How to lose the war on terror: panic and feed Islamic State’s narrative

Daniel Baldino, University of Notre Dame Australia

Terrorism’s goal is principally psychological. So, in the wake of events like those in Paris, a good starting point is to refuse to take the bait and become victims to fear.

Such a mindset must break away from simplistic notions such as that another round of “tougher” laws will equate to greater security. The production of muscular, hard-line campaigns camouflage that there is no clear-cut legislative “fix” against terrorism.

Thinking we can destroy Islamic State (IS) via the pressure of the perennial growth of a security state and an intensification of domestic surveillance, secrecy, interrogation and detention displays the machinations of a dog that is content to repetitively chase its own tail.

Terrorism as a tactic

Terrorist groups aim to incite both terror and power-projection. Such deadly tactics also hope to spark an over-reaction that will feed into their propaganda, divide societies, empower recruitment efforts and result in a mis-allocation of energies and resources by targeted governments.

Reports suggest that a Syrian passport found next to a suicide bomber in the Paris terror attacks might have been planted in an attempt to implicate refugees and make people feel unsafe. This points to terrorist movements being highly attuned to the kinds of enduring faultlines embedded throughout different societies and the utility of terror as a deliberate tactic to manipulate such uncertainties and produce disproportionate reactions.

We should also remain aware that a considerable majority of Muslims – in countries such as Jordan and Indonesia – unequivocally reject IS and its perverted Wahhabi theology.

The human factor

The human rejoinder to the Paris attacks is understandable. We feel shock, sadness, anger. The urge to inflict payback. The desire to drop a bomb on something.

This genuine outburst exists alongside the political necessity for leaders to appear strong, decisive and stoic. However, defiant words do not automatically translate to careful, shrewd actions.

The projection of “do something” mandates has tended to lend itself to executive over-reach and a search for quick-fix solutions, like calls for tougher laws to give governments even greater arbitrary powers. This is despite many initiatives having a track record since September 11 of being completely ineffective and counter-productive.

Malcolm Turnbull hasn’t overreacted to the perceived terror threat.
EPA/Mast Irham

The Australian prime minster, Malcolm Turnbull, has in his public comments thus far resisted the lure of warrantless speculation and a fixation on a hasty redesign of legal and democratic boundaries.

The media magnifier

The rise of widespread public confusion is another of the Paris attacks’ clear side-effects.

Such instances of shared disorientation have been compounded by a media cycle that too often demands facts be made scary and instantaneous assessments of events take place before information and conditions have been pieced together.

It’s much less dull to hype the terrorist threat and boldly speculate about worst-case clichés such as looming “Australian deaths on our own soil” or indulge in xenophobic fantasies like “not all Muslims are terrorists, but all terrorists are Muslims”. These shrill appeals to casual bigotry are not only wrong-headed but unhelpful in that they serve to undermine both stability and security.

From a counter-terrorism perspective, gathering actionable intelligence will entail – in part – building trust and working with the general public and different communities to obtain information to disrupt future criminal plots and violent planning.

The dynamics of a prolonged proactive security approach also require additional measures, such as steady efforts to address disenfranchisement among troubled youth.

Bunker mentality

More broadly, inaccurate declarations of a “clash of civilisations” provide no public value – except to implore citizens who are already feeling shaken and powerless to remain alert and alarmed. Much of the gloomy crystal ball gazing is useless in guiding people’s movements and adding to informed decision-making.

The bigger picture is that terrorism remains a weapon of the weak.

This does not ignore that the world has always been a dangerous, unstable and violent place. Nationalist and sectarian groups – and not just those that are hijacking and defaming Islam – continue to engage in politically motivated violence all over the world. Troublingly, many other traditional state-based or state-driven threats remain a much more serious security headache.

But, we appear to be highly selective about when to collectively tune in or tune out to human suffering and respond to events like humanitarian tragedies abroad.

24/7 panic

Soundbites – Paris has been a “wake-up call”, for example – are simply crude political opportunism that helps to spread irrational fear. Instead, the problem is actually the opposite.

Much of IS’s warfare template is linked to deception. People in Australia should not be implored to remain in a perennial state of distress and vigilance.

The security sector does not have such a luxury. But, for the most part, we are talking about highly trained and skilled professionals who work largely behind the scenes and in a methodical and calculated manner. It is also impossible to guard every single conceivable soft target. It will always be about risk mitigation rather than risk elimination.

