This New York Times story is about how the State Department’s appeals to jihadis have switched from snark to emotion. It notes that the program has thus far been completely ineffective, but has no idea why. In reality, both the snarky and the emotional versions of this program are doomed to failure because they manifest no understanding whatsoever of the jihadis’ world view, beliefs, assumptions, motives and goals — which is not surprising since the Obama administration has forbidden examination and discussion of all that.
Take, for example, the image below. It says: “Women under ISIS are enslaved, battered, beaten, humiliated, flogged.” This would deter someone from becoming a jihadi only if he thought it was terrible that women would be enslaved, battered, beaten, humiliated, and flogged. The State Department wonks who came up with this obviously don’t know that the Qur’an mandates the enslavement of Infidel women (4:3; 4:24; 23:1-6; 33:50; 70:30) and the beating of disobedient women (4:34). But a Muslim who knows that is unlikely to be troubled by the prospect of the Islamic State beating or enslaving women.
“On Sept. 11, 2014, for example, a Qaeda leader posted on Twitter that ‘on this day, in 2001, the USA’s largest economic shrine, the idol of capitalism was brought to the ground.’ The State Department quickly responded on Twitter by posting a photo of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State leader, wearing a Rolex watch: ‘Nobody’s a bigger fan of the fruits of capitalism than so-called #ISIS Caliph.'” This, too, was myopic: from an Islamic standpoint, the Rolex was not a sign of hypocrisy, since Islam does not have the reverence for asceticism that Christianity has. Rather, it was a sign that Allah had blessed the caliph, since blessings are promised to the pious in both this world and the next.
No matter how much money they pour into it, this program is going to continue to fail, as long as the State Department maintains its willful ignorance about the ideology that fuels and motivates the jihad.
“U.S. Drops Snark in Favor of Emotion to Undercut Extremists,” by Helene Cooper, New York Times, July 28, 2016:
WASHINGTON — The Obama administration has revamped a program designed to lure foreign fighters away from extremist groups like the Islamic State, focusing on a series of new advertisements and social media posts that seek to appeal to emotion rather than logic.
Money for the program, which is managed by the State Department’s Global Engagement Center, tripled this year, to $16 million, after administration officials concluded that past efforts that had attempted to scare potential militants away from the extremist groups were not working.
It is the latest in a long series of efforts from the Obama administration at what diplomats and other officials euphemistically call “public engagement,” and the multiple reboots have shown how hard it has been for these programs to find traction. Recent attacks in Turkey, Iraq, France and Bangladesh seemed to show extremism has been spreading.
But one thing has changed from similar efforts in the past. The new initiatives have been tailored to keep the United States government’s involvement as low-key — and in some cases, as secretive — as possible, because overt American backing for some projects had turned off the exact group of disaffected young men that the campaign is trying to reach.
These new efforts include using Facebook videos, Instagram ads and other social media that have been designed to convince young men and women that joining the militants’ fight means breaking their mothers’ hearts, tearing apart their families and leaving their loved ones to lives of emptiness.
Past efforts from the administration had sought to frighten potential jihadists with warnings that waging war against the West would get them killed, but officials concluded that the warnings actually served the opposite purpose of glorifying militancy.
Many of the previous programs were overtly tied to the United States government, including one video, branded as part of the State Department’s “Think Again, Turn Away” program, called “Welcome to the Islamic State Land.” The graphic video, which shows beheadings, crucifixions and executions by firing squad, is full of ominous music and sarcastic commentary. “Run, do not walk, to ISIS,” the English subtitle says, telling fighters they will be taught useful skills.
Examples of these skills, the video says, include “Blowing up mosques! Crucifying and executing Muslims! Plundering public resources! Suicide bombings inside mosques! Travel is inexpensive because you won’t need a return ticket.”
The video ends with “Think Again, Turn Away,” and the seal of the State Department.
Michael Lumpkin, a former member of the Navy SEALs who was sent by President Obama from the Pentagon to the State Department in January to overhaul the program, turned to a reporter after playing the “Think Again, Turn Away” video recently. “How did that make you feel?” he asked. The answer, he said, was that the video leaves the viewer annoyed at its smug sarcasm rather than appalled at the horrific images on the screen.
The video’s American branding, he added, destroys any chance that a potential foreign fighter would be persuaded to turn away. “We’re not the most credible messenger,” Mr. Lumpkin said.
The appointment of Mr. Lumpkin, who led the Defense Department’s response to the Ebola crisis in 2014, was designed at least in part to bring in someone who could better unify the effort. But it is a tough job: In December, the Soufan Group, an intelligence consulting firm, reported that the number of foreign fighters from Western Europe battling for the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria had more than doubled since June 2014. The number from North America remained relatively flat.
The State Department launched the “Think Again, Turn Away” campaign in December 2013, but the outreach effort quickly came under sharp criticism from terrorism experts who said that in addition to emboldening terrorist groups it burnished their social media presence on Twitter and Facebook.
On Sept. 11, 2014, for example, a Qaeda leader posted on Twitter that “on this day, in 2001, the USA’s largest economic shrine, the idol of capitalism was brought to the ground.” The State Department quickly responded on Twitter by posting a photo of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the Islamic State leader, wearing a Rolex watch: “Nobody’s a bigger fan of the fruits of capitalism than so-called #ISIS Caliph.”
The response, critics said, only legitimized the original message on Twitter, and was unlikely to have done anything to dissuade young people from joining either Al Qaeda or the Islamic State.
“Apart from the fact that the U.S. government shouldn’t do snark, it’s not persuasive,” said Richard Stengel, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs. “We’re not the most effective messenger for our message. There’s no tweet from the U.S. State Department that’s going to talk a young man out of joining ISIS.”…