The Terrorist Argument: Modern Advocacy and Propaganda
Christopher C. Harmon
January 10, 2018
About the speaker
Dr. Christopher C. Harmon is the lead author or editor of four books on terrorism and counterterrorism, including A Citizen’s Guide to Terrorism & Counterterrorism and Toward A Grand Strategy Against Terrorism. His new book, The Terrorist Argument, will be available for purchase and signing.
Harmon is a terrorism specialist and full Professor at the Daniel K. Inouye Asia Pacific Center for Security Studies. He previously held the Horner Chair at the Marine Corps University Foundation and before that the Kim. T. Adamson Chair of Insurgency & Terrorism at Marine Corps University. He has also taught at the Naval War College.
Dr. Harmon traces how armed groups and terrorists around the globe have honed their messages for maximum impact, both on the communities they hope to persuade to support them and on the official state organs they hope to overthrow. Terrorist groups use a fantastic variety of means to seize attention, explain themselves, and seek recruits and support: song and speech, “guerrilla theater,” leaflets, radio, cable TV, newspapers, print ads, books, videos, web sites, e-zines, and of course social media. Dr. Harmon examines how terrorist groups in recent history have used propaganda, and how they adapted to new communications technologies while retaining useful techniques from the past. Whatever the ideas or methodology, all are intended to use the power of ideas, along with force, to project an image and to communicate – not merely intimidate.
Dr. Harmon earned a Ph.D. in International Relations and Government and an MA in Government from Claremont Graduate School.
For more on terror propaganda and recruitment, see David Des Roches’ Westminster talk, Push and Pull of Religious Extremism: Who Are the Terrorists, How Are they Recruited, What Can We Do.
Robert R. Reilly:
I’m very delighted to give a brief introduction of our speaker tonight, Dr. Christopher Harmon, whom I unfortunately haven’t see in a number of years because well, those of us who live in Virginia think it’s paradise at least until last week when it hit eight degrees.
Chris defected and went to Hawaii where he is a full professor. He teaches, he’s a specialist on terrorism, full professor at the Daniel K. Inoue Asia-Pacific Center for Security Studies. But Chris previously held two different chairs at Marine Corps University and so taught here at Quantico for quite a number of years. We share an alma mater of the Claremont Graduate University where Chris received his PhD under a quite extraordinary professor, Harold Rood, who educated several generations of strategic thinkers. That has borne fruit in not only Chris’s teaching but his writing.
He’s the lead author or editor of four books on terrorism and counterterrorism, including a Citizen’s Guide to Terrorism and Counterterrorism and Toward a Grand Strategy Against Terrorism. Tonight he’s going to be talking about his his new book, The Terrorists Argument: Modern Advocacy and Propaganda. And that’s available for sale outside and Chris will be happy to sign them for you after his talk tonight on the subject of “The Terrorists Argument: Modern Advocacy and Propaganda.” Please join me in welcoming Dr. Chris Harmon.
Dr. Christopher C. Harmon:
Thank you everyone for coming out and I’m much, much looking forward to your questions and discussion after this talk. I am here as an independent scholar and I’m here to offer fruits of research that was conducted at many past periods of my life and then sort of assembled when I held a chair in Quantico from 2010 through ’14.
I had a wonderful co-author on a couple of chapters, so if you do get the book, the one on Al-Manar TV of Hezbollah and the one on ISIS media is by my good friend Randy Bowdish, who’s a navy captain and a PhD himself. We were honored then when Brookings Institution Press wanted to do the manuscript and they’ve done a very nice job with the presentation. I’m grateful to them. Let me give you three of the sort of general conclusions that underscore the book and then I’ll go through some interesting case studies just as sketches.
First of all, I think it’s important to see because oddly enough, there are theorists who still challenge this. Terrorism really is purposeful and calculated as an activity more often than not. It aims at psychological impact and it uses the power of ideas to project an image and to communicate, so there’s both ideas and force. There’s intimidation. There’s communication. It aims at our and our bodies, it aims at our brains, and it aims at our nervous systems.
Second, the ideas and the arguments advanced by terror organizations matter a great deal. Ideas may kill. The proponents of these ideas and the authors of militant propaganda tend to see their violent organizations as constructive not just destructive, and so they attack but they also advocate. And the forceful political character of terror groups compels them to compete in the political arena and to advertise, in effect, their political ideas.
So there are plenty of times when we sense from reading something that they’re masking some part of their purpose or that they’re being mendacious but they are involved in public explanations about what they do and I think we need to pay attention to that.
Number three. Number three was I think we’ve had too little awareness of just how many media they use. There are different modes of communication and our book, The Terrorist’s Argument, tries to show how communication study fuse well with terrorism studies and especially in managing the diversity of media, which these groups attempt to exploit. The good ones, the successful ones I mean by that, the insurgents, the terror groups that know what they’re doing tend to be multimedia actors. So, you know, you’ve all seen those old pictures of the IRA murals and those are pretty interesting and those are didactic and those are important and modern mural painting has been done by Sendero Luminoso. I have some some pictures of that in my backup slides if you like, but books, pamphlets, websites, radio stations, you see it all when you begin exploring the range of terror media.
And so I want to emphasize how simultaneously they they work in these fields, so a couple quick examples. The Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka: very adept during their long run, which ended in ’09. When they began building websites – and they were among the first insurgent groups to do that – they didn’t say well, this is an update on the radio, so we’ll quit thinking about radio. They kept their radio going and Tamil Radio was accessible now on the new website, so they simply doubled up. They didn’t retire the older technology.
Another example, the American white power organization, the National Alliance, used to be based rather close to here in West Virginia. They had such a range. It was an interesting range of propaganda materials. They had white power music they sold. They sold books. The catalogue of their books was really quite interesting and quite worth studying if you’re interested in political violence. They did lots of things, not just the Turner Diaries, which became infamous as a source of terrorism in a number of places not just Oklahoma City ’95.
