Dec 19, 2007
Finding Weakness in Jihadist Propaganda
From a new School of Advanced Military Studies, United States Army Command and General Staff College monograph, Finding Weakness in Jihadist Propaganda [63-page pdf] by Maj. Timothy R. King (USA):
In a practical sense, propaganda is a message derived from the combined functions of the Information, Social and Political systems (PMESII model) [Commander’s Handbook for an Effects-Based Approach to Joint Operations, Joint Warfighting Center, Suffolk Virginia 2006]. Propaganda begins with an idea that “needs propagation” – in other words, an ideology for a movement being led for a social or political purpose. These ideologies are usually derived from the Social or Political systems and are communicated through the Information system. The information system communicates individual messages that describe and sell the ideology – those messages are propaganda. By using the PMESII model, we can follow the path of the ideological messages and see how they affect the conflict. In figure 1, propaganda is illustrated as a combat multiplier for the notional cause. Powerful emotions brought on by social conditions look to politics for justice and relief. Political powers use information to propagate the cause using a variety of themes. The information becomes propaganda – biased, inspirational information – that is physically conveyed by the existing infrastructure such as print, television, computer and word of mouth. The internet allows easy propagation of the message to a global audience. A portion of the global community is influenced enough to provide economic and political support to the cause. Some are inspired to join the movement. Money, recruits and ideology allow the political leaders to continue military operations globally. Domestically, in regions of conflict, propaganda messages simplify the combatant societies’ notional understanding of the conflict, confirm traditional beliefs, reinforce prejudices and sustain hatred for America and its coalition partners. Collectively the messages persuade the populous to support the movement. Propaganda, as a means of persuading, does not utilize all known facts and is therefore, inherently biased. Propagandists typically sacrifice ethical behavior citing that the “ends justify the means”. Categories of propaganda are various as are the techniques used in conveyance.
According to Cunningham [Cunningham, Stanley B. The Idea of Propaganda: A Reconstruction, (Westport Connecticut: Praeger Publishers, 2002)], propaganda is effective not only because it simplifies the information (making is indiscernible to the intellectually lazy) but also because we are absolutely inundated with the messages. There are so many propaganda messages, many appearing as information, the victim of propaganda has little time apply to finding the real truth. Additionally, much propaganda appeals to the prejudices and pre-established attitudes of the recipient. In other words, propaganda tells the recipient what he wants to hear. Preconceived notions and culturally installed biases reinforce propaganda. Propaganda reinforces what we already believe and forms a “safety net” for our norms. It allows us to legitimize our beliefs and it verifies our values are correct. Propaganda allows the individual to think collectively, with safety in numbers. Cunningham suggests that the victims of propaganda have complicity in propaganda. The propagandee is not an innocent victim; he develops an appetite for the emotionally charged messages and, with acceptance, becomes a willing participant in their own oppression. Wartime propaganda feeds on emotions like hate, fear and patriotism – messages that support the individual’s emotions can bolster the passion of the people. Propaganda of all sorts has become so prolific that it becomes difficult to discern where it is and where it is coming from.
Co-opting parts of the Jihadist ideology may offer a chance to separate some of the loyal supporters of the Jihad. In Islam: The Straight Path [Esposito, John L. Islam: The Straight Path, Third Edition, (New York, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2005)],Esposito describes the teachings of Muhammad Iqbal. Iqbal, a lawyer in the early 20th Century, rediscovered the principles and values that could be employed in a modern Islamic society. The beliefs of brotherhood and equality of all Muslims was a principle known in Western democracies. He discovered Islamic versions of democracy and parliamentary government. He concluded that democracy was in fact an Islamic idea and the institutions could easily be adapted to Islamic government. This is a perfect theme to use when countering Jihadist propaganda. Not only does this message contribute to modernization of the Islamic world but also provides religious support for this Western idea. Most importantly, it has the potential [to] create ideology thus completing the destruction of the Jihadists’ ideology. “Islamic Democracy” fills the void [as] Jihadist ideology is damaged or destroyed in the war of ideas.
Based on attacks like the bombing of the Baghdad Book Market, and the doctrine expressed in Management of Savagery [The Management of Savagery, translated by Dr Will McCants, (Harvard University: John M. Olin Institute for Strategic Studies, 23 May, 2006)], it appears the Jihadists need their people to be illiterate and ignorant to Western education. ... Advancements in global communications, internet and satellite television make isolation nearly impossible – especially since most Muslim nations already have the infrastructure in place. Our information operations should exploit this vulnerability by insuring all “Western” information is easily accessible to Middle Eastern computers. Western news, Universities, and databases should be available in Arabic and easily located by Arabic search engines. Computers with links to the modern world should be more and more accessible. Inexpensive computers with wireless connectivity throughout the Middle East will allow Muslims access to an alternative message – that of progress through education and modernization.