Center for Strategic Communication

by Bud Goodall

In a New York Times article today entitled “Violence Leaves Young Iraqis Doubting Clerics,” evidence gathered by investigative reporters on the scene strongly indicates that the appeal of violent extremism may be waning. Are we at a new “tipping point?” Reasons given in the article for believing we may be at a new tipping point in the struggle against violent extremism include a “society weary of bloodshed” and “worried parents” who have stepped up their own vigilance at home and in local mosques. It would appear that the campaign to combat ideological support for terrorism truly begins at home and this new widespread success is in part a result of encouraging local interpretations of extremist clerics’ messages, something we have long advocated as part of a coherent approach to pragmatic complexity in the war of ideas.Another successful strategy that appears to be working among Iraqi youth involves using humor and what the communication theorist Kenneth Burke calls “perspective by incongruity.” By taking a comic (rather than tragic) perspective, young Muslims are encouraged to reframe calls to violence cloaked in religious appeals:

There is a new favorite game in the lively household of the young Baghdad journalist. When they see a man with a turban on television, they yell and crack jokes. In one joke, people are warned not to give their cellphone numbers to a religious man.

“If he knows the number, he’ll steal the phone’s credit,” the journalist said. “The sheiks are making a society of nonbelievers.”

I would very much like to believe that this new widespread discrediting of violence is true and that we are, indeed, at a tipping point. But there is a critic inside of me who wonders aloud if this story isn’t part of a larger propaganda campaign using the tried-and-true “bandwagoning”technique. By reporting a few scattered instances of hopeful change in our struggle against violent extremism, perhaps the larger story is how these examples circulates in various media and new media outlets, thus promoting further change as a result. Hmmmmm. In a previous post, I discussed the idea of “pragmatic propaganda” and this story may, in fact, be exactly that. Only time, and additional accounts, will tell. Either way, this news is good news.