Successful social and political movements often employ shared lexicon, slogans, and talking points.
Freedom isn’t free. The personal is political. Vote or die. Meat is murder. You can’t stump Trump.
Slogans work because their message is simple, appealing (to the intended audience) and easy to remember. More important is the underpinning framework that gives birth to shared slogans, lexicon, and talking points.
It’s possible to promulgate the ideological framework of Western secular liberals, and their muscular liberal counterparts, showing where they overlap and where they differ. Is it possible to promulgate the a similar framework with regard to Muslims? Yes and no. Muslims definitely overlap in many ways, but in some ways we’re too divided and fractured to join forces against our enemies. As I see it, the trick is to focus on common ground, and to divorce contentious religious issues from our social and political interests.
I know very well the importance of “talking points” because I wrote them for many years on behalf of Palestine. I started formulating, writing and distributing “talking points” when I was a teenager. When I first arrived on the scene, it seemed like everyone on the left and the right, secular and religious, was on the side of Israel. We were a tiny, lonely group of ‘radicals.’ But in the intervening years, our concerted efforts put Palestine on the map worldwide.
Of course Zionists also had their talking points. They had more financial and political resources than we could’ve mustered in our wildest dreams. They had think tanks and billionaire sponsors. They were, relative to us, politically savvy and seemed to have the bulk of political and intellectual capital.
We had passion, determination, and firm belief in the moral superiority of our arguments.
Muscular liberals are a lot like Zionists. Most of them are Zionists. They are neocons with deep pockets and a myriad of think tanks and political organizations. They have plenty of friends in high places. I once believed neocons were an American disease.
But I can’t imagine American President Barak Obama delivering a speech so thoroughly laced with neocon talking points as this one delivered by British Prime Minister David Cameron. Not yet anyway. Maajid Nawaz even boasted about the role of neocon-backed Quilliam Foundation in helping craft the speech.
Do we really have an effective strategy for countering their narrative? I don’t think so. But I do think we should.
First and foremost, we need to know what we believe. What are the bedrock ideas that most of us agree upon? What are our differences and how can they be mitigated? How can we exploit the weaknesses of our enemies, and build our own strengths?
We can’t do any of that if we don’t even know what we believe. When I worked with activists on behalf of Palestine, not all of them were especially familiar with the conflict. Some were new activists with an interest in Palestine, while others were simply activists working for various causes who were willing to join forces. Talking points are not just for use in debates with opponents. They are training material.
If you have deep knowledge, you write talking points for those who don’t.
Recently I ventured into a muscular liberal hyena den to debate with their foul-mouthed thuggish visitors in comments. I learned a lot about their ideology and tactics, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of my debate skills. Earlier this week, I asked Muslim thinkers and writers to critique a post I wrote, taking aim at Maajid Nawaz. Some of them used their superior knowledge and pristine logic to make mincemeat of my post. So thoroughly, I concluded it was unsalvageable and took it down. It was awesome.
Awesome because these Muslims are wicked smart, and they’re on our side. Awesome because the experience reminded me of the good old days when we used to savage each other’s talking points before testing them on the battlefield. We never catered to individual egos because we all realized there were issues of far greater importance at stake.
I want my blog to be a place where talking points are formulated and subjected to constructive criticism. Expect my upcoming posts to be devoted to this mission.