A war of narratives

By Saad Hafiz

Apart from the security challenges, the struggle against jihadi extremism is primarily a ‘war of narratives”. Extremists have been able to cleverly manipulate, promote and reinforce their master narratives, which are largely based on the west’s hegemonic designs in the Muslim world and its crusade against Islam. They have also been able to exploit, to great effect, narratives related to the weak political, social, and historical conditions of Muslims. Jihadi narratives are increasingly seen as aligned with Muslim fears, desires, and hopes. These narratives have become an asset as valuable as bombs, bullets, and recruits.

Jihadists feed off the propaganda that the Islamic world is beset by enemies from both within and without, who are inimical to the interests of Muslims worldwide. Dominant misinformation themes include, ‘Islam is in danger’ and ‘pure’ Islam must be protected at all costs from heretics and corrupting western influences. Extremists present themselves as the last refuge for persecuted Muslims, a hope for a strong Muslim response, a bastion against the ‘anti-Islam crusade’, a resistance against greedy rulers who betray Islam. Online services and recruitment have been essential to spreading propaganda and ensuring that new converts know what to believe. A result is the widening of the demographics of the jihadist community to include some young Muslim women in the west.

All in all, developing effective narratives to counter the violent extremist narrative is not going to be a simple task. The exceptional nature of the conflict requires all governments and societies to work harder to degrade public support for extremism. Peaceful and humane narratives have been hijacked and reinterpreted by extremists and militants. Humanity has to reclaim and repair these crucial narratives. The narratives on all sides need to change. Narratives from governments and religious leaders, Muslim and non-Muslim, must attack negative messages promulgated by extremist groups to delegitimise their activities. And this effort must be led by a counter-narrative of the radical propaganda and its philosophy that feeds on a distorted version of Islam, a commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about a clash of civilizations.

The content of the counter-narrative must deal with the extremists’ violent and medieval ideology, the religious misinterpretations, the certitude and arrogance, the psychological implications, the actual violent practices, and the concept of martyrdom. A moral counter-narrative can stress the immorality of killing and the use of terror. To further undermine the extremists’ religious narrative, it is advisable to point out the many civilian Muslim casualties that are caused by jihadist suicide bombers and other forms of attack. This should also be stressed in the case of a social counter-narrative, since there is nothing heroic or glamorous about killing innocent civilians and non-combatants. One could even go a step further and effectively ridicule the romantic and heroic notions of this vicious jihadi ideology, in order to undermine the extremist narrative. The fact that mass murder is against Islam and contradictory to the faith must be highlighted.

The counter-narrative can be tailored to the kind of narratives it tries to oppose. For instance, in countering the political narrative, it must be made clear that there is no such thing as a western conspiracy to dominate the world and to oppress Islam. It should point to the inclusive values of the western political process and its many investments made in the developing world. Discordant narratives should be avoided that associate violent extremism with all or most Muslims, provide no credible solutions, and escalate the fear narrative that exists between Muslims and non-Muslims. The escalation of anti-Islamic narratives, heightened security environments, and targeted operations against extremist groups increase existing tensions, build upon the fear narrative on both sides, and increase violence. These activities also increase the number of individuals who feel threatened or targeted, which enables extremist groups to recruit a greater number of individuals. But most importantly, it intensifies the schism between Muslim and non-Muslims in the world.

Extremists thrive on religious divides that have existed for centuries. This threat is becoming greater as global communications allows groups and individuals to share ideas and disseminate narratives almost instantaneously. Governments must identify and focus on the sources of instability and true grievances that reside within individual and community identities. By doing so, governments can redress existing social and religious tensions, provide alternatives to extremism and prevent future violence. This process is not quick or easy, but can provide a viable alternative to existing activities that increase fear and lock governments and disenfranchised individuals into a constant cycle of distrust and violence. An issue that needs to be addressed is that global policies that combat extremism are more tactical and less long term. The reliance has been more on hard options, where counting dead bodies of extremists was given priority rather than countering their narrative. If the pro-radical psyche cannot be purged from societies it will be difficult for states to formulate a long-term strategy to counter extremism, let alone implement it successfully. The consequence of that is only too clear.

  • Lekhi

    India needs to sever ties with Pakistan now: No talks, no visits, no trade
    Peaceniks in Indian politics over the decades have failed to note Pakistan’s outright dishonesty.

