What can we do at the social media level?
Ghanem-Yazbeck: Offline and online alternative narratives to jihadist ideology need to be developed, thus providing young women and men better tools with which to challenge extremist propaganda. These should include social media campaigns, educational campaigns for young people in schools, places of worship, cultural and civil associations. Religious and community leaders, activists, academics, social workers must work together to define a cohesive strategy to combat extremism in their communities. It is crucial to scale-up the alternative-narrative as they must be qualitatively and quantitatively coherent to match and exceed the capabilities of IS (among others) in disseminating propaganda. As revealed in a report, the IS organisation disseminates "an average of 38.2 unique propaganda events a day from all corners of the Islamic State ʹCaliphateʹ". The alternative narrative needs to be scaled up in scope and inclusiveness; it must be a constant, 24/7 stream of positive information and media, varying in content and approach – after all, not everyone is attracted to the same message.
In your class, you talked about giving returnees and formers a voice, can you explain?
Ghanem-Yazbeck: This approach was followed successfully in both Algeria and Indonesia. The counter/alternative narrative must be delivered by an appropriate and "legitimate" source. The U.S. campaign "Think Again Turn Away" was unsuccessful because it was created by the State Department. Why would an at-risk individual who thinks that the State Department is the ʹenemy to be destroyedʹ listen to its counter-narrative and its campaign? This is where former extremists, defectors, returnees and "repentant" incarcerated extremists can play a role. Formers should be given a chance to discuss their experience and tell their stories in public because they have an authenticity that allows them to gain the trust of the returnees or at-risk individuals. As a former Indonesian jihadist of the Jemaah Islamiyah who benefitted from a de-radicalisation initiative and is now the head of a local non-governmental organisation, explained: "I used to be like them before. I used to be in their world, so I know how to talk to them in their language." Using this approach, the Indonesian government succeeded in persuading 680 extremist militants to lay down their weapons and be rehabilitated. Some former jihadists can also be a real asset in helping to raise awareness, as shown by the former Malaysian extremist Nasir Abbas, who became a writer and turned his experience of jihadism into a comic book. His book was handed out in schools and libraries as an educational tool to raise awareness and help change the mind-set of people toward jihad.
Interview conducted by Zahra Nedjabat
© Qantara.de 2018
Dalia Ghanem-Yazbeck is a resident scholar at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, where her work examines political and extremist violence, radicalisation, Islamism and jihadism, with an emphasis on Algeria.