Last example, New People’s Army in the Philippines, a group that’s often dismissed now. I continue to think they’re pretty important. They’re convinced about Maoist ideology, they always have been, and one of the icons within Maoism is Lenin. We’ve just had the centenary of the Bolshevik Revolution and believe me, NPA published a large, glossy, expensive pamphlet to commemorate the Bolshevik Revolution, its ideology, some of those iconic postures in art. Students of history would recognize a lot of the iconography, if you like, in that propaganda display. Well, NPA does broadcasting. They have a biweekly newspaper I try to read when I can. They publish on the web. They do a lot of video material.
And this really, I think, has not attended too much but we should notice after all, the founder of New People’s Army is a professor. Always watch out for those guys. The professor’s students include a certain man named Rodrigo Duterte. I think you’ve heard of him. He once studied with [Jose Maria] Sison. Okay, so that’s sort of the intro.
This is where we’ll start with the chapter from the book on radio. This brilliant and very original man was not an Algerian but he is famous now as a kind of icon of the Algerian revolution against the Frenc, which succeeded in ’62. His education was a formidable [one]. He was a psychiatrist and he devoted part of those talents to justifying violence by the Algerian insurgents, some of which included terrorism.
Now FLN, the National Liberation Front, as many of you would know, was not Salafist. In fact, if you had that kind of inkling, you were either forced to kind of moderate it or you might be shouldered aside by FLN. They were nationalists. They were socialists. They were they were not like contemporary jihadis. Well, they published an 8-point program in ’54. They stuck to it and eight years later they had completely defeated France and forced them to withdraw. For their purposes, it was a wildly successful revolution of a nationalist kind, a remarkable thing to study and there are no end of good books about it.
Their media was internationally-minded and it was diverse and it was good. And they used diplomats and they used foreign friends like Frantz Fanon. They had radio. This fellow didn’t broadcast for them but he sometimes wrote for their newspaper and he would write broadcast for the radio, although he didn’t deliver for them. He’s done a fine essay, which is really forgotten and I’d like to recover it a bit. And so the chapter goes on. It’s an essay on the Voice of Algeria and it’s in a book called A Dying Colonialism, published by Frantz Fanon in 1959.
Radio at the time was the brand new thing, the brand new thing. I mean radio in Algeria was dominated completely by France and it was seen as a tool of colonial power by the French, and certainly by guys like Fanon or the FLN. Fascinatingly, transistor radio moves into that part of the world right about the time of this rebellion, ’54, ’55, ’56. It’s simultaneous. And so, it became possible within the FLN if they went this kind of technology, to be able to communicate with their cadre in the cities and more importantly, in the countryside, and with people who might be illiterate in the countryside, so they published El Mujahid, for which he wrote a great deal, but they also went over the airwaves, which allowed them to reach people who maybe couldn’t read or didn’t read very well.
Fanon becomes extremely influential. His argument is that colonialism by definition is a matter of force and subjugation, that it dehumanizes, that it represses, that it makes full freedom and human development impossible, that it must be resisted and why not in a post-World War II era of self-determination? And so for him, violence and radio were kind of were thought of in similar ways. They both would be used to instruct and they both used to intimidate. The Wretched of the Earth is his famous book but as I say, the other essay in this this book is more interesting to me as a tool of radio.
Now, alternatives are always present in terrorism. It’s a choice. It’s a strategic choice. And here’s a man who didn’t make that choice. He was part of the rebellion. He was a full-fledged nationalist. He became head of the provisional government but he was used by the movement as a kind of window dressing so far as I can tell and it’s because he was not an extremist. He was a militant nationalist but not the type to go to plastique bombs in Algiers cafes and so Ferhat Abbas, who also did his own kind of broadcasting, was an example of the kind of choice this movement made.
And it was a choice that we can pin down as being made right about ’55, ’56 in part in the Soummam Conference in a valley in Algeria where the guerrilla chiefs gathered. They made the cold calculation that they weren’t doing so well hitting French soldiers and that it was time to choose a different category of victims. There was a commander who said that one corpse in a dinner jacket is worth more than twenty in uniform, and that kind of thinking in more subtle and educated ways came through with people like Fanon and through with some of the writing that they did. And it was the matter of targeting changed in ’56 there thereafter.
And the effects are visible too. You know the movie The Battle of Algiers, everyone’s seen it, and that’s actually a pretty good tutorial on how some of this work and thinking went on. Now, others have had their own radio stations, so ISIS has this one or did and you notice multiple languages and all. And it’s actually very common, once you start thinking about it, to find the names and a little detail sometimes about guerrilla radio, about the sub-state actors adoption of this kind of technology.
Well, the next one is also old-school, maybe more old school, newspaper. The Irish Republican Army’s roots can go back. You can count as well as I. You can say it’s about a hundred years or you can say it’s far more but people became famous, Éamon De Valera and James Connolly and folks like that, for favoring Irish freedom and unification of the island vis-à-vis British interests.
The IRA strategies have varied over time. They’ve always had a strong propaganda arm. They have, of course, done guerrilla warfare. By that I mean against martial targets not the same thing as terrorism, and they’ve had a good strategy of working with friends, as in our country, very successfully, so the policy has always been pretty consistent and that was for a unified Ireland, and then their strategies were varied in the ways that I’ve mentioned.
Well, one of them was a kind of propaganda effort. This is an example of a very good newspaper, which I took for 10 years and found that I learned a great deal from studying. They had a number of papers and there was one that kind of expressed both IRA and Sinn Feinn both and the Irish People was very valuable.
Over time they did other papers. This is just one format. The same paper changed a bit over time, so there’s a later header and they’re boasting in this one of an ambush. This is from the ’90s, I guess. And then further examples of parts of the paper, here’s a 1992 issue section called “War News,” [which] was common. They were clever. They did a spread of things. They did propaganda based on culture, history, current news, some easy topics like the imperialism of the British, which all their readers would enjoy.
But they also overtly covered their own violent attacks and, for example, they love to boast about the economic damage their attacks yet, they would tell you how many millions of pounds they think they just cost with the bomb in Manchester, the bomb in London, whatever it was, so it was an interesting paper for lots of reasons.