In a similar light, an unannounced attack by a handful of marginalised individuals on civilian targets is not the work of super-villain “masterminds”. While the suicide bombers might have been motivated by factors such as revenge, desperation, defiance or perceived injustice, they are small-fry, disposable cannon fodder.

Towards a clear-eyed strategy

IS is a group of nihilistic and misogynist gangsters. They have grand revolutionary goals, such as a caliphate that will reach Rome and govern the entire Muslim world. But such desires are based on pretentious make-believe rather than reality. IS military gains in Iraq might be conspicuous, but they are narrow and limited.

Critically, IS and other self-appointed foot soldiers do wish to undermine social cohesion and unity of purpose in lands beyond Iraq and Syria. They anticipate that terror attacks abroad can help to create the conditions to advance the alienation of particular segments of society, creating anger and disillusionment that might serve to enhance their authority, legitimacy and influence.

The hope is that this might translate to galvanising popular support, generating financial support and attracting recruits for future suicide missions.

The bottom line is that terrorism is designed to turbo-charge our emotional buttons. It is not only about violence but the threat of future violence. It can be highly effective as intimidation and propaganda. But we are only compounding problems by hyping threats, searching for extraneous scapegoats and indulging in fear-based decision-making.

The Conversation

Daniel Baldino, Senior Lecturer in Politics and International Relations, University of Notre Dame Australia

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Socially mediated terrorism poses devilish dilemma for social responses

Claire Smith, Flinders University; Gary Jackson, Flinders University, and Koji Mizoguchi, Kyushu University

The terrorist attacks in Paris have resonated around the world. In addition to physical violence, Islamic State (IS) is pursuing a strategy of socially mediated terrorism. The symbolic responses of its opponents can be predicted and may inadvertently further its aims.

In the emotion of the moment, we need to act. We need to be cautious, however, of symbolic reactions that divide Muslims and non-Muslims. We need emblems that act against the xenophobia that is a recruiting tool for jihadists.

Reactions from the West should not erode the Muslim leadership that is essential to overturning “Islamic State”. Queen Rania of Jordan points out:

What the extremists want is to divide our world along fault lines of religion and culture, and so a lot of people in the West may have stereotypes against Arabs and Muslims. But really this fight is a fight between the civilised world and a bunch of crazy people who want to take us back to medieval times. Once we see it that way, we realise that this is about all of us coming together to defend our way of life.

Queen Rania’s statement characterises the Paris attacks as part of a wider conflict around cultural values. How are these values playing out symbolically across the globe?

Propaganda seeks predictable responses

IS’s socially mediated propaganda is sophisticated and planned. This supports an argument that the Paris attacks are the beginning of a global campaign. Symbolic materials characterise IS as invincible. However, other evidence may indicate that it is weak.

The IS representation of the Eiffel Tower.
SITE Intelligence Group

The spontaneous celebration on Twitter by IS supporters was predictable. Its representational coverage of the Paris attacks, however, suggests deep planning.

This planning is embedded in professionally designed images. A reworked image depicts the Eiffel Tower as a triumphal arch with the IS flag flying victoriously on top.

The tower is illuminated and points to the heavens and a God-given victory. The inclusion of a road running through the Eiffel Tower provides a sense of speed, change, even progress. In Arabic, the text states, “We are coming, France” and “The state of Khilafa”.

IS is using symbolic representations of the Paris attacks to garner new recruits.

A sophisticated pre-prepared image of an intrepid fighter walking away from a Paris engulfed in flames was quickly distributed. It is inscribed with the word “France under fire” in Arabic and French.

IS had its ‘France under fire’ image ready to post immediately after the attacks.
INSITE on Terrorism

IGN Entertainment Games

This image keys into the heroic tropes of online video gaming, such as prototype and inFAMOUS. Chillingly, it is designed to turn virtual warriors into actual warriors.

The five million young Muslims in France are particular targets. Among online recruitment materials are videos calling them to join other young French nationals who are with IS.


Support for the victims in Paris and for the democratic values of liberty, equality and fraternity are embedded in the blue, white and red lights movement. These lights shone in major cities in the US, Britain, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Taiwan and South America. The blue, white and red lights also were displayed in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Malaysia.

However, the light displays were seen in few countries with Muslim majorities overall. Such countries are in an invidious position. Display the lights and you may be characterized as a lackey of the West. Don’t display the lights and appear unsympathetic to the victims.

Facebook blue white and red Paris
author provided/courtesy J. Smith

Support also is embedded in a parallel Facebook function that allows members to activate a tri-colour filter. Adapted from a rainbow filter used to support same-sex marriage, this filter attracts those with liberal sentiments.

