International Affairs
4 November 2016 , Volume 92, Number 6

The struggle against terrorism in the Middle East, and the success of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria in its use of social media to spread its ideas, has led to a search for new messages to counter the appeal of violent extremists.


Amitai Etzioni


Thus far, United States counter-messaging has failed to articulate a normative position that is compelling to its target audiences. The US has also not found an effective way to speak to and with other parts of the Muslim world. The article shows that these failures are not accidental but reflect profound factors in American culture and society. The US’ normative position has also failed to take into account the crucial differences between ‘liberals’ and ‘moderates’ in the Muslim world. To proceed one must acknowledge that there are two fundamentally different interpretations of Islam, both of which are supported by a close reading of the Qur’an and other major texts. To draw on that difference, the article shows, requires drawing on voices and resources not available in the US. The article proposes a way forward that both acknowledges the inherent weaknesses and liabilities of the US government as a messenger and points to more credible messengers within the Muslim world.