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Fighting ISIL on the Digital Battlefield


Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq. October 18, 2016.

Peshmerga forces advance in the east of Mosul to attack Islamic State militants in Mosul, Iraq. October 18, 2016.

ISIL efforts to recruit future terrorists are being thwarted not only by defeats on the ground, but also through a concerted effort of Muslim voices.

ISIL efforts to recruit future terrorists are being thwarted not only by defeats on the ground, but also through a concerted effort of Muslim voices, said U.S. Under Secretary of State Richard Stengel in a recent interview:

“The battle against ISIL is being won. … They have lost more than 50 percent of their territory in Iraq, more than 20 percent in Syria. The flow of foreign fighters coming into Iraq and Syria is down by 70, 80 even 90 percent.”

“The core of ISIL’s propaganda strategy,” said Under Secretary Stengel, “Is to say the West is against Islam and that it’s the duty of every good Muslim to fight against the West”:

“The best way for America to counter that message is to empower credible voices -- mainstream Islamic voices who are saying that ISIL is not Islamic, that they’re killing more Muslims than anybody else – that they’re killing civilians, women and children. ... voices of defectors – of young men and women who come back from the so-called Caliphate to say – “It’s not what it’s cracked up to be. That in fact, these are murderers rather than people who actually believe in Islam.”

The State Department’s Global Engagement Center addresses ISIL content on the internet by amplifying these credible voices. The center partners with countries around the world to give greater capacity to those people who are messaging against ISIL.

There are 28 countries that are part of the anti-ISIL communications working group that follow a similar strategy: that of enabling credible voices. Foreign countries are not the only partners, said Under Secretary Stengel:

“Not only are we working with the other countries in the coalition; we are working with the Silicon Valley tech companies. They don’t want to have their ecosphere polluted by this kind of awful noxious content, and so, they are getting rid of it. One of the reasons that ISIL messaging is down by 50 to 60 percent is that those tech companies are taking that content down.”

“Ultimately,” said Under Secretary Stengel, “It’s not the job of the State Department to counter ISIL’s message. It’s the job of the entire world,” he said.

“It’s the job of mainstream Muslims. It’s the job of the one and a half billion Muslims the lion’s share of whom reject everything that ISIL is doing. Those are the real participants in this battle.”

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