How to Develop Effective Counter-narratives against radicalisation?

Adil Rasheed

In order to develop effective counter-narratives, what is known as a ‘strategic rhetoric’, three components are considered useful, as enunciated by Aristotle in his great philosophical treatise, the ‘Rhetoric’.

The first is the ‘Ethos’, which means the credibility of the actors or channels of communication delivering the message. For example, a government servant asking a radical to change his ways may not be as effective a communicator as a reclaimed terrorist or a religious scholar.

The second component in any counter-narrative is the ‘Logos’, which means the message itself, its authenticity and how effective or rationally coherent it is in its claims.

The third aspect is ‘Pathos’, which refers to the deep emotional resonance and cultural connect in the language and cadence of the message in order to influence the target audience.

These days, subtle ways of subliminal messaging has been developed into an art form, which extremist groups like the ISIS employ to great effect. Perhaps, it is time that anti-extremist counter-narratives also employ the art. Clearly, any counter-narrative or public relations exercise needs to develop a variety of carefully formulated counter-narratives, developed by several experts on the subject, and needs to be disseminated through different agencies of transmission suitable for delivering the message to clearly designated sections of the target audience. For example, if we wish to spread the message against extremist organisations in the country, we would have to at least target the five usual channels of recruitment: places of worship and seminaries, centres of extremist organisations, community-dominated areas and forums, prisons, and cyberspace. Here, let us also look into the various agencies that could be involved in delivering counter-radicalisation messages. These might include:

  1. government agencies;
  2. non-governmental organisations (NGOs);
  3. media outlets, both print and electronic;
  4. private sector organisations (particularly public relations and advertising companies);
  5. Internet and social media campaigners;
  6. victims of terrorism;
  7. reformed extremists or reclaimed offenders;
  8. religious leaders of eminence (both in India and abroad);
  9. religious organisations;
  10. anti-radical propaganda experts at schools, seminaries, jails, public institutions, etc; and
  11. local community leaders for monitoring and informing government of any radical elements operating in the neighbourhood.

Types of Counter-narratives

Now, we come to the important types of counter-narratives that can be developed as effective tools of counter-radicalisation.

  1. Positive narrative: Before developing counter-narratives to fight extremism, we need to first strengthen and reinvigorate the national narrative by propagating our core constitutional values of democracy, pluralism and secularism. We need to develop a national vision so that every citizen knows how he/she would benefit from and contribute to the country’s goals so that they feel they have a stake in it.
  2. Amplify doctrinal and ideological fissures: Some of the extremist narratives highlighted earlier reject orthodox schools of classical Countering the Threat of Radicalisation 65 religion. Therefore, their claims of religious legitimacy can be easily discredited by highlighting their doctrinal deviance.
  3. The semantics-savvy counter-narrative: It is important that we do not use the words and terminologies of the extremists in our literature, let alone counter-narratives. For example, we better not use the word ‘jihadis’ for Muslim terrorists. On hearing this, the uneducated and impressionable Muslim believes that the so-called ‘jihadis’ are fighting a legitimate, religious war. Meanwhile, non-Muslims tend to get the idea that terrorism and jihad are synonymous and start hating Islam and Muslims.

Instead of calling Muslim terrorists as jihadis, Mahmood Madani, the leader of Jamiat Ulama-e-Hind, calls them ‘Fasadis’ (seditionists). Similarly, Sheikh Tahirul Qadri calls all Muslim terrorists as the followers of the ‘Khawarij’, an outcast sect thrown out of the fold of Islam after its members had assassinated Caliph Ali. By dissociating the term jihadi from the description of the Muslim terrorist, we would discredit their campaign which is principally anti-Islamic. Therefore, the use of semantics is very important in any counter-radicalisation campaign.

  1. 4. Strategic counter-narratives: In times of extreme stress following a terror attack or communal violence, carefully prepared messages need to be delivered to stop large sections of the population and its communities from becoming polarised and radicalised by the incident.
  1. Ethical counter-narratives: We need to disseminate the message that all religions are opposed to terrorism and that the Pope, the Great Sankaracharyas and the Imam of the Holy Kaaba have condemned the actions of all religious extremist and terrorist organisations.
  1. Specialised religious or ideological counter-narratives: On specialised and controversial legal or history-related issues, top experts need to devise specific counter-narratives to be disseminated through various agencies. Some extremists speak against global economic and political systems and criticise it on scholastic grounds. Such narratives must be refuted by experts in the subject.
  1. Tactical counter-narratives: Sometimes material that may discredit the leadership or members of extremist organisation should be used to make such groups unpopular.
  1. The humour and sarcasm narrative: At times, the use of humour and sarcasm to make fun of extremist leaders, their mannerisms and their speeches could prove an effective way to bring down their popularity. 9. Subliminal messaging: Advertising agencies and filmmakers are experts in communicating subliminal messages to their audience. Their expertise should be used in disseminating counter-narratives. (Source: Journal of Defence Studies)

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