Countering extremist encroachments on universal rights

By Robert Wesley (for Safe Democracy)

Robert Wesley writes on the recent threats of violence from Muslim extremists reacting to Western statements and actions perceived as anti-Islam. After the Pope’s comments at Regensburg, and the publication of the Danish cartoons, a manipulative extremist propaganda network has emerged in full force to fuel extremist protests and cow the West into abandoning its core values. Wesley notes the need for a plan by Western leadership to combat the propaganda of Islamic militants, and protect the values of free speech and expression so essential to the functioning of a liberal democracy. In Wesley‘s opinion, backing down or apologizing when threatened will only reinforce the behaviour of Jihadist groups and bring them closer to their goals.

Robert Wesley is a terrorism analyst specializing in emerging trends in Islamist militancy and weapons of mass destruction. He has published on issues related to violence in Islamist ideology, counter-terrorism, Middle Eastern affairs and nuclear and radiological terrorism. He has acted as a consultant to national governments, international organizations, and the private sector on these issues.

THE LAST SEVERAL YEARS HAVE SEEN repeated challenges to core principles of European liberal democracies. The jihadist public relations machine has scored several victories in the wake of controversies involving such freedoms as the printing of cartoons by the Danish media and the quotation of historical figures by the Pope. Reactions in Europe were as disparate as the communities represented, with some showing defiant support of the free expressions, while other reactions were retractile and apologetic in the face of well-publicized protests world-wide.

The poor display of unity of response among high levels of leadership was easily exploited by organized jihadist propaganda and sympathetic organizations.

Are the freedom of speech and other democratic values, such as criticism and religious expression, no longer defensible principles? Of course not, but confronted with an organized and violent movement whose main objective includes the restriction of such liberties, anticipating such events and countering the effect of concerted jihadist propaganda is of the utmost importance.

Effectively countering propaganda requires careful planning and coordination among the highest levels of Government, and to date there has been little evident progress.

The Pope’s experience provides some insight into this process. Spurred by the Pope’s remarks at the University of Regensburg September 2006, well-publicized protests emerged in many parts of the Muslim world and in the West. Militant Islamists and other radical fringe elements immediately mobilized masses of demonstrators who burned effigies and chanted violent overt threats.

Simultaneously, established jihadist groups issued statements threatening to avenge the defamation of the Prophet and of Islam, declaring themselves the champions of the Muslim people against the onslaught of the conspiratorial West. The Mujahidin Shura Council – an umbrella group of jihadists (including al-Qa’ida) operating in Iraq – released a message on a jihadist website saying that they would “destroy the cross