The terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001 presented and continue to confront Americans with a major threat and challenge to our way of life. Yet at our disposal Americans have a distinct, proven tool, itself an expression of the American freedom our enemies would curtail: our philanthropy. In a new booklet written for Hudson Institute’s Bradley Center for Philanthropy and Civic Renewal, American Philanthropy After September 11th: A Primer and Donor’s Guide, Dr. Hillel Fradkin clearly and concisely explains what the 9/11 Commission and private efforts have learned about radical Islam since the September 11th attacks—how it understands itself, how it developed, and why it has taken America in its sights—and what donors can do about it.
On November 7, 2005, the Bradley Center brought together fourteen philanthropists and opinion leaders in the nonprofit sector to discuss the Guide and lessons for philanthropy. The discussion was led by the Guide's author, Hillel Fradkin, along with Husain Haqqani of the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace and Yale University's Ahmed al-Rahim.
Author Hillel Fradkin began by discussing the history of the book and his involvement with philanthropy and the study of radical Islam. He said the goal of this project was to combine two questions he encountered after 9/1l—what is radical Islam, and what role should philanthropy and the private sector play in addressing it—into one source that would serve as both a guide to the problem and a primer about the role philanthropy may play in addressing it. He referred to the Robb-Silberman report’s recommendation that the private sector become involved in fighting radical Islam because it can bring fresh perspectives to the question and is not bound to an official or widely-accepted point of view. He also emphasized that radical Islam is a deeply imbedded and therefore long-term problem, and the government is frequently too caught up in day-to-day issues to properly address such a problem. Fradkin felt that the private sector can compensate for that deficiency. He added that philanthropy would largely be responsible for teaching government officials who are in this field important aspects of their job—language, culture, etc.—because these are frequently people who do not have time to pursue MAs and PhDs in universities on these subjects.
Husain Haqqani presented several anecdotes of government failure to see the problem of radical Islam (please see full transcript), and pointed out that radical Islam is a major problem in the Arab world, especially in the context of the Arab Human Development Report’s findings of the economic and social underdevelopment of the Arab world. Haqqani recommended that philanthropy fund the study of modern Islam and Islamism because the US had seriously underestimated the threat of radical Islam in the past and chosen to focus its academic resources on the study of Classical Islam instead. He argued that the study of Islamism would accomplish two things—it would help Americans better understand the problem, and it would help them counter the arguments of the radicals themselves and influence public opinion in the Middle East. Moreover, Muslims have been able to avoid subscribing to the notion of universal human rights by making an argument for Muslim exceptionalism, and Haqqani wanted foundations to support Muslim human rights groups who could counter this claim. Ultimately, Haqqani concluded, US funding should be aimed at promoting moderate Islam as an alternative to radicalism, and it should work to set up “moderate Muslim networks” with local influence in many places until the whole Muslim world changes its posture. He additionally cautioned against any attempt to “ignite a reformation in the Muslim world” because he believed that reformations can only be successful when they are initiated from within the religion rather than through external intervention.
Ahmed al-Rahim brought up the difficulties of soliciting charity contributions from Muslims. He has not found many American Muslims willing to contribute to promoting moderate Islam, and there is no entrenched philanthropic tradition in Islam to draw on. Although in contrast to the European situation, many US Muslims are relatively well-off, they have not yet discovered how to use their resources to fund moderate Muslim scholarship, so the burden will temporarily have to fall on non-Muslim philanthropy. On of the problems of this effort since 9/11 has been America’s failure to define radical Islam appropriately by, for example, claiming bin Laden is not really a Muslim when Muslims do believe he is a Muslim. He also suggested identifying and funding anti-Islamist writers, and researching the political philosophy of radical Islam.
Bill Schambra began the question and answer session by asking why foundations have so much trouble understanding the need to fund moderate Muslim scholarship. Fradkin replied that, to a large extent, there is a lack of expertise on the subject among foundations, whose previous international focus had been Cold War-related issues. There was also hesitation because this is a religious question, and foundations are afraid to infringe upon religious freedom. Kae Dakin added that the amount of confusion after the attacks made it difficult for foundations to identify which charities they could fund that would not themselves be connected with terrorism.
Anita Winsor-Edwards asked if American foundations funding moderate Muslims would delegitimize their work in the eyes of the Muslim community. In Iraq, al-Rahim said, there is a stigma attached to receiving US money, but in the US, this is not as much of a problem. In Egypt, there is also a stigma against foreign money, but since the nation receives so much US aid anyway, private US money could be very effective. Fradkin added that the American Islamic Congress is a good example of a Muslim institution worth supporting.
Roger Ream also suggested that, since the number of students from Muslim countries studying the US has dropped since 9/11, it would be beneficial to bring the education to them by funding American universities abroad and professorships at foreign universities. Fradkin pointed out that foundations tend to be hesitant to fund foreign projects because they are unfamiliar with the organizations, and the results are difficult to predict or see. Frequently, American university officials working in association with the foreign projects must be present to vouch for them.
The discussants then turned to the efforts being made to educate Americans about radical Islam. Lina Cortas asked if there are any long-term plans in this direction. Amy Kass said that, from what she has seen on her own campus, these questions have become politicized. Barnaby Marsh said that a lack of successful case studies of programs that have effectively addressed any of these issues has made it difficult for his foundation to fund these efforts, even though the money itself is there. He asked what success against the ideology of radical Islam would look like.
Fradkin responded that the establishment of an intellectual movement that can compete with radical Islam and win the loyalty of Muslims is the long-term goal. Radicalism has been so successful because it has suppressed the alternatives. Fradkin’s goal would be to identify “success stories”—people who opposed violence in a principled way—because although most Muslims are disinclined towards violence, they have no principled position against it, which allows them to be more easily persuaded by radicals. Al-Rahim added that it is necessary create an ideology to counter bin Laden’s that is as militant as his in its positions. He rejected the suggestion that Islam needs a Reformation, and suggested instead that a handful of individuals involved in the debate in every Muslim country should be identified and supported.
This event transcript was prepared from an audio recording and edited by Krista Shaffer. To request further information on this event, the transcript, or the Bradley Center, please contact Hudson Institute at (202) 974-2424 or e-mail Krista at email@example.com.