An internal U.S. State Department memo, published by The New York Times, has revealed that the U.S. believes the Islamic State is winning the war of ideas and narrative.
The memo, written by the under secretary for public diplomacy and public affairs Richard Stengal, criticizes the coalition of countries aligned against the Islamic State for failing to provide a coherent and unified message to counter that of the terror group.
The memo reads, “the coalition does not communicate well internally or externally.” It says that the “messaging working group” of the U.S., the U.K. and the U.A.E “has not really come together.”
The memo criticizes far more harshly the external message. “When it comes to the external message, our narrative is being trumped by ISIL’s," it states. "We are reactive – we think about ‘counter-narratives’ not ‘our narrative.’"
The memo proposed the creation of a “full time coalition communications hub” based in the Middle East, which would “do daily and weekly messaging around coalition activities and counter-ISIL.”
State Deparment spokesman John Kirby told the New York Time that this was not a critique of the broader strategy, but rather, “The memo is an assessment not of the larger counter-ISIL messaging effort, but how the small group of coalition members communicates internally and externally.”
In contrast to the United States, the Islamic State knows exactly what its narrative is. It has a network of propagandists, called the Al-Hayat Media Center which produces and Islamic State videos, pictures and other propaganda.
These are then distributed through social media and other channels.
The Islamic State also uses poetry and song to spread its message, drawing on romanticised notions of glory and sacrifice to appeal to its audience. Such Nasheeds (songs) such as, "I Am Not Content With a Life of Humiliation" inspire followers with lyrics like:
So be patient, servants of God.
For the calls of the nights are your arrows.
You have in the land of al-Sham [Syria] an army like lions.
And an army in Iraq having an outburst.
The victory of God is coming, not impossible,
And the soldiers of God have established [it] for religion.
[Translated from the original Arabic by jihadism analyst Aymenn Jawad al-Tamimi.
Listen to the Islamic State Nasheed, "I am Not Content With a Life of Humiliation":