One important way to defeat ISIS is by winning the war on information.
ISIS declares itself the rightful heir of the founders of Islam. It considers itself at war with all people and nations who do not meet their standards as true Muslims. It calls itself a caliphate, claiming to represent the entire Muslim community worldwide. The idea of the caliphate evokes for many Muslims the idea of a glorious and unified Islamic civilization.
ISIS now has the most sophisticated propaganda machine of any terrorist organization, said Matthew Olsen, former director of the National Counterterrorism Center. “It turns out timely, high-quality media, and it uses social media to secure a widespread following.” With high-quality videos posted to YouTube, smartphone apps , online chat rooms, and Twitter/Facebook accounts sending messages in multiple languages, ISIS has become very good at using new tools in waging their information war.
To counter ISIS, one has to counter ISIS recruitment efforts and at the same time counter their ideology as the rightful heirs of Islam. This calls for a global public relations battle.
Muslim leaders have already started organizing or expanding prevention programs and discussions on countering violent extremism, often with assistance from law enforcement officials and trained counter-recruiters who emphasize the Internet’s dangers for young Muslims.
In addition, Muslim leaders need to educate and reclaim their understanding and interpretation of Islam. “When asked ‘what is Islam?’ many of the ISIS fighters answered ‘my life.’ They knew nothing of the Quran or Hadith, but had learned of Islam from Al Qaeda and ISIS propaganda, teaching that Muslims like them were targeted for elimination unless they first eliminated the impure.
This illustrates the gap between real and imagined Islam. It seems prudent to fill that gap with a global public relations campaign to provide positive, pluralistic and peaceful messages of Islam in mainstream media, in schools, mosques, public arenas and on social media platforms.
Muflehun, a think tank based in Washington focuses on countering violent extremism. Visit their web site to get more information and give your support, muflehun.org.