This footage is not fiction. This footage shows how the effects of war really look like.
I am always a bit skeptical about articles that claim to have THE explanation to why people travel to Syria and Iraq (or elsewhere) to join and fight for the Islamic State. However, I found this article particularly interesting.
Here is the conclusion reached by the authors Efraim Benmelech and Esteban F. Klor:
“We find that poor economic conditions do not drive participation in ISIS. In contrast, the number of ISIS foreign fighters is positively correlated with a country’s GDP per capita and Human Development Index (HDI). In fact, many foreign fighters originate from countries with high levels of economic development, low income inequality, and highly developed political institutions. Other factors that explain the number of ISIS foreign fighters are the size of a country’s Muslim population and its ethnic homogeneity. Although we cannot directly determine why people join ISIS, our results suggest that the flow of foreign fighters to ISIS is driven not by economic or political conditions but rather by ideology and the difficulty of assimilation into homogeneous Western countries.”
The entire article can be read here
Three broad goals of a counter-messaging campaign against the Islamic State:
1) undermine the group’s appeal
2) reduce the group’s ability to exploit social media and other online communications platforms
3) diminish the Islamic State’s capacity to engage with and recruit supporters.
Undermine the Islamic State’s core narrative. The Islamic State’s propaganda fuses religious, political, and personal narratives to attract supporters, foreign fighters and “migrants.” Its narrative fundamentally hinges on the group’s ability to project an image of strength and momentum: If it cannot do so, the group’s use of excessive brutality may become an albatross around its neck, as was the case for its predecessor, al-Qaeda in Iraq. Indeed, the Islamic State’s slogan — baqiya wa tatamaddad, or remaining and expanding — is illustrative of the group’s “winner’s message.” The Islamic State has often exaggerated its gains and downplayed its losses to bolster perceptions of its strength.
A second aspect of the Islamic State’s core narrative is the assertion that it has established a religiously and politically legitimate caliphate. As Charlie Winter noted here at War on the Rocks, the Islamic State has devoted considerable resources to portraying its caliphate as an Islamic utopia, where food is abundant, public services top-notch, and Islamic law (sharia) implemented as it was during the Prophet Muhammad’s time.
A third noteworthy aspect of the Islamic State’s core narrative is the perception, widely shared by young jihadists, that the Islamic State is a “cool” organization, and that fighting abroad is an opportunity for adventure. To perpetuate this view, the Islamic State has produced slick propaganda videos depicting scenes of violence that mirror video games like Call of Duty (a term that Islamic State militants on social media have at times appropriated). Such images of adventure and accomplishment are often incongruent with reality.
Undercutting the Islamic State’s core narratives is perhaps the most critical element of a counter-messaging campaign. Exposing the group’s embellishments and outright fabrications can do a great deal of damage to the Islamic State’s overall appeal.
Put the Islamic State on the defensive. Another aspect of a comprehensive campaign is placing the group on the defensive rhetorically. For instance, calling the Islamic State out on social media when it exaggerates military successes might not persuade its supporters to abandon the organization, but may force the group into a defensive posture. The Islamic State may find itself dedicating valuable time and resources to fending off negative perceptions — time and resources the group would prefer to devote to its recruitment and mobilization initiatives.
Break up Islamic State relationships. A counter-messaging campaign can focus on accentuating disagreements and schisms within the social networks that the Islamic State uses to communicate with and recruit at-risk individuals. In the Islamic State’s online recruitment architecture, social media operatives constantly interact with recruits to foster a sense of what analyst J.M. Berger describes as “remote intimacy.”
Peel away Islamic State supporters. This objective is to facilitate deradicalization from the Islamic State’s ideology, or at least disengagement from the group. As John Horgan has noted, deradicalization implies the abandonment of an extremist outlook, while disengagement “might indicate some continued adherence to these values and attitudes, and engaging in some other socially relevant ‘support’ behavior but no longer engaging in actual terrorist operations.” While individuals known to deradicalize or disengage on the basis of messaging alone are relatively rare (there are more known cases of disillusioned foreign fighters or migrants), hope can be found in cases like the Finnish teenager known as Abdullah who once served as a powerful online English-language propagandist for the group.
Provide alternative pathways. Individuals who become radicalized often struggle to find meaningful ideas and identities, or believe that violent extremist groups offer the only way to address their political or personal anger. The Islamic State’s worldview may fill the void that such individuals feel in their lives. Practitioners may try to intervene to highlight alternative pathways — such as political activism — for dealing with such individuals’ anger and dissatisfaction, or offer different outlets and opportunities that at-risk individuals see as meaningful. While a messaging campaign is capable of highlighting such alternative pathways, it is difficult to make them robust solely through communicating them. The promotion of alternative pathways is probably better achieved through a broader Counter Violent Extremism (CVE) campaign that is not limited to counter-messaging.
