The strength of Islamic State lies in its powerful propaganda which means defeat requires a robust strategy to counter the extremist group’s communications in addition to military force.
As the fight against the Islamic State continues, the extremist group has consistently leveraged its most powerful weapon against the West: propaganda. An examination of how the group uses communications and messaging reveals the deep sophistication of its strategies.
Dr Haroro Ingram, from the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs at ANU, researches the role of propaganda and strategic communications in Islamic State’s drive to recruit, fight and ultimately survive. He suggests that despite near defeat, the extremist group has managed to maintain a strong consistency in its propaganda messaging that has allowed it to recover from periods of vulnerability.
Using a hedging strategy during periods of boom and bust, Islamic State focuses on different themes to mirror its relative success. Periods marked by victory and strength are characterised by messages of statehood, recruitment of foreign fighters and conventional military warfare. During times of weakness and defeat, Islamic State deploys propaganda that espouses terrorist acts, purifying the ranks and unconventional warfare.
Dr Ingram also discusses how the West and individual governments can seek to combat this strategy of propaganda and overt communications. He makes clear that so far the international community has done poorly to manage the impact of Islamic State’s propaganda. What is needed is a sophisticated approach and methodology to strategic communications: one which will enable a deeper understanding of propaganda, and ultimately provide a path towards countering and disrupting IS.
Dr Haroro J. Ingram is a research fellow with the Department of International Relations at the Coral Bell School of Asia Pacific Affairs, and a research associate with the International Centre for Counter-terrorism (ICCT, The Hague). Dr Haroro was also the recipient of the inaugural AIIA Early Career Researcher Research Impact Award and recently spoke to AIIA ACT on the topic of “ISIS after the Caliphate”.
Interview by Douglas Barnicoat.
Filmed & edited by Tim Smith.