US scholar of public diplomacy, Philip Seib, wrote on the Huffington Post a couple of days ago:
"Those designing U.S. public diplomacy must quickly recalibrate their work to better reach the newly empowered and assertive mass publics."
"A key element of U.S. public diplomacy is the reflection of American political values in outreach efforts. These values are not antithetical to the tenets of Islam, and so that is where public diplomacy programs should focus. Those designing cultural, educational, and business-related ventures should themselves be familiar with the Quran and other elements of Islam and should involve clerical and lay Muslims in the project creation process. This will help avoid the accidental cultural clashes that can be interpreted as purposeful assertion of anti-Islamic policy."
Londonstani agrees in principle with Seib on this, but would suggest digging a little deeper in the search for an approach.
Often, Islamists (which encompasses many different trains of thought) are cut from a very similar cloth to their domestic opponents. Looking at Pakistan; the head of a network of madrassas is the theological equivalent of a feudal landlord or industrialist. All are looking to nurture a solid constituency based on patronage. Often the religious overlaps with the temporal. Sometimes the supporters of the most avowedly secular parties act like religious devotees. Egypt; Mubarak's cronies displayed the same xenophobic, small minded, despotic, socially conservative tendencies that their liberal opponents feared they might face from the Muslim Brotherhood.
Better than focusing immense effort on one particular area of study, (which might be axed at will in the next round of cuts) Londonstani feels that governments would be better served by looking at their bureaucratic structures and figuring out how to build up institutional knowledge of how Arab and Muslim societies work.