The question of whether to use the French flag to show sympathy for the victims is invidious at a personal level. Many people find themselves exploited and condemned to poverty by neoliberal economic models. They are put in a difficult position. They feel sympathy for the victims. However, they are bitter about how they are being treated by “the West”, including France.

Perils of an ‘us and them’ mindset

As the blue, white and red activism plays out around the globe, there is a potential for this to transform into a symbolic manifestation of an “us and them” mentality. Such a division would support xenophobic forces, which steer recruits towards IS.

The global impact of the attacks can be related to the iconic status of Paris. The attacks hold a personal dimension for millions of people who have visited this city. They have a sense of “there but for the grace of God, go I”. This emotion echoes responses to the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001.

The Japanese and Italian cafes included in the attacks are symbolic targets for their countries. In March 2015, IS spokesman Abu Mohammad al-Adnan stated that the group would attack “Paris, before Rome”. Rome is a target because of its symbolic role as the centre of Christianity. Japan is a target because of its role in coalition forces. It has already suffered the execution of Japanese hostages early in 2015.

In Japan, the cultural reaction has been relatively low key, as part of a strategy of minimising terrorist attention. The blue, white and red lights solidarity received minimal press coverage. There have been few reports of the Japanese restaurant that was one of the targets. In addition to factual coverage of the attacks, Japanese reports have concentrated on implications for security at the 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo.

Are there any symbols indicating good news? The Syrian passport found near the body of one of the attackers could be a sign of weakness. It could have been “planted” there – why carry a passport on a suicide mission?

If so, its purpose is to increase European xenophobia and encourage the closing of borders to Syrian refugees. This suggests the mass exodus of Muslim refugees from Syria is hurting IS. The propaganda could be a sign of alarm in IS leadership ranks.

In our responses to the Paris attacks, the grief of the West should not be allowed to overshadow the opprobrium of Muslim countries. Muslims are best placed to challenge the Islamic identity of this self-declared state.

As Queen Rania states, the war against IS must be led by Muslims and Arabs. To ensure success, the international community needs to support, not lead, Muslim efforts.

The Conversation

Claire Smith, Professor of Archaeology, Flinders University; Gary Jackson, Research Associate in Archaeology, Flinders University, and Koji Mizoguchi, Professor of Archaeology, Kyushu University

This article was originally published on The Conversation. Read the original article.

Gunmen Are Holding 10 Hostages Inside a Paris Clothing Store, Reports Say

Originally posted on TIME:

A store belonging to the Primark clothing chain just outside Paris is reportedly being held up by two or three gunmen with hostages inside.

Local police said there are around 10 hostages inside the store near the French capital, Agence France-Presse reports.

According to the BBC, the gunmen were attempting to rob the store. Special forces are reportedly at the scene.

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Australian Politics: 23 December 2014 – Terrorism Claims Political Leader

These Australian Social Media Reactions To The #SydneySiege Are Perfect

Originally posted on TechCrunch:

The hostage situation in Sydney’s busy city district has crossed over into day two, with the identity of the hostage taker revealed as Man Haron Monis.

The perpetrator, 49, is a self-proclaimed sheikh already pending trial and out on bail for being an accessory to murder. He still has an unconfirmed number of hostages captured inside a Lindt Cafe in Sydney. Some hostages escaped or were otherwise freed, and police have now stormed the cafe, according to the NYT.


TechCrunch isn’t the place for breaking news on the situation, which can be found here and here. But as the world watches Sydney, we noticed a specific, and now-viral, status update from Jason Maggs. It has now been shared more than 16,000 times on Facebook, noted by FBNewswire, and we’re simply hoping to pass the powerful message along.

He wrote:

I just caught a train home…

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Sydney is showing solidarity with Muslims with the hashtag #illridewithyou

Originally posted on Quartz:

Amid the ongoing hostage crisis in Sydney, Australia, social media is overflowing with the hashtag #illridewithyou. Meant initially as an offer to actually ride with Muslims who might feel unsafe using public transportation in the wake of the hostage situation, the hashtag has now been adopted globally as a gesture of solidarity with Muslims everywhere.

The hashtag was created when Twitter user @MichaelJames_TV shared a screenshot of a woman’s Facebook status about how she tried to comfort a Muslim woman at a train station.

Another Twitter user, @sirtessa, came up with the idea for the hashtag after retweeting the interaction.

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