Radicalisation: The Battle of Narratives and Counter-narratives

The concept of narratives and counter-narratives is now being discussed in the field of extremism and countering violent extremism. What do actually narratives and counter-narrative mean and how are they disseminated? Counter-narratives are considered as important tools to combat terrorist propaganda and narratives. The need to counter terrorist narratives seems more relevant now as the ISIS has been heavily concentrating on internet outlets especially social networking sites as sophisticated platforms to disseminate their propaganda and narratives.

Narratives are stories, visuals, or ideologies that are distributed among people to justify violence or to provoke them to commit violence, in order to achieve certain goals. The narrative has a global presence due to recent huge increase in internet users especially in social networking sites. What are the methods that are followed to spread narratives? Due to recent technological revolution, narratives are spread mainly online. ISIS has championed in the area. It circulates graphic propaganda videos where global Muslims are called to join Jihad and so-called caliphate. Local and international grievances are publicized through videos. In Bangladesh, the activists of Hijb-ut-Tahrir are often seen to distribute leaflets that contain contents against the western democracy and values. Religious gatherings like Jumma prayer, waj (Islamic gathering where teachings of Islam are discussed by Islamic scholars), etc are the critical places where hate-speeches and communal rhetoric are discussed. In Bangladesh, the discussions within female study circles are believed to be the reasons behind female radicalisation which is revealed in recent large number of arrests of female militants. Narratives may also spread through human movement. Workers from developing countries go to Middle Eastern countries for jobs; they get exposed to more conservative practices of Islam there and get in touch with different religious leaders. This makes them more susceptible to radicalisation and indoctrination abroad. Once they return home, they take back those ideologies with them and further disseminate extremist narratives to their countrymen.

Governments worldwide are trying to make counter-terrorism strategy. One component of this strategy is developing counter-narratives which will act as antithetical to extremist narratives. Positive narratives are one kind where contents are shared that promotes peace, humanity, and tolerance. For example, a simple story is sometimes very powerful to inspire humanity and tolerance. Religious counter-narratives are spread to counter religious extremist narratives in which alternative explanations of the verses from Quran and Hadith are disseminated. Stories with humor and sarcasm can also play an important role to fight against extremist narratives.

While making counter-narratives there should be coordination between content creators, social media companies, and private sector. If not designed properly, counter-narratives may backfire. Think-tanks and institutes working in the field should conduct or utilize in-depth research on the interests and behaviors of target audiences. Counter-narratives should be structured keeping in mind the differences of target audiences. Online campaigns are not adequate. It should be implemented along with offline campaigns or events. Counter-narrative development should be multi-dimensional and multi-sectoral. It should have both online and offline components targeting people from all walks of life. Counter-narratives should be structured to fit to the local context, culture and target audience. For this, while making policies, the opinions from people of grass-roots should be incorporated. Organizations working on counter narratives should consider providing platforms for frank and open discussions on issues of interest to the community. Counter narratives should be formed and delivered in a way that will improve people’s tolerance and respect for ethnic and religious minorities, and treatment of women in the society.

Creating online counter-narratives is now being considered as important tool to fight against terrorist propaganda but there still remains both a lack of understanding of how this would occur, and how such narratives could be effectively disseminated. So the challenge persists on how effectively counter-narratives are made to counter extremism worldwide.

 

