Alhurra’s State Department correspondent, Michel Ghandour interviewed Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Tara Sonenshine about public diplomacy and countering violent extremism in the Middle East.
On the role of public diplomacy in fighting violent extremism, Under Secretary Sonenshine said that public diplomacy is a very useful tool when you are countering violent extremism because you are providing an alternative scenario to violence. By opening up engagement with people online and offline, you respond to negative impressions and wrong information, and offer alternative futures in terms of economics, employment, education, and civil society. She went on to say “It is always a balancing act, but I think most of what social science and political science teaches us is that once somebody has a job, a family, an education, a prospect, some peace, some prosperity and some security, chances are that they will take that over the alternative,” she added.
On the extremist groups in the Middle East, Under Secretary Sonenshine stated, “We’ve gone from taking on Al-Qaeda as a central organizing approach to focusing on the splinter groups that have formed around different regions- the Magreb, in the Sahel, al-Shabab, and al-Nusra Front. In some cases we actually have designated foreign terrorist organizations, but we are really now looking at the adherents and those that would take that centralized message and as franchises, put it into practice. When we talk about violent extremists, we are talking about people who come out with the intention of using violence and destruction. We are not talking about moderate faiths. We are not talking about people who want to debate and discuss ideas. We are talking about actions that lead to real violence.”
Under Secretary Sonenshine concluded by sending a message to the people of the Middle East to fight extremism, “Every individual should reach his or her God-given potential. And we believe individuals should have the right to information.” She continued by saying, “The information is oxygen with which the society breaths, and so what I tell people throughout all my travels is: have access to good information, work on building a productive, prosperous, peaceful society, and in the end look for those positive tools that help you construct something as opposed to just destruction.”