In this article, published in the German Council on Foreign Relations’ IP magazine, Alexander Ritzmann argues that exposing the downright falsehoods of the propaganda of the so-called“Islamic State” (IS) through targeted counter narratives will obstruct their recruiting efforts.
One of the reasons IS has been able to attract a record number of foreign fighters in the past years is the group’s deployment of sophisticated online propaganda, Ritzmann claims. In particular, the existence of a supposed “caliphate”, an Islamist utopia, is being exploited to lure young Muslim men and women.
The author identifies additional key-narratives in the propaganda, constituting the group’s attraction with regardto the radicalisation process. These range fromalleged attacks against Islam as such and Sunni Muslims in particular, to the promise of salvation and an idyllic family life within a full functioning welfare state. A jihadi-cool youth action culture appeals to adventurous adolescents.
With regard to the increasing availability of information on the realities of life in the “caliphate” that contradict IS’s depictions of Islamist utopia, Ritzmann suggests utilizing that information in order to debunk pointedly the prevailing narratives. He calls attention to the disillusionment and criticism of former IS fighters or supporters, ranging from the brutality deployed against hostages and civilians, the tedious and difficult daily life to the corruption of senior leaders.
The delivery of counter-narratives by individuals who have been directly affected by IS is deemed most effective. An online database making such content easily available to anyone countering IS propaganda, be it family members of vulnerable youth, NGOs, media or governments, could significantly counter the recruitment efforts of the “Islamic State”, Ritzmann argues.