Beating the Islamist Propagandists
Thursday, 19 November 2015
The counter-message has to be nimbler, smarter and sharper than it is now, writes the Legatum Institute's Peter Pomerantsev
State University's Charlie Winter
“ISIL’s messaging is an all too regular fixture in the global media, an inevitable outcome of its unique outreach strategy. It expends a huge amount of effort on broadcasting itself globally, far more so than any other jihadist group. What are the elements that make its propaganda so successful, what are liberal democracies getting wrong in countering it — and what do we need to start getting right?"
"There is a common misconception that ISIL propaganda focuses exclusively on bloodcurdling barbarity: Mohammed “Jihadi John” Emwazi’s sadistic knife executions, or the Hollywoodesque snuff movies showing enemy fighter pilots burned alive in slow motion. This is the material pushed toward Western audiences and local enemies to intimidate (and inspire a certain type of fanatical recruit). When working with other audiences — the people it wants to keep on side such as local Sunnis exhausted with civil war in Iraq or Syria — ISIL will don absolutely contrasting narrative clothes, stressing social services or a strong penal code. Understanding that different things appeal to different people is a crucial requisite for propagandistic success. It is this audience and narrative variation that is the secret to ISIL’s propaganda ... So if that’s the challenge, what are democracies currently doing about it?”
“Governments are the most proactive players in the counter-ISIL game ... But government activities are of limited effect. Firstly they made tactical mistakes, most notoriously when the CSCC tried to emphasize the Islamic State’s brutality as a disincentive to joining it (it’s actually a big reason people join). More important than these mistakes, though, is the question of credibility. Extremists simply do not care when a government tells them they are wrong. Even ‘swing voters’ are put off.”
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