The Virtual Playing Field
- Despite having been defeated in Iraq and Syria, ISIS or Da’esh (Arabic) continues to explore its options in other parts of the world through the virtual world. India came on its radar earlier this year, when it released a virtual propaganda material – Voice of Hind (Swat al Hind) magazine in Hindi, Urdu, Bengali, and English. The virtual magazine is published published every month and aims to recruit Indian Muslims by playing on their sense of alienation due to recent developments such as abrogation of Article 370, 35 A, promulgation of NRC and CAA. Will the ISIS manage to break the social fabric of the country through its virtual propaganda machinery? In my view yes given its success elsewhere in the world. The danger is real.
- Modern virtual technologies while providing a host of benefits in every sphere of peaceful socio – economic activity, has acted as a force multiplier for terror groups especially the transnational groups such as AQ, ISIS and their affiliates. This quote by Eedle in 2002 will clearly highlight the issue in its correct perspective, “Whether … al Qaeda’s Egyptian theorist Ayman al-Zawahiri and their colleagues are on a mountain in the Hindu Kush or living with their beards shaved off in a suburb of Karachi no longer matters to the organization. They can create, inspire, and guide a worldwide movement without physically meeting their followers— without knowing who they are.” So what are the technologies that the terrorist groups are exploiting to be ahead of the law enforcing agencies and the security forces? These technologies are internet of things, emails, voice over internet protocols (VOIP), mobiles especially smart phones, satellite communication, social media platforms, dark net, one minute videos, willing media channels like Al Jazeera and news agencies on little known platforms including You Tube, Facebook and twitter.
ISIS the Virtual World Monster
- When ISIS emerged on the global scene to fight the US and Iraqi forces in Iraq and Syria it beckoned foreign fighters to join its ranks in Iraq and later in Syria through the virtual world. While many countries saw a steady stream of people making a beeline to be part of Al Baghdadi’s outfit, India was able to withstand this pressure and only a handful of youth travelled to Iraq and Syria to join its cause. However, in its current avtar, it appears to be determined to make a dent in the India’s social fabric. Soon after the Delhi riots, Willayat e Hind (ISIS Wing Responsible for Operations in India) released a poster of a Muslim man on his knees being beaten thus justifying people to take to violence against the security forces. This poster was followed by an article in Voice of Hind. The article is extremely inflammatory for e.g. this excerpt “The paradise whose width is the extent of heavens and the earth. He is calling you to the ark before the destructive flood of Allah’s wrath descends. Hasten to the caller and hearken to the message before it is too late.” The message invokes God to motivate the Indian Muslims to join ISIS and fight for its cause by rising against the current government and people of India who do not support the puritanical form of true Islam espoused by the ISIS. Such language seeks to shame Muslims who repudiate the goals of jihadi groups. ISIS insists that allegiance to faith is paramount, and demands that all Muslims make sacrifices to establish the rule of Allah on the earth.
Technology of ISIS Propaganda
- So how does ISIS operate and conducts its information war? As per many experts, ISIS prefers Telegram as social media messaging platform for propaganda and new recruitment since there are a number of advantages in using Telegram. It provides secure environment, secret chat option, and cross platform construction. Prithvi Iyer of ORF states that suggests that ISIS manipulates an environment rich with addictive properties, online spaces that encourage group identity, shared opinions and dominant ideologies. It plays on individual need to be part of a group like ISIS which in their perception stands for a pure form of Islam and works for the good of the Ummah and the Islamic world. It releases steady stream of videos, audios and images to attract recruits from the region and globally. It plays on sense of alienation by highlighting the marginalization of Islamic community where they are in minority such as India, and motivates them to join the ISIS. It aims to defeat those who are opposed to the path of Allah by the notion of divinity and martyrdom. In their propaganda war, ISIS highlights the “superiority of puritanical form of Islam over democracy” and propagation of “us versus them” as the centres of gravity of their propaganda. In fact, Mahmud of Ghazni finds a special place in ISIS propaganda since he was instrumental in destroying the idols of Hindu idol worshippers during his battle campaigns in India.
Countering the ISIS Propaganda
- The counter information strategy, has to be proactive, that is offensive in finding the terrorists, but defensive in outlook and appearance. The story has to be compelling, and convincing enough to wean the common public away from fundamentalist groups. Hence, the counter information stories have to emanate from the concerned religious scholars of the targeted terror group. It would be even better if the hardcore elements of the religious dispensation come up with counter stories for example the Deoband or Jamaat –e-Islami Scholars and moderate Islamic voices such as Arif Md. Khan. Finally, the overarching concept of operations recommended to deal with terrorism is to globalize for counter information warfare under the aegis of the UN, but decentralize for conduct of counter terrorist operations to the Security Forces of respective member nations of the UN.