Much media attention has recently focused on a statement issued by al-Qaeda’s central command on the Afghanistan-Pakistan border under Ayman al-Zawahri’s leadership, declaring that the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has no relationship with the central leadership of al-Qaeda.
On the basis of this development, one might think that ISIS, which has hitherto been described in the media as an “al-Qaeda affiliate,” may lose ground and standing in the eyes of jihadis and their supporters both inside and outside Syria. Indeed, in Jordan, the Salafist-jihadist movement has come firmly on the side of Jabhat al-Nusra against ISIS, maintaining strong links with Jabhat al-Nusra in the southern Syrian border province of Daraa, which lacks an ISIS presence.
One should also note the extent to which tensions on the ground have grown between ISIS and Jabhat al-Nusra. Beginning with infighting between Jabhat al-Nusra and ISIS in the city of Raqqa, clashes have since spread further out east.
On Feb. 7, Jabhat al-Nusra released a statement criticizing ISIS in Deir Ezzor province and the wider east of Syria, pointing to long-standing grievances like ISIS’ besieging the headquarters of Jabhat al-Nusra in the Hassakeh province locality of Ash Shaddadi, despite their cooperation against Kurdish and regime forces.
Indeed, now that al-Qaeda’s central command has officially disavowed ISIS, Jabhat l-Nusra’s leadership no longer has to consider ISIS a part of the same al-Qaeda family and therefore, it may side with ISIS’ enemies.
These issues notwithstanding, it is unlikely that ISIS’ role in Syria and among jihadis and their supporters across the world will be diminished. First, the media’s constant descriptions of ISIS as an “al-Qaeda affiliate” until this recent statement have been deeply misguided and reflect a misunderstanding of how ISIS has seen itself.
According to ISIS supporters and fighters I know, ISIS and its predecessor, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), have been independent of al-Qaeda since the inception of ISI in October 2006. This line of narrative — articulated by them long before this statement — argues that when ISI was formed, it absorbed what was then al-Qaeda in Iraq (which was certainly the main component of the ISI umbrella coalition), as the pledge of allegiance was switched from al-Qaeda to the emir of ISI.
ISIS’ supporters and fighters further point to Zawahri’s statement in 2007 explicitly stating that there is no “al-Qaeda in Iraq” anymore, as it had joined other jihadist groups in the ISI.
Regardless of whether one wishes to accept this narrative of independence from al-Qaeda from the very beginning, there is no doubt that the ISI quickly became an organization capable of supporting itself financially and supplying its own manpower.
Today, as has been the case for years, ISIS’ vast financial resources are in large part being driven through the extensive networks of extortion and other crimes it runs in Mosul and wider northern Iraq, making at least $1 million a month from the city alone. Despite its setbacks during the US troop surge and the Sahwa tribal revolt, ISI was never quite dislodged from Mosul.
More recently, ISIS has been able to acquire additional funding through controlling oil and gas resources in eastern Syria, constituting what we call a major “crime family” in opposition to two other major groupings: Jabhat al-Nusra working with the Islamic Front, and the Democratic Union Party (PYD).
ISIS’ considerable financial clout — as well as the fact that members and supporters take offence to being described as a mere “group” or “faction” — has been a key factor behind the group’s vast territorial expansion, such that the group now has more strongholds than before the infighting.
Indeed, there has also been a misunderstanding of how ISIS organized itself prior to the large-scale conflict with other rebel groups. Rather than focusing on acquiring strongholds, ISIS previously tried to gain footholds in as many localities as possible, and as a result became too thinly spread and vulnerable to a multi-pronged attack.
Since then, ISIS has regrouped, allowing it to seize exclusive control of the important Aleppo provincial towns of al-Bab and Manbij. In Raqqa province, the gains have been even more impressive: exclusive control of the provincial capital, the key border town of Tel Abyad and all other localities apart from a PYD stronghold just west of Tel Abyad and a couple of regime air bases — the Tabqa military airport and Brigade 17.