Here’s another page. One of those murals and you see by ’94 they began to start thinking about what all these peace talks mean and the paper shows a kind of ambivalence. They’ve got a foot in each camp as to whether these talks will lead anywhere and whether in fact we should be settling our affairs by talks.
So, the issues continued to arrive at my house. They sold things, so you could buy videos about what they were doing in the field or various other historical aspects of things. They had a library, which sold both books and other things and were in effect an extremely important and influential paper published in New York City, and reaching out to the Diaspora people who were Irish, people who were interested in Irish Affairs.
They were intending to create – and I believe they they seem to have – they were intending to create that sense of community that a newspaper will create. When Alexis de Tocqueville was here, he noticed these Americans just have thousands of these things and they were often centered around a community and they have the effect of building community. And terror groups or guerrilla groups can approach things the same way that an independent newspaper might in a community, touching on diverse themes.
The legacy of this sort of effort is interesting. There are plenty before and plenty after The Irish People. It’s defunct now, it quit somewhere around the time of 9/11. But in older days in our country there were, for example, scores, literally scores, of anarchist newspapers in the 1890s-1900 period, some founded by émigrés, some founded by guys who lived here for years, expressing the anarchist ideology and approach to government. And there were others, of course, similar publications in newsprint form, so the Weathermen had these. Lots of guerrilla groups have had these and, in fact, they’re always looking for grabbing your attention. They’re looking for communicating. They’re looking for continuing the ideological approach.
Lenin had a paper. He called it Spark. Decades later, you can look at Mao Ze Dong and you can remember his phrase about a “spark starting a prairie fire.” The Weathermen in the United States then have a publication in ’74 called Prairie Fire. And there’s a kind of continuity of of views on the value of a newspaper and as Lenin said, it isn’t just what’s on the page or just what you see. There’s also something about that community of writers, editors, and circulators who create a paper and make it effective and that builds a kind of little Bolshevik cell all of its own. And so, there’s results in reading something like this but also in producing it, okay.
On to the next of medium. The one I chose for this chapter is a little unexpected maybe. It’s simply the human voice. We tend to forget sometimes the strength of oration. Although we all know orators that we like, we forget how important sometimes sub-state actors-orators are. This gentleman was the one who used to be a professor of English in the Philippines, and he’s part of the challenge that agrarian communism has made to democracy in the Philippines.
You probably have Filipino politicians and historical figures you admire. Mine include Ramon Magsaysay, who beat an earlier attempt at maoist communism in the Philippines, and Cory Aquino, who I got to see in our congressional gallery in 1986. Absolutely spellbinding to see her triumph election that year in the country and her speech to the joint session. But there are challengers to that vision of the democratic Philippines and this is one of them.
He’s an ideologue. He’s adept. He’s smart and he’s been in the business of leading this party and its army for 50 years. Next year will be the 50th anniversary of the founding of the party and the NPA Army. That army used to be big. It’s not anymore. They are down to maybe three to four thousand people. The Hukbalahap Rebellion occurred up here and was most important there. But you see [the] NPA presence is surprisingly national, which is important for a Communist organization. It should be both national and international. They’re not in Luzon only, they are spread through some of the other islands and it’s interesting to see them here in the south, which we often expect to be a Muslim rebellion, and there is some there, NPA is strong there too. So you have democracy, you have Islamism in modern forms, you have New People’s Army maoism all fighting in that southern part of the Philippines for authority.
Well, Sison, who I showed you, was a man of many talents. He was a pretty good speaker but he’s a very busy writer. He still turns out books almost every year. He gives interviews. He creates music albums because he likes to play. Some of the other communists of older times in the Philippines also were musicians. He is. He works from Utrecht where he frequently lectures and he has been, in fact, a vocal and important proponent of maoism all these years. He travels some, where he can. He makes satellite broadcasts. He has just started a new political front.
But in his tradition, I think the most interesting thing about the way they proceed is not all that media stuff, but it’s the good old-fashioned human voice. And I brought along a testament from one of their agitators who does sort of quiet, guerrilla work in the outback.
There’s a description – this goes back a few years – from a historian named Gregg Jones. And he’s met someone named Tibbs and this woman is an agitator for New People’s Army. And Jones, a journalist and writer, was so impressed and these are his words after 17 years in the countryside as an NPA guerrilla,
“Tibbs bore the signs of great physical hardship. A scar on her neck was the remainder of a goiter operation, the legacy of years of poor nutrition. Emaciated, she weighed barely 100 pounds. Ulcers prevented her from drinking coffee and tea and restricted her diet. Her arms were scratched and scarred from long hikes through the Philippines’ jungles. Her hands callous, skin leathery.
“I first met her late one evening in June 1987, reading and writing by a dim light, a homemade lamp in a peasant’s house. We met several times in the next year, sometimes in remote guerrilla camps and villages, sometimes in Manila.
“The intensity, energy, and sheer exuberance she radiated, whether huddled around the campfire with comrades or leading a ‘revolutionary sing-along’ in a trendy Manila, they always amaze me. Despite her frailty, Tibs could walk for hours over rugged trails as nimbly as the peasants whose life she had embraced.” Well, “She was more at home delivering a lecture on the inevitability of a communist victory in the Philippines, and she was as fiery speaker as any rebel I ever encountered.”
I found that really a compelling testimony and so, when we see the videos and the songs that are done on multimedia by Communist Party of the Philippines today, I often think of her as sort of one of those archetypes of a peasant rebellion, which has been such a feature of the Philippines. There are some of them in training and there’s one of their song sessions. The videos are full of this kind of work. You can find these on the web at things like Philippine Revolution info or Philippine revolution, and it’s really often very compelling stuff.
Well, next group and next media television. What an interesting thing for a substituent emp’d, so we have Hezbollah, which is formidable in many ways. It’s interesting to consider how now they are three and a half decades old and the so-called Party of God is known for taking hostages from places like Germany, in America, but also for social work, for all kinds of media, for terrorism in contemporary times in places like Burgos, Bulgaria. It’s an organization that is important for lots of reasons including the remarkable political strength within Lebanon. In fact, I would suggest that Lebanese sovereignty is completely compromised by the existence and power of Hezbollah.
