Dialogue on Counter Narrative to ISIS Propaganda

9 December 2015 New Delhi
OverviewLead DiscussantsProgramme Agenda

In the context of present international security scenario, the terror group IS (Islamic State) has been able to grow rapidly in its military momentum despite the military intervention by US and its allies in the Persian Gulf. Apart from these military gains, the group bears an immense strength in terms of its emotional appeal and has successfully managed to indoctrinate vulnerable and impressionable youths across the world to join their ranks in Syria, Iraq and now Libya, in their pursuit of a misinterpreted notion of Jihad. The IS has been able to garner support across the world through a very tactical and strategic exploitation of the social media space. According to a recent report by Quilliam Foundation, the almost ubiquitous presence of the terrorist outfit in the virtual space coupled with the sheer volume of the unique propaganda that is developed on a daily basis makes the very effort of building a counter narrative becomes redundant. The different propaganda techniques adopted by ISIS also ends up painting a picture of Jihad, wherein joining the group is not only restricted to the idea of indulging in a war but also becoming a member of the “Caliphate” to serve for “God’s project on Earth.” The Foundation’s report also observes that the use of brutality by the ISIS is a red herring and only serves to muzzle local dissent and gratify sympathizers on an international level whilst colouring a comprehensive understanding of its organizational and recruitment structure. Thus while the West is preoccupied by labelling the narrative of the outfit under the head of brutality, the most important narrative for ISIS’ propagandists that fuels its growth is the offering of an Islamic utopia. To this extent, failure to assess the ISIS theory of utopia will preclude any efforts to challenge the ideas of the outfit successfully.

Evidently, the social media has emerged as the ‘radical mosque’. Charlie Winters from the Quilliam Foundation has observed that “While radicalization, for the most part begins offline, Islamic State, along with other groups, has nurtured a situation in which the curious are able to have direct contact with former or current fighters, hear first-hand accounts from the battlefield and swap logistical advice. In decades gone by, this was a function served by so-called ‘radical mosques’. In the digital era, social media platforms are the space where this happens. Crucially, social media platforms are not the reason for radicalization or recruitment, just as ‘radical’ mosques and bookshops were never the reason.” Thus, it is evident that it is not simply the propaganda that is fuelling ISIS recruitment. It is a combination of external human influence and systematic radicalization process that has sustained the radicalization.

In the context of India, the national security agencies have already undertaken a number of measures that include individual counseling for detained potential recruits with participation of the family members of the detainee and patronizing of Islamic scholars from various sects and community based organizations to address their communities. Referring to a meeting note uploaded by Department of Homeland Security of US Federal Government on its public website, even though the current approach of Government of India may count as an ethical counter-narrative but several possible approaches of counter-narrative yet remains to be utilized by the government. In the current scenario, when ISIS is driven by an objective to build a radical anti-thesis to the contemporary global political and economic order, the need for India to build a counter-narrative is immediate when its own citizens today are attracted by the macabre theater of extremist narrative espoused by the ISIS. However to really develop an effective counter narrative, it is imperative to break down the ISIS propaganda techniques into its constituent parts for a more nuance understanding of its information war. In doing so, we will further inform the development of an alternative narrative that thwarts its growth.

The Oval Observer Foundation in collaboration with the Institute of Peace and Conflict Studies (IPCS), will convene a roundtable dialogue on 8th December 2015 with members from the Government of India, strategic community and the diplomatic community to discuss how India can develop counter-terrorism policies that not only guard her domestic front from ISIS radicalism but also support the efforts of the international community through development of effective counter-narratives both on social media and through de-radicalization programs in conjunction with intelligence sharing. The report prepared by the Quilliam Foundation will serve as a background for understanding the reach of ISIS propaganda and will be used to steer the discussion in a direction that is solution oriented.

The Key Themes of the Dialogue will include:
• Identifying the element of external human influence in the radicalization process and evaluating policy responses for the same.
• Developing a dedicated digital media center based on a public-private partnership model to monitor the communication channels and to use modern digital technology to build the alternative narrative.
• Sources of Financing for Outreach and Operational Activities of ISIS and What India can do to control the same.
• Identifying the baseline of ISIS extremist narrative.

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