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.
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H/t to reader John