Well, they have a TV station called The Beacon and they’ve been busy for many years. Here’s what series of frame shots from their TV it’s quite- it’s quite remarkable the- some of the artistry and colors and all that they show. We have this kind of screen which has many thinkers- were application of the lovely frame with single horse at the bottom which is also a favorite of Al-Qaeda propagandists. They do this kind of work on television all the time and some of it’s pretty good.
This is a screen series of [a] little girl. I don’t know how old… seven, nine. She’s telling us in a screed that she didn’t write but she sure does deliver in an animated way. You can see it on YouTube and things, ‘Jerusalem is captive. Oh, Muslims, Palestine is calling you. Jerusalem is calling you. Beat the drums of jihad. The slumber has lasted too long. It says down there on [the] lower left one of the classic arguments in terrorist propaganda that the so-called good people, the so-called moderates, are merely slumbering their somnolent their missing history. It’s time to awaken. It’s time to get going. It’s time to do the work of the God in this case and Al Manar as The Beacon tries to to keep that spirit going.
They have lots of other kinds of propaganda. The British press once covered a remarkable theme park built for children which is probably very effective given what young boys like to go see. For example, by way of military equipment – and nobody mocks Hezbollah’s performance in the field – do they because they’re extraordinarily good, so the television is important and lots of groups do it and, of course, most of them don’t Iranian sponsor or the moneybags to do it themselves, right, but they still can be adept at getting interviews on television or they’ll do videos, which are accepted by a mainstream TV and that lends credibility or sometimes they have done short bits of 10 minutes, 20 minutes, a half-hour, and they’ll sell it commercially, so they’re able to place it on a cable network, for example, so they’ve taken lots of approaches.
And you can’t ever forget simply the good old interview because there’s a great book of memoirs by Ingo Hasselbeck, who’s a neo-Nazi who explains that the the media are always such suckers for a Nazi uniform and a good march and a couple of royal gestures and all that. If you just marshal up a couple of your friends and get them in uniform and get down to some appointed place, you can be guaranteed coverage for your organization and if you’re lucky and you’re smart, you can maybe get paid for that interview too. So there’s lots of ways to approach TV where you don’t have the budget that Hezbollah has.
Well, this is about a book because we don’t tend to think of terrorists writing books but a lot have. I think that this must be one of the most important books in the early 21st century the Call to Global Islamic Resistance. Now, there many of you who know a lot more about Islamic resistance that I normally gar among them plenty others and you may have a different opinion but I think this man al Suri is really important. He’s a paradox. I can’t tell you I know he’s alive – he may not be – but he’s been active in the field for decades and he showed that range we’ve identified of media. This man has done classroom lectures. He has sat in a house around little fire with a few people are out in the field teaching. He’s been in big lecture halls. He has done videos. He has done libraries of videos to cover long parts of a training regimen he has been working overseas in places like Spain in different times he’s helped run a newspaper he publishes himself so when he did this book, which is 1600 pages, it’s a kind of ultimate work by a man who’s been very, very busy all of his life. I think that the chance to see him now and then as some photographers have is kind of special. Peter Bergen recently published that picture from Tora Bora for example.
Now, the reason he’s important more than just interesting is that Al. Suri has laid out in his book and he’s done a number one on Syria, one on Afghanistan the Call to Global Islamic Resistance lays out a kind of grand theory and an approach to thinking about resistance worldwide. He’s extremely well informed and he spent a lot of time working on all this and he sees a kind of strategic front, which includes things like open warfare, the war of open fronts, perpetual guerrilla warfare, and what he calls individual terrorist jihad.
And I belabor that phrase because how many times have you been in a classroom or reading a book had been told by some social scientists that you know the term terrorism is such a bin Laden word that, you know, we shouldn’t use it at all because nobody can define it. It’s just a pejorative. No, that’s always been false and there are books by people like Carlos Marighella that are very proud of the terrorism they’ve done, and this is the kind of man who will tell you right up front that he does terrorism and like bin Laden would say there’s good terrorism and bad terrorism and you know which part he does, and that there’s nothing wrong with it and it should be deployed, and it ought to be a regular feature of the contest between civilizations in effect.
So Al Suri has many invitations to terrorism and many of them were picked up by that al Qaeda magazine Inspire. Nobody in Inspire was reprinted as much as this guy sitting on the right. Even Bin Laden didn’t get as much airtime in that Al Qaeda magazine, I would venture, as these reprints of speeches by Abu Musab al-Suri. So he said, well, he’s very important for being a strategic kind of thinker and he’s important for openly discussing the need for terrorism not just attacks on martial targets and such.
Now, I said that lots of folks, right? Let’s totally change ideologies here. Here’s an example of classic nationalism. We mentioned the Tamil Tigers, a long, long war through the late ’70s, ’80s, ’90s, really a remarkable war. You did end to no 9, but it’s a lot of people that never thought it would Adele and Balasingham gets her last name from her husband. He’s the primary diplomat – or was – for the Tamil Tigers in Sri Lanka. Her contribution – this is a typical sort of monograph that terrorists will produce – was exactly to show the role of women in the rebellion, how they should think about nationalist ideas, what their roles were within the political and military forces of the Sri Lankan Tigers, and what you could contribute as a girl, as a woman in the fighting field. And this is one of the pictures that turned out in the she did, and they’ve captured an armored vehicle there in Sri Lanka.
It’s extremely important to know that people like this are involved, so a lot of people might study or write books about Papa Quran, the commander of all this, but there was a diplomatic side by Balasingham, and there was the sign that enhanced the roles of females in the rebellion by the wife of. I understand that miss adèle in is not only still alive, but she’s doing quite well in Australia. Most of the others who are militants in the movement haven’t fared them quite so well.