    The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. And it seems India has been acting in an insane manner in its hope for peace and goodwill with Pakistan: Islamabad continues to inflict pain and suffering on India but New Delhi keeps on forgiving the country, sadhu-style. This must now stop, suggested Toronto-based author, columnist and broadcaster Tarek Fatah at the closing plenary session of an international counter-terrorism conference in Jaipur on Saturday. Fatah, one of the main voices against Islamic terror in the world, made the statement at the conference, which was also addressed by home minister Rajnath Singh and national security advisor Ajit Doval, and hosted by the India Foundation.

    Tarek Fatah, who is hated by Pakistan right-wingers and global jihadists alike and continues to receive death threats from them on a regular basis, in his number one recommendation to New Delhi stated: “Disengage with Pakistan completely. No talks, no visits, no trade.” Some may think Fatah’s recommendation is a hard line on the issue and runs counter to the general practice of diplomacy to have talks even with the worst enemy, especially because of India’s burgeoning trade interests. According to the Business Standard, “In 2012-13, India’s total trade with Pakistan stood at nearly $2,606 million – a growth of nearly 34 per cent over the previous year. Of this, the share of India’s export to Pakistan was $2,064 million, while import was $541 million.” Fatah, on a query on how India will lose vast sums of money if there is no trade with Pakistan, responded: “Two billion dollars is a drop in the ocean.” Many a seasoned diplomat will agree with Fatah that for diplomacy to succeed at times it is a must not to talk to the adversary, even if small commercial interests have to be sacrificed for long-term strategic interests.

    Peaceniks in Indian politics over the decades have failed to note Pakistan’s outright dishonesty. The thuggish nature of the Pakistan generals, who are running the foreign policy of Pakistan since the soft coup of general Raheel Sharif last fall, is well-known both in the country’s domestic politics like killing of prime ministers, and in matters of international importance like sheltering jihadists Osama bin Laden and Mullah Omar. Some people in Washington DC call Pakistan a “kleptocracy” – a state that runs on lies. Pakistan generals and the jihadist proxy organisations view Hindus of India not as equal humans but cowards – just like they call NATO and US soldiers “chocolate boys”. Unofficial spokespersons of the Pakistan Army and ISI, like Zaid Hamid, openly talk about slaughtering Indians in Afghanistan and Kashmir. That Pakistan is the proverbial crooked tail of the dog that will never straighten out was best evidenced in mid-December last year when seven desperadoes of the Pakistani Taliban, the country’s most prized asset turned rogue, attacked the Army Public School in Peshawar, killing more than 145, including 132 students. Even as the Indian leadership, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, extended a hand of sympathy to Pakistan, the ISI’s blue-eyed boys were blaming India for the attack. These folks, mostly from Punjab, dream of turning back the clock of history to the mogul era of Muslim rule over India.

    Tarek Fatah in a second recommendation asked: “End the ridiculous ‘Aman ki Aasha’ that has been a one-way traffic of ISI aunties coming to India and running circles around Indians, and even cause the fall of one of India’s brightest sons”. It is nothing but a shameful exercise of Pakistan’s upper class Hindu hating, pan-Islamist charade by Jinnah’s orphans who benefit enormously. An entire industry has been created that is milking Indian goodwill to do the Pakistan military-civilian establishment’s bidding and propaganda. “Though Tarek Fatah refused to clarify who he meant by “one of India’s brightest sons”, it was clear that he meant Shashi Tharoor. Tharoor’s wife Sunanda Pushkar, 52, was found dead in her suite at a five-star hotel in south Delhi on the night of January 17, 2014, just a day after she was involved in a spat with Lahore journalist Mehr Tarar on Twitter, The Express Tribuneand other newspapers reported. News reports said Delhi Police has asked the high commissioner of Pakistan that they want to question Aman ki Asha advocate Mehr Tarar, though they said she is not a suspect. “No comments. And that is my only comment,” Tarar responded on Twitter, on March 12. Earlier, on January 12, Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader Subramanian Swamy had tweeted: “When Tharoor allegedly spent three night with suspected ISI compliant journalist Tarar, he was India’s Union minister. That is like Profumo.”

