Here We Go Again…

So, the Obama administration thinks that mere brand management will change the minds of Islamists or disaffected Muslims across the world:

The Obama Administration has today unveiled another new “anti-terror task force” whose primary purpose is to go online and “push back against online propaganda” from ISIS and other anti-US groups. Details are still scant, but the White House has been meeting with Silicon Valley executives, suggesting major US companies will be involved.

The new task force will be formally under the control of the Department of Homeland Security, while the Justice Department and State Department are also said to be involved. The State Department in particular presented it was planning “social media campaigns” to offer a “positive alternative” to the ISIS narrative.

Which suggests this is just the latest in a long line of administration attempts to establish a rival US propaganda wing on social media, something that’s been tried, and failed miserably, several times already.

So, here we go, another round of “telling America’s story” because, somehow, telling this amazing story — broadcasting it to the whole wide world, and targeting specific messages at Muslims in Dar al Islam and the West — will convince those same people of the moral and material superiority of our ways and means and either end the war or at least drain the recruiting pool a bit.

It won’t work.

It won’t work for several reasons.

First, it’s marketing, an impersonal message. It may have the pretense of caring, but we’ve all been marketed to for so long now that we know exactly when we are being marketed to. The most an impersonal message can do is make people aware of something, maybe spark their interest, let them know of possibilities they might not have otherwise known of. But marketing can only really connect with and foster desires already present within us. They cannot create desire out of nothing.

And who, at this point, on God’s blue and green Earth, doesn’t know the American story? America is everywhere.

Second, those most inclined to fight the West already know the West’s story — and they have dismissed it outright. Take the much younger me, as an example. I knew America’s story from top to bottom. Even believed in parts of it. But I considered enough of that story to be complete lies because of what I had experienced growing up in America. The 9/11 plot was hatched not by Muslims crouching in Afghan caves scrawling down notes by firelight, but by educated and very westernized Muslims who were living, studying, and working in the belly of the very West they sought to attack. They looked at Modernity’s promises — freedom, equality, dignity, progress — and saw those promises denied to them. And people like them. And saw that denial as purposeful — those promises, which claim universality, aren’t really intended for everyone. Some people in Modernity have no dignity, merit no equality, and will never be free.

Europe, North America, and the Middle East are full of such people — people raised in slums and culturally dislocated neighborhoods and homes and in cities and villages that have felt the rampage of western armies, all the while claiming “liberation and freedom.”

For someone, maybe, but not us.

Such people will not be swayed by mere propaganda. They will dismiss it — all of it — as more self-righteous nonsense designed to make the speakers feel better about themselves while they do more violence.

What does appear to work, if anyone really cares, are the efforts of disaffected Islamists themselves. And the relationships they strive to create, one-by-one, with those most likely to idolize the revolutionary violence of Islamist resistance. But it’s a third way, a way that praises neither Modernity nor Islamism, and it is almost entirely dependent on personal relationships.

That’s the only way. Bureaucratic marketing messages won’t stop anything. Only a deliberate, intensive effort to meet individual human beings and minister to them — address their anger, their fear, their hopes, and their desires — will succeed. And as I have said before, none of the institutions of the West (and even few of its people) are ready to really devote lives to meeting broken, angry, hurting human beings, to do the hard work of getting to them as people, and then risking failure. Or even succeeding. Our institutions, our societies, are all on a kind of autopilot, in which individuals are simply expected to adapt, to shape themselves, and the institutions have no real reciprocal obligation to change in response. This cannot last, because we’ve created institutions and communities that increasingly fail to work well for anyone, much less outcasts and the disaffected.

This is why I believe the Gospel is such amazing good news. Because Jesus gathers the lost, the disaffected, the unwanted, the powerless, and makes them into God’s people. This is why the Gospel needs to be freed from the church. Because the church in America has become just another institution, captive to America, unable and unwilling to see outside or beyond what American culture wants and desires. Unable to want more than a just and smoothly functioning system, a more effective liberalism.

Some time ago, while writing for, I came up with a handy little aphorism to describe what I thought ought to be a faithful Christian’s response to the welfare state. But it works here too.

Taxes are not tithes.
Programs are not charity.
Policy is not love.

To meet the lost as Jesus met them requires hands, and hearts, and heads, requires we follow lost sheep and get dirty while we look. It requires taking risks — including the possibility of staggering loss and spectacular failure. It requires, right now, in this moment, that we stop worry about making the world a better place, or stop worrying about trying to end this or that horror or injustice, and love. Truly love as only God loves, without fear of the consequences to ourselves. One lost soul at a time.

One thought on “Here We Go Again…

  1. Pingback:  This is What Radicalization Looks Like – Charles H. Featherstone

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