Quotable: Alberto Fernandez on “jihadist domination in the public diplomacy realm”

Saturday, January 30th 2016

“Although [Ambassador Alberto] Fernandez said that he hoped for the emergence of a more tolerant and humanistic Islam, he warned that the process could take decades.”  This opened an article by Andrew Harrod, “The Long War of Islam,” which summarized Ambassador Fernandez’s remarks at the October 14, 2015, conference sponsored by The Westminster Institute in McLean, Virginia.  Here are some bullets from Harrod’s report on the philosproject.org website:


  • “We need to crush the Islamic State as fully and as completely as is possible,” he argued. “The longer it is around, the longer it will metastasize; the longer it will sink its roots deeply into the psyche of the region.” He called ISIS a “half puffer fish, half shark – an entity that blows itself up to make itself look bigger than it is and must keep moving to survive in the form of continual victories.”


  • Beyond the battlefield, the Islamic State media machine is a juggernaut that produces a daily average of 46,000 pro-ISIS Twitter accounts and 100,000 tweets in a “cyber-Salafism” Internet subculture. While Fernandez said that groups like Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula and Al-Shabaab in East Africa pioneered English-language jihadist media, “they did not do it on the industrial level that ISIS did. Given how their message is incendiary and powerful, the interesting thing is how few people have joined them. Nobody does it the way the bad guys do it.”


  • Fernandez described the jihadist domination in the public diplomacy realm. “Entities that put out poison dominate Muslim social media. Throughout the Middle Eastern publishing landscape, you can find the Islamic radical doggerel everywhere – but little is available from thinkers such as Thomas Jefferson.” While liberal initiatives in the Middle East are often haphazard and poorly financed, a Syrian friend told Fernandez that “you can always get 50 grand for another kind of embossed version of the Quran in the Gulf States.”


  • In criticizing various American public diplomacy efforts for the Arab world, Fernandez said that Alhurra TV was “very early on captured by vested interests like a Lebanese mafia and Shia mafia.” And Alhurra’s Iraq section put out pro-Shia Islamic party propaganda during the Iraq war. The channel’s companion radio station, Radio Sawa – although it appears to be a success – merely “plays pop music and gives a little bit of news,” something Al Jazeera already does in the region, but with various anti-American spins. “We need to reimagine the whole thing. Make it more pointed, make it more ideological,” Fernandez said.

Donald M. Bishop is the Bren Chair of Strategic Communications at Marine Corps University in Quantico, Virginia. 

Mr. Bishop served as a Foreign Service Officer – first in the U.S. Information Agency and then in the Department of State – for 31 years.  Specializing in Public Diplomacy, political-military affairs, and East Asia, he attained the rank of Minister-Counselor in the career service.  He was President of the Public Diplomacy Council from 2013 to 2015 and is now a member of the Board of Directors.

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Author: Donald M. Bishop

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