Last week, analysts at Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty released a 70 page analysis of the strategies, tactics, and messages of the Sunni insurgent propaganda campaign. It’s the most interesting thing I’ve read in some time. Check out the full report, summary below, and listen above to an interview with one of the authors on NPR’s On the Media.
The book-length report, “Iraqi Insurgent Media: The War Of Images And Ideas” by RFE/RL regional analysts Daniel Kimmage and Kathleen Ridolfo, provides an in-depth analysis of the media efforts of Sunni insurgents, who are responsible for the majority of U.S. combat deaths in Iraq. The popularity of online Iraqi Sunni insurgent media, the authors contend, reflects a genuine demand for their message in the Arab world. Kimmage and Ridolfo argue that the loss of coordination and message control that results from decentralization has revealed fundamental disagreements about Iraq’s present and future between nationalist and global jihadist groups in Iraq and that these disagreements are ripe for exploitation by those interested in a liberal and democratic Iraq.
The report also finds that anti-Shi’ite hate speech is an increasingly prominent part of the insurgent message. With sectarian killings on the rise in Iraq, the tenor of invective points to the possibility of even greater bloodshed. A wealth of evidence shows that hate speech paved the way for genocide in Rwanda in 1994, for example.
Iraq’s Sunni insurgency has developed a sophisticated media campaign to deliver its message over the Internet through daily press releases, weekly and monthly magazines, books, video clips, full-length films, countless websites, and even television stations. Part of the target audience for insurgent media projects are mainstream Arabic-language media, which often amplify the insurgent message to a mass audience.
The popularity of online Iraqi Sunni insurgent media, the authors contend, reflects a genuine demand for their message in the Arab world. A response, no matter how lavishly funded and cleverly produced, will not eliminate this demand.The authors argue that efforts to counter insurgent media should not focus on producing better propaganda than the insurgents, or trying to eliminate the demand for the insurgent message, but rather on exploiting the vulnerabilities of the insurgent media network.