• U.S. Anti-ISIS Recruitment Videos: Why They Don’t Work

    November 6, 2014

    Tags: , , , ,
    Posted in: Iraq, Syria

    The U.S., via the State Department, is spending considerable effort and money producing anti-ISIS videos and other media (actual example, left), the goal of which is to convince American and other would-be jihadis not to join ISIS. The efforts won’t work, almost can’t work. They fail to understand the way ISIS recruits and as such, can’t counter it.

    Alcoholics Anonymous

    The starting point is oddly Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). AA does not recruit per se; instead, they rely on attraction, not promotion. The difference is subtle but crucial. Long experience suggests people lured in any spur-of-the-moment, impulse decisions that actually require long-term commitment will almost certainly fail. AA won’t create a commitment, but rather relies on you to make a commitment. Ads for the organization never try to seduce or seek out members. Instead, the focus is on what AA is, and what it does for you if you participate. If you want what we have, sobriety, they say, then join us. Otherwise, thanks for listening.


    And so ISIS. ISIS propaganda (and FYI, this is not an endorsement of anything ISIS does, just an explanation) pulls no punches. Beheading videos (NSFW), boasts about enslaving women, promises of extremely austere Sharia-led lives, there it is. You want what we have? Come along, because ISIS knows they want people with commitment, people who make a positive choice to join, not a negative one to stay away. The presentation is professional and serious, particularly in its Al Hayat Media Center (there is an unaffiliated Egyptian TV channel with a similar name), aimed specifically at non-Arabic speakers via videos and a weekly magazine.

    The strategy seems to be working; recruitment from both inside and outside of the Arab world is strong. Some even claim that ISIS has been so successful they are drawing away foreign recruits from the Taliban. And in the duality of everything the American government says about terrorism, between 12 (we’ve got this, you’re safe) and 300 (panic! run now!) Americans have also left Walmartland for ISIS.

    The State Department

    And so the U.S. State Department. State Department propaganda (and FYI, this is not an endorsement of anything State does, just an explanation) is designed to counter the attraction of ISIS media with the promotion of a negative message. The theme of State’s efforts is “Think Again, Turn Away” and features anti-ISIS accounts on YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and even on the sides of buses in New York. The YouTube products are graphic and sarcastic; one includes subtitles such as “learn useful skills, such as blowing up mosques” and “crucifying Muslims.” One also features an odd shot of oil being poured on the ground framed as “squandering public resources.”

    The quality of much of the interaction is poor, seemingly written more to appeal to Washington bosses than would-be jihadis. Have a look at one example. A lot mocks potential recruits, claiming for example that they read “Islam for Dummies” before heading to Syria.

    The anti-ISIS messaging campaign is keeping disaffected youth from joining the extremist group, Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs Richard Stengel told CNN. “We have evidence that there are young people who are not joining because we have somehow interceded. They’re reading the messages, they’re hearing the messages, not just from us but from the hundreds of Islamic clerics who have said that this is a perversion of Islam.” State’s description of its work is that they are “contesting the space,” fighting back on social media against the ISIS message. State’s coordinator for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications, which runs the program, has called it “participating in the marketplace of ideas.”

    Richard Stengel and the State Department have not provided any evidence or metrics that they have in fact dissuaded anyone from joining ISIS, nor will they discuss the budget for their work. A request to State for comment has gone unanswered.

    We’re Not All That Different, You and I(SIS)

    The odd thing is that State’s messaging and ISIS’ messaging are not all that different in content, per se. Both stress that recruits are unlikely to survive. State paints that as a terrible choice, while ISIS categorizes it as martyrdom, a chance to help save Islam and achieve Paradise.

    Both show photos of Christian churches ISIS destroyed, with obviously different views of the act. Both talk about Western life, State showing its good side, ISIS claiming it is empty and vapid; one ISIS piece features a recruit saying “We don’t need any democracy, we don’t need any communism or anything like that, all we need is Sharia.”

    Both sides agree that Muslims are killing Muslims; State takes the one-size-fits-all approach, with one Muslim being the same as any other. ISIS says some (i.e., Shias and other pretenders to the faith that abandoned Sharia) are not sincere and pious and it is not a violation of the Koranic imperative against internecine violence to kill them (one report says 92 percent of Saudi Sunnis see the ISIS activities as religiously legal.) “It’s a message frequently posted by ISIS on social media: “You have to join. It’s your religious duty,” said one terrorism analyst.

    Who is Winning?

    To be fair, State’s messaging is hard to quantify, requiring one to prove a negative. On the other hand, while ISIS seems to be chock-a-block with foreign recruits, one can never tell how many were driven to jihad by ISIS propaganda, or how many shyed away.

    But looking at the U.S.’ messaging, one is reminded of the anti-drug “Just Say No” campaign, which quickly morphed into fodder for comedians. As with AA, offering people already committed a positive message– you can have what we have– seems to work. To a disgruntled young person already looking askance at a western society he perceives as hollow, what ISIS offers seems more attractive in many ways than the crude, negative message of the State Department. It appears that many ISIS recruits wan to give their lives for jihad.

