Fighting ISIS needs more than air strikes: Report

2015-12-12 11:52
(File, AFP)

(File, AFP)

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Washington - The war against the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS) group cannot succeed without a bold, comprehensive international communication strategy consisting of smart media programming.

ISIS's media campaign has been a significant component of its operations against the West and its response needs to be equally potent and waged through local and international communication channels.

So far, the United States-led coalition's plans to bomb Syria have not included any new or coherent global strategy to discredit and challenge ISIS's messages.

"Terrorists do not primarily aim at the physical, but on the psychological effect of their attacks," according to research by the Marshall Centre for Security Studies.

Terrorism uses a strategy that primarily relies on the symbolic strength of the act.

Total preparation

"Its primary purpose lies in the conveying of messages to the target audiences," the study says.

"It is obvious that the media war in this century is one of the strongest methods," said Osama bin Laden, the al-Qaeda leader in a letter to Mullah Omar, the Afghan Taliban leader. "In fact, its ratio may reach 90% of the total preparation for the battles."

The US and international community's plan to defeat ISIS consists of a military campaign, training and equipment, disrupting plots, cutting finances and pursuing a ceasefire. All of this sounds fine but it is not sufficient. It needs to include the component that responds to the symbolic strength of acts of terrorism.

US President Barack Obama's speech on Sunday suggested that ISIS does not speak for Islam. True, but how do you convince many of its sympathisers that it does not when the group is claiming to fight in the name of Islam?

"They are thugs and killers, part of a cult of death," says Obama.

That's also true, but he doesn't tell us how to uproot the appeal of the cult, which even seems to have attracted members from Western societies.

British Prime Minister David Cameron's recent speech to parliament for permission to bomb Syria was equally devoid of a coherent strategy that would tackle more than just the military or security aspects. His counter-terrorism plans mainly include police operations and targeting activists in the UK.

Conventional media

The terrorist attacks that killed more than 130 people in Paris last month were seen by counter-terrorism officials as a demonstration of ISIS's expanding reach. Such attacks are meant to disseminate a specific message; they serve to recruit sympathisers by flaunting the group's accomplishments.

The media hype may also be used to demonstrate the effective execution of terrorist attacks to those who have provided financial support.Once these messages are converted into images on TV and the internet and spread across the world, their impact is amplified.

So, air strikes alone would not destroy the impact of these graphic messages. There is an urgent need for a globally co-ordinated communication strategy over the internet and social media, as well as conventional media, such as television and radio, for the more remote or war-torn areas. The aim should not be propaganda or war messaging but a more sophisticated communication technique that defuses the marketing of terror as martyrdom or freedom-fighting.

The report said the campaign should be co-ordinated with local, regional and international talents. Intellectuals, writers, film-makers, and media producers in affected countries could play a major role.
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