Now, on the theme sort of publications, here’s one from ISIS. And similarly, it gives you the cultural, political, and martial lay down for what the woman ought to be offering. Now they, unlike Ella Adele Anne, don’t exhort women openly to compete in the field against men with arms, but like Adele, they push the notion of cultural contributions that the woman should make to the family, so they’re raising young would-be jihadi, they’re taking care of their husband, they’re managing home economics and social affairs, and they might be working at the local medical clinic. But anyway, this kind of a monograph was designed by ISIS to show you what the roles of women ought to be, and you can read this, by the way, in translation on this website of the Quilliam Foundation if you like, so there are plenty of things, memoirs, monographs, and everything in between that terrorists actually published.
So they are just sort of mentioned in books. They actually write them. One analyst claims to have found over 100 books, in fact, written by direct participants in terrorism and I expect that may be true, so a word about that magazine al Qaeda. It’s now-defunct. They had 16 issues of Inspire. The first one became famous, “In the Kitchen of Your Mom,” among the other headlines. Here’s a byline by this article. The author’s name is ‘Terrorist,’ so it underscores my point about their utter shamelessness about indicating the kind of targeting they’re willing to do.
For their own reasons, they think that they’re a kind of standard bearer for the revolution of a kind they want. Their approach to politics was important. It was discernibly different from that taken by ISIS. The magazine is really intriguing and I’m sure some of you some of you who seemed an issue which is good because the issues disappeared. You see, yeah, ISIS friends. I said Al Qaeda ran 16 issues of their magazine and it was destroyed in some of those airstrikes and we don’t know if it’ll ever be revived and maybe it will and maybe not. It was a remarkable tool of propaganda, though I give them immense credit. It was witty, it was intelligent. Even though it was in English, it was usually flawless English, and often American English pitched to readers like us or a guy in a cafe in Germany or Spain approaches to the young or a common.
They were interactive. See that the radio can’t be really that newspaper I subscribe to for ten years I could write a letter to the editor and that may be the end of it interactivity was one of the great points of emphasis of Inspire magazine, so they had elaborate code in the back to show you how you could communicate directly with them and not get caught by the FBI or authorities at whatever country. They had a kind of jihad-feedback sort of thing. They had letters to the editor. They encouraged you to get involved deeply in affairs not simply to read passively and, in fact, in some later issues, they were exhorting readers to send in proposed articles for example, so it was a remarkable magazine. The color and artwork are so, in some cases, really, really good.
Now, ISIS basically just stole the idea. They know there’s nothing creative about Dabiq magazine or its successor or Umayyah. They took the idea of an electronic magazine, which could be sent to you or me for free, which is a great thing about an e-zine, right? And it can be done in glorious color but you don’t have to pay for that expensive paper that you needed if you’re at Life magazine or Fields and stream or something, and so Dabiq is a direct successor.
Their ideological line is harder, they have no sense of humor at all, and they’re willing to publish the most flagrant things almost as if to antagonize, so we said they want to intimidate and communicate. Well, their magazines are kind of like those videos you didn’t want to watch on TV. They do a lot more intimidation than they do communication, and I think that, especially now, that they’ve suffered sentence so many reverses. The kind of common refrain we’ll all hear is that they were foolish because they overdid the violence bid and they to win support politically and maybe that’s true, but I want us all to think about it because I would argue that something like Inspire, which was a more moderate version of an e-magazine, was very compelling and very effective propaganda, and they always threatened violence. But they didn’t have to deliver right there on the screen, so there’s another reason why the slave markets run by ISIS are wonderful things approved by their religion a little quotation here, what a fine thing it is and when you think that you have no more stomach for this sort of stuff ISIS runs, here’s a suggestion about how much Michelle Obama might have been worth in a slave market that they would run, so there’s no bottom to these guys.
Now, one thing that they people like Harold W. Roode thought Bob and I was that you got to look at primary sources yes, Joe DeSutter, another student of Harold Rould, you’ve got to look at the primary sources and here’s a case where we didn’t. I guess this man led the massacre in November 15 in Paris. This man is shown here nine months before he was in northern Europe. Jiri conned his sights he went to Syria training contact with ISIS whatever and he gave these interviews, a couple of pictures, and then he went back and did just what he said, so I’m here in order to, you know, God chose me to rise the Crusaders and that’s what we’re going to do, and you know Belgium’s in the coalition, so it’s a remarkable case of where European police and intelligence figures and maybe all the rest of us kind of failed to take advantage of an open source publication.
They were risking all by publishing this kind of information and then sending him out on an operation wouldn’t you say? So I’m sitting in Honolulu with my Star Advertiser and they run a piece of this picture and I say I’ve seen this guy before because it was right after the massacre and I just pulled down the copies of Dabiq off my shelf and found this article so many months earlier. They published the interview well before his mission, and so for all the things that an open publication does, that’s one of them. It gives intelligence people a chance to do something if they want to pay attention.
Now, the last one is something totally different and you can’t go more low-tech than this. I mean Gutenberg would have appreciated the chapter we have here. The print advertisement cheap newspaper block, you know, block coverage, no fancy artwork black and white, sometimes the advertisements by MEK were like this with a strong human appeal, little girl, writing directly to Secretary State Clinton. Other times they were big text jam things where you said almost nobody but Chris Harmon is gonna read this advertisement. They ran a campaign for years.
The People’s Mujahideen e-Khalq is a fascinating group, which is difficult to describe ideologically with the State Department in their reports used to note things like Iranian secular views, some trace of Sunni faith, feminism, on and on. It’s a very mysterious organization and some dismiss it as a cult but there’s a reason they were on the list of the department’s list for terror groups, and they were on there for many years, and it’s because they killed people like American military advisers. They killed a lot of Iranians. They eventually had a serious, semi-conventional army, which Saddam organized for them, and they had all kinds of people well-trained for those weapons. A lot of them were women, by the way, and today, the organization is run by a woman.
Well, especially between ’05 and onward, they ran an ad campaign, which had this kind of feature, and it was an attempt to reach Western speakers, and they had all sorts of advertisements, which showed massive rallies or changes of opinion among large groups of parliamentarians in Europe or other ways in which they could say you Americans need to delist MEK, we’re just Iranian dissidents, we hate the mullahs just like you guys in Washington say.