Such territorial control, along with a heavy, open emphasis on proto-state building and the goals of re-establishing the caliphate and achieving eventual world domination (goals also supported by Jabhat al-Nusra, though hardly ever articulated openly except by foreign fighters in unofficial video footage), has meant that ISIS continues to be the No. 1 banner to which Sunni jihadist foreign fighters congregate.
On the wider international scene, al-Qaeda’s disavowal of ISIS has only hardened pre-existing divisions among the global jihad movement that have long been apparent.
For example, over the last summer and in subsequent months, I noted signs of support for ISIS from the Gaza/Sinai region. This trend has been reinforced by recent affirmations of support from two major jihadist groups in this area: Jamaat Ansar Bayt al-Maqdis, which is behind attacks in Egypt beyond the Sinai Peninsula, and the Majlis Shura al-Mujahedeen, active in both the Sinai Peninsula and the Gaza Strip and at strong odds with Hamas. As for the Jordanian Salafist support for Jabhat al-Nusra noted above, this trend can be traced back to the very beginning of the dispute.
The question of whether ISIS’ influence can be reduced ultimately depends on how well other rebel groups can form a united front against it. So far, events on the ground still point to the obstacle of localization for such an effort to come about.
In short, the current situation suggests a cementing of current positions, similar to what happened in the wider rebel-PYD conflict that broke out in mid-summer 2013, rather than a decisive victory for ISIS or its rivals.
In real terms, it is ISIS and not al-Qaeda that is making headway in building a caliphate, with extensive advertising of its projects on social media. Combined with ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi‘s projection of himself as a caliph (in calling himself Emir al-Mu’mineen), ISIS and al-Qaeda are effectively in direct competition with each other over who gets to set up and rule an envisioned caliphate, the greatest challenge yet to al-Qaeda’s status as the leading face of global jihad.
Despite sharing a virtually identical ideological program and being much younger than al-Qaeda, ISIS looks set to retain the upper hand for the time being, so long as it does not incur substantial territorial losses and can showcase its caliphate-building better than al-Qaeda and its official affiliates.
New ISIL called the MEK
Only in the operation of the hypocrites who became famous for engineering operations, they scoured and slaughtered three soldiers and one shaft alive. Live the burning of a three-years-old girl, burn a bus with all her passengers, and even shoot a 19-years-old teenager in her mother’s arms!
ISIL’s global reputation as a transnational threat that has now come to the heart of Europe has made this terrorist group known in the world as one of the greatest security threats in the world today. Although we know that behind ISIL’s global reputation there is a trace of American goals with the goals of Islam phobia and planning to enter the Middle East, but this global reputation is also of a different nature, perhaps the most important of which is the excessive use of violence, assassination and doping The use of the most modern media tools to reflect these broader measures. Although public opinion in the world and even our country today recognizes ISIS as the most violent and most brutal terrorist group, Iran history shows that in the past not too distant, ISIS and even in some cases have been much more brutal.
The Mojahedin-e Khalq Organization (MEK) or the same terrorist group of the hypocrites, committed crimes in Iran about three decades ago, which in some cases may have exceeded the limits of the actions of ISIS today. Of course, this is not the only point of contact between the two terrorist groups, and a look at the records. And the current situation of the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps (IRGC) represents more and more points with ISIS today. This comparison not only provides a more tangible retrieval of the records of the hypocrites in Iran, but also the success of the Islamic Republic in dealing with faced with the group of hypocrisy and experience of the nation of Iran and even Iraq this terrorist group, the behavioral and functional comparison of these two groups, has created the opportunity to better identify and explain more and more ISIS and its objectives to elucidate the implementation strategies to deal more effectively with it. First, the similarities between ISIL and the hypocrites must be two categories of intellectual structures and operational measures, each of which has many components for comparing and the two adapting.
Similarity in intellectual structures
The most important component in comparing the intellectual structures of these two terrorist groups is to return to the claims of Islam following these two groups. Although the hypocrites, as part of the struggle, have publicly stated that they are pursuing a Marxist approach as a method of struggle, the appearances and propaganda in this group show a claim to follow the Shi’a religion, as ISIS expresses its claim to follow Satan’s religion. In one phrase, the hypocrites can be considered as Shiite and ISI brands as Sunni brand of an eclectic and deviant Islam, which merely provided the basis for creating an ideological structure in both of these groups. Both ISIS and hypocrites provided a false impression of Islam and added Providence and subjectivism have managed to apply sectarian control over their forces.
