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State Department Appeals to Emotion to Confront ISIS | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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ISIS fighters, AFP

Washington-After trying many ways to confront ISIS’ campaigns on the internet to recruit Westerners, in particular Americans, the U.S. State Department launched a program that seeks “to appeal to emotion rather than logic” as The New York Times said on Friday.

“Daesh deprives a woman of her voice,” reads one image that is part of a new State Department program, using the Arabic acronym for ISIS. The program is intended to deter young men and women from joining extremist groups.

A video has also been posted online that features a Muslim family of four sitting around a dinner table set for five people. There is the usual bickering about cellphones at the table and a comment to “start eating before it gets cold.” Then one son motions toward the empty place setting and the family matriarch gets angry.

“Don’t you dare,” she says. “It’s Salsan’s. You know how much he loves my cooking.”
“Mom, he’s not here,” her son says.

“He’ll be back soon,” the mother insists. “He never misses this.”

“It’s been two years.”

The images and videos are being posted in agreement between the State Department’s Global Engagement Center (GEC) and American and Arab media companies.

Money for the program, which is managed by GEC, tripled this year, to $16 million, an official source told the New York Times.

Past efforts from the administration had sought to frighten potential jihadists with warnings that waging war against the West would get them killed, but officials concluded that the warnings actually served the opposite purpose of glorifying militancy.

Recent attacks in Turkey, Iraq, France and Bangladesh seemed to show extremism has been spreading.

The newspaper said that the new initiatives have been tailored to keep the U.S. government’s involvement as low-key — and in some cases, as secretive — as possible, because overt American backing for some projects had turned off the exact group of disaffected young men that the campaign is trying to reach.

These new efforts include using videos, ads and other social media that have been designed to convince young men and women that joining ISIS’ fight means breaking their mothers’ hearts, tearing apart their families and leaving their loved ones to lives of emptiness.

“Women under ISIS are enslaved, battered, beaten, humiliated, flogged,” reads one of the new State Department’s images.

In the past, the campaign used to focus more on logic. Such as “Think Again, Turn Away” and “Blowing up mosques! Crucifying and executing Muslims! Plundering public resources! Suicide bombings inside mosques! Travel is inexpensive because you won’t need a return ticket.”

But according to the New York Times such a campaign proved to be counterproductive.

Michael Lumpkin, a former member of the Navy SEALs who was sent by President Obama from the Pentagon to the State Department in January to overhaul the program, said the program leaves the viewer annoyed at its smug sarcasm rather than appalled at the horrific images on the screen.

The program’s American branding, he added, destroys any chance that a potential foreign fighter would be persuaded to turn away. “We’re not the most credible messenger,” Lumpkin said.

On Sept. 11, 2014, for example, a Qaeda leader posted on Twitter that “on this day, in 2001, the USA’s largest economic shrine, the idol of capitalism was brought to the ground.” The State Department quickly responded on Twitter by posting a photo of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the ISIS leader, wearing a Rolex watch: “Nobody’s a bigger fan of the fruits of capitalism than so-called #ISIS Caliph.”

But Richard Stengel, the undersecretary of state for public diplomacy and public affairs, said: “We’re not the most effective messenger for our message. There’s no tweet from the U.S. State Department that’s going to talk a young man out of joining ISIS.”

That’s why the administration is now working with organizations overseas to get out the message without an American imprint, including the Sawab Center in Abu Dhabi. The United Arab Emirates supplies the bulk of the funding.

But the State Department has contributed two full-time foreign service officers to work at the center to counter online messaging and recruitment by ISIS, the newspaper said.

Beyond the Sawab Center and another office to open soon in Malaysia, the administration is paying for small operations in Europe, the Middle East, Asia and Africa, it added.