And part of the campaign was very clever. They approached very serious Americans, often ones known explicitly for counterterrorism or military roles. They invited them to conferences. I’m sure this is all pretty open and they let them speak and then they used their names, and so we have a remarkable range of people who signed this kind of advertisement, and by the way, they were similarly working the halls of Congress.
Now, when I was there as a staffer, I don’t remember getting lobbied by, but I may have, but a lot of staffers were and a lot of congressmen were, and there’s quite a history of MEK of sponsored letters that start, “Dear Colleague, from the guy in Maine or the guy in California, and they were basically saying delist PM.” And when you have this kind of horsepower or artillery behind that kind of request, eventually you may well succeed. And so I was struck then, when in September 2012, they got just what they wanted. They were delisted.
I want to emphasize this isn’t all whitewash or influence operations. They did all that and they did satellite TV, and I own Maryam Rajavi books and all the rest. They had a multimedia effort. They also changed behavior. They quit murdering civilians in large numbers, they quit sending mortar shells into Iranian border towns, and they changed their behavior. And they really went political. And I used to work a lot on how terrorist groups end, and one of the ways they often end is is they make that political transition not many, but some, but often enough to keep a kind of pattern going.
So PMO’s newspaper ads are remarkable. I have a whole folder of them. They were in things like The New York Times, The Washington Post. Can you imagine what a half-page ad costs in The Washington Post or The New York Times? They had a lot of money. French authorities have told me they’re plenty worried about how much money they have. They care because they have a big compound in the send Valley even today, but they’re off the list in Europe, they’re off the list in the United States, and they’re operating now as a as a delisted former terrorist organization.
So I’m gonna I’m going to turn the time over to you and see what discussion the items you have. I’m just gonna close with one thought, which is that my book is really about about violent extremism, but a lot of time in this town we’re thinking about countering violent extremism CVE, and I guess the way I’d like to put it is doing that well would upon many things and above all understanding the violent extremists. We have to understand the enemy. We have to understand the terror groups that are doing the propaganda well before we can start figuring out how to shape messages that go against them. We have to pay attention then, to what they write and what they say and what they publish, and sometimes we just pay attention to what they do. But actually, their ideas matter a great deal. And we talk a lot in town about a war of ideas and a contest of ideas. You might have varied views on how well we do with that, but we have to understand their ideas before we can begin to shape a good response to their ideas. And with that, Robert, I’ll stop.
Christopher C. Harmon:
Yes, it’s a good question about in the lone wolves when when we see the direct declarations and things like the call to global Islamic Resistance by al-suri and the the devolution zuv those can inspire they often will use they’ll use the term but mostly because it’s what we use but they’re more common term is in English is in individual terrorist jawed or they’ll talk about lone assassins there’s a kind of cult in Inspire and Dabiq magazines for the knife the bladed weapon and there’s even graphics these magazines show and sometimes with wildly colored pages you know daggers and blood dripping and all that and it shows the great heroes of the movement here’s a woman who approached an MP on the streets of London and stabbed nearly to death and she was captured on the spot and she was very proud of it you know here’s a lone assassin with his revolver in a briefcase and it shows him in a nice suit coming down an escalator he’s obviously pursued his target into a big building and you name the American city and he’s going to do what a with a revolver or what he can’t do because he’s not in Syria and then strategically these folks become even more important because as the territories controlled by a certain group in Iraq or Libya shrinks or as ISIS loses its so-called caliphate they explicitly say too hard to travel now just carry on the effort in your own place and time and at your discretion so we’re going to publish instructions you can study it doesn’t what’s it take to learn a knife attack not too much but with a bomb or with the revolver they’ll have elaborate instructions in these magazines and so there’s a place strategically for the lone wolf and then there’s a tactical invitations to do this now the other thing that’s fascinating for us Americans is these guys don’t invent this you know you can go back to the assassins if you want in the 12th century who like the gal in London after they’d attack with a short bladed weapon just wait for the arrest or the being murdered on the spot it was a matter of pride it was a matter of courage it was a matter of showing they’re not afraid of anybody that they recognize they might die for this but they’re willing to do it and a more common thing for an American would be the name Lewis beam and he was a white separatist operating in Texas and he published a lot of things including a little newsletter called the resistance that I think and years ago he published an essay on quote leaderless resistance now he his invitations were all to the America Ellucian Aries and such and of course they’re fighting a guerrilla war they’re not murdering MPs in the streets right or British diplomats right but the idea was that the more the state focuses on you the better you’ll do if you’re decentralized and the best part you can do in a completely decentralized thing is to have no network it’s to read something like inspire and do it all by yourself and you don’t tell anyone and that’s going to be the perfect thing for in terms of counterintelligence they can’t catch you when you don’t share the plan so there’s very good and deadly reasons for the lone wolf theory yes ma’am miss quirk but I’ve been lately do we really want to engage curious you know clearly where they’re arguing for independence from the French that’s an argument that the French kind of had to engage right and because that it’s a legitimate argument and they did what about ISIS do we it’s not really a legitimate argument what they’re putting forth so do we need to engage with that argument do we need to counter it or are we better off simply to go after them with a kinetic solution I think the answer is that there’s no reason not to do both now it’s not easy to go after these guys kinetically and you know when I was growing up studying terrorism there weren’t many cases of taking down individual terrorist leaders to be studied and in fact there were executive orders that suggested to some people reading them that you couldn’t even do that and that it was a kind of struggle in peacetime and that without wide open rules of war you couldn’t assassinate somebody like say Yasser Arafat and there were a lot of people who believed that and so we’ve had a long learning process to come to the stage where we’re accepting a kind of challenge of war like in the fat Wazza bin Laden like by Al at Nonnie the publicist for ISIS who reading reading reading as is his 2014 declaration on the ISIS was like reading mine Kampf it was that purple and ugly ala Donnie is is dead now and I don’t think al Baghdadi’s dead there’s more to do but I think that side of the fights got to continue but to not carry on the other side I think would be a blunder if the jihad ease I used the term like they do in quotes I guess as I should use it in quotes have often quoted people like bin Laden saying that the media is half the jihad many of them have said that and they put that in print including Sameera Khan who has a super article and inspire once on the media conflict as it’s called I have a copy here somewhere if someone wants to see it so that it isn’t