Senior Policy Advisor. European Foundation for Democracy. Co-chair of the European Commission’s Radicalisation Awareness Network (RAN) Communication and Narratives (C&N) Working Group
The 8th Euromed Survey conducted by the European Institute of the Mediterranean touches upon a number of important and complex issues related to violent extremism in the EuroMediterranean region, including the question of the context and drivers through which violent extremism can prosper. Echoing some of the results, this article looks into propaganda as a tool of extremist ideologies and how to counter it.
What is Propaganda?
Propaganda, as a tool of extremist ideologies, aims to generate and promote a world view that reduces the complexity of life to a simple black and white picture. This structured attempt to reform the cognitive (and emotional) perceptions of a target audience to initiate an action in the interest of the propagandist has probably been a part of every political or religious conflict (Jowett, 2012).
In 1622, when the Catholic Church professionalised its missionary work to counter the progress of the Protestants, the body responsible for this important endeavour was called “Sacra Congregatio de propaganda fide”, which gave the name to what since then has been called propaganda. Over the conflict of what true Christianity is, Catholics regarded propaganda as something positive, while Protestants saw it as a tool of the enemy (Bussmer, 2013).
Propaganda, in the form of recruitment messaging, generally follows the pattern of diagnosis (what is wrong), prognosis (what needs to be done) and rationale (who should do it and why) (Wilson, 1973). The self-proclaimed Islamic State (IS/Daesh), for example, follows the same principle: diagnosis (Islam/Sunni Muslims are under attack), prognosis (fight/create the Caliphate) and rationale (help however you can).
The IS then uses sub-narratives for every target group they want to reach (Neumann, 2015). Adventure-seeking young men were promised a future as heroes who are fighting for a just cause and who would be rewarded, amongst other things, with wives and sex slaves. Medical doctors and engineers were lured in by the call to helping fellow Sunni Muslims in need and to being part of the creation of the perfect Islamic utopian society, the Caliphate. Young women were promised an important role by becoming the wives of the “lions of the Caliphate” and securing its future by raising their “cubs” (Winter, 2015).
How Does Propaganda Work?
Extremist propaganda often has clear-cut messages that promise clarity, relevance and meaning in addition to emotional and social benefits, such as belonging to a new family or brotherhood/sisterhood. For propaganda to increase its chances of success, it needs to be close to an already existing (perceived) truth of the targeted audience. 180-degree conversions happen but very rarely.Weiterlesen »
Propaganda, the art of twisting information to make it fit your interests or ideology, always plays a role. Extremists are often attracted by the clear cut messages that can give simple meaning to an otherwise complex life. Extremist narratives aim to generate a world view where everything is black and white, where one is either in or out of a group. And they promise emotional and social benefits such as belonging to a new family or brotherhood in the fight for a supposedly just cause.
Propaganda is effective when it is close to a perceived truth of the targeted audience. Ideology, whether for white supremacists or Islamists, plays a key role in legitimising the strategies and actions of the extremists which would otherwise simply be criminal acts. In some cases, ideology makes the difference between someone committing suicide or driving a truck into a group of people.
Terroristische Propaganda und die Verantwortung der Medien
Die strategischen Ziele und taktischen Maßnahmen terroristischer Organisationen werden von den Medien häufig falsch vermittelt. Journalisten fungieren außerdem als unfreiwillige Helfershelfer der Propagandaabteilungen von al-Qaida oder des Islamischen Staates. Kinder, Jugendliche und psychisch labile Erwachsene, die besonders anfällig für extreme Einflüsse sind, können durch diese Art der Berichterstattung zur Nachahmung von Attentaten und Amokläufen inspiriert werden.
In this article, EFD´s Executive Director Alexander Ritzmann highlights that media outlets often involuntarily serve as extended propaganda channels of terrorist organizations. In the current issue of “tv diskurs”, the magazine of the organization for the self-regulation of television in Germany (FSF), Alexander argues that many media outlets don´t put terrorist propaganda and attacks in context and therefore spread fear and confusion. Research on the effects of unreflected media reporting on suicides and mass shootings indicates that especially minors and adults with specific mental illnesses can be inspired to imitate extreme behavior if the individuals are in a personal crisis at the time of the reporting. In extreme cases, this can motivate individuals who are considering suicide to committing mass murder because of the attention and “fame” affiliated with these crimes. Alexander calls for journalists and media companies to explain terrorist tactics and strategies better to their audiences to foster the resilience of individuals and societies.
Fr 05.08.2016 | 09:05 | Interviews
–Was alle Extremisten vereint
„Extremistische Gewalt in Deutschland hat in den vergangenen Jahren deutlich zugenommen und zwar auf allen Seiten. Heiner Martin sprach mit dem Extremismus-Experten Alexander Ritzmann darüber, was alle Extremisten – trotz aller inhaltlichen Unterschiede – vereint: eine „Anti-Haltung“ gegenüber dem bestehenden System. Gleichzeitig möchte jede Ideologie am Ende ihre eigene Utopie, ihre „perfekte Welt“ – ob das jetzt das kommunistische Paradies ist, das „völkische“ Paradies oder das Kalifat. „
By James Crisp | EurActiv.com
Terrorism is not new to Europe, despite the recent Islamic State inspired attacks that have rocked France and Germany, Alexander Ritzmann has said. The terror and radicalisation expert said it was vital that the outrages did not lead to policy decisions confusing migration with terrorism ahead of crunch elections in Germany and France next year.
Alexander Ritzmann is Senior Advisor to the European Foundation for Democracy in Brussels. He chairs the Communication and Narratives Working Group at the European Commission’s Radicalisation Awareness Network and teaches on terrorism at Potsdam University. Ritzmann was a member of the Berlin State Parliament, overseeing the state police and intelligence agency. He spoke to EurActiv.com News Editor James Crisp yesterday (26 July) after the terrorist attacks in Nice, Würzburg, and Ansbach but before the attack in Rouen (26 July).
Could the recent attacks in Germany have an impact on the country’s asylum policy?
There is a perception that the attacks are linked to the welcoming of refugees to Germany. But it is the job of policymakers and the media to help the population understand the difference. If there are 500,000 Syrian refugees and one of them stabs someone that is not something that policy should be dealing with. It is a crime and it should be investigated by the police. And, by the way, the average Syrian refugee commits fewer crimes than the average German citizen.
There is of course the potential for radicalisation and for sectarian violence. The refugees bring the conflict with them. Right now everyone is focused on settling and surviving but I am absolutely sure the conflict in Syria will come back to people. Already, they do not trust other Syrian refugees, they will ask where they come from, for example. When you talk to them, they could have family and friends who have been tortured or murdered by someone in the next room belonging to the same group. We work with Syrians on overcoming these sectarian divisions.
There’s also potential for radicalisation in the future if the government doesn’t work with the right institutions. There are some very conservative organisations in Germany with links to the Muslim Brotherhood, people who would rather build parallel societies than integrate. But the government wants to work with organisations, even if those are mentioned in domestic intelligence reports as having Muslim Brotherhood ties, being part of political Islam. And these organisations can become partly government funded, which can lead to uncomfortable headlines in the future.Weiterlesen »