The U.S. Needs Deradicalized Militants in Counter-Messaging Strategies

by Neil Aggarwal – May 10, 2017

Truman National Security Project

The other week, the George Washington University’s Program on Extremism published its monthly update on Islamic State (IS)-related terrorism in the United States. The statistics are astounding: Since March 2014, 122 individuals have been charged with IS-related offenses, of whom 72 have pleaded or been found guilty.

Of particular notice is this American cohort who has taken to Twitter in order to support IS publicly, and by doing so, they have raised the question: If radicalized individuals conduct their messaging out in the open, shouldn’t the U.S. government also be publicizing its counter-messaging strategies?

In essence, counter-messaging strategies are ways in which the government attempts to feature and promote credible voices that will change the public’s perception of violent extremist groups and their ideology. One way that they could effectively execute these strategies is to specifically feature deradicalized militants who are, in the eyes of the community, credible voices on violence. By using these voices, the government can convey to the public a more convincing image of violent extremist groups as detrimental to their communities.

However, America has chosen not to feature deradicalized militants in its messaging against IS, and this choice contrasts sharply from two of our partners in the War on Terror: Pakistan and Afghanistan.

For instance, after Pakistani Taliban spokesman Ehsanullah Ehsan turned himself in, the Pakistani government went out of its way to film his confession and release the transcript. “These people have misled people in the name of Islam, especially the youth, for their own ends,” Ehsan emphasized, criticizing the Pakistani Taliban. “They themselves do not hold themselves to the same standards they champion for others.” Particularly damning was Ehsan’s revelation that the Pakistani Taliban allegedly took money from India, the arch-nemesis of Pakistan, in order to “kill our own people in our own country.” So, who better than an ultimate insider like Ehsan to discredit the morality and strategy of the Pakistani Taliban, the group that killed over 130 school children in 2014 and attempted to murder Malala Yusufazi, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize?

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