Without a doubt, the current century embodies the age of media and communication. Developments in these areas have happened so fast and so dramatically to the point where anyone can find out about almost anything nearly anywhere in the world. This has opened up incredible opportunities for co-operation, for business and for intercultural learning; but it has also opened up a hugely dangerous potential for darker uses. Both political ‘spin-doctors’ and terrorists can also communicate rapidly, raise and transfer money, influence others, but above all, with social media developments and the ability to take and share images using smart-phones, they can influence and affect public opinion as never before.
Part two in the series of articles deals with the methods and mechanisms of media warfare by terrorist groups. Before we explore the details of the technology, let us focus on the mechanics of human influence, using the evil genius of the Nazi propaganda guru, Goebbels as a guide.
Goebbels indicated that “the most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.”
Yale Professor, Leonard W Doob, an expert on Goebbels’ techniques, identified a long list of his propaganda principles based on Goebbels’ diary. In particular, six broad areas stand out:
- Clear direction and control.
- Careful planning based on intelligence.
- Careful and effective execution, leading to anxiety.
- Labelling events and people with distinctive phrases or slogans.
- Facilitation of the displacement of aggression by specifying the targets for hatred.
- To be perceived, propaganda must evoke the interest of an audience and must be transmitted through an attention-getting communications medium
Of course, to be effective, any propaganda campaign requires money and human administrative support. Doob highlights the various desired effects on the enemy identified by the Nazis and how to use an opponent’s information against them, as well as how to counteract their attempts to present alternative information.
In exploring the existing media front, we will focus on the use of this by the Islamist terror groups, which, on analysis now appears to have become fairly sophisticated, and is funded by oil rich countries and international donations. Of the many out there, five out of the world’s seven wealthiest terror groups in the world are Islamist (according to website therichest.com), and each networks with the other.
The current conflict between Israel and Gaza is a good example where the Islamist media war strategy has been highly effective. It has kept Palestine and Gaza at the forefront of media attention in spite of several very significant terror events and activities of Islamist and other terror groups, as well as the abhorrent human-rights abuses of several Islamic nations, some African countries, China and North Korea. How has it done this? How has the world’s attention been spun, grabbed and focused on Gaza and Palestine, when probably only ten years ago or more it could not really care less, and in fact probably was more likely to support Israel after the horrors of the Intifadas? Some of this may be due to population change and a younger generation who are unaware of the background history, but undoubtedly a significant part of the success is as a result of developments in media and communication.
Hamas versus Israel and the Palestinian Media Messages
To understand the approach by the Palestinian leadership and related terror groups, one only has to read the Hamas Guide for Social Activists, which was published via a video and posters on its website, Facebook and twitter sites. An English version has been translated and analysed by the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI). It is interesting that this focuses on social media, which has rapidly become the vehicle for the new battle front.
Key recommendations by the Hamas Interior Ministry to social media activists include:
- “Anyone killed or martyred is to be called a civilian from Gaza or Palestine, before we talk about his status in Jihad or military rank. Do not forget to always add ‘innocent civilian’ or ‘innocent citizen’ in your description of those killed in Israeli attacks on Gaza”
- “Begin news of resistance actions with the phrase: ‘in response to the cruel Israeli attack’ and conclude with the phrase: ‘This many people have been martyred since Israel launched its aggression against Gaza’. “
- “Be wary of spreading rumors from Israeli spokesmen … or accepting the occupation’s version [of events]. You must always cast doubts on this, disprove it or treat it as false.”
- “Avoid publishing pictures of rockets fired into Israel from Gaza city centers… do not publish or share video clips of showing rocket launching sites or the movement of forces in Gaza”
- “Describe rockets as locally manufactured shells fried by the resistance as a natural response to the Israeli occupation that deliberately fires rockets against civilians in the West Bank and Gaza”.
The guide also makes specific recommendations for social media activists speaking to Western audiences. This includes not using emotive arguments; equating the Holocaust with Israel’s crimes against Palestinian civilians; be sure to humanize the Palestinian suffering d try to paint a picture of the suffering of the civilians in Gaza and the West Bank.”
Reading back on Goebbels’ principals of propaganda, we can see several of them very clearly in the Hamas Interior Ministry’s Social Media recommendations (MEMRI, 2014).
The Palestinian Propaganda Influence in the British Media
Exploring some of the above in the British media as an example, almost daily we see the following:
- Photographs on television and newspapers of dead and dying Palestinian citizens and children and very few, occasional photographs of Israeli burials. In general, Israel is portrayed as a rich country with nice buildings and Westernized people whereas Gaza is always portrayed as poor, with people riding donkeys and living in buildings with no furniture.