Although the explanation of the ideological deviations of these two groups and their contradiction with Islam is not boring in this debate, merely mentioning some examples of sectarian control behaviors in ISIL and the hypocrites can indicate the contradiction between these two acts and the teachings of genuine Islam. The parties during their period of activity has always applied the most important sectarian control methods to its forces, including the confinement of forces in isolated and remote communities. The organization’s contributions to members’ deployment sites, including the Ashraf Garrison and the French Overs Sauer base over more than three decades from the life of the hypocrites they have been able to Organizational limitations and regulations are always used as a means of isolating forces.
The group’s restrictions on forces are including the lack of free access to the media, including television, newspapers and other sources of information to the prohibition of free association with family members and relatives, including the organizational laws of the group, so that the forces cannot hear anything other than the subjective implications of the leaders. And these behaviors of the hypocrites, even in the years before the revolution in the prisons of SAVAK, were observed in such a way that the members were only allowed to read the journals, books and writings of the organization, and were even prohibited from communicating with other prisoners of revolution, in order to create subjective contradictions and angled out the teeth Kilat is not formed in them.
ISIL is also today limiting its members to the use of media and electronic devices. They also prohibit free use of communication tools and even books for religious forces with religious fatwas that contain organizational orders. Acts such as Jihad-al-Nakah, which, with the earliest study of Islam, can be seen as contradictory to religious laws, is a clear example of the same is true of controlling forces. The second component is in the methods of absorbing these two groups, which is still influenced by the Muslim claim in the stage of absorption and application of mental manipulation methods for controlling and maintaining power. In other words, both groups abuse the religious sentiment and attract them in the name of religion and religion, and then they are motivated. The infallibles and hypocrites both promise, at the stage of absorbing the true and utopian Islam, that they are among the aspirations Islam, and this suggests that it can be achieved with the dedication of the members and stepping up the path of resistance.
This way, the hypocrites could convince some of its sympathizers and sympathizers from Europe to participate in the Mersad operation, which was in fact a mass suicide, in the 1980s. As for ISIS, today we see how this terrorist group uses tools as social networks attract people from Europe and bring them to the deserts of Iraq for war. However, none of the forces, after entering the organization, cannot be separated by any excuse; in fact, as the separation of a person from the organization of the hypocrites is convincing it was considered by him to be removed, in Da’ish, this is also the case with Nair what is used.
Similarity in operational measures
The first and perhaps most prominent similarity of these two groups can be seen at the height of their brutality and brutality in operational actions and assassinations. Both groups of hypocrites and ISIS use the most violence in their operations.
For example, in 1980s terrorist attacks of the hypocrites pointed out that only one operation, which later became known as the engineering operation, scratched and slaughtered three soldiers and one shaft alive. Burning live a three-years-old girl, burning a bus with all her passengers, and even firing a 19-years-old teenager in her mother’s arms!
ISIS today also uses strange methods of burning cages, burning alive and etc. killing. Both groups have even met in exactly the same measure, only one example of which can be found on the Mersad scene. The hypocrites entered Mersad Hospital in Kermanshah and opposed all customary and international rules of wounding and wounded warriors in the hospital’s courtyard.
During the operation, the members of the organization ordered that they target each creature and set fire to their agricultural fields. While ISIS also wounded the massacre during the attack on Mosul and did not even have mercy on the fields, trees and monuments in Syria and Iraq.
A review of the hypocrites in the 1980s shows that the purpose of such measures as the assassination of people in the street and the public in general and brutal methods of killing was only to cause general fear and fear, so that people, due to fear of being killed, cease to support Take revolution.
For this reason, we see that during the same period, the hypocrites, using their official publication and the Mojahed magazine, covered every terrorist act that they were trying to exploit widely in terms of its propaganda in society. It was also aimed at creating fear and fear. It uses harsh methods of killing and massacres and uses the most up-to-date media equipment to try to cover its actions and broadly reflect them in a very fatal view.
