Despite the extensive amount of damage Russia and the United States have inflicted upon ISIS in Iraq and Syria, this terrorist organization seems to be determined to recover from its losses. The Times notes that according to its sources in the Islamic State, an emergency mobilization has been declared across all the territories occupied by ISIS. Under these circumstances special attention has been paid by ISIS militants to the propaganda war it has been waging in order to attract new followers both form Western and Muslim countries.
Last year, the BBC published a detailed and comprehensive study of the internal propaganda of the Islamic State. According to this study, only half of the massive amount of propaganda that ISIS releases depicts brutal executions and explicit violence, while the other half depicts scenes of everyday life. ISIS propagandists are convinced that attempts to show that the Islamic State is fulfilling all the functions of an actual state would attract the maximum number of new followers into ISIS ranks. Such propaganda pieces show routine social activities: classes in schools, medical procedures at hospitals, marriages, and the seemingly serious religious educational lectures being delivered to the population of occupied lands to ensure the observance of moral principles. The Time would note that such pieces have proven to be very effective.
However, one should note that such propaganda campaigns haven’t been invented by ISIS. They have already been used by the Taliban extensively, which allowed it to receive a considerable amount of support from the population of Afghanistan due to its ability to restore order in devastated areas. It should be noted that the both Hamas in Palestine and Hezbollah in Lebanon received overwhelming approval from their respective populations by spending a lot of effort and money on charitable projects, such as the construction of schools, libraries, hospitals, shelters, and even the organization of sporting events.
Under these circumstances it’s not hard to understand why ISIS propaganda has been so successful in attracting new supporters into the ranks of this terrorist organization. What’s curious is that young and inexperienced souls are not the only ones being tricked by ISIS propaganda, since older generations are often seeking refuge from the sins of today’s Western world as well. Those sins are being pushed upon all states by Washington’s desire to introduce so-called ‘multiculturalism’ and ‘American-style democracy’, which corrodes traditional social and family values.
Therefore, it’s hardly surprising that a number of countries across the globe have come to the conclusion that if they can’t find a way to counter ISIS propaganda, they cannot prevent this terrorist organization from strengthening . People that have already fallen victims to this propaganda are convinced that the rule of the Islamic State is a perfectly viable option if it promises the rule of traditional values and stability, which cannot be found in the modern Western society.
For instance, France would have to admit that it has failed to provide an adequate answer to this propaganda campaign, since over 1,700 French citizens have joined the ranks of ISIS making the country the largest European “supplier” of terrorists to Syria and Iraq. As it has been noted by Le Temps, the absolute majority of large terrorist organizations in the world have French subdivisions, while France itself remains a reliable base of operations.
As it has been noted by the Liberation, France’s major media sources miserably failed to raise anti-ISIS awareness which resulted in terrorist attacks in Paris. In January, the French Minister of Internal Affairs stated that the fight against terrorist propaganda has become a top priority for the country. The newspaper notes that the inability to choose priorities and blatant shortsightedness of the government have led to disastrous consequences.
It’s curious that a French government website Stop Djihadisme, launched back in 2015, is being completely outranked by terrorist propaganda sources that have much more content to attract viewers. A year after the launch of this project, Stop Djihadisme appeared on Facebook and Twitter, while ISIS over the same year uploaded 800 videos in 11 languages, 15,000 photos and has been running over 20 online journals.
In turn, the US State Department launched a campaign to counter ISIS propaganda back in 2013. The media campaign called “Think Again Turn Away” was supported by 60 employees of the State Department. The 6 million dollars allocated to this project by the US government allowed its employers to only get about 23,000 followers on Twitter. The stated aim of this campaign was to uncover ISIS lies and present firsthand evidence of the crimes committed by ISIS. At the end of March the “Think Again Turn Away” campaign was brought to an end, recognized as “senseless and useless.”
The budget of the Global Engagement Center, according to various sources, ranges from 10 to 20 million dollars. This time around, experts say, the State Department won’t be paying its employees for writing posts in English in various social networks, and instead it’s going to hire foreign top bloggers and journalists, those people who are well-respected in Islamic communities, who are going to produce materials that the Center would deem useful in the fight against extremist propaganda. It is expected that the GEC will be helping authors to produce high-quality content in their native languages. The distinctive feature of this campaign, according to the calculations of the Center management – is to ensure that those counter-propaganda pieces are being distributed in various regions without any mention of Washington’s involvement in its production. Particular attention is going to be paid to the distribution of these materials via Facebook and Twitter.
To assess the prospects of this project, one should take a closer look at the head of the Center – Michael D. Lumpkin. This former Navy SEAL was born in 1964, has spent more that 20 years in the US armed forces, and participated in a number of military operations in Panama, Afghanistan and Iraq. He was engaged in the creation of prisons for interrogation of high-ranking prisoners, prepared groups to operate in Afghanistan, and was in charge of drone strikes in Libya and Syria. Lumpkin’s final assignment in the military was in the United States Special Operations Command Office of Legislative Affairs in Washington, D.C. where he served as liaison to the United States Congress on policy and appropriation issues supporting our nation’s Special Operations Forces. So now we are to see how he’s going to show for himself “in the information battle for the minds of young people.”
Given the importance of strengthening of the fight against ISIS, all countries should aim to improve their counter-propaganda efforts, which should be a crucial part of any anti-terrorist operation.
Martin Berger is a freelance journalist and geopolitical analyst, exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.