this movement without overshadowing
it or crushing it with attention.
Moreover, there was a broad political consensus
inside the United States and in some allied countries, notably
the United Kingdom, on the need to fight Communism in its political
and ideological, as well as military, manifestations. This consensus
endured for almost twenty years, allowing these programs to operate
without domestic political interference. This was despite the
fact that many journalists, lawmakers, and intellectuals were
well aware of the covert funding being provided to these programs.
Finally, the U.S. government managed to strike a balance between
allowing the groups it supported a high level of independence
and ensuring that their activities converged with long-term U.S.
strategic goals. The creative, credible and flexible efforts of
these organizations would never have been possible under constant
U.S. government supervision.
Similarities and Differences Between the Cold
War Environment and the Muslim World Today
If we compare the Cold War environment with
the situation in the Muslim world today, three broad parallels
stand out. First, in both cases the West confronted a new and
confusing geopolitical environment, along with new security threats.
Then the threat was a global Communist movement led by a nuclear-armed
Soviet Union; now it is a global jihadist movement striking with
acts of mass-casualty terrorism. Second, then and now we have
witnessed the creation of large new government bureaucracies to
combat these threats. Finally, and most importantly, during the
early Cold War years there was recognition that the United States
and its allies were engaged in an ideological conflict. Policymakers
understood that this ideological conflict would be contested across
diplomatic, economic, military, and psychological dimensions.
Today, the U.S. and British governments considers themselves involved
in a war of ideas against extremist ideologies.
Of course as with all historical analogies it
is important to note the differences as well as the similarities
between the past and the present. The Soviet Union represented
a nation-state with state interests to protect, with defined geographical
borders, and with a clear government structure. Today, by contrast,
the West in part confronts shadowy non-state actors that control
no territorythough they have been able to establish sanctuaries
outside of state controlreject the norms of the international
system, and are not subject to normal means of deterrence.
Several key differences between the environment
of the Cold War and the Middle East today highlight the very different
networking challenges. The first difference relates to the role
of civil society. Historically civil society institutions have
been very strong in Western Europe so there was a foundation for
the United States to build on. In the Muslim worldparticularly
in the Middle Eastthe institutions of civil society are
inchoate, making the task of building democratic networks more
Intellectual and historical ties were, of course,
stronger between Europe and the United States. American political
culture has its roots in Europe, in British constitutional and
legal development and in the ideas of the Enlightenment. This
shared experience and values made it easier for the United States
to wage a war of ideas. While Western liberal ideas have taken
root in some countries and among some sectors in the Muslim worldperhaps
more than it is generally appreciatedthe cultural and historical
divide between the West and its potential partners is greater
now than it was during the Cold War.
Additional, the information environment is very
different today. During the Cold War the media was made up of
a limited number of newspapers, magazines, radio and television
stations. Today, the media environment in the Middle East is far
more complex with traditional state run media outlets being challenged
by the Internet and hundreds of satellite television stations.
During the Cold War, the central challenge, particularly in Eastern
Europe, was communicating truthful information that was being
suppressed by governments. The challenge today lies in a proliferation
of media much of which promotes and validates sectarian and extremist
Moreover, conceptualising the challenge that
the United States and its allies and partners faceand devising
an effective responseis much harder in today's environment.
During the Cold War the political choices for Western governments
were clear-cut. The United States and its allies opposed the Soviet
Union and its allies and defended their friends. In the Muslim
world today the choices are much more complex, because to a large
extent the criticism of the United States (and other Western countries)
is that they are too close to authoritarian regimes. The dilemma
for U.S. policy is that the promotion of democracy also undermines
governments that are part of the regional security structures
that the United States supports and depends on for operations
in the global war on terrorism.