Today there are some ISIL terrorist acts that are almost as large as the number of weapons, video cameras present in various faces to record the incident. ISIS’s rebound has been seen repeatedly in Iraq as a reflection of its actions. As a result, many cities and villages have been captured by the people in the hearts of the people without any resistance and at the lowest cost. Other common behavior of these two groups can be seen in the methods of financing. The hypocrites have steeled and looted from time to time to finance themselves. This group is both in pre-revolutionary activities, which had the money to steal from the bank and the currency exchange office, or after the revolution, whose operational units of assassination had the duty to steal after its killing every pro-revolutionary shopkeeper.
This behavior continued in Iraq with theft of its oil resources, so that millions of dollars of Iraqi oil resources were deposited into the accounts of this group. ISIL is also providing its financing today through ways such as the theft of cash from Iraqi banks in the captured cities and oil sales of the Iraqi people.
The comparison of the two groups in the political arena also yields similar results. Both the Islamic Revolutionary Guardsmen and the Islamic State are supported by the West African countries, and especially the United States, and this is due to both of them within the framework of the soft strategy of the United States of America in the region.
Manage and command, supply and circulation of arms and equipping three components of Western support for the hypocrites and ISIL terrorists. Americans, who no longer have military presence in the region either because of the imposition of financial charges or because of public exposure, use terrorist groups as proxy armies. That is why the behavior of the two groups is entirely defined in the American interests puzzle in the region.
Examples of direct American support for ISIS include the transfer of multiples military equipment from the sky (Which was later explained as a mistake!) and intelligence assistance. Meanwhile, the close association of American retired politicians with the hypocrites at the Seminars of this group in Europe is also the evidence of American support for this terrorist group.
There are, of course, many examples of US support for these two groups, and it is not in the interest of this piece, but for another example, the support of the United States of America in the region can be mentioned from both of them. The most prominent of these countries is Saudi Arabia, which is in the interests of its regional organization is producing and equipping terrorist groups in the region. Saudi Arabia’s paternal and supportive attitude to the hypocrites and ISIS is also evident.
Despite all the support provided by the United States, there are limits and limits to these two groups, due to the West’s equal look at both of them, these limits are common in many ways. One of the most prominent western red lines in the case of these two terrorist groups is the ban on the entry of these members into the geographical range of the Western countries. Nevertheless, neither Europe nor the United States are willing to threaten their security by accepting terrorists; ISIL is today a victim of the West.
Despite the expulsion of Iraq, the hypocrites are still in doubt as a result of the pretext of Western refugee countries to accept their terrorist members, and eventually they have only been able to find a refugee camp in Albania by way of UN consultation. What they point out it was only a part of the most important components of the similarities between ISIL and the hypocrites, and, as noted earlier, due to the similarity of the two in the functions and missions, similar methods could be used to confront them. The experience of the Islamic Republic of Iran in the conflicts of the 1980s with the hypocrites showed that the most important factor in dealing with this terrorist group is the popular forces.
This issue is easily visible in Iraq today. In the countries involved with ISIL, including Syria and Iraq in particular, just as the popular forces arrived, ISIL received deadly blows, and this issue can be described as the best way to deal with the ISIL terrorist group, with the reasons for it.
Countering Extremism: Jihadist Ideology Reigns Supreme
The sad truth is that governments, law enforcement, security forces, intellectuals and journalists do not have an ideological response to political violence’s latest reiteration, jihadism. Moreover, the struggle against political violence, is not one that is predominantly ideological.
To add to this, mistakes are being repeated. Al Qaeda produced the counterterrorism industry in the context of a response that was focussed on law enforcement, security and military engagement. To be sure, that has produced significant results. It has enhanced security across the globe, stopped plots before they could be executed, driven Al Qaeda into caves, and deprived the Islamic State of its territorial base.
All of that, however has not solved the problem, nor has it fundamentally reduced the attraction of religiously-cloaked extremism. No doubt, social media has provided militants with a megaphone. But let’s be clear: social media are vehicles, media channels, they are not drivers. Yet, much like the terrorism industry, the call for a counter-narrative has produced an industry of its own. Like the terrorism industry, it has vested interests of its own: its sustainability is dependent on the continued existence of perceived real threats.
