Utilizing Partnerships and Messaging Centers to Combat the ISIL Narrative

The attacks in Paris, Lebanon, Kenya and Mali have strengthened the deep commitment of the United States to bringing about an end to the violence around the world. These attacks also punctuated the urgency with which we need to continue to work in cooperation with our international partners to counter extremist threats, both in the physical and digital information spaces.   

Despite the reality that the vast majority of Muslim communities around the world reject ISIL’s propaganda, terrorist groups continue to employ an ideology of brutal violence that exploits various grievances to recruit disaffected youth by offering them a false sense of purpose, belonging, and religious obligation. These groups have been very effective at using the public information space -- particularly social media -- to recruit, radicalize, organize, and promote their ideology. The United States and our partners must operate in the same space and use our technological and innovative strengths to combat the appeal of terrorist groups and to lead the digital fight against extremism.

In this context, the Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) has been spearheading an effort to expand partnerships with foreign governments and non-governmental organization partners to directly counter ISIL’s messaging, recognizing that other partners around the world will, in some cases, be better positioned to respond to their propaganda.

As a part of this partnership the United States and the United Arab Emirates launched the Sawab Center this past July. The Sawab Center is the first-ever multinational online messaging and engagement program in support of the Global Coalition against Daesh. The Sawab Center uses direct online engagement to counter terrorist propaganda rapidly and effectively, including messages used to recruit foreign fighters, fundraise for illicit activity and intimidate, and terrorize local populations.

The efforts of the Sawab Center have been met with announcements by other governments and organizations to start similar initiatives. For example, in September at the Leaders’ Summit on Countering ISIL and Violent Extremism, both the Government of Malaysia and the Organization for Islamic Cooperation to establish similar, regional digital messaging centers. Nigeria echoed with their own announcement last week and the CSCC will be working in close collaboration with them to establish and expand the network of people willing to speak out against violent extremism. These messaging centers are a part of a network of networks that is connecting governments and civil society, including young people, in an effort to create and amplify positive narratives.

To amplify these positive narratives and respond to the tactics of terrorist groups, we must paint a clear picture of the terror that ISIL creates and the misery that those among them suffer. We must offer a positive vision and alternative paths that allow young people to channel their grievances and talents in productive ways. If terrorists are falsely navigating young people toward a path they call righteous and holy, we must respond by clarifying that the terrorist path is anything but righteous or holy. If Daesh claims to be defending Islam or Muslims, we must illustrate clearly how they are actually destroying Muslim communities. And finally, if terrorists are trying to convince impressionable youths that they will be joining a winning team, we must fight that narrative and convince them that they will be joining a losing one.

As Under Secretary for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel noted in an opinion piece in USA Today, “… Daesh’s brutal methods and intolerant ideology have no place in modern societies and deviate from the teachings of all religious traditions.”

We all share a moral responsibility raise our voices both online and in our communities in opposition to Daesh and in support of a more peaceful, prosperous, and brighter future.

About the Author: Rashad Hussain serves as Special Envoy and Coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications at the U.S. Department of State.



George M.
United States
December 2, 2015
So you want to combat the appeal of terrorist groups? I have three simple suggestions: 1. Stop arming and funding them. Since the 1970s, the US, under the tutelage of the British, has nourished the growth of Islamic fundamentalist sects in hopes of exploiting them for "Regime Change" purposes. It has not turned out well. It's time to take the hint. 2. Stop slaughtering innocent people with drone assassinations and wars of aggression. You have made the US an object of fear and resentment. People may become sympathetic to terrorists, acting on the principle that "the enemy of my enemy is my friend." 3. Instead of imposing economic sanctions willy-nilly on any nation that doesn't bow and scrape before you, why not try imposing them on the countries that are actually financing ISIS, such as Saudi Arabia? Or the ones that are profiting from doing business with ISIS, such as Turkey?
Youths browse at an Internet cafe in Jakarta, Indonesia
Posted by Rashad Hussain
November 23, 2015


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