The U.S. Response to the Challenge of Radical
In the wake of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, significant
resources and attention were devoted to the physical security
of American citizens and territory. At the same time, the recognition
that combating terrorism required more than bringing terrorists
to justice and diminishing their capacity to operate, inspired
an effort to understand and address the "root causes"
of terrorism. The National Security Strategy document of September
2002 elucidated a refined conception of security that emphasised
the consequences of internal conditions of other statesparticularly
the lack of democracy. This theme was to be reinforced over the
course of the next several years, from the 9/11 Commission Report
to, perhaps most dramatically, President Bush's second inaugural
While the President's "Freedom Agenda,"
highlighted in a series of very public documents and speeches
can be considered to be a U.S. "grand strategy" in the
global war on terrorism, a consensus on how to identify and support
partners in the war of ideas has not yet emerged. Specifically,
there is no explicit U.S. policy to help build moderate Muslim
networks, although such network-building activity takes place
as a by-product of other U.S. assistance programs. The heart of
the approach we are proposing involves making this network-building
activity an explicit goal of the U.S. government and its friends
Moderate network building can proceed at three
levels: (1) bolstering existing networks; (2) identifying potential
networks and promoting their inception and growth; and (3) contributing
to the underlying conditions of pluralism and tolerance that are
favorable to the growth of these networks. Although there are
a number of U.S. government programs that have effects on the
first two levels, most U.S. efforts to date fall within the third
level, due partly to organisational preferences and to the fact
that in many parts of the Muslim world there are few existing
moderate networks or organisations with which the United States
could partner. In addition, in identifying opportunities to promote
the formation of moderate networks, the United States must contend
with repressive environments and high levels of anti-Americanism.
Most of the U.S. government effort that concerns
network building fall into the categories of democracy promotion,
civil society development, and public diplomacy. Through traditional
diplomacy, the United States engages in state-to-state dialogue
and has crafted incentives such as The Millennium Challenge Account
for states to join the "community of democracies." Publicly
and privately, the United States emphasizes the benefits of adopting
liberal democratic values of equity, tolerance, pluralism, the
rule of law, and respect for civil and human rights.
In addition, both the Department of State and
USAID have specific democracy promotion mandates. To translate
these policy goals into action, the Department of State and USAID
work through NGOs principally the National Endowment for Democracy
(NED), the International Republican Institute (IRI), the National
Democratic Institute (NDI), the Asia Foundation, and the Center
for the Study of Islam and Democracy (CSID), all non-profit organizations
funded by the U.S. government.
Although it is far from the largest U.S. program
of engagement with the Muslim world, the Middle East Partnership
Initiative (MEPI) represents a high profile attempt to break free
from pre-9/11 standard approaches by structuring its programs
on four thematic "pillars"political, economic,
education, and women's empowermentand by supporting indigenous
NGOs directly on a more innovative and flexible basis. As a new
office in the Department of State's Bureau of Near Eastern Affairs
(NEA), MEPI was designed to veer away from the conventional government-to-government
approach and instead to rely on U.S. NGOs as implementing contractors
to disburse small grants directly to indigenous NGOs within the
framework of four "pillars."
In 2004, the United States, together with its
G8 partners, attempted to inject a multilateral approach with
the launching of the Broader Middle East and North Africa Initiative
(BMENA). In the summer of 2006 BMENA began an effort to replicate
the model of the Asia Foundationthe most successful of
the NGOs involved in programs to develop civil society institutionsand
tailor it to the Middle East region.
Both democracy promotion and civil society building
face two primary obstacles: active resistance by authoritarian
regimes and a lack of tangible performance measurement criteria.
Government resistance manifests itself in laws prohibiting NGO
formation or acceptance of external support, strict monitoring
of NGO activity and the expulsion of officials (Bahrain) and suspension
of activities (Egypt).