    Another big name in the Aman ki Asha campaign is that of Mani Shankar Aiyar, a former diplomat and Congress leader. Jotish Nair, former national executive member of the intellectual cell of the BJP, appears disgusted with Aiyar’s soft stance and accuses him of being a “Pakistani agent”. Aiyar has close ties with Pakistan politician senator Hasil Bizenjo, who, the Pakistan media reported, received huge sums of money from the ISI for his politicking. Indians like Nair question why Aiyar and other top notch Indians forget the shrieks and miseries of the victims of Pakistani terror in Mumbai and Kashmir, including the internally displaced Kashmiri pandits – whose numbers run into more than 3,00,000. Indians who understand Pakistan know well what Aman ki Asha is all about. The BJP’s Nair said that his party has always been opposed to the Aman ki Asha drama. “It’s a bogus wining and dining initiative. Ghulam Nabi Fai organised a conference where many of these Aman ki Asha types attended. Fai has been convicted in a US court for spying for ISI,” said Philadelphia-based professor Saswati Sarkar, who is passionate about exposing the enemies of Hindus and Indians.

    Not only Indian politicos, but also journalists appear to have been taken for a ride by the ISI. Indian journalists Dilip Padgaonkar and Kuldip Nayar became guests of Fai, who has long advocated that the whole of Kashmir must belong to Pakistan, according to Indian media reports. “Even if one accepts Padgaonkar’s plea that he was unaware that the ISI was funding Fai, he (and Radha Kumar who attended similar conferences in Europe) could hardly be unaware of the anti-India content of the seminars,” Sandhya Jain wrote inNiti Central. In spite of his US conviction, the shameless Fai openly attended anti-Modi rallies when the Indian prime minister visited the US last fall to address the UN and talk with US President Barack Obama.

    “Unless and until Pakistan stops sponsoring cross border terrorism, punishes the 26/11 perpetrators, India should not be talking to Pakistan in any level,” said Nair, who is convener of the strategic affairs wing of BJP in Trivandrum. Aman ki Asha, which enjoyed full blessings of the Pakistan army GHQ and ISI, is now well-known in Pakistan. Shahrukh Hasan, managing director of the Jang Group, said the Army and the ISI were on board with everything related to the initiative. “We are partners in Aman ki Asha,” Hasan quoted former ISI chief Lt General Shuja Pasha as saying, according to Jang Group’sThe News International. Tarek Fatah also recommended, “Please don’t wait for a second Mumbai to create a Balochistan. Please start assisting the brave men and women of Balochistan today.” He urged India to help the young men of Dr Allah Nazar, the chairman of the Baloch Liberation Front, and named two Baloch leaders now living in exile, Dubai-based Mehran Marri and Geneva-based Brahumdagh Bugti – they are chiefs of the Marri and Bugti militant tribes. These groups have braved the worst of army brutalities, including burning alive of their tribesmen in coal tar, enforced disappearances, bombings and displacement of tens of thousands, during the last decade.

    “Plan and work towards the policy goal, unwritten and unsaid, for the disintegration of the so-called rump state that refers to itself as the Islamic Republic of Pakistan. I use the label “so-called state”, not only because there is nothing “Paak” about Pakistan, but because of the fact Pakistan in 1971 changed its name to Bangladesh and what we call Pakistan today is merely Pakistan’s leftovers.”

    Realism has escaped Pakistan generals thinking vis-à-vis India, which is the root cause of terrorism in the region. One such Pakistani idea is “parity” with India, rooted in the Islamic supremacist ideology. Though India is many times bigger than Pakistan in both population and geography, Pakistan generals demand parity as they say Muslims are superior to Hindus and one Muslim can dominate ten Hindus, if not more. In this backdrop, one recommendation by Fatah is to end the circus at Wagah border. “Since Pakistan itches for parity with India, please shut down the silly march of the roosters at the Wagah border cross-point. This is the single most spectacular circus that puts the rogue state of Pakistan at par with the democratic, secular and dignified republic of India,” Fatah said.

  • Mohan
  • Rex Minor

    To be fair with Saad Hafiz, you better remove the crap that Lekhi, the crooked tail of the dog has put out in the name of Salman Rushdie2!!

    Rex Minor

  • HaHa

    Admin2, Rex Minor has applied for the job of PTH censor. Please consider.

  • johnny

    Ok….agreed that jihadists have been able to instil a fear among muslim masses that ‘Islam is in danger’…also agreed that jihadists have been able to convince the masses that jihadists are the best people to fight for Islam because all the powers-that-be are sold out to west..

    but then what is being done to counter this propaganda? Much before the terrorists are defeated militarily,they are to be defeated in the psychological war.