enough for them and two it’s not enough just to kill wolf or even to build a Caliphate you have to persuade people and in a society like ours with which is open and dedicated to political interchange I think some of the arguments are important now I don’t know that we need to engage everybody but if- if ISIS owns hundreds of square miles is directing people to murder your citizens and is able to put social media messages in your mail boxes too for troops that are on bases in Hawaii to use a example that struck home you don’t really have an option I think for not engaging in that so then the question turns to what we should say I appreciate the question and and the reason is that there are analysts who say we ought to just not engage at all and and I think that that’s a kind of a unilateral disarmament and it also misses some good opportunities because we should be not just criticizing people that write for inspire we should be pointing to what we favor what’s good what’s what’s advances civil society rule of law and when we can display the difference between an ISIS article like I showed you on slave markets and an organization in Indonesia which has 29 or 30 million devotees to Islam and by the way there are two so there are almost 60 million alleged members of this mainstream to organizations in Indonesia when we can accentuate the differences like that I think we should and I think it’s a good thing to build up legitimate religions and the sense of civil society as opposed to terrorism there’s been a long contest by which the terrorists try to show that there’s is a form of communication and that’s why you know people like Arafat would say what’s wrong with you Americans I’m just like George Washington you know and appear at the UN with a gun and so forth and to the extent that relativism prevents us from distinguishing those kinds of activities a nationalist war against soldiers and terrorism against civilians for shock purposes then we’re not thinking clearly and we’re missing a chance to show why Washington really was a great statesman yes sir thank you so much for coming and his congratulations first given everything that you read and look at interact with that you haven’t been more radicalized I am closely watched by the authorities and the media that you describe in human voice video are all the things that weren’t invented for or by terrorists are all things that we all have access to every day so the distinction I guess I’m getting marking them wrong is is the content and the way these are deployed what’s distinctive let me ask this looking at the horizon rover girl I see what is said to be coming technologically are their devices is there a device or other devices are there media that are coming that will particularly I don’t know I appreciate the question and and I’m anyone is delight I’d be delighted if anyone has a good idea about that but but I don’t I don’t know and and the thesis in the book actually is that what’s surprising is that no matter how sophisticated they get they keep using the old stuff and so the old media not the old messages that you know my dear friend Jose Maria C stone rewrites Maoism for every era as he walks through it and and and you know it’s a dust-up it’s a polishing it’s a new information it’s a reinvention of themes like neoliberalism and imperialism and American colonial mentality the messages will will change they’re very good at that they’re very good at that in fact inspire predates the current concern in our country about women’s rights they openly ridiculed Anthony Weiner at least twice cartoons and such they they know what we care about and they’re always updating but what what I think is fascinating is that Isis which can do things I don’t even understand in social media it’s still willing to do some of the older things like a leaflet like a little monograph for the gals within the Caliphate and so the older technology that keeps coming back maybe dr. cigar can help me out it’s poetry and that you can trace the pre-islamic poetry as a vehicle now the main audience is still going to be in the Muslim world inspire in that that’s for the West or Muslims in the West or whatever which is a fraction of the real audience yeah which is the Islamic world and poetry isn’t going to sell in the West it’s something normally, well, it’s a vehicle to transmit messages and it has since pre-Islamic Genelia times yeah and they kinda had a poet laureate as well and it’s a way of conveying that message in a very reset to a receptive audience that’s used to that I can under certain issues of inspire and I always study them and then wish that like you I could read Arabic and know what it would be like to see that in Arabic I recognized that it was valuable even in English and that it was yet another kind of medium and it’s just the oral form of the song which I put emphasis on with New People’s Army and I watched and dub you can Ischl II didn’t have any poems and then after a number of issues they had a few and and I noticed that and then there’s a fellow at The Hague. There’s a counterterrorism center in The Hague where there’s a fellow named Ingram who’s been doing a lot of research on the past efforts against violent extremism. And he in one of his essays talks about the great Greek war poems and the power of those, which are things like the Iliad and the Odyssey, which were used over centuries and centuries too to instruct and to exhort. And he says we should think about things like that when we look at some of the contemporary. And an ISIS still doesn’t do much of that, but maybe they ought to for reasons you’ve given them.
And I noticed a few years ago that among among their Mandarin languages efforts, they published a Chinese version of one of their favorite chants, and so those audio channels are more and more available increasingly as ISIS went along. And I don’t know that Al-Qaeda did that for English speakers but ISIS was starting to do it for some of its languages and and that’s something I should have mentioned how how many languages these guys work in French and Turkish and Russian and German there are many, many languages for some of these booklets and newspapers in America. If we have a challenge, if the person speaking to you right now has it as a challenge, one of them is his ability in foreign languages. Some of these guys are really literate across a couple of fields and it makes them very good propagandist, makes them able to reach out and yes, they’re referred to as the old media.
The fact is that we’re all using that still and that’s why it’s valuable to them, it’s valuable to us, it’s valuable to the world because of the fact that the newly layers on top of the old printing press is not going away. Not that the printed word will not go away because you don’t need an intermediary to me all you do is see the paper in the text and the content is readily available electronic devices we need a medium in which the I can read the content through which the automated content so the old media will not go away it hasn’t gone away in our nation it won’t in tariffs and also I think the observation about poetry is really targeted about the cultural heritage of the oral tradition that underpins both many parts of the world and is not really part of our American culture so it comes from the culture that that they’re speaking to and so that makes it even more I think challenging for us to understand it.
About two years ago, Oxford published a nice little paperback by three authors – sorry, I’m forgetting the names on Hizballah’s communications efforts – and it includes some discussion of poetry and some examples of some of his mouth Holmes and that’s a classic multimedia organization. For decades they’ve had radio they’ve had TV but they continue to do press and they continue to do a sort of theme park thing like I showed you and lots of other approaches and among those is been has been poetry, so I think it’s a good discussion here because it’s an aspect of we just would never conflate that with terrorist propaganda just as we never think of terrorist propaganda as including the books that these guys write but quite a few have including some famous IRA people yes, you know, about five years, six years ago.
