The media and internet wars against ISIS

June 05, 2016

The Islamic State (ISIS) is urging Muslims to get rid of satellite dishes which, it claims, are “destroying their beliefs and polluting their ethics”.
“The enemies of Islam are waging a media war on the Islamic State that is no less dangerous than the military campaign,” the terror group said in a recent video filmed in Raqqa, Syria, and posted on one of its social media accounts.
ISIS’s concerns about satellite television are consistent with its totalitarian aspiration to achieve total mind control over its followers. Any expression of different views is perceived by the terrorist group as a mortal threat to its control.
ISIS exploits the world’s open media borders to disseminate its poisonous brew but wants to keep all doors and windows shut to counter-narratives.
The ISIS narrative has drawn in many confused souls across the Middle East and North Africa but revulsion at its blood-soaked tactics is shared by the overwhelming majority of the Arab public. The destruction of satellite dishes will not prevent the expression of views that challenge its twisted ideology.
An opinion survey of Arab North African societies (Algeria, Libya, Tunisia, Egypt and Morocco) shows a clear disavowal of ISIS by large majorities, varying between 89.6% and 96.4%. Approval of the jihadist group ranges from 1% to 2.8%, a very slim number but one that is a potential source of concern for the North African countries from where many of the ISIS recruits have hailed.
Survey respondents said unemployment, poverty, money and “lack of awareness” are the driving factors attracting potential recruits. Mosques and the internet were described as the two main venues of recruitment.
The hundreds of satellite TV channels, Arab and foreign, have an important role to play disseminating the counter-narrative to the ISIS discourse. It is important to note, however, that audi­ences across the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are shifting in many countries from regional to local TV channels.
The month of Ramadan, which is about to dawn, is a time of religious practice but also of high television viewership. Promot­ing the values of peace and tolerance should be among the priorities of TV channels across the region during this period.
The other key battlefield is the internet. ISIS and other jihadist groups make great use of social media to broadcast propaganda. The global loopholes that allow the ISIS narrative to seep in despite national, regional and international efforts remain an issue of concern.
The new EU “code of conduct on illegal online hate speech” aims to close some of the lingering gaps by stipulating that Facebook, Google, YouTube, Twitter and Microsoft should act on reports of hate speech within 24 hours.
A number of governments and non-governmental organisa­tions have been clamouring for such a protocol but it is bound to remain controversial among those who see it an infringement on free speech. A delicate balance must be struck even if the threat of the ISIS narrative is beyond debate. Totalitarianism, jihadist or otherwise, has no future.