Further troubling the waters is the fact that the public and private anti-terrorism and counternarrative industries see human rights as second to ensuring security and safety; have little interest in addressing the problem through notions of alienation, marginalization, socio-economic disenfranchisement, youth aspirations and basic rights in which counterterrorism and counter-narratives would be embedded. Aiding and abetting the problem are the ever more evident campaigns by non-egalitarian and non-inclusive democratic societies as well as autocratic Middle Eastern and North African regimes that either have reduced interest in independent analysis and reporting, seek to restrict freedoms of expression and the press, or define any form of dissent as terrorism.
The notion that one can eradicate political violence is illusionary. Political violence has been a fixture of human history since day one and is likely to remain a fact of life. Its ebbs and flows often co-relate to economic, social and political up and down turns. In other words, counterterrorism and counternarratives will only be effective if they are embedded in far broader policies that tackle root causes.
And that is where the shoe pinches. To develop policies that tackle root causes, that are inclusive and aim to ensure that at least the vast majority, if not everyone, has a stake in society, the economy and the political system involves painful decisions, revising often long-standing policies and tackling vested interests. Few politicians and bureaucrats are inclined to do so.
Starting with Al Qaeda’s 9/11 attacks, militants have benefitted from the fact that the world was entering a cyclical period in which populations lose confidence in political systems and leaderships. The single largest success of Osama bin Laden and subsequent militants is the fact that they were able to disrupt efforts to forge inclusive, multicultural societies, nowhere more so than first in Europe, then the United States with the rise of Donald Trump, and exploit ripple effects in Asia.
The result is the rise of secular and religious nationalism, populism, greater acceptance of autocratic or illiberal rule, and the erosion of democratic values and institutions. Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, and other forms of ethnic and religious prejudice that no doubt existed but lived under a cloud of primarily social taboos and have become socially acceptable and often politically convenient. Of course, the refugee crisis put oil on the fire.
Nonetheless, what makes this cycle of lack of confidence more worrisome and goes directly to the question of the ideological challenge is how it differs from the late 1960s, the last time that we witnessed a breakdown in confidence and leadership on a global scale.
The difference between then and now is that then there were all kinds of worldviews on offer: anti-authoritarianism, anarchism, socialism, communism, concepts of extra-parliamentary opposition, and in the Middle East and North Africa, Arab nationalism and Arab socialism. Today, the only thing on offer are militant interpretations of Islam and jihadism.
Human rights activist and former Tunisian president Moncef Marzouki was asked in a Wall Street Journal interview why it was not only those who lacked opportunity and felt that they had no prospects and no hopes but also educated Tunisians with jobs who were joining the Islamic State. His answer was: “It’s not simply a matter of tackling socioeconomic roots. You have to go deeper and understand that these guys have a dream—and we don’t. We had a dream—our dream was called the Arab Spring. And our dream is now turning into a nightmare. But the young people need a dream, and the only dream available to them now is the caliphate.”
Its hard to build an ideological challenge or develop counternarratives without a dream. With democracy on the defense, free market enterprise having failed significant segments of the public, and newly found legitimacy for prejudice, bias and bigotry, democratic governments are incapable of credibly projecting a dream, one that is backed up by policies that hold out realistic hope of producing results.
Autocrats are in a no better situation. The mayhem in the Middle East and North Africa is not exclusively, but in many ways, due to their inability and failure to deliver public goods and services. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman appeared to be holding out a dream for his kingdom. But that dream increasingly is being shattered both in Yemen and at home. Autocrats in the Middle East and North Africa are about upgrading and modernizing their regimes to ensure their survival, not about real sustainable change. Elsewhere, populists and nationalists advocating racial, ethnic and religious purity and protectionist economic policies are unlikely to fare any better.
What this means is that identifying the root causes of political violence demands self-inspection on the part of governments and societies across the globe. It is those governments and societies that are both part of the problem and part of the solution. It is those governments and elites that are at the root of loss of confidence.
