Report: In Middle East Media, Negating an Idea Often Reinforces the Message

Published March 26th, 2018 - 01:42 GMT
By negating ideas, are the media enforcing them? /AFP
By negating ideas, are the media enforcing them? /AFP

By Nadine Sayegh

With the military defeat of Daesh, the so-called ‘Islamic State’, questions about the group’s future remain. As the battle shifts from one of might to one of thought, new weaponry is needed in the on-going ideological battle. In a recent publication, the West Asia–North Africa (WANA) Institute analysed media content produced during Ramadan 2017, to better understand new approaches to Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE) circulated in the media.

Popular caricatures by local artists such as Emad Hajjaj, an episode of Jordanian favourite Watan regional TV series Black Crows, as well as an advertisement by telecom provider Zain were studied. The results highlighted a number of gaps in the current approach as well as certain strengths.

Negating an Idea Reinforces the Idea

Many of the media’s current efforts are focused on negating narratives put forth by Daesh. This is done, for example, by presenting the messages of violent extremist groups through imitation, followed by an intervention of a character or a text that negates the previous message.

This is problematic as numerous studies have found that perceptions of violent extremist groups are already particularly negative among the region’s general public, as well as among Muslim groups internationally. As a result, the audience does not leave this media encounter with new productive information that may aid P/CVE efforts.

Within cultural efforts to battle radical ideology, alternative narratives should be presented to the audience so that they might adopt even a slightly modified worldview that translates into their everyday lives.

Morally De-legitimising the Idea

In the same vein, a common practice is that heavy emphasis is placed on morally denouncing the actions of violent extremist groups. For example, in the TV series Black Crows, the audience gets attached to the Shari’a teacher and token ‘voice of reason’, who begins the first episode with a monologue stating:

“Previously, I was concerned about our kids [youth] from those who forsake religion, today I am afraid of those who have taken the religion like a free bird [hijacked it], to use it to lure the youth who have left their nests and never came back.”

This establishes the series’ lead premise: That the actions of these groups are of concern and are antithetical to Islam. This moral denunciation is present in other genres in the form of mockery, as in al Watan episode, where the mock Emir begins to criticise baseless fatwas issued by unregulated clerics. He provides the example of a woman being unable to sit on a chair because in Arabic, a chair is linguistically male, followed by a sarcastic laugh.

Lack of New Ideas

Despite the poignant criticism, what is sorely needed within the P/CVE context, are treatment suggestions to the problem of radicalisation. By only negating and denouncing the actions of these groups, the public, some of whom may be searching for an alternative, will not be introduced to one.

Future designs of counter- or alternative narratives may serve a greater purpose through slight adaptations, such as using interactive methods to engage the audience. This can be as simple as including a hashtag to stimulate discussion on social media platforms. In addition, it may be beneficial if media practitioners engage with P/CVE stakeholders to better design future counter-narrative efforts.

Culture is a large influencer of public opinion and attitudes. It is an important exercise to leverage this to correctly and accurately inform the audience of the nuances of the radicalisation process, early warning signs, and alternatives within the community to joining violent extremist groups.   

Nadine Sayegh is a researcher at the WANA Institute, specialising in Human Security and Countering Violent Extremism. The views expressed in this article do not necessairly reflect those of Al Bawaba News.


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