The Internet Used as a Marketing Tool by Al-Qaeda, ISIS
By Sarah Ann Haves
International security agencies admit that there are limits to what they can do to stop would-be terrorists. There isn’t a defined time when a radical Islamist goes from spurting his ideology to spurting innocent blood in a terrorist attack.
Counter-terrorism and intelligence agencies are studying what stirs a brain-washed jihadist to perpetuate a hate crime.
But, how much of the mass data these analysts collect focuses on the input a person receives just from scanning Internet sites?
When police seized evidence from French terrorist Cherif Kouachi’s home, long before he carried out the attack on the satirical weekly publication Charlie Hebdo, they found an Internet cache that showed he had searched jihadist sites on-line. This is a common practice among would-be terrorists. Today, ISIS, Al-Qaeda, Al-Nusra, Hamas, Hezbollah and other militant groups use the Internet as a marketing tool to recruit jihadists for their holy war.
|…radicalization takes just
a few months now
because of social media.
According to Israeli Ambassador Gideon Behar, the Web is the common denominator for terrorist attacks because all the dots are connected. “All the aspects together make things happen quicker. The radicalization of jihadists takes just a few months now because of social media. People are influenced. They are sent information and they are brain washed.”
Behar is the Director of the Department on Combating Anti-Semitism for the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs. He explains that, “The search engines will take you where you want to go. So, if you are looking for jihadist material, every time you open up Facebook and You Tube, you will find things you like to watch. Or, when you do a Google search, the results are usually what you are looking for.”
In addition, if someone is interested in the ideology of radical Islam, or wants to know how to join a jihadist group, the search engines will re-inforce this. People will get information they want to see and hear, and will not be supplied with other views.
Dr. Anat Hochberg-Marom is an expert on global terrorism and has studied the marketing strategies of terrorist organizations. She analyzes the operative and on-line activities of various radical Islamic groups. She spoke to journalists at the Jerusalem Press Club on January 14, giving an inside look at the tactics of Al-Qaeda and ISIS.
Referring to the recent terror attack in Paris, she said, “This is only the beginning. Cautiously, it will be a playground between Al-Qaeda and its branches; and, between Al-Qaeda and ISIS.” Referring to Al-Qaeda in Yemen, she stated that this is “the strongest and most serious organization that threatens the West and the Muslim world.”
Reportedly, there are approximately 25-35 fighters in Al-Qaeda; and 50-100,000 fighters with ISIS, in addition to more volunteers coming from Western nations. However, Al-Qaeda seems as large as ISIS because Al-Qaeda has known how to use the Internet since 2001.
Meanwhile, ISIS has changed its name several times as a marketing brand reflecting its inspiration to gain political control and to influence world powers.
Hochberg-Moram says, “It has become the strongest, the wealthiest terrorist organization in modern history. Their estimated revenue is between $1-2 billion a day…. They have the capabilities and motivations to make huge changes in the Middle East.”
The strengthening of ISIS is in their ability to seize territories and erase the internationally recognized boundaries between existing states (Syria and Iraq). It is also in their ability to recruit volunteer fighters from the West to join them in the region. But, Hochberg-Moram states that their greatest goal is establishing a boundless caliphate as a virtual Ummah (collective Muslim community) on the Internet. This involves ISIS reshaping or dictating the political order in the Muslim and Arab Middle East. Their aim is to influence public consciousness.
One of the key challenges facing terrorist organizations who seek to promote their political agendas and religious ideas and values is the struggle for public opinion.
“For both groups, who are pursuing the Global Jihad discourse, as well as the harsh interpretation of Sharia Law, persuading public opinion is an important element; an operational strategy and integral part of the Global Jihad,” claims Hochberg-Moram..
ISIS and Al-Qaeda are not just involved in a military and political struggle. Or, focused solely on a strategy of communications and public diplomacy. They don’t just concentrate on media image and public relations campaigns, as commonly thought by Western analysts. They are in a Global Jihad struggle for their identity among 1.6 billion Muslims.
Hochberg-Marom explains, “For them, Global Jihad is an exultant virtue. They want to topple the western hegemony to establish a universal caliphate based on Sharia law and their interpretation of the sovereignty of God.”
