Winning the Ideological Battle Against Terrorism

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In President Obama's counterterrorism speech at the National Defense University, he said, "The success of American Muslims" is the antidote to al-Qaeda's narrative and that of its affiliates.

On the one hand, the U.S. is winding down its wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and shrinking those theaters as major front lines in the fight against terrorism. On the other hand, the front line has shifted to the U.S., where lone wolves get captivated by Internet theater, luring them with false promises of delivering justice in exchange for their self-destruction. In that line of thinking, a moment has arrived for American Muslims -- prevail or perish, not in a physical sense, but in terms of relevance to America and to young American Muslims, in terms of winning the "battle of wills and battle of ideas" against Muslim extremism, and in terms of overcoming fear about Islam along with intimidation towards its adherents.

Success for many American Muslims has been realized through economic prosperity, but the president has added to our agenda leadership in combating violent extremism. American Muslims have also been in partnership with law enforcement and successful in foiling four out of 10 terrorism plots in the post 9/11 era. But that's not enough. We now need to enter the ideological battle with online predators.

The line, "America is not at war with Islam," is not sufficient to counter to al-Qaeda's rhetoric. American Muslims are best equipped to provide content to the counter-narrative, which includes Islam's call for life against the extremists' call for death, the power of pluralism against exclusivism, and the need to infuse hope for constructive change toward justice against the extremist cries of despair that justice in this life is unachievable.

Every sane person dreads war and American Muslims shudder to take responsibility for actions of extremist groups overseas. Millions of American Muslims fled war-torn regions to escape the madness of dictatorships and extremist groups spawned under their tyranny. While American Muslims are not responsible for the actions of a few terrorists, we must embrace our civic responsibility when called by our duty toward justice and the president to help in leading the country out of this war. We do not choose wars, but wars choose us.

As President Abraham Lincoln stated in his second inaugural address: "Both parties deprecated war, but one of them would make war rather than let the nation survive, and the other would accept war rather than let it perish, and the war came."

Al-Qaeda made war rather than let Muslim communities survive, and mainstream Muslims must accept this challenge rather than let the union of God's religions break up and let extremists define Islam.

Our role should be working on the front lines against extremism, not with armies and military might, but with ambassadors who speak out against the vile rhetoric of violent extremism wherever it rears its ugly head. Our responsibility is to win against extremism as our duty to humanity, a victory that can only be achieved with a non-military approach. Amplifying mainstream Muslim voices is the most critical component to marginalizing terrorists rather than being marginalized by them. As American citizens, we must step forward in a time of need, a choice that is an honor for our country and that can help end the war.

Michael Adebolajo, the Woolwich butcherm, Nidal Hasan, the Ft. Hood shooter, and Tamerlan Tsarnaev the Boston Marathon bomber, changed the state of our current successes in the West. They are symptoms of a problem -- ideological violence led by those who sit on empty thrones of self-righteousness, sending young people to death. These manufacturers of maniacal outbursts want to define Islam for us. This struggle is not just for America, but also for Islam.

The time for complaining has ended. A moment in American history has arrived at our doorstep. It is time to answer the door that can open a channel for us. It will be a difficult strait, but one that can take us to clear and calm waters for our continuing prosperity. We cannot let it slip away, or we will only have ourselves to blame for losing this opportunity to fight. We cannot afford to be viewed as only villains or victims of extremist actions. We are determined to be victors in this ideological battle, for the identity of Islam and Muslims can only be defined by the winners in this war.