Now something for those who are weary of all the political back-and-forth. Rightwing bloggers and neocons are up in arms over a story first reported by Washington Times reporter, Bill Gertz:
Stephen Coughlin, the Pentagon specialist on Islamic law and Islamist extremism, has been fired from his position on the military’s Joint Staff. . . . Mr. Coughlin was notified this week that his contract with the Joint Staff will end in March, effectively halting the career of one of the U.S. government’s most important figures in analyzing the nature of extremism and ultimately preparing to wage ideological war against it. . . .
Mr. Coughlin was accused directly by Mr. Islam of being a Christian zealot or extremist “with a pen,” according to defense officials. Mr. Coughlin appears to have become one of the first casualties in the war of ideas with Islamism. The officials said Mr. Coughlin was let go because he had become “too hot” or controversial within the Pentagon.
Misguided Pentagon officials, including Mr. Islam and Mr. England, have initiated an aggressive “outreach” program to U.S. Muslim groups that critics say is lending credibility to what has been identified as a budding support network for Islamist extremists, including front groups for the radical Muslim Brotherhood.
Well, being the “Pentagon specialist on Islamic law and Islamist extremism” may be akin to being the Oral Roberts University expert on fellatio and anal sex. A terrific title for one with no genuine expertise. Meet Mr. Stephen Coughlin:
An attorney, decorated intelligence officer and noted specialist on Islamic law, ideology and related strategic information programs, Stephen C. Coughlin is a Visiting Fellow of IASC’s National Security Law Project. Mr. Coughlin integrates experience in international law, intelligence, strategic communications and high-level project management in both the national defense and private sectors to develop unique perspectives, assessments and training packages relating to the intersection of national security and law.
Does he speak Arabic? No. How about Urdu? Nope. He studied Islam where? No clue. But he graduated from an ABA sanctioned second-tier law school. A good school, but it is not known as a center of Islamic study. Unfortunately, Coughlin’s broad brush approach to Islam is more polemics than scholarship. And it appears he has been involved with unfair attacks on genuine experts. Consider the case of Jim Guirard, whom Coughlin reportedly claimed was in sympathy with members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Guirard writes:
It has come to my attention that a Joint Staff memorandum by Information Operations analyst Stephen Coughlin describing the nefarious aspirations of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafi-Wahhabi-al Qaeda look-alikes has been circulated in the anti-Terrorism community — and includes patently false inferences that I am somehow in collaboration with these self-proclaimed “Death to America” killers and hate-mongers.
Coughlin and others of his ilk have been pushing the hysteria that there is only one Islam and all of Islam is intent on conquering the West. (Yes there are some Muslims who believe this, but Islam is not a monolith). Pandering to peoples’ fears is an effective propaganda ploy but it does little to help our soldiers understand the cultural roots and political/religious dynamics they find in the field. You would expect that in a war inside an Arab nation, that is predominantly Muslim, the Pentagon would hire renowned experts on the topics of Islam. Nope. We have Stephen Coughlin. We have a situation in which folks with no real expertise or command of Arabic are making fanciful claims about a religion and cultures they do not know intimately.
Think I am making this up? Take a look for yourselves. This is a powerpoint presentation that is being circulated within the military community. I think it is polemical and outstanding propaganda. Just enough truth to be believable. My point is that this kind of mindset, based more in ignorance rather than scholarship, is designed to foster war between the West and Islam. That is in no one’s interest who cares about humanity and decency.
Military Islamic Terrorism Presentation (warning, this is a 172 slide monster of a presentation). UPDATE: Just posted a flash player version that makes it easier for folks to view. You do not have to have Power Point. Enjoy.
Finally, one further piece of anecdotal evidence about the Pentagon’s failure to take the war in Iraq seriously. A old friend of my just deployed to Iraq. His unit will be carrying out a mission that involves psychological operations. Guess how many Arabic speakers are in the unit? None. Guess how many weeks of training they received on Iraq, Islam, and Arabic cultural sensitivities? NONE!! But we want these soldiers to go into a foreign combat theater and help shape the hearts and minds of a foreign people. This, in a nutshell, highlights why we are making so little progress in Iraq.