Writer: Sabbir Ahmed Jubaer

Let Them Come

Jakir is standing in an underground tube station in London, England. He is a twenty-five year
old Syrian refugee. Suddenly, someone threw a bottle at him. He looked back and saw that a
young woman was shouting at him angrily, “Go back to your rotten country!”
Jakir calmly said, “I wish I could do that. But there is a deadly civil war going on in my
country.”
The woman then said, “How is that our problem? We don’t have the capacity to shelter people
like you! You come here and then you attack us! If it were upto me, I’d throw out all of you!”
Jakir: “This is your problem. When your government keeps bombing my country, it becomes
your problem.”
The woman: “Our government launches attacks to kill terrorists that your rotten country
produces! These terrorists have a vendetta against us! They have attacked us many times!”
Jakir: “If you think, only terroists die in these attacks, then you are making a huge mistake. A
drone strike killed all of my family members except me and my stister three years ago.”
Woman: “Your family must have had some sort of terrorist affiliation!”
Jakir: “I know that you won’t believe me, but there were no terrorists in my family. I don’t know
why they bombed our home but this wasn’t the only time they killed innocent civilians. This has
happened tons of times. Innocents have died in this deadly civil war because of the indifference
of the dominant forces of home and abroad.”
Woman: “But that doesn’t give you the right to come here. You are unwanted here. We have our
own problems.”
Jakir: “Let me get this straight, the battle for dominance is being fought in our backyard. The
elected representatives of your country are also fighting for dominance. We are being murdered
and you still say that we have no right to come here? We don’t want to come here! We don’t
want to leave our home! We don’t have a choice!”
Woman: “You could at least come through proper channels! Then, the government could
properly accomodate you! In stead, you come through the sea in huge numbers. We can’t
facilitate such a huge population!”
Jakir: “No country gives us visas. So, I had to go to a human trafficker seeing no other way. I
paid him selling everything we had to flee the country with my sister. Afterwards, they put us in
an overcrowded ship containing desperate Syrians looking for safe harbor! On our way to
Europe, my sister died when our ship sank! I swam to shore but I couldn’t save her! We don’t
want to come here. The path to your country is also riddled with danger! But we are helpless!
The civilized world is watching us die without doing anything! You won’t even let us enter!
Why do you even call yourselves civilized if you turn away helpless refugees?”
Woman: “Well, when you put it that way, I feel really bad. But we, the mass people, don’t know
all these details. Even if we do, what can we do?”
Jakir: “You could start by spreading the details of the situation. If people learn about the
situation, they will become more sympathetic. Then, you can pressurize the government to let
refugees in. When you have mass support, you can also pressurize your government to stop
fighting in our country. This is not an easy process. But if you really do care, you have to start
fighting. Otherwise, refugees will keep coming. Strict laws and border patrol won’t be able to
keep us out. We’ll either get in or die trying. Because that is the only chocie we have.”
Woman: “I’ll try my best. I haven’t even properly introduced myself yet! I’m so sorry! I’m
Kate!”
Jakir: “I’m Jakir. Best of luck! Remember, even if one refugee finds safe haven because of you,
you have made a huge difference! Every life matters!”
Kate: “I’ll definitely keep that in my mind!”
Six Months Later:
A group of protesters are protesting in front of the House of Commons. They want England to
accept more refugees from the war torn Syria. BBC’s Martha Rogers is reporting live on this
issue. She is talking to one of the protesters, “Why do you want Britain to accept more
refugees?”
Kate: “These refugees are suffering greatly. It is our duty as global citizens to stand beside them
in this time of great difficulty. Europe has stood tall and upheld humanity in many occasions. We
can’t fail this time either! Let them In! Let them Come!”

Writer: Tanjim Islam

Remembering The Forgotten

While traveling to a class at noon a few days back, I had to endure an unavoidable tailback of roughly one hour. One’s patience has to undergo numerous tests every day, especially if you have a ‘good’ fortune to have been born in one of the most overpopulated cities in the world, precariously on the verge of a population explosion. It seems that life is a perpetual struggle for the people of this city an everyday monotony and a vicious cycle of dissatisfaction and regret.

One of the good things about Ramadan is that we tend to exercise some self-restraint on ourselves, our attitudes and behavior. We remind ourselves that it is not okay to swear or backbite or lie, at least for a month. We become charitable and empathetic, and instead of looking away irritably whenever a beggar appears, we drop a change or two, in their outstretched palms. But then we go home, log into our respective social media profiles inundated with posts about ‘The best Iftar deals in town’ or the ‘Buy one get one free’ offers, and before long, we start planning a busy Iftar schedule full of outings and hangouts.

Around 40 villages in Cox’s Bazar have already been flooded by the incoming cyclone Mora, as we munch on our delectable ‘piyajus’ and ‘begunis’ during Iftar. While we rush off to the biggest shopping malls, these people will fight nature’s wrath, just to survive.

I   can vaguely recall an incident that remains etched across my memory till date. It was a scorching mid -summer afternoon as my mother and I were returning home by rickshaw. The sweltering heat bore down on us throughout the entire journey and my relief knew no bounds as we finally reached home after an exhausting trip. While paying the rickshaw fare, to my utter bewilderment my mother asked the rickshaw-puller to wait for a few minutes, saying she would just come back. Wondering what she had on mind, I curiously followed suit after her.

She hurriedly rushed upstairs and swiftly pulled open my father’s cupboard. Sifting through the countless shirts inside, she retrieved an old, faded shirt from the bottom of the drawer. Clutching it, she went back to the rickshaw puller waiting downstairs and gave it to him.

Later when I questioned mom she replied somberly, “All the time while sitting the rickshaw, did you for once look at the man’s shirt? It was tattered and the seams were falling apart, exposing parts of his back. Such is the grinding poverty that exists around us that a destitute man cannot even afford a bare necessity like clothing.’’

It was a simple, forgettable incident. But strangely I still remember it.

Let us not forget, that no matter how fragmented, how divided the world around us may be, even the smallest acts of kindness count. It is definitely a cruel world out there, but as long as love and humanity thrive in some hearts, it can always be a better place to live in.

 The planet does not need more successful people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds.’

-Dalai Lama

 

Writer: Lamia Mohsin