I reread Common Sense by Thomas Paine and it’s a nice example of the kind of thing that used to be taught in this country. It’s incredibly lucid, the English is among the best I’ve ever seen in any book, but there’s great passion there too, and he seemed to know, he seemed to have that, have it all. I was very interested when the Irish people once reprinted a long passage from Thomas Paine’s Common Sense and I thought I wish we were still doing that in our graduate schools because we could use rereading Thomas Paine. Of course, he knew it because it was a great way to say here’s another critic of the British right but Paine had something that you’ve described that’s really central. This is why Lincoln talked about almost a kind of civic faith, a kind of commitment to civil society, and rule of law that really should involve some strength of feeling, yeah, thank you.
Yes sir. I don’t, I can’t explain the remarkable haircolor. It is it is interesting, but as you know well, why don’t someone from Syria could speak better to the question, but there’s no question about his authenticity, sorry, okay. One of our gents thinks he may be Kurdish but, you know, it’s, you know, you can be in the north of Italy and see a lot of blondes and they’re still Italian you know and so it is very funny though because you can imagine him working in multiple foreign countries, Andalusia and Spain and so forth, and you can imagine him passing in almost any way that he wished. Dedicated man of the of the underground and really richly talented.
Now, at one time I think about 2005 he was he was won’t movement he was captured by authorities and some say that the U.S. actually got to interrogate him but what’s unclear is how he got out of jail or if he did so he no he was captured we know he also knows a great deal about explosives he was proud of that fact and he used to be a trainer and explosives but mostly the way I bring him to you tonight is as a thinker how much in this town we talk about strategy and grand strategy and understanding all the elements of national power this man’s done an amazing book and it talks about the need to be of the faith it talks about the need for education how the fighters of the future have to have have rich education and they have to avoid the problems of the past like that it’s like you know you’re reminded of these guys angry after Vietnam or reading Carl von Clausewitz, you know, we need to learn from what we’ve done wrong and here’s a whole bunch of revolutionary movements we’ve seen smashed and he saw one in Syria Hama 82, so we need feeling, we need faith, we need broad education, we need an understanding of strategy and allocation of things between theaters, but above all, as operators we need to know what’s going to work and what’s not going to work because the future is ours. But we’re going to have to fight for it because as we can see in a thousand places, Taliban and oh, one in Afghanistan, Syrian revolutionaries encountered, numbered things in Egypt, the good guys lose all the time. And we need to study and do better. I’m sorry, I’m ignorant about that. Would you like to say? Okay and then we call the social media mostly Facebook to go to school their leadership is based in Nigeria and they’ve been doing that for almost two years very successfully because their message goes across may I add to that that one of the certainly one of the themes of the book the terrorist argument is this this internationalism of thinking it’s so prevalent you know when I was in high school and we were trying to figure out what happens in Vietnam or I go on to college and I study a little history here and there we were repeatedly told advised taht the powers of nationalism the strength of nationalism and one of the themes in this book all it’s not that explicit but it’s in every chapter it’s the way in which so many of these things go across national lines it can be operationally it can be the financing of a rebellion it can be an ideology which over and over again comes home to me Maoism is an internationalist ideology and if you’re just a ferocious Naxalite in your community in India or an adherent of Sendero Luminoso in some suburb of Peru and that’s all you can think about you missed the point you don’t understand nationalism it’s by definition an international struggle and you’re playing your part in that and any good Leninist or Maoist is supposed to know that so there’s a lot of thought like that in the groups I’ve studied or you would study and so when you get to these internationalist jihadi types you’re looking at something that’s not dissimilar you know you’re looking at a date you can be from Madagascar or Montana they don’t care I have Al-Qaeda’s training book and it tells me the 15 or 16 things I need to be a really good cadre and national origin is not in there and any convictions about nationalism are not in there and so one of the things and maybe it goes back to the gentleman’s question about about communications and you know we think of the web and the International character of of even newspapers on the web and the international broadcasting travel we do we’re going to have more trouble with an internationalist fighting ideology than we are on one strictly focused now one of those some of those might succeed maybe the Catalonians are going to make it but I doubt it because the bast didn’t and the Republic has shown great skill it took a half century but they suppressed the militant nationalist movement while accepting the moderate nationalist movement among Basque people and so Spain survived that one but there may be some other countries that can’t meet that challenge but I think most commonly when the Fighting’s going it’ll be Isis it’ll be Al-Qaeda. It’ll be this kind of groove. It’ll be New People’s Army, which suddenly fights in the Philippines but as a leader in Holland, you know, it’ll be a Communist and anarchist. What borders have been the international anarchists moves so conveniently between Zurich, London, Paris. They catch you in Berlin, no problem, you move to New York. You’ve got buddies that at some manner cuts newspaper. You go to work there they there’s. I think that we have to understand how many of the doctrines and inspiring terrorism are internationalist in character and that’s one of the reflections I have on your contribution yes sir.
I’d like to distinguish terrorism again from guerrilla war. I made two comments in that way I’m now going to risk belaboring it because what you what you’ve raised is important the best single definition I know is from an old think-tank and I argue that or we worry too much over definitions we’ve had a couple of good ones the U.S. government has a couple of good ones. There is one in the United Nations. It’s not completely accepted but it’s embedded in the Treaty on Finance, perfectly good, the best I know is the following terrorism is the “deliberate and systematic murder, maiming or menacing of the innocent to inspire fear for political purposes.” And what I would say is there’s a lot of guerrilla wars that don’t fit that definition, many, many of them and it could be something as modern as the Zapatistas in Chiapas, Mexico.
They made violence for a few days or weeks and then they moved on to the web, revolutionary approach and propagandized and did labor organization and all that and no violence and that was by no means a terrorist organization after the first weeks and there are many many things which, for example, the French Resistance did against Nazi occupation, which should not be classified as terror at all because it confounds the notion of legitimate resistance against soldiers from a foreign country with the murder of innocents for your own shock purposes.