Is there a way to use a “strategic narrative” to combat violent extremism? If so, how do you think this might work in practice?
After the Paris attacks on Friday, a friend of mine who is Muslim posted a picture with this quote from the Quran: “Whoever kills an innocent person it is as if he has killed all of humanity.”
She posted it along with a message of peace and a plea not to judge all Muslims by the extremists in Daesh.
I thought of this as I heard Farah Pandith speak on Face the Nation Sunday morning. Pandith was the first ever special representative to Muslim communities with the U.S. State Department. She now is an adjunct senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. She had some very smart takes on the challenge facing the West with Daesh’s recruitment of soldiers.
For one, she says, we had to accept Daesh has a strategic narrative:
“By demonstrating military power (taking over territories) and psychological power (stoking fear and recruiting youth) they have developed a narrative of success. This narrative is critical to them. They can’t win over new recruits if they are perceived as weak. Thus, their momentum must be broken in both the military and ideological war.”
Pandith also makes a very good point that the best way to counter violent extremism is by amplifying the credible voices that counter it. She points out it is possible to create a new narrative, however, she suggests we need to treat the response in the same scale that we would consider a military response.
“Since the September 11 attacks, the military response to terrorist organizations has been vital, as well as the ability to shut down their financing. But, we cannot win the war against extremists without a “soft power” strategy. Their armies can’t be built without recruits,” Pandith said.
Pandith suggests that governments don’t have credibility in this arena. She suggests governments should give support to organizations who have a credible voice but don’t have the avenues to amplify that voice.
For instance, last year, a small group of Muslims living in London made a powerful anti-Daesh video. Using the hashtag #notinmyname, they started a campaign to counter the messages from Islamic extremists on social media.
There is an opportunity for a credible strategic narrative of peace, but that message has to come from other Muslims or else the narrative and the message will not be received.
In addition, there also needs to be a strategic narrative countering the narrative of fear and power promoted by the heinous acts committed by Daesh. That can be done by, as one opinion column in the Boston Globe suggests, using the term Daesh instead of ISIS since ISIS suggests that Daesh is a legitimate nation-state. In a small way, the pictures of buildings lit with the French flag are countering that narrative. However, there could be a more organized “anti-fear” narrative. I’m just not exactly sure what that would look like without looking militaristic. Perhaps others have better ideas?