Thursday, July 16, 2015

Winning the Battle of the Narrative


It’s been said that in the court of law, it’s not the side who has the best facts, flashiest exhibits or even the best witnesses, but the side that tells the best story who will win.  The same could be said of propaganda in the court of public opinion as well – just ask the folks at the US State Department’s Center for Strategic Counter-Terrorism Communications (CSCC), the world’s first government-sponsored enterprise not run by an Intelligence agency to counter online jihadist propaganda. Their unofficial motto, coined at the agency’s formation in 2010,  is “The war of narratives has become even more important than the war of navies, napalm, and knives.” That motto was taken from the diary of American jihadist Omar Hammami, who until his death in 2013 was a leader in the Somali Islamist militant group, al-Shabab.

This Battle of the Narrative (and Counter-Narrative) can be a tricky tradecraft to master.  It requires doses of several moving parts: psychology, sociology, political science, and an ability to influence and manipulate.  This is the challenge the CSCC faces in producing a worthwhile counter-narrative to the salafist propaganda by deed.  While the Islamic State can appeal to the deepest yearnings of some young men through cultural identity, religion, and self-actualization, the Islamic State also appeals to a sense of action – violent videos are often used to incite further action for the greater good of Islam.  This propaganda by deed invokes a sense of duty and belonging, while also serving something bigger than themselves, and that can be a powerfully attractive message for someone who is looking for meaning in his life.


H/t to reader John

1 comment:

  1. I absolutely detest constructed narratives!

    The problem with them is that BOTH blue-for and op-for (as placeholders for left and right, "liberal" versus conservative, man versus woman etc) often end up arguing within the confines of said narrative, as if it is a mutually agreed to sport. Often the purpose of a narrative is to encourage mob mentality, to distract, divide and allow an outside force conquer.

    Narratives can also arise unintentionally within BLUE-FOR, usually as a result of unwillingness to offend, poor leadership, and high group cohesiveness (yes, success has its price!). It is important that BLUE-FOR have at least one member have the duty to disagree.


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