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The Big Idea: Want to Fight Terrorists? Try Mocking Them.

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By Carlos Lozada
Sunday, March 29, 2009

With the Taliban regaining strength and Osama bin Laden still on the loose, President Obama announced a new strategy Friday to "disrupt, dismantle and defeat al-Qaeda" in Afghanistan and Pakistan. In addition to new funding for Pakistan's democratic institutions and more U.S. troops to train the Afghan security forces, here's another anti-terrorism tactic the president might consider: Make al-Qaeda boring.

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In an essay in the April issue of the British magazine Prospect, Jamie Bartlett of the think tank Demos and McGill University psychologist Michael King contend that violent extremism often appeals to young Muslims because it seems to offer "adventure, excitement and notoriety." Puncturing this swashbuckling image is critical in the fight against terrorism, they say.

"Al-Qaeda allows a young nobody to become a heroic warrior; an Islamic James Bond," the authors write. They cite research showing that members of terrorist cells tend to be young men with little religious training beyond "a few cut-and-paste lines" of jihadi literature. The answer is to strip away the mystique and show that the life of an Islamic extremist "more like that of a petty criminal than a secret agent."

Bartlett and King offer an unorthodox solution: If you mock the extremists, their appeal will diminish. For example, the authors note approvingly that British satirist Chris Morris is planning a film on Islamic extremism.

American pranksters are on the case, too: U.S. Central Command has invited Comedy Central's Stephen Colbert to entertain U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf. The location, however, remains undisclosed. As Colbert put it on his show, "All I will say is that there will be sand, and people who wish we would leave."

-- Carlos Lozada


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