    WOT has failed to tackle islamic terrorism for precisely this reason.The emphasis has been on military defeat with no cognizance to psychological defeat.

    We can very well see that situation has worsen after WOT.

  • tajender

    isis jihadist killed thousands of muslims,did not fire a single shot at isreal.it indicates their origin and final bjectives.

  • tajender

    middle east needs leader to the caliber of modiji,who can give them right direction.soon india will be totally change.i completely agree with is revolutionary thoughts.his deeds also match with his words.india is lucky to have someone like him.

  • Mohan

    Sunil Gavaskar advises India to bat first and post a big total. Thanks for the advise, Mr Gavaskar, Otherwise, India’s strategy was to score small total

  • tajender

    first wicket out we will win wc for sure.

  • Mohan

    From Egypt to Pakistan, Sunnis have united to fight aganst Shias in Yemen backed by Iran.

  • Mohan

    Road traffic increases all over India as people head back to work.

  • Mohan

    When a small pup is gone, my heart cries, but when this Pup ( Clark )is gone I am happy – Modi

  • Mohan

    Watson suddenly realized that there is no Wahab Riaz in Indian bowling attack.

  • tajender

    mohan Bhai, jab India match jeetne lage , bata dena. Will switch on TV

  • johnny

    ((mohan Bhai, jab India match jeetne lage , bata dena. Will switch on TV))

    aap bhi rest kijiyey aur TV ko be rest karne dijiyey..

  • Mohan

    IPL kab hai ?

  • johnny

    Bas iskey ek aadh haftey baad shuru hai 8 10 april se..

  • johnny

    That’s is now more interesting..yeh sab faltu ki emotionabaazi hai..agnrezon ki banai hui….that’s the real stuff..

  • saadhafiz

    Commiserations India! Well played in the WC.

  • tajender

    ((mohan Bhai, jab India match jeetne lage , bata dena. Will switch on TV))

    aap bhi rest kijiyey aur TV ko be rest karne dijiyey..


  • silkroute

    A religion created for genociding will turn against/upon it’s own followers when non-followers are not being found anywhere.

    A religion created for establishing a totalitarian society under a fascist god-concept will end up like this.

    Any attempt to hide these basic facts will only make the tragedy longer and more vicious.

    A fake guy creates a religion and that will surely end in bloodshed, destruction of antiquities, rape of women, enslavement of non-followers and fascism all round.

    Blaming the others will not help.
    Hiding facts will not help.

    Even if you put a sugar-coating on a lump of poison – poison is going to work through this coating and cause much destruction.

    Witness that now.

  • tajender

    A religion created for genociding will turn against/upon it’s own followers when non-followers are not being found anywhere


    A religion created for establishing a totalitarian society under a fascist god-concept will end up like this



  • Ranger99

    Aussie Aussie Aussie Oye Oye Oye

  • Ranger99

    Anuska Bhabhi goes all the way from Mumbai to Sydney to watch our Virat Bhaiyya drop a catch and score 1 run. That’s true love.

  • Ranger99

    But koi baat nahi mitron, there is always IPL. In IPL, India always wins! And yes #wewontgiveitback 🙂

  • RHR

    Ranger Bhai

    “Anuska Bhabhi goes all the way from Mumbai to Sydney to watch our Virat Bhaiyya drop a catch and score 1 run. That’s true love”

    That was great

  • tajender

    match was fix.

  • tajender

    india did not even try to win.satta bazar was directing everything.

  • shanti

    ranger mohan,

    Women finishing jeans in Gujarat India are earning less than US$2 a day for an eight or nine hour shift. http://www.industriall-union.org/women-empowerm

  • silkroute

    tajender wrote




    The worst of this religion is yet to come.

    Worms and maggots grow fastest in a dead body; so does your “wonderful” religion from the “blessed” arab “brothers”.

    No wonder this fascism is growing so rapidly in your dead/dying ummah.