    At the end of the day, State says you’re going to hell, ISIS says you’re headed to heaven. Which strategy seems to offer more?

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    Copyright © 2020. All rights reserved. The views expressed here are solely those of the author(s) in their private capacity.

  • Recent Comments

    • Rich Bauer said...


      Why in God’s name or Allah’s would anyone believe a word out of the mouths of the mad men who created the perfect conditions for endless civil war in Iraq?

      11/6/14 2:09 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      America Today – where torturers and Wall Street crooks get promoted and people who dare feed the poor go to jail. And we wonder why know one listens to US.


      11/6/14 3:32 PM | Comment Link

    • Rich Bauer said...


      You can stand your ground with a GUN in Florida but not if you if you are holding a plate of food.

      “One of the police officers said, `Drop that plate right now, as if I were carrying a weapon.”

      11/6/14 3:34 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      quote“One of the police officers said, `Drop that plate right now, as if I were carrying a weapon.”unquote

      Drop that plate?? Hahahahahahaha! Is that satire..or a real quote? Naw..gotta be satire. No cop would…wait.. wait.. yes they would. ..



      11/6/14 3:51 PM | Comment Link

    • teri said...


      I do not believe any of it. I don’t believe Americans are leaving the country to join ISIS, nor do I believe they are coming back in with fresh ideas of instigating “homegrown terrorism”. We were told that “about 40” converts to ISIS have come home with the thought of bombing the US. Well, okay then, if you know the number, you know who they are. Watch them or interview them or do whatever you brilliant keeping-us-safe types do. But given that we already know the FBI and CIA make this stuff up all the freaking time and recruit, coerce, and give weapons to the “local homegrown terrorists” in a valiant effort to prove to the public that they are “stopping terrorism at home”, it’s about time we questioned this narrative.

      As for the converts who leave to join ISIS (if any; I think this is bullshit, too), well, damn, let them go. Pull all the US and European troops out of the Middle East and let them have at it. If they want to live in Saudi Arabia or the “new caliphate” under sharia law, let them give it a whirl. They don’t get to come back though. No do-overs. They can send us postcards saying, “having a good time, wish you were here.” The Middle Eastern countries have been doing tribal warfare for centuries and they’ll either sort it out or not. (And Israel doesn’t get to bitch-slap us into “protecting” them. If they weren’t such a belligerent, bullying little country, they might get along with their neighbors. They asked to live there based on some 5000-year-old religious text that they interpreted as valid land deeds. They knew the neighborhood and decided they wanted to live there and, by the by, steal a whole bunch of additional acreage that wasn’t included in the deal. Let them live with the consequences of their own actions.) Take that Pentagon money and start funding some real research into alternatives to fossil fuels. We need to get the fuck out of the Middle East. If some retarded Americans and Europeans find the whole living-in-the-desert-under-sharia-law-while-constantly-hoping-someone-doesn’t-shoot-you-in-your-pea-sized-brainpan extravaganza so irresistibly attractive, it’s frankly better for the gene pool that we let them go.

      11/6/14 5:01 PM | Comment Link

    • Avery said...


      Incredible! The dissuasion video uses all the same footage as the persuasion video!

      Well, someone in the State Department got paid for this, and that’s what really matters.

      11/6/14 6:13 PM | Comment Link

    • Michael Murry said...


      As my dear, departed mother used to say about religious proselytizers: “If you’ve got something good, you don’t have to sell it. Other people will steal it from you.”

      The Islamic State apparently has other Muslims from many countries eager to steal its “winning” formula. The U.S. State Department, on the other hand, thinks you can sell Muslims America-style losing for the benefit of corrupt Arab dictators and Apartheid Zionists, whether land-grabbing Jews or fundamentalist Christians eager for Armageddon. Not much doubt about which paradigm seems to have gotten the upper hand in the Muslim recruiting business.

      11/6/14 11:41 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      “You have to join. It’s your religious duty,” said one terrorism analyst. unquote

      If ever there was living proof that killing in the name of god is the most absurd concept ever to emerge on planet earth, this is it. From time immortal, the religious psychopaths have demanded death for those that don’t think the same way as they do. Darwin was an idiot. Human’s haven’t evolved at all. They’ve just got better at killing one another…in the name of whatever deity dujour. Meanwhile, the creator of the Universe chalks up his mistake to a glitch in its own belief it could create a living being in it’s own image that would love one another, while placing his finger on the NOW YOU’VE PISSED ME OFF button.

      11/7/14 12:56 PM | Comment Link

    • bloodypitchfork said...


      Ya know, the hubris of the human race on this pathetic little rock floating in a universe so big they can’t even comprehend the scale, is living testimony to their inherent stupidity. This planet could vaporize in a microsecond..and the rest of the universe will live out eternity without them as if the microcosim of life on this planet never existed.

      11/7/14 1:06 PM | Comment Link

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