- Very minimal background information about the conflict, particularly nothing questioning Hamas’ motives or identifying their military installations or the fact that Gaza was left by Israel in a good position agriculturally when they left it.
- Very little mention of the fact that Israel supplies food, medical equipment, water, etc to Gaza despite the conflict.
- No questioning about Hamas’s funding or why they have spent vast amounts of money on weapons and tunnels rather than the civilian infrastructure, developing Palestine or positive investments.
- As per the above media guide, stories are frequently started with the number of people killed in Gaza, the use of the term ‘innocent civilian’ and no mention of which deaths were actually terrorists.
A great deal of effort by supporters of Palestine is made to present key messages about Israel being the aggressor rather than Hamas; Israel allegedly killing children; use of the term ‘Nazi-like’ in relation to Israel; comparison (wrongly) with the South African “Apartheid” concept and other statements designed to press the emotional buttons of the West. Not only does this method shift the blame by projecting descriptions that actually may fit the behaviour of Islamist terror groups, but over time it builds an association. Slowly, over several years, a large section of the British and mainland European population has been soaked, to use Goebbels’ term, unawares with anti-Semitic and anti-Israel propaganda, and has been seduced into taking part in anti-Israel marches through emotional manipulation – note how many pictures of dead children are promoted in relation to Gaza, for example. European media seems to, almost automatically, prioritize the situation in Israel-Gaza, despite the fact that there are significantly worse issues related to Islamist terror in countries like Syria, where a very large group of Palestinians were murdered; Iraq, where the numbers murdered by the terror group ISIS are nearing a thousand. Still more horrifying is the genocide committed by China of Muslim Uighyurs and in Tibet, where Buddhist Tibetans have been killed or confined to concentration camps. Goebbels once stated that he was able to ensure that journalists automatically published in line with his policies, almost without thinking. It seems that the western media, particularly in Britain and Europe, is conditioned to start with the “plight of the Palestinians” almost before writing anything else about the region.
Somehow the media machine has been convinced, paid or otherwise persuaded to ignore the real issues. The Islamist terror network is very wealthy and its leaders highly intelligent. It has clear aims to remove non-Islamists from a large part of the world.
Another factor may be that Israel, as the only Western-style democracy in the Middle East is so much like the countries in the USA and Europe, with similar values, that Europeans are unable to understand that it has to use force to protect itself against terrorism. “If it’s like us then why doesn’t it behave like us?” Yet Europeans fail to consider history and note that their own countries were under similar conditions during the world wars and at other times in history.
Many more people are able to engage in the debate and contribute to public opinion through use of the internet and particularly social media. A growing group of armchair activists adds to both truth and myth, and various messages become almost self-perpetuating.
The extremist Islamist groups themselves maintain a growing “educational” approach to the younger generations. For example Hamas is well-known to have modified the school curriculum in Gaza. Many of these ideological education programmes have already produced one, maybe two generations of supporters who accept the ideology as fact and argue vehemently over social media against common sense or truth. Sadly some Europeans are starting to believe it, again calling to mind the Nazi education program that was famously explored in the film “The Wave”, which shows how a teacher can influence the minds of a group of children and enable them to start believing in violence and control. An attempt to bring this to Britain happened very recently in a secondary school in Birmingham. Thankfully well-established safeguarding systems led British authorities to notice it, investigate and they have managed to remove those responsible. Those children in countries where there are no safeguards are not so lucky.
Terror cells using media approaches appear to have been in Europe, and probably the USA, for some time. These are responsible for the marches and demonstrations against Israel and the increasingly anti-Semitic behaviour in the media. It appears anti-semitic simply because there is no balanced reporting about terror situations that are far worse in other countries perpetrated by other extreme groups. Perhaps it is true that while the World’s focus is on Israel, other nations can get away with murder.
Israel’s only answer is to consider its own approach to the media war front. The battle for “hearts and minds” is under way already and their opposition seems to have a head start. A good start would be to ensure a consistent, regular and focused approach to presenting the truth of the situation would work, encapsulated in a few short, clear themes.
The hearts and minds of the West used to be very firmly with Israel, earlier in its history. It can regain that position.
Doob, LW (1950) “Goebbels’ Principles of Propaganda”, The Public Opinion Quarterly, Vol. 14, No. 3, (Autumn, 1950), pp. 419-442
The Middle East Media research Institute (MEMRI) (2014) Hamas Interior Ministry Social Media Guidelines – available online at http://www.memri.org/report/en/0/0/0/0/0/0/8076.htm