Khadijah lived in London, was disillusioned with her University courses, and was lured by Da’esh to Syria. Now she is back home, looking directly at the camera and saying: “Da’esh is not protecting Muslims, it is killing them and fooling all of us.” She is one of many Da’esh defectors who have gone public with stories of disillusionment, terror and disgust.
Defections from Da’esh are a growing phenomenon. Fighters and supporters who have left the battlefield and turned against Da’esh can be valuable assets in our campaign to defeat the terrorists. That’s why, with our partners around the world, the United States is using the power of social media to make sure those voices are heard.
Last week, the State Department’s Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC) launched a social-media campaign, using the hashtag #WhyTheyLeftDaesh, to highlight the stories of defectors like Khadijah.
The initiative is a collaborative project involving Coalition allies and NGO partners, such as the Sawab Center, the UK Commonwealth Office, and the Quilliam Foundation. The campaign has released 13 videos and 36 social media banners that feature former fighters testifying to Dae’sh’s depravity. In a week, this content has generated 80 million social-media impressions.
Our efforts on the information battlefield complement the military campaign against ISIL. Terrorist groups use the public information space, particularly social media, to recruit, radicalize, organize, and promote their ideology. To combat their appeal, we must operate on the same platforms. With our technological strengths and culture of innovation, America is uniquely positioned to lead the digital fight against extremism.
We are continuing to highlight the President’s Countering Violent Extremism agenda at the UN General Assembly Meetings. On Tuesday, September 29, I will be part of the U.S. delegation led by President Obama and Secretary of State Kerry at the Leadership Summit on anti-ISIL and Countering Violent Extremism. I was also proud to co-host, with Undersecretary Sarah Sewall, a Global Youth Summit for innovative young leaders who are fighting extremism through community engagement.
Like politics, all messaging is local. So we’re taking a multi-faceted approach to target the right people. CSCC’s defector campaign highlights the value of focused, aggressive and coordinated U.S. messaging, but an even bigger priority is to empower coalition partners and third-party validators.
Other countries are demonstrating a willingness to be part of this collective effort. The Sawab Center, a U.S.-UAE partnership, was established this summer as a messaging center to tackle the hateful rhetoric from Da’esh and its fanboys. By providing a platform for anti-ISIL voices and civil society, the Sawab Center affirms a positive alternative vision for many young people in the region.
As Khadijah noted, Da’esh fooled her as she stumbled into the wrong hands. We must do more to help others like Khadijah tell their stories, which are critical to degrading and ultimately destroying ISIL’s appeal. As we move forward with this vital task, we will continue to use the full range of public-diplomacy tools to counter violent extremism and promote a more positive, affirmative vision.
About the Author: Richard Stengel serves as the Under Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs. His post was originally published on the DIPNOTE blog on Sept. 29, 2015.