Current “counter narratives” aren’t in the least appealing or successful, whether in attracting or deterring ISIS supporters and recruits. They are mostly negative and they lecture at young people rather than dialoguing with them. As one former ISIS imam told me and my colleagues: the young who came to us were not to be lectured at like witless children; they are for the most part understanding and compassionate, but misguided.
In contrast with, say, the off-target tweets of the U.S. State Department’s “Think Again Turn Away” campaign, the Islamic State may spend hundreds of hours trying to enlist single individuals, to learn how their personal frustrations and grievances can fit into a universal theme of persecution against all Muslims, and thus translate anger and frustration into moral outrage.
Current counter-radicalization approaches lack the mainly positive, empowering appeal and sweep of the Islamic State’s story of the world, while at the same time lacking the personalized and intimate approach to individuals.
Any serious engagement must be attuned to individuals and their networks, not to mass marketing of repetitive messages.