Translating the need to tackle root causes into policy is proving difficult, primarily because it is based on a truth that has far-reaching consequences for every member of the international community. It involves governments putting their money where their mouth is and changing long-standing, ingrained policies at home that marginalize, exclude, stereotype and stigmatize significant segments of society; emphasize security at the expense of freedoms that encourage healthy debate; and in more autocratic states that are abetted by the West, seek to reduce citizens to obedient subjects through harsh repression and adaptations of religious and political beliefs to suit the interests of rulers.
The result is a vicious circle: government policies often clash with the state or regime’s professed values. As a result, dividing lines sharpen as already marginalized, disenfranchised or discriminated segments of society see the contradiction between policies and values as hypocritical and re-confirmation of the basis of their discontent.
Creating a policy framework that is conducive to an environment in the Middle East, North Africa and South Asia that would favour pluralism and respect of human rights and counter the appeal of jihadism and emerging sectarian-based nationalism is not simply a question of encouraging and supporting voices in the region, first and foremost those of youth, or of revisiting assumptions of Western foreign policies and definitions of national security. It involves fostering inclusive national identities that can accommodate ethnic, sectarian and tribal sub-identities as legitimate and fully accepted sub-identities in Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian, as well as in Western countries. It involves changing domestic policies towards minorities, refugees and migrants.
Inclusiveness means, that victory has to be secured as much in militant strongholds in a swath of land that stretches from the Mediterranean to the Indian Ocean as in the dismal banlieues, run-down, primarily minority-populated, suburbs of French cities that furnished the Islamic State with its largest contingent of European foreign fighters; in the popular neighbourhoods in Tunisia that accounted for the single largest group of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq; in Riyadh, seat of a government whose citizens accounted for the second largest number of foreign fighters and whose well-funded, decades-long effort to propagate a puritan, intolerant, interpretation of Islam has been a far more important feeding ground for jihadist thinking than the writings of militant Islamist thinkers like Sayyid Qutb; and in Western capitals with Washington in the lead who view retrograde, repressive regimes like those of Saudi Arabia and Egypt as part of the solution rather than part of the problem.
In territorial terms, the Islamic States has been defeated but the problem remains unresolved. Al Qaeda was degraded, to use the language of the Obama administration. In the process, it weakened a jihadist force that increasingly had advocated a gradual approach to the establishment of its harsh interpretation of Islamic law in a bid to ensure public support. Instead of reducing the threat of political violence, the largely military effort to defeat Al Qaeda produced ever more virulent forms of jihadism as embodied by the Islamic State. It may be hard to imagine anything more brutal than the group, but it is a fair assumption that defeating the Islamic State without tackling root causes could lead to something that is even more violent and more vicious.
Defining repressive, autocratic rule and the Islamic State as the greatest threat to stability and security and the furthering of more liberal notions is problematic. In the case of the Islamic State, that definition elevates jihadism – the violent establishment of Pan-Islamic rule based on narrow interpretations of Islamic law and scripture — to the status of a root cause rather than a symptom and expression of a greater and more complex problem. It is an approach that focuses on the immediate nature of the threat and ways to neutralize it rather than on what sparked it. It also neglects the fact that the ideological debate in the Muslim world is to a large extent dominated by schools of thought that do not advocate more open, liberal and pluralistic interpretations of Islam.
That is where one real challenge lies. It is a challenge first and foremost to Muslims, but also to an international community that would give more liberal Muslim voices significant credibility if it put its money where its mouth is. Support for self-serving regimes and their religious supporters, as in the case of Saudi Arabia and Egypt, reduces the international community’s choices to one between bad and worse, rather than to a palate of policy options that take a stab at rooting out the problem and its underlying causes.
There are no quick solutions or short cuts and the value of partial solutions is questionable. The key is the articulation of policies that over the medium term can help generate an environment more conducive to change rather than the continuous opting for knee-jerk reactions to events and facts on the ground.