In developing a road map to building moderate
Muslim networks, the first step is for the U.S. government and
its allies to make a clear decision to build moderate networks
and to create an explicit linkage between this goal and overall
strategy and programs. To implement this strategy, it is necessary
to create an institutional structure within the U.S. government
to guide, support, oversee and continuously monitor the effort
and to build up the necessary expertise and capacity. The same
is true of other Western governments that may wish to participate
in this effort. That structure should include:
1. An ever evolving and sharpening set of
criteria to distinguish true moderates from opportunists and from
extremists camouflaged as moderates. In cases where the United
States and its allies might find it necessary to work with Islamists
(in Iraq, for instance), the U.S. and allied governments needs
to have the ability to make situational decisions to knowingly
and for tactical reasons support individuals outside of that range
under specific circumstances.
2. An international database of partners
(individuals, groups, organizations, institutions, parties, etc.)
3. Mechanisms for monitoring, refining and
overseeing programs, projects and decisions. This should include
a feedback loop to allow for inputs and corrections from those
partners who have been found to be most trustworthy.
A major problem in organising support for moderate
Muslims is that Western governments and organizations have difficulties
in distinguishing potential allies from adversaries. In work done
by the RAND CorporationCheryl Benard's Civil Democratic
Islam and Angel Rabasa et al, The Muslim World After 9/11we
have identified a broad set of "marker issues" and the
position of groups or individuals on these issues allows for a
more precise classification of these groups in terms of their
affinity for democratic and pluralist values. These marker issues
include conceptions of government; views on the primacy of shari'a
or Islamic law versus other sources of law, on human rights, including
the rights of women and religious minorities; and on whether they
support, justify, or reject violence to advance a religious or
Within the spectrum of ideological tendencies
in the Muslim world, we can distinguish three sectors that can
be potential partners for the United States and the West in the
effort to combat Islamist extremism: liberal Muslims; moderate
traditionalists, including Sufis; and liberal secularists.
Liberal Muslims may come from different Muslim
traditions. They may be modernists, seeking to bring the core
values of Islam in harmony with the modern world or, as in the
case of the Indonesian liberal Muslim activist Ulil Abshar Abdallah
and his Liberal Muslim Network, they might come from a traditionalist
background. What liberal Muslims have in common is a belief that
Islamic values are consistent with democracy, pluralism, human
rights and individual freedoms. The name of "Liberal Islam"
illustrate our fundamental principles; an interpretation of Islam
which emphasizes "private liberties".
Liberal Muslims are hostile to the concept of
the "Islamic state." As a noted Indonesian modernist,
former Muhammadiyah chairman Ahmad Syafii Maarif, has noted, there
is not a single verse in the Quran on the organisation of the
state. Liberal Muslims discern the roots of Muslim democracy in
the Quranic concept of shura or consultation, which leads to an
egalitarian political system. In this view, an Islamic government
must be democratic.
A consistent view in liberal modernist Muslim
thinking is that the legal and criminal code referred to as shari'a
is not only a product of the historical circumstances of the time
when it was created, but additionally that radical interpretations
of shari'a represent an arbitrary selection from within a much
larger body of precepts. They further fid that elements of itfor
instance, flogging and amputationare no longer contextual
to modern standards.
Moderate Traditionalists and Sufis
Traditionalists probably constitute the large
majority of Muslims. They are often but not always conservative
Muslims who uphold beliefs and traditions received through the
centuries1,400 years of Islamic traditions and spirituality,
which are inimical to fundamentalist ideology. These traditions
incorporate veneration of and prayers offered at the tombs of
saints and other practices anathema to Salafis and Wahhabis. Traditionalists
interpret the Islamic scriptures on the basis of the teachings
of the schools of jurisprudence (mazhab) that were established
in the early centuries of Islam rather than through unmediated
interpretation of the Quran and the hadith (the tradition of the
Prophet Muhammad) as Salafists do. Many traditionalists incorporate
in their religious practice elements of Sufismthe tradition
of Islamic mysticism that stresses emotive and personal experiences
of the divine.
What is relevant to this study is that Salafis
and Wahhabis are relentless enemies of traditionalists and Sufis.
