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