The War of Ideas: UK edition

The new Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs, Jim Glassman, reinvigorated the concept that the “War of Ideas” is central to our national security. It is, as he describes it, a field of battle whose purpose is to “use the tools of ideological engagement -- words, deeds, and images -- to create an environment hostile to violent extremism.” While admittedly the phrase isn’t perfect, as he acknowledges, it conveys purpose and mobilizes the Government for the struggle minds and wills.

How do you arm yourself for this struggle? You understand the adversary and its support systems. In the case of Al Qaeda, an organization that has arguably lost much of its central operational capabilities (although there are arguments it is rebuilding and gaining strength), you undermine the brand on which hopes and myths are based. To be effective, the message must reach all elements of societies in all corners. The key effort must be to separate the base from the group and to isolate the group. Creating questions in the support group and the ‘swing voters’ that the adversary cannot answer, has proven it cannot answer, reduces the moral, social, and financial support, not to mention their ability to recruit.

On this point, read The Guardian’s Britain's secret propaganda war against al-Qaida:

The document also shows that Whitehall counter-terrorism experts intend to exploit new media websites and outlets with a proposal to "channel messages through volunteers in internet forums" as part of their campaign. ...

The report, headed, Challenging violent extremist ideology through communications, says: "We are pushing this material to UK media channels, eg, a BBC radio programme exposing tensions between AQ leadership and supporters. And a restricted working group will communicate niche messages through media and non-media." ...

The government campaign is based upon the premise that al-Qaida is waning worldwide and can appear vulnerable on issues such as declining popularity; its rejection by credible figures, especially religious ones, and details of atrocities.

The Whitehall propaganda unit is collecting material to target these vulnerabilities under three themes. They are that al-Qaida is losing support; "they are not heroes and don't have answers; and that they harm you, your country and your livelihood".

Of course, this isn’t original. A certain element of the Defense Department has been working the angle of attacking Al-Qaeda’s brand for a year or more. What is new is that it’s in the public sphere.