Whenever radical Islamist movements have gained power they have
sought to suppress their practice of Islam. Their destruction
of early Islamic monuments in Saudi Arabia, as well as of irreplaceable
historic mosques in the Balkans, is well known. Their victimisation
by Salafis and Wahhabis makes traditionalists and Sufis natural
allies of the West in opposing the dissemination of narrow and
intolerant interpretations of Islam.
Secularism was the dominant view of the state's
relationship with religion among political elites during the formative
years of the modern states of the Muslim world; humanism, a form
of secularism, has a strong tradition in the Islamic world, dating
back to the earliest periods of Muslim history. However, in recent
years secularism has steadily lost ground, partly because of the
Islamic resurgence of the last three decades and partly becauseespecially
in the Arab worldsecularism has become associated not with
Western models of liberal democracy, but with failed authoritarian
political systems. Liberal secularists are closest in orientation
to Western political values. They hold liberal democratic or social
democratic principles that form the core of a Western-style "civil
religion." Although they are a minority within the Muslim
world, there are indications of a secularist revival. Our study
of Muslim secularists has shown that contrary to what is generally
assumed, secularists are not a new or negligible phenomenon in
the Muslim world and that Western government and institutions
tend to underestimate their potential.
Organising the Networks
The network-building effort could begin with
a core group of reliable partners whose ideological orientation
is known, and work outwards from there. The effort to build moderate
Muslim networks could be organised around the following core groups:
Liberal and Secular Muslim academics. Liberals
tend to gravitate toward universities and academic and research
centers, from where they can influence opinion. There are existing
networks of liberal and moderate intellectuals throughout the
Muslim world. This sector is therefore the primary building bloc
for an international moderate Muslim network.
Young moderate clerics. One of the reasons for
the radicals' success in propagating their ideas is that they
use mosques as their vehicles for proselytising and recruiting.
Liberal academics, on the other hand, are not familiar with talking
to people at the mosques. They find it difficult to translate
the language of scholarship to the language of ordinary people.
Therefore, a liberal or moderate Muslim movement with a mass base
will depend on enlisting the active participation of moderate
clerics, particularly of young clerics who will provide the religious
leadership of the future.
Community activists are the muscle of this initiative.
They are the ones that propagate the ideas developed by liberal
and moderate intellectuals. They are the ones that take risks
by confronting often violent extremists in the battle of ideas,
who are the victims of fatwas and attacks and who, therefore,
are most in need of the protection and support that an international
network can provide. An excellent example is Indonesia's Liberal
Muslim Network, whose activists have taken a high-profile stand
against Islamist extremism, and have been subjected to a campaign
of harassment and intimidation.
Women's groups. Women and religious minorities
have the most to lose from the spread of fundamentalist Islam
and rigid interpretations of shari'a. In some countries women
are beginning to organize to protect their rights from the rising
tide of fundamentalism and are becoming an increasingly important
constituency in reformist movements. Groups and organizations
have emerged to advance women's rights and opportunities in the
areas of legal rights, health, education, and employment. This
upsurge in women's civil society groups in turn provides opportunities
for moderate network building.
Journalists, writers and communicators. Through
the use of the Internet and other new media outside of governments'
control, radical messages have penetrated deeply into Muslim communities
around the world.
The programs directed at the above audiences
would have the following foci: democratic education, media, gender
equality, and policy advocacy.
Democratic Education. The narrowly sectarian
and regressive instruction on religion and politics dispensed
at radical and conservative madrasas needs to be countered by
a curriculum that promotes democratic and pluralistic values.
A number of Western institutions have been conducting democracy-building
projects in the Middle East. The Ibn Rushd Fund for Freedom of
Thought, registered in Germany, supports independent, forward-thinking
individuals in the Arab world. Other NGOs have developed curriculum
materials and conduct training programs in law, democracy and
human rights in the Middle East and Asia.
