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the story behind the book | KATE TuTTLE

Fighting the battle of ideas

david wilson for the boston globe

Working in the George W. Bush administration following the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Milton native Farah Pandith found herself focusing, along with her colleagues, on how to prevail in what she called “a battle of arms and a battle of ideas.” As special representative to Muslim communities, Pandith knew that violent extremism wasn’t tied to any religion, ethnicity, or race; rather, she saw her enemy as “the ideology of us versus them,” in whatever forms that might take.

In “How We Win: How Cutting-Edge Entrepreneurs, Political Visionaries, Enlightened Business Leaders, and Social Media Mavens Can Defeat the Extremist Threat,” Pandith, now a senior fellow at Harvard’s Kennedy School, writes about her career during what she called “a really extraordinary time in government,” and shares her ideas about how best to mobilize communities and leaders to counter the violent extremism at the root of so many terror attacks, including this month’s massacre at a mosque in New Zealand.


“Nearly twenty years after 9/11, the war against violent extremism has not been won,” Pandith said. “It’s vitally important that we do not make mistakes by suggesting that one kind of extremist ideology is more important or dangerous than the other. The rise in hate globally has infected the entire world.” Both al Qaeda and online white supremacist groups lure young people in with “the idea of belonging and identity.”

Although it’s important to counter extremism on a community level, one-to-one, Pandith said, we can’t forget that communities exist in a larger context. “We all have a role to play,” added Pandith, who has worked under both Republican and Democratic presidents, “including our elected leaders and our cultural leaders. We saw in New Zealand the attacker called out the president and used his words.

“The rise of hate globally is not something that we can turn away from. It is a significant and important threat, to every one of us.” Still, she said, “I wrote this book because I know there are paths forward. We have such innovation and creativity and strength. Why not deploy them so that we can build the kind of communities we want?”


Pandith will read at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Harvard Kennedy School.

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Kate Tuttle, president of the National Book Critics Circle, can be reached at