These papers are the product of a three-day symposium that was held at Western Kentucky University in October 2014. The first meeting of its kind in the United States, the symposium brought together American Muslim thought leaders, foreign policy influencers, academics, and practitioners working on what I refer to as the “counter-narrative initiative” in the war against al-Qaeda and affiliated groups. Put succinctly, the counter-narrative initiative describes a set of arguments emerging from analysts, subject matter experts, and foreign policy influencers, who argue that responding to militant Islamist groups1 requires not only a military response but also necessitates responding to their “ideology.”

As one can imagine, the idea of counter-narratives has been met with both support and criticism. While supporters argue the necessity of responding to al-Qaeda and its affiliates in this way, critics of counter-narratives are deeply concerned with the ethical implications of responding to religious ideology. It...

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