  • shanti

    romain mohan ranger and arzu,

    एक लड़की थी, दीवानी सी

    Dhawan पे वो मरती थी

    चोरी-चोरी चुपके-चुपके

    Rohit को चिठ्ठिया लिखा करती थी

    नज़रें झुका के, शर्मा के

    Rahane से बातें करती थी

    कभी-कभी जुल्फे बिखरके

    Kohli की गलियों से गुजरती थी

    कुछ कहना था शायद उसको Raina से

    पर DHONI से वो डरती थी

    जब भी मिलती थी वो Jadeja से

    बस यही पूछा करती थी

    हराम खोरों तुम लोग Yuvraj K Bina वर्ल्ड कप Kaise जीतोगे

  • tajender

    arzu romain ranger mohan and rhr

    सेमीफाइनल चालीसा *
    जिसके सपने दफन हो गये
    वो तो शिखर धवन हो गये

    बहते जिसके अरमा निकले
    वो यारो रोहित शर्मा निकले

    अनुष्का संग आँख मिचौली
    घटिया खेल गये थे कोहली

    झलक पड़े आज सबके नैना
    कैसा खेल रहे थे तुम. रैना

    आशाये थी आज …..रहाने से
    दिल बहला गये इसी बहाने से

    तभी आस जगी कुछ होनी.. में
    पर जोश ना था अपने धोनी में

    खेलने का ना जिसमे भेजा था
    वो तो सर ..रविन्द् जडेजा था

    जो आया रह रहकर आज याद था
    वो तो बस अपना वही युवराज था

    * Chalisa semifinals *
    Which have buried dreams
    They then become Dhawan

    Arma which turned out to be running
    She set out Rohit Sharma yaro

    Anushka with eye michauli
    Were playing lousy Kohli

    Have a glimpse today everyone naina
    How were you playing. Raina

    Ashaye was today …..Rahane from
    Hearts were the same excuse of bahla

    Only be roused around some. .. In
    On right in their Dhoni

    Don’t play that was sent
    She then Sir. ..Was renewed jadeja

    Staying Beijing today who came to stay
    He just had your same Crown Prince

  • silkroute

    to tajender the history-expert and hero of PTH and the muslim world and the ex-Aurangzeb of old Delhi :

    Fascism is growing fast because of tribalism, misogyny, overpopulation, machoism, glorifications of some past imaginary achievements and phantasies, fanatic monotheism based on some arab machoist god-concept, lazy obscene money, reactionary schools in arabic language etc.
    Some human beings are greatly attracted to such downfalls.

    When will you learn to be honest about all this?

  • Rex Minor

    At times one wonders if Saad Hafiz is living on this planet or some other outside the solar system. In the middle east an all out war has started between the so called Shias and Sunnis, Saudi monarchy and the Gulf countries have declared war against Hutis in Yemen who have the support of the Iranian Khalifa state, while Iraqi army under the command of an Iranian General and together with the Yanks are hammering the ISIL, which is now present in most of middle east, against the background of Egypt, Turkey and Pakistan declaring the willingness to join in the battle.
    war of narratives??

    Rex Minor

  • Mohan
  • tajender

    पाकिस्तान के इंग्लिश पेपर ‘ट्रिब्यून’ ने लिखा है, ‘पाकिस्तान के सफल दौरे के बाद भारत लौटे दिग्गज बॉलिवुड ऐक्टर नसीरुद्दीन शाह ने इस बात को लेकर चिंता जताई है कि उनके देश में पाकिस्तान के प्रति नफरत बढ़ रही है।’ पाक के अन्य बड़े अखबारों और टीवी चैनलों की वेबसाइट्स पर भी ऐसा ही जिक्र किया गया है। दरअसल नसीरुद्दीन ने ये बातें एंटरटेनमेंट वेबसाइट ‘बॉलिवुड हंगामा’ को दिए इंटरव्यू के दौरान कही थीं।

  • Mohan

    A Place Called Bhatkal
    In the bucolic remoteness of coastal Karnataka, affluence and heritage fail to hide the lure of radical Islam


  • tajender

    bhatkal and azamgarh are selected by brhmnst and zoinist to demonize muslims in india.and catch them on wrong and fake charges and make good money as the muslims are rich there.

  • saadhafiz

    Rex Minor: you are a silly twit! Take care,

  • Rex Minor

    Saad Hafiz,
    As a journalist you should not write articles about narratives but the reality. It is not too late to visit a madrassa and learn about he history of Islam and refresh your knowledge of the Quraanic suras, before politicking and throwing lofty commentaries in your articles. The 7th century Islam is undergoing the Aufklarung and those who are involved in the struggle are state actors and not the extremists or jihadists that you have been making fuss of.
    Follow Raza Rumi style and tweet instead of twit!
    Take care.


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