The Hidden Persuaders

Think tanks are organisations that serve as centres for research and analysis of important public issues like social or economic policy, political or defence strategy, science or technology, industrial or business policy.

Written by

ARSHAD SHAIKH

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Think tanks are organisations that serve as centres for research and analysis of important public issues like social or economic policy, political or defence strategy, science or technology, industrial or business policy. Also known as policy institutes, many think tanks are non-profit organisations which are provided tax exempt status in countries such as the US and Canada. Think tanks are usually funded by governments, interest groups, or businesses, but some also generate funds by offering consultation or research work in their fields of expertise. They were first called “brain boxes” but the phrase “think tank” became common in American slang to refer to rooms in which strategists discussed war planning.

CRITICISM

Think tanks are often accused of being mere public relations fronts, usually headquartered in state or national seats of government and generating self-serving scholarship that serves the advocacy goals of their industry sponsors. Their research is said to be ideologically driven in accordance with the interests of their donors who usually are large businesses and major foundations. Think tanks are also charged with having a decided political leaning who work to provide a backdoor way for wealthy corporate companies to promote their ideas or to support specific economic and sociological research that they feel may help them in furthering their business interests. Critics point out that think tank’s resident experts carry titles such as “senior fellow” or “adjunct scholar,” but this does not necessarily mean that they even possess an academic degree in their area of claimed expertise.

SOME PROMINENT US THINK TANKS

The American Enterprise Institute for Public Policy Research (AEI)

It is a conservative think tank, founded in 1943, whose stated mission is “to defend the principles and improve the institutions of American freedom and democratic capitalism – limited government, private enterprise, individual liberty and responsibility, vigilant and effective defence and foreign policies, political accountability, and open debate. AEI is an independent and non-partisan organisation as it takes no institutional positions on pending legislation or other policy questions. It is supported primarily by grants and contributions from foundations, corporations, and individuals.

AEI has emerged as one of the leading architects of the second Bush administration’s public policy. More than 20 AEI alumni and current visiting scholars and fellows have served either in a Bush administration policy post or on one of the government’s many panels and commissions. Former United States Deputy Secretary of Defence Paul Wolfowitz is a visiting scholar, and Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney and former chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, is a senior fellow. AEI is closely associated with the neo-conservative movement in American politics. Irving Kristol, widely regarded as the movement’s founder, is a Senior Fellow at AEI. Other current or former AEI staff who are prominent neo-conservatives include Michael Novak and Richard Perle. From the above, it is not very difficult to trace the brains behind the Bush administration’s disastrous foreign policies.

The Heritage Foundation

It is a conservative public policy research institute based in Washington. Heritage’s stated mission is to “formulate and promote conservative public policies based on the principles of free enterprise, limited government, individual freedom, traditional American values, and a strong national defence. In the 1980s and early 1990s, the Heritage Foundation was a key architect and advocate of the “Reagan Doctrine”, under which the United States government supported anti-Communist resistance movements in such places as Afghanistan, Angola, Cambodia and Nicaragua and generally supported global anti-communism during the Cold War. The foundation was instrumental in advancing President Ronald Reagan’s belief that the former Soviet Union was an “evil empire” and that its defeat, not its mere containment, was a realistic foreign policy objective. Heritage also played a key role in building support for Reagan’s plans to build an orbital ballistic missile shield, known as the “Strategic Defence Initiative”. Heritage foreign policy analysts also provided policy guidance to these rebel forces and to dissidents in Eastern bloc nations and Soviet republics. In domestic policy, Heritage is a proponent of supply-side economics, which holds that reductions in the marginal rate of taxation can spur economic growth. Unlike traditional think tanks, which tend to house scholars and politicians-in-exile who produce large books, Heritage tends to employ public policy analysts who produce comparatively shorter policy papers intended to pass what Heritage calls “the briefcase test” for busy politicians to read on the run.

The RAND Corporation

It is a non-profit global policy think tank first formed to offer research and analysis to the United States armed forces. According to RAND’s own account of its history, the corporation’s acronymic name is a contraction of the phrase “Research and Development”. The RAND Corporation has been associated with militarism and the colossal military-industrial complex of America. Since RAND’s work is highly classified for defense and intelligence agencies, it is hard to assess its exact role in the military events that it participates. RAND has approximately 1,600 employees and four principal locations. In 2003, it opened the RAND-Qatar Policy Institute in Doha.

The Brookings Institution

It is an independent think tank widely regarded for being politically independent. It is devoted to public service through research and education in the social sciences, particularly in economics, government, and foreign policy. Its stated principal purpose is “to aid in the development of sound public policies and to promote public understanding of issues of national importance.” Brookings was founded in 1916, when a group of reformers founded the Institute for Government Research (IGR), the first private organization devoted to analyzing public policy issues at the national level. Brookings focuses on five main areas of research: Economic Studies, Foreign Policy, Governance, Global Economy and Development, and Metropolitan Policy.

The Cato Institute

It is a libertarian (who give precedence to personal liberty, favour an ethic of self-responsibility and strongly oppose conscription and the welfare state, because they believe coercing someone to provide charity and military service is ethically wrong and or ultimately counter-productive) think tank headquartered in Washington. The Institute’s stated mission is “to broaden the parameters of public policy debate to allow consideration of the traditional American principles of limited government, individual liberty, free markets, and peace” by seeking greater involvement of the lay public in questions of public policy and the role of government.

Lesson for Muslims

There is many a lesson Muslims can learn from these think tanks. One is the institutionalised way in which they work. They are not dependent on any personality, but work collectively as an organisation. Two, they have a vision for the future and place specific plans of action with firm policies, in such a brilliant intellectual way that it is difficult for anyone to ignore them. Three, they try and project a bipartisan, non-political face, to add credibility to their suggested policies. Muslims have been ordained to work in a collective way as a Jamaat. It is the bounden duty of the Muslim community to take people out of the darkness of man-made “isms” and ideologies into the world of Divine Revelation where theory and practice, word and deed, sacred and profane are in absolute harmony and synchronisation. The world needs to revamp its socio-politico economic policies. Muslim think tanks must lead the way.