Hearts, Minds, and Dollars
In an Unseen Front in the War on Terrorism, America is Spending Millions...To Change the Very Face of Islam
The grants, technically, aren't secret, but they are, as one official put it, "done in a subtle manner." Open ties to U.S. funds could spell the end of programs in volatile regions and even endanger those who work in them. Indeed, security is such a factor for USAID workers that the agency now relies largely on local hires. In Pakistan, where the agency once fielded hundreds of employees, it now has only two dozen.
Even when USAID does want to take credit, anti-American sentiment can make it tough. During a mission to Cairo by a State Department panel on public diplomacy, visitors were repeatedly told how grateful Egyptians were to the Japanese for building their opera house. Yet they seemed wholly unaware that Egypt is the second-largest recipient of U.S. aid--nearly $2 billion a year--and that Americans have funded Cairo's systems for clean water, sewage, and electricity. U.S. funds also saved from water damage that nation's oldest mosque, built in A.D. 642, yet Egyptian officials were reluctant to put USAID's red, white, and blue sign outside the building. Frustrated, top agency officials decided to create their own public diplomacy corps and will soon have information specialists attached to all USAID missions.
For those worried about future generations of jihadists, what to do about madrasahs--traditional Islamic schools--is a major concern. The 9/11 commission, in its final report last year, branded the worst of them "incubators for violent extremism." A World Bank study puts the number of madrasah students in Pakistan alone at nearly 500,000. To attack the problem, U.S. officials are employing a variety of tactics. Perhaps the most surprising program is in Uganda, which hosts a large Muslim minority. Last year, the embassy announced it was funding construction of three Islamic elementary schools. "We're in the madrasah business," quipped one terrorism analyst. In the nearby Horn of Africa, the U.S. military is running a model program aimed at winning hearts and minds by, among other things, directly competing with the madrasahs. Military officers gather intelligence on where militants plan to start religious schools, Marine Maj. Gen. Samuel Helland told U.S. News ; they then target those areas by building up new public schools and the local infrastructure.
Sisyphus. Elsewhere, U.S. officials are working quietly through third parties to train madrasah teachers to add math, science, civics, and health to their curriculum. The most ambitious program is in Pakistan, where sensitivities run so high that allegations of U.S. funding are enough to prompt parents to pull their children from schools, USAID staffers say. The agency is working through private foundations and the Pakistan Ministry of Education on what officials call a "model madrasah" program that may eventually include over a thousand schools. Drawing the line on engagement, though, can be tough. In January, the U.S. Embassy there ordered an abrupt end to a $1 million contract to supply Internet access to scores of madrasahs and other schools in Pakistan's most restive provinces. The reason: an arrest of a militant mistakenly thought to be tied to one of the schools.