Nowadays, the theme of Jihadist propaganda and counter-propaganda has become crucial in the international geopolitical context, while it plays an increasingly important role also at national level. In fact, Jihadist propaganda, namely the one performed by the Islamic State, is a tool for Jihadist radicalisation in the Western world, but sometimes it is also a form of terrorism: indeed, simply sharing certain videos on the Internet may be propaganda but may also spread terror. Undoubtedly, the Internet is a space in which various forms of radicalisation of vulnerable youths occur, but it is also a space where training of radicalised people occur. Nonetheless, a combination of factors takes place, since offline propaganda is as significant as online propaganda, because people we trust and we meet are also important to foster the radicalisation process. However, as stated by Alexandra Antoniadis, Head of Sector, Fight against Terrorism and Prevention of Radicalisation, DG Migration and Home Affairs, European Commission, «we have to assume that online propaganda works, otherwise Jihadist groups would use theirs scarce resources elsewhere».
In the book “The Challenge of Jihadist Radicalisation in Europe and beyond”, recently published by the European Policy Centre, the European Foundation for Democracy and the Counter Extremism Project, Tahir Abbas summarises the main perspectives used by the Islamic State to recruit foreign fighters through social media. «Each is a specific mechanism through which young minds are enticed to join the cause:
- Humanitarian: at some basic level, the call to Jihad is motivated by a sense of duty with reference to the roles and responsibilities of active Muslims to help in humanitarian causes, particularly but not solely in Syria.
- Democracy: The Islamic State argues that an inherent, unbridgeable and permanent divide exists between Islam and democracy, where incompatibility is the norm. It extends this argument to understand that living in dar-al-kufar [the land of the unbelievers] is un-Islamic and that the only answer is aggressive jihad.
- Eschatology: The Islamic State promulgates the religious and political ideology that the ‘end of times’ is upon Muslims, and that it is a duty upon Muslims over the world to defend the Caliphate established for precisely this purpose.
- Identity: The Islamic State tries to propel a particular Muslim identity, where its true essence is better formed and shaped in the Caliphate. This call to Jihad is based upon a utopian vision of a perfect society, created for Muslims to flourish as the ideal Muslims».
As studied by Hate Speech International, «the Facebook profiles of online jihadists reveal a struggle to balance the lures of Western entertainment and technology with strict Islamic identity». Actually, Twitter is the most used platform for propaganda, with the retrieval of YouTube videos of mere propaganda but also of factual training. Furthermore, video games are also specifically developed to become real forms of indoctrination and incitement to Jihad. While it is true that algorithms should encroach dangerous propaganda content, it is also true that human control is still needed, while social media companies should make further efforts to manage such threats. Moreover, online propaganda is as important as the offline one, since the ascendant of persons that each one trust the most is often crucial to indoctrination and radicalization. In addition, among those recruited, there is a mixture of educated people, aspiring to disparate benefits, and people with social or mental problems. However, targets are precisely identified, according to defined parameters, by those who deal with propaganda.
Hence, Jihadist propaganda implies that effective counter-propaganda should be put in place by Western countries. Creating alternative narratives to those proposed by jihadists is certainly useful, but such initiatives can only be valid if supported by encompassing government policies, since counter-propaganda campaigns are only one of the tools to be used by governments, agencies and non-governmental organizations. Using public figures or role models followed by young people is a classic counter-propaganda tool but, today, it is essential to verify if these models are those that actually affect people who are subjected to propaganda. In addition, it would be helpful to offer more training and networking support to small non-governmental organizations that are often the most suitable and effective actors to carry out counter-propaganda initiatives. The European Union, particularly in this regard, could play a valuable role. Finally, dialogue among religious leaders should be further promoted, so as to offer an alternative to the narrative that shows the unfeasibility for Muslims to cooperate with people of other faiths.