One place to look for alternative approaches is Norway. In contrast to most reactions to political violence and expression of pro-jihadist sentiment, Norway’s response to right-wing extremist Anders Behring Breivik’s traumatic attacks in 2011 that killed 77 people stands as a model for how societies can and should uphold concepts of pluralism and human rights. Norway refrained from declaring war on terror, treated Breivik as a common criminal, and refused to compromise on its democratic values. In doing so, Norway offered a successful example of refusing to stigmatise any one group in society by adopting inclusiveness rather than profiling and upholding the very values that autocrats and jihadists challenge.
The result of exclusively security-focussed approaches, coupled with the exploitation of economic opportunity by autocratic Middle Eastern and North African regimes and Western governments, is an increasingly insecure region in which the creation of pluralistic societies that honour human rights seems ever more distant. Said an Egyptian Islamist militant, whose non-violent anti-government activism is as much aimed at opposing the regime of general-turned-president Abdel Fattah Al Sisi as it is designed to persuade increasingly frustrated youth that there are alternatives to nihilistic violence: “The strategy of brutality, repression and restricting freedom has failed to impose subservience. It hasn’t produced solutions. Governments need to give people space. They need to prove that they can address the problems of a youth that has lost hope. We have nothing to lose if they don’t.” The Egyptian’s inclinations pointed towards peaceful protest in favour of a more liberal society, albeit bound by Islamic morality codes; his options, however, left him little choice but to drift towards jihadism.
Edited remarks at India Foundation conference, Changing Contours of Global Terror, Gurugram, Haryana, 14-16 March 2018
How Can Hollywood Help Fight ISIS and Similar Terrorist Groups?
Authors: Anne Speckhard & Ardian Shajkovci
BAGHDAD – The International Center for the Study of Violent Extremism (ICSVE) researchers recently took part in Department of Defense (DOD – CENTCOM) and Iraqi government jointly sponsored incubator program held in Baghdad, Iraq. Facilitated also by American Abroad Media (AAM), the program served to bring together Iraqi forces, Iraqi filmmakers, and personalities from the Hollywood film industry, such as Bill Marsilii, Janet Batchler, and Tim Clemente. The participants shared important ideas on how to narrate and recreate powerful and appealing stories of Iraq’s recent war with ISIS, including how to create appropriate images of struggle, heroism, and unity in a war against one of the most barbaric terrorist groups to date, and how to attract audiences to such stories in a manner that builds national unity, heals wounds of sectarianism, and binds back a society torn apart by terrorist ideologies and actions.
During the conference, Iraqi forces and filmmakers featured a number of intriguing war stories presented on film, particularly of heroes who gave their all trying to rescue their country out of the hands of a brutal terrorist group, portraying them from different perspectives and with varying objectives. The conference also shed light on the relationship between the armed forces and the film industry. Both Hollywood participants and members of the Iraqi military reminded us of the prevailing popularity of movies and documentaries about heroic men and women in the battlefield and the ordinary citizens whose amazing courage sets examples for all of us.
Members of the Iraqi military chronicled stories of honor, heroism, patriotism, and the Iraqi army’s ability to protect the nation. They also portrayed acts of courage, as they did those of human suffering and tragedy in equal measure. Many found such stories emotional yet uplifting. Army soldier Hussein died while saving the weak and carrying injured companions to safety. In death, in the words of those who knew him personally, he gained fame as a “national hero.” Reminiscent of Mona Parson’s courage in hiding Allied airmen in her house in the outskirts of Amsterdam during the Nazi occupation, Umm Qusai, a brave Iraqi woman, courageously pulled it off without being caught by ISIS. She was determined to enter a clandestine world of rescuing the vulnerable, by some accounts saving dozens of Iraqi soldiers from ISIS by sheltering them in her home. The story of Baiji refinery, just north of the capital, Baghdad, and the brave men who stoically fought back against ISIS was depicted as a symbol of national resistance against ISIS, while also serving to celebrate the government’s determination to prevail over the terrorist group.
ISIS-related horror stories also took center stage in many of the presented documentaries, as though the Iraqi military and security establishment was seeking a way to eliminate future carnage. Hiding in plain sight, there were also images of those who seem to want to go on with their lives, exhausted and disinterested in revisiting the conflict. Some suggested injecting laughter in the midst of death and destruction found in the recent conflict. As we listened to numerous presentations by the Iraqi military and young movie producers, we also wondered if images of peace, romance, and comedy often found during times of war could augment those of cinematic combat in restoring a sense of hope for the future. The movie Life is Beautiful comes to mind, a touching fictional movie of a Jewish father determined to shelter his son from the horrors of the Holocaust by convincing him that their time in a concentration camp is merely a game.
