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Thursday, June 16, 2016

The ISIS Media Front

Every ISIS inspired rampage reminds me that it we are waging, in addition to the kinetic war, a "hearts and minds" campaign against the appeal of jihadist rhetoric and imagery. We discussed this on Midrats Episode 322: Radical Extremism, Visual Propaganda, and The Long War with Professor Cori Dauber and Mark Robinson:

Well, here's some further analysis How to Beat Back ISIS Propaganda from Dr. Haror J. Ingram:
Messaging that exploits the disparity between what one’s adversary says and does, while promoting the close alignment of one’s own words and actions, is a timeless propaganda strategy. As Professor Doug Borer said during discussions at the Naval Postgraduate School: “it’s the say-do gap, stupid.” As a messaging strategy, it does more than merely expose hypocrisy or incompetence; it goes to the heart of an actor’s perceived credibility. Forget slick production or social media—this is Al Qaeda and ISIS’s propaganda trademark. From bin Laden’s frequent assertion that the perpetrators of the Hiroshima and Nagasaki bombings have no right to label him a “terrorist,” to Inspire and Dabiq magazines’ regular claims that Western governments do not afford Muslim citizens the same rights as other citizens, this messaging is designed to expose the West’s say-do gap.

The “information theater” is where perception becomes reality, and Western messaging has tended to be comparatively less adept at leveraging this approach. This has not been helped by events such as the Abu Ghraib revelations and, more recently, an unwillingness to back up “red lines” drawn in Syria. Western counterterrorism messaging would benefit from focusing on tying extremists to the crises experienced by their potential supporter base, highlighting that say-do gap and avoiding futile counter-proselytizing.

Strategic communications campaigns must be devised within the context of strategic policy decisions. Even the best messaging cannot replace “real” policy or action; nor can one assume that action will “speak for itself.” Over three decades ago, President Ronald Reagan’s National Security Decision Directive 75 integrated military, economic and information elements into a wide-ranging strategy designed to catalyze the Soviet Union’s downfall. NSDD 75 and subsequent directives show that the Reagan administration understood the compounding benefits of synchronizing message and action, its force-multiplying effect on the overall campaign and its decisive impact on perceptions of credibility. Current strategies could learn much from this history.
As is the case with most of the struggle against terrorists, the fight is all uphill - the jihadist propaganda machine needs to find only one mind to infiltrate with its call to action while we have to try to counter all such influence.

Like all good guerrilla forces, the jihadists use our strengths (free press, free speech, freedom of religion, freedom in general) as weapons against us in a form of media jujitsu.

The excesses of our society, which we put on full display in print and over the air and in movies, come to dominate the imagery of our country abroad - despite the vast gap between that imagery and the daily reality of our lives.

This lesson is brought home when talking to visitors from overseas who have come to take a look at us. Having seen us through the lens of news ("if it bleeds, it leads"), movies and television (oh, take your pick of the latest "real life" crime films that shows on-going gang warfare and thugs holding their pistols sideways as they blaze away) and the language of our would-be social elites who know exactly what is best for those of us in the "bitter clinger" group, these visitors often are stunned by the far different reality of a genuinely peaceful country with helpful citizens.

Our country is bigger, cleaner, and far more peaceful that they could have known from the sources they have seen.

We have social welfare programs for our poor. We offer free medical care. Our charities are better, bigger and quicker to respond that any massive government program could ever be.

We welcome immigrants who arrive legally (and lots who don't), especially those who seek a better life by learning about those freedoms that make us a great country.

Perhaps it is not odd that those who seem to be most drawn to ISIS-like propaganda appear to be those who cannot learn the tolerance the vast majority of the rest of us are willing to extend to others. Once in that mode, all the negative media they absorb along with the ISIS claptrap sets them up.

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