It is the Internet and social media that are being used by Al-Qaeda and ISIS to spread their militant Islamic identity; uniting them, at times, around a common denominator (i.e., Ummah, Self-sacrifice, and Jihad). This gives them a base from which to reach their goals. They are marketing and framing their caliphate through cyber networks. Within the Muslim and Arab worlds, 71 million citizens use social media.
Hochberg-Marom points out that there is a trend of people supporting the more extreme ideologies. She estimates that approximately 1 million Muslims are involved in the most radical of all Islamic ideologies… the fringe of the fringe of Islam.
“The more extreme, the more fanatic the more mysterious the global jihadist ideology, the more attractive it is for the young teenagers that become instruments; fighters motivated by the passion to kill and to be killed, by the desire of the love of death.”
So, how do we confront this phenomenon?
Hochberg-Marom has tried to find answers: “Researchers, terrorist experts, and policy makers have offered a very standard perspective. They mention providing political, military, and media resolutions and explanations. Unfortunately, until today, there is no breakthrough, no practical solution.”
She claims that the marketing perspective she has developed shows the link between an organization’s policies and their operational tactics. She analyzes hundreds of messages and then figures out how a certain organization acts to gain political power while impacting the general public. Utilizing this research helps her design a policy of counter-terrorism strategies.
As part of their tactical approach, Al-Qaeda and ISIS transmit different messages to different audiences in various languages. They also have a specific spokesman for each target audience. Their aim is to cause public fear and paranoia and achieve political concessions.
For Al-Qaeda, jihad activists are the distribution agents. And, the promotional materials they use explain the benefits of adhering to their ideologies. They compete for public opinion between themselves and the Arab regimes and against Western leaders and security agencies.
|Al-Qaeda and ISIS
are competing to gain
attention and legitimacy…
What is going on now is warlike between Al-Qaeda and ISIS, says Hochberg-Moram. She sees them as two Islamic super powers that are competing to gain more attention and more legitimacy within the international community. She has studied the ways in which they continually look to increase their support, to strengthen their reputation and popularity, and to engage in public relations.
“The terrorist organizations utilize the international media, and employ tools and means especially the Internet, against the West, in order to spread militant messages.”
Similar to international business organizations (such as Google and Facebook), global terror groups like ISIS and Al Qaeda use marketing tactics and framing techniques in order to promote and distribute their ideas, their vision and their religion.
Hochberg-Marom states: “We have to know that Muslim public opinion is not the reason that Al–Qaeda exists. But without it, the terrorist organization could not fight against the Arab regimes, and could not use Global Jihad against the West.”
As ISIS and Al-Qaeda use social networks to try and establish their boundless caliphate, they remain determined to continue conducting terrorist attacks and using brutal violence as part of their game. The expansion of the Internet and the development of social networks enhances their mission. It empowers the achievements of these terrorist organizations. And, it increases their perceived media image, their political position, and their popularity.
They do this by using military terminologies and emotional appeals. They also use fear, hatred, intimidation, and threats in explaining their global ideology and goals. They try to eliminate their weaknesses, as well. They frame their messages to focus on the “true believers” vs. the “non-believers that should be killed.”
The expansion of the Internet and the development of the social networks have enhanced global terrorism. The images that are continually being communicated by the worldwide Web are emanating powerful and instructive directives.
“The more we have these messages and media all around, the more we have inspired younger generation fighters to go and prepare these attacks,” Hochberg-Marom acknowledges.
She declares that Global Jihad groups are dictating the new political order in the Middle East.
“I call on governments to broaden the focus; to have an additional practical and policy-oriented approach; an additional approach alongside the existing political and military tools.”
She adds that governments should use marketing perspectives in order to confront the plans of global terrorists, and in order to decrease their powerful influence.
“We have the capabilities and the tools to construct a coherent counter-marketing warfare designed to undermine the influence of Al-Qaeda and ISIS and to gain support for worldwide public opinion.”
“Those who are evil will be destroyed, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land.” Psalm 37:9
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Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright ©1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Ms. Haves is a news analyst, reporting on political, diplomatic, military and spiritual issues in Israel and the nations.