Conferences such as these highlight not only the importance of rebuilding national identity and solidarity through documenting heroic stories of war and human suffering, but also countering the narrative of terrorist groups like ISIS. The Hollywood screenwriters and producers offered their expertise in creating story lines that could challenge ISIS and other terrorist groups’ powerful use of video and imagery, especially important in the face of ISIS’ prolific Internet distributed video productions and their clever use of social media to identify and contact vulnerable youth who like, share, Retweet or otherwise endorse such products—swarming in to lure them further into the group. Given Hollywood’s long-standing history of countering enemy narratives, it seems that they might have just the “medicine” for dealing with the ISIS poison spewed out over the Internet over the last five years and capable of luring over 30,000 foreign fighters to Syria and Iraq to cause devastation and suffering to so many.
Hollywood screenwriter, Janet Batchler reminded participants that many Westerners have stood up to neo-Nazism in modern day times precisely because they learned from movies that the symbols of Nazism represent evil. Similarly, today we need new films to help youth recognize the lies of groups like ISIS and to redirect them to better paths to truly heroic acts, finding significance and to pursuing nationhood.
We at ICSVE continue to understand the importance of generating theatrical productions that capture audience attention and imagination. In our Breaking the ISIS Brand Counter Narratives Project, we use the voices of actual ISIS insiders—defectors, returnees and ISIS cadre prisoners—we have interviewed on film to denounce the group as the un-Islamic, barbaric and corrupt group they found it to be. We use ISIS propaganda pictures and videos to illustrate the horror stories they tell, effectively turning ISIS’ propaganda back on them. At ICSVE, we know the power of film to turn hearts and minds. The presence of Hollywood filmmakers in Baghdad this past week was crucial to further strengthen the fight against terrorist groups like ISIS and advance education in filmmaking in ways relevant to furthering the Iraqi national context.
first published in our partner ICSVE
Access to safe water: Is the green revolution around the corner?
Nature-based solutions can play an important role in improving the supply and quality of water and reducing the impact of natural...
Assad’s Army and Intelligence Services: Feudalization or Structurization?
Authors: Anton Mardasov* & Kirill Semenov 2017 marked a turning point in the Syrian conflict. With the full support of...
Energy is at the heart of the sustainable development agenda to 2030
Three years ago, all countries of the world adopted 17 ambitious policy goals to end poverty, protect the planet, promote...
Economic Growth in Gulf Region Set to Improve following a Weak Performance in 2017
The Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region witnessed another year of disappointing economic performance in 2017 but growth should improve in...
Shooting an Own Goal: China’s Belt and Road funding terms spark criticism
Steep commercial terms for China’s investment in infrastructure projects across Eurasia related to its Belt and Road initiative may give...
Poland: Build on current economic strength to innovate and invest in skills and infrastructure
Poland’s economic growth remains strong. Rising family benefits and a booming jobs market are lifting household income while poverty rates...
Russian interview with Putin (and others) discusses geopolitics, nationhood, and America
No Russia, no world discusses and presents a new feature-length, interview-laced, documentary, about the way that Russians, and also Putin,...
Russia3 days ago
New American-Russian Conflict: A Confrontation beyond Cold War
Middle East2 days ago
Three Years of Saudi Heinous Crimes in Yemen
Africa2 days ago
The World without Colonies – Dakhla without Potemkin Village
East Asia2 days ago
Ice Silk Road: From Dream to reality
Intelligence1 day ago
Russia Says U.S. Trains Jihadists to Do Chemical Attacks Blamed Against Assad
Intelligence1 day ago
From Radical Ecology to Ecoterrorism
East Asia11 hours ago
Shooting an Own Goal: China’s Belt and Road funding terms spark criticism
Eastern Europe14 hours ago
Financial challenge for Lithuania