Prevent mobilization to action/violence. In lieu of trying to deradicalize the Islamic State’s supporters, CVE practitioners may focus instead on deterring or preventing radicalized individuals from mobilizing to violence. Many people harbor extremist sentiments but never act on them.
Bulwark against future radicalization. An effective counter-messaging campaign may develop counter-narratives that appeal to neither a Violent Extremist Organization (VEO)’s current supporters nor at-risk populations, but instead serve as a bulwark against future radicalization and recruitment. These counter-narratives aim to ensure that people disinterested in the Islamic State’s dark worldview remain disinterested, thus denuding the group of its appeal to future generations.
From Goals to Policies
1) Campaign to undermine the Islamic State’s narrative of military strength.
2) Exposing the Islamic State’s inability to provide public services.
3) Challenging the Islamic State’s religious narrative.
4) Publicizing defections.
5) One-on-one intervention with at-risk individuals.
6) Online discussion fora.
7) Taking down jihadist social media accounts and websites.
This article is an adaptation from “Fixing How We Fight the Islamic State’s Narrative” (Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Nathaniel Barr, War on the Rocks).
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Stephen Walt in the columns of Foreign Policy Magazine has written a piece titled The Unbearable Lightness of America’s War against The Islamic State.
Although I have reservations about some of the arguments put forward by Walt, I find his article particularly stimulating and worth reading.
Here is an especially interesting excerpt:
We now have a vast counterterrorism industry, much bigger intelligence budgets, and more energetic government surveillance, but the basic counterterrorist playbook has evolved little over the past 20 years. In particular, our national security establishment is still convinced that the main way to defeat extremist groups is U.S. military intervention, despite the nagging suspicion that it just creates more ungoverned spaces and makes it easier for groups like the Islamic State to recruit new members.
Then, Walt has listed a number of things the United States should do if it were truly serious about terrorism:
…it would start by gauging the level of threat properly and communicating that appraisal to the American people.
…we would also have a more honest and open discussion about our own role in generating it.
…we would now be having a frank discussion about the role of the media.
…we’d also see more creative efforts to discredit, marginalize, spoof, and embarrass the groups we oppose.
…you’d see a more hardnosed approach to the various American “allies” who are part of the problem rather than being part of the solution.
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This week I would like to direct your attention to a piece written by Richard Maass in the Washington Post: Want to help the Islamic State recruit? Treat all Muslims as potential terrorists.
Here is an especially interesting excerpt:
“Many excellent scholars — both before and since 9/11 — have produced research that tells us about the relationship between discrimination and counterterrorism. Here’s what we know. To be most effective, counterterrorism policies need to make an explicit distinction between the individuals who genuinely threaten others with terrorism, on the one hand, and on the other, the broader populations those terrorists claim to represent. Counterterrorism efforts — especially using force — should narrowly target only the former, as much as possible. Groups that commit terrorism often hope to provoke a violent overreaction against the community they claim to be defending. Even though most people in that community are nonviolent, such a reaction might force them to turn to the terrorist group for their own defense, swelling its ranks and realizing its ambition for greater political power.”
Good food for thought.
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Here is the full video of my participation to Al Jazeera Inside Story.
This is a 20 minute video that includes discussion on the French goverment response to the Paris attacks, European broader counterterrorism efforts, and the G20 in Turkey.
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Last May the organization Judicial Watch obtained through a Freedom Of Information Act lawsuit a cache of US government’s declassified documents.
Two documents in particular struck my attention.
One is a document produced by the Pentagon. This document shows that by October 2012 the Obama administration was aware that arms from Libya were being shipped to the opposition in Syria. In particular,
Weapons from the former Libya military stockpiles were shipped from the port of Benghazi, Libya to the Port of Banias and the Port of Borj Islam, Syria. The weapons shipped during late-August 2012 were Sniper rifles, RPG’s, and 125 mm and 155mm howitzers missiles.
During the immediate aftermath of, and following the uncertainty caused by, the downfall of the ((Qaddafi)) regime in October 2011 and up until early September of 2012, weapons from the former Libya military stockpiles located in Benghazi, Libya were shipped from the port of Benghazi, Libya to the ports of Banias and the Port of Borj Islam, Syria. The Syrian ports were chosen due to the small amount of cargo traffic transiting these two ports. The ships used to transport the weapons were medium-sized and able to hold 10 or less shipping containers of cargo.
The second document is by the Defense Intelligence Agency. It reveals two important facts.
One is that by August 2012 the Obama administration was aware that Al Qaeda in Iraq and other extremist groups were leading the Syrian uprising. An uprising publicly supported by the West and its regional allies.
Another is that the Obama administration (and other foreign backers of the Syrian opposition) foresaw the possibility of the establishment of a Salafist principality astride Syria and Iraq and actually welcomed such a development as a counterweight to President Assad forces in Syria. This was in August 2012, that is two years before the Islamic State came into being!
I believe that these declassified documents should make people rethink what they thought they knew about US involvement in the Syria and Iraq crises.
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