“Countering ISIL Messaging and Recruitment” – WAC 5/4/2016 Event
On May 4 the World Affairs Council welcomed Richard Stengel, the U.S. Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, for a compelling discussion on “Countering ISIL Messaging and Recruitment.” The event was in partnership with Washington State University’s Office of International Programs, and Dorsey and Whitney LLP graciously hosted the discussion. The conversation was moderated by Ambassador (ret.) Asif Chaudhry, Vice President for International Programs at Washington State University.
Who is ISIL’s Audience?
Ambassador Chaudhry highlighted the fact that the vast majority of the world’s Muslims view ISIL in purely negative terms. Unfortunately, ISIL still manages to attract Muslims sympathetic to their ideology and convince them to join their cause. The Ambassador asked Under Secretary Stengel who ISIL’s target audience is and how the terrorist group is able to persuade them to fight on their behalf.
U/S Stengel said that ISIL’s target audience is mostly young Muslim men and women with economic and other grievances towards their government and society. ISIL’s propaganda aims to convince them that joining their “caliphate” is a religious duty and that living there will solve problems they face in their lives.
Despite their impressive propaganda machine and unprecedented use of social media, ISIL’s audience remains an extremely small fraction of the global Muslim population. But with 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, even a tiny fraction can yield several thousand recruits.
Giving Credibility to Anti-ISIL Messages
The U.S. is not viewed as the most effective actor to propagate anti-ISIL messaging. Instead, a non-western, Muslim majority country allied to the United States holds greater credibility, and stands to yield greater outcomes in combatting ISIL’s propaganda considering that the terrorist group recruits these countries’ citizens. Amb. Chaudhry and U/S Stengel discussed the value of U.S. partnerships with states in the Muslim world to this end.
U/S Stengel cited the Sawab Center, a joint effort between the United States and the United Arab Emirates to counter the Islamic State militants on social media. One of the center’s most successful campaigns involves testimony from ISIL defectors. In a series of videos and articles posted on the Internet and spread through social media, these defectors recounted their experience in the self-declared caliphate to reveal that it is not the utopia ISIL’s propaganda described it as, and that ISIL harms more Muslims than it protects.