Thursday, December 3, 2015

Lessons From the ISIS Propaganda War

I am a big fan of the Economist Magazine. I like it mostly because it’s not an American view, but a remnant of more objective journalism. Towards the end of my tour in Sarajevo I was able to buy the Economist at a local newsstand. I called it ‘the answer key’ because I learned what actually happened in Bosnia the week before. Something I couldn’t really do even though I was there.

I take a pile of magazines on trips. I call it “One Way Reading” because the magazines only go one way and are discarded before I return home. I clip articles and tuck them away in my briefcase for later reading.

On my latest trip last week I cam across an Economist article from August 15, 2015 entitled “The Propaganda War” (see :, which is also the photo source).

The article provides some analysis that is relevant and appropriate for the PSYOP/MISO Community.

First of all the article notes that many of the ISIS messages are loathsome to Western audiences. Beheadings, drownings, and other macabre methods of torture and execution are repugnant to Western audiences.

However, they are not designed to attract those audiences, but rather mainstream media attention so that the images gain exposure and perhaps even credibility far in excess of the original.

The article also notes that ISIS has excelled in their video production skills and in their ability to reach wide audiences through Social Media and leveraging traditional media coverage.

Their production is also impressive. The article noted a week’s worth of production included 123 media releases in six languages with almost 20% of them video (as reported by Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies.

Another key point was that a major line of emphasis was positive. Portraying the utopian Caliphate lifestyle and the ‘good’ things they were doing with smiling children, new schools, hospitals, etc. In other words – Civil Affairs projects (or at least the impression of the projects).

Brookings was quoted as saying that the positive images were what kept them in power.

The bottom line for PSYOP/MISO is that we need to understand why the enemy is successful and adopt some of their lessons as our own. I should point out that defeating the enemy propaganda machine is not a simple feat.

A combination of military success against them combined with removing the underlying attraction to recruits is the only way to defeat them and clearly not a short time nor single nation mission.

Unraveling the Gordian Knot of issues in the Middle East and facing Muslims around the world appears to be a multi-generational effort. However, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. “Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu. Chinese philosopher (604 BC - 531 BC)

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