Turning Points in the War on Terror

by Rick Love

Leon Panetta, former Director of the CIA and Secretary of Defense, and Tony Blair, former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, just launched Turning Point: A New Comprehensive Strategy for Countering Violent Extremism. Turning Point summarizes the findings of interviews about violent extremism with hundreds of experts, along with surveys conducted in Egypt, Turkey, Indonesia, China, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States.

I had the privilege of traveling to Washington, DC. this past month to attend the launch gathering of Turning Point making public the results in a book/magazine and discussing its findings. Their rigorous research highlights three turning points in the war on terror.

We need to …

1. Emphasize soft power
2. Uphold human rights
3. Partner with Muslims

First, some background on the field of Countering Violent Extremism (CVE).

"The field of countering violent extremism emerged from a recognition that military and law enforcement operations are essential to taking terrorists off the battlefield and disrupting plots but are insufficient for extinguishing the underlying ideologies and grievances that motivate scores of recruits to join violent extremist groups" (p. 8, emphasis mine).


In other words, the research in Turning Point confirmed what we in Peace Catalyst International (PCI) believe and act upon. Military might alone and the power of coercion (or “hard power”) will not stop the rise of terrorism. A long-term strategy must also include “soft power” – the power of attraction and persuasion, diplomacy, and the kind of bridge-building work we do in PCI. 

According to the leaders of Turning Point,

"We urgently need a new comprehensive strategy for countering violent extremism - one that is resolute, rests in soft and hard power, and galvanizes key allies and partners from government, civil society, and the private sector" (p. IV).

"… a comprehensive CVE strategy must include programs that enhance understanding of different religions and cultures and defend the human rights and dignity of all persons" (p. 31).

"… create safe spaces for communities and youth to interact positively" (p. 32).


This strategy sounds a lot like the work of PCI!

We specialize in soft power.

We help Christians understand and love their Muslim neighbor.

We create safe spaces for Muslims and Christians to get to know one another, usually over a meal.

How does this counter violent extremism?

By showing Muslims that followers of Jesus are peacemakers, not crusaders.

By showing Muslims that the West is not crusading against Islam.

By showing Muslims that love trumps violence.

Secondly, according to Turning Point, strategies for countering and preventing violent extremism must put human rights at the center of CVE. “The U.S. government should ensure that its commitment to strong security relationships abroad is matched by a commitment to human rights and the rule of law” (P 48).


To date, the “war on terror” has often become the “war of terror.”

The U.S. government and its allies have disregarded human rights, ignored due process, and resorted to torture. 

In our pursuit of the bad guys, we acted like the bad guys.

The research of Turning Point makes it clear that we don’t have to choose between security and upholding human dignity, because “security and human rights are mutually reinforcing” (p. 47).

One of the speakers at the launch of Turning Point was my friend, Imam Magid. After sitting down, he saw me in the second row, smiled, put his hand on his heart and nodded at me. I smiled back, put my hand on my heart and nodded back.

Imam Magid said, “Muslims want to be seen as prospects, not suspects.” In other words, the vast majority of Muslims are prospects for partnering against extremism, not suspects that need to be profiled or put on watchlists. In fact, the American Muslim community is perhaps the single greatest asset we have in combating Islamic extremists.

The three transforming powers of soft power, upholding human rights, and partnering with Muslims actually describe the way of love, which should come naturally to followers of Jesus.


One of the conclusions of Turning Point I didn’t mention: much more money needs to be invested in soft power to counter violent extremism. Would you prayerfully consider donating to PCI?