Media. Dissemination of information throughout
most of the Muslim world is dominated by anti-democratic radical
and conservative elements. In some countries, there is no moderate
media. Alternative moderate media is a critical tool in the war
of ideas. U.S.-funded broadcasting such as Radio Sawa and Al Hurra
television lack the agility to address local concerns and issues
and, in any event, do not foster the development of moderate media-focused
networks. To reverse radical media trends, therefore, it will
be critical to support local moderate radio and television programming,
as well as websites and other non-traditional media.
Gender equality. The issue of women's rights
is a major battleground in the war of ideas within Islam. As a
2005 Freedom House report stated, that the Middle East is the
region where the gap between the rights of men and those of women
is the most visible and significant and where resistance to women's
equality has been most challenging. The trends in women's empowerment
in the Muslim world are mixed. In some countries, women have made
important inroads in advancing an agenda of gender equality. In
other parts of the Muslim world, the growing strength of fundamentalism
threatens retrogression in the position of women in society.
Policy Advocacy. Islamists used da'wa (Islamic
propagation) as policy advocacyin addition to transforming
the individual the goal is to attain social and political objectives,
which in the Islamists' view are undistinguishable from religious
objectives. Moderate, liberal and secular Muslims need to engage
in policy advocacy as well. Where Islamists are campaigning for
the codification of their particular interpretation of Islam,
moderate Muslims need to campaign against legislating discrimination
and intolerance. Public interest advocates have multiplied throughout
the Muslim world in recent years. These groups can help to shape
the political and legal environment that, in turn, can accelerate
or hinder the development of democratic civil society institutions.
A major factor in the spread of Islamic radicalism
is that the flow of ideas has been in one directionextremist
ideas from the Middle East to other regions of the Muslim world.
We propose to reverse that flow of ideas by working with Muslim
moderates in countries outside of the Arab world, where conditions
are more favorable to the development of robust moderate Muslim
networks and institutions, to strengthen these societies against
the flow of extreme Salafist interpretations; and to disseminate
moderate and progressive interpretations of Islam that could flow
back into the Middle East through the international networks and
channels of communication that we propose to build.
Muslim communities in the West and Southeast
Asia are an obvious choice as the focus of this effort. Although
Muslims in Europe have suffered from many ills, including inconsistent
approaches to integration by European states, alienation from
their national societies, and growing radicalism among second
and third generation Muslims, nevertheless the familiarity of
Diaspora Muslims with Western societies, their exposure to liberal
democratic values and, no less important, their success in maintaining
a Muslim identity within a pluralistic society, make them key
potential partners in building bridges to other parts of the Muslim
Southeast Asia is also an obvious choice. Although
the region is often overlooked in discourse about Islam, Southeast
Asia is home to one of the largest concentrations of Muslims in
the world. Moreover, the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity
of the region has accustomed Southeast Asian Muslims to co-exist
with other cultural and religious traditions, giving the practice
of Islam in Southeast Asia its famously tolerant character. What
is more relevant to this project is there is already in place
in Southeast Asia a dense structure of moderate Muslim institutions,
probably unparalleled in the Muslim world. The building blocs
are there and need only to be connected to a network.
Although the Middle East is less promising and
is not the focus of this proposed effort, there are democratising
trends at work in the region that offer the prospect of transformation.
In some countriesMorocco, Jordan, some of the smaller Gulf
statessome democratic elements have been introduced and
tolerant interpretations of Islam prevail. Therefore, despite
the generally unpromising prospects, there should be a component
of this project to link the small secular and liberal Muslim groups
in the Arab world with each other and with compatible groups outside
37 This paper is based on the 2007 RAND report Building
Moderate Muslim Networks (MG-574-SRF). We wish to acknowledge
the contribution to this project of Peter Sickle, a 2006 RAND
Summer Associate, in assessing U.S. government programs of engagement
with the Muslim world. Back