A Fresh Approach

Jim Hanson

1 year ago

March 21, 2018

Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman visited the White House today. Coinciding with his visit, Security Studies Group (SSG) will take a look at the strides he has made to move that country forward. We will also look at the founding principles of our organization and how we have evolved to a more positive methodology for dealing with the global terrorist threat.

SSG wants to shake the Washington, DC, foreign policy community from the rut of conventional wisdom. All too often, think tanks, experts and activist groups simply talk past each other; amid flurries of jargon, white papers and excessive pride of ownership, very little is actually accomplished. Last year, we set out to change that.

Out tagline calls us a “provocative next-generation think tank,” and we believe it fits our approach—we are combative and unconventional. We acknowledge that others can disagree with our points of view in good faith, even as we share the same goals or first principles.  We may just believe different methods and policies are more likely to achieve those goals.

Even on the Right side of the political conversation in America, there are significant disagreements. One of the most difficult topics is how to approach counter-terrorism policy, specifically in regard to Jihadist groups like ISIS and al Qaeda. There is a fundamental argument about whether the problem we face, as an issue of national security, is Islam itself and Muslims overall, or if the problem lies with a subset of that faith that acts in an extreme interpretation of Islam or even outside of Islam altogether.

SSG was formed after we determined we could not change the opinions of those who hold that the problem will always lie within Islam itself. We disagree, and we made a conscious decision to ensure our statements and policy positions matched this point of view. We resolved to use more precise and sober language in discussing these issues. We began working with friends who are Muslims to support their efforts to deal with those who were causing problems for all of us.

SSG believes the problem is not all Muslims or Islam itself but, specifically, groups and individuals who consider themselves Islamists and Jihadists. Islamism has a long intellectual tradition; the fundamental tenet of this political philosophy being that fundamentalist Islamic law is the only true the basis for society. A 2013 Pew International poll of Muslims worldwide showed that 58% of Muslims in the 38 countries surveyed believed Islamic law should apply only to Muslims. But the other 42% believe it should apply to everyone including non-Muslims.

Jihadists are willing to use coercion, force and even violence to achieve this goal. The commitment of this particular group, while much smaller in number, is a problem—not just for U.S. national security, but for the Muslims they seek to oppress, as well. These Muslims are disproportionately the target of Jihadist violence.

We oppose them in this effort and we do so in concert with the majority of Muslims who disagree with Islamism. SSG’s leadership believes, in the tradition of the Special Forces, that it is crucial to seek allies.  We reject the idea that Islam cannot be reformed, and firmly believe in helping good people pursue their own liberty without regard to their religion. Muslims who support efforts to defeat radicals responsible for terror attacks are invaluable allies.

We actively support the modernization efforts of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman who has made major changes in his country already.

“We should applaud the Saudi moves and work with them to keep this momentum going. Change in the Middle East has to come from the people there. The Saudis are the keepers of the holy sites and a huge influence on everyone else. It is in all our interests to support their progress”

Saudi King Salman has convened a group of Islamic scholars to reinterpret the Islamic scriptures that have been used to justify terrorism. This is a powerful step to help ensure that those who wish to use violence are clearly outside the teachings of Islam itself.

In a decree, King Salman ordered the establishment of an authority to scrutinize uses of the “hadith” — accounts of the sayings, actions or habits of the Prophet that are used by preachers and jurists to support teachings and edicts on all aspects of life.

The ministry said late on Tuesday that the body’s aim would be to “eliminate fake and extremist texts and any texts that contradict the teachings of Islam and justify the committing of crimes, murders and terrorist acts”.

SSG wholeheartedly supports these changes and believes that better relations between the U.S. and major Muslim countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia will help.

The threat from Islamists and Jihadists is real; we must all look at it with open eyes. The solution is a partnership with Muslims who do not share these oppressive beliefs. We have an unprecedented opportunity with the next leader of the most powerful Islamic country in the world as an ally. We must encourage and support him, and all other Muslims around the world, in the continuing pursuit of peace and prosperity.




About the Author

Jim Hanson

Jim served in US Army Special Forces and conducted Counter-Terrorism, Counter-Insurgency as well as Diplomatic, Intelligence and Humanitarian operations in more than a dozen countries. He is the author of Cut Down the Black Flag – A Plan to Defeat the Islamic State, and has appeared on Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, ABC, BBC, Al Jazeera, Deutsche Welle, C-Span, and numerous national radio shows.