By Talia Dennis
The Islamic State can be stopped if we go to the root, rather than have counter-extremism campaigns, which only deal with symptoms of terrorism, said an alumnus during a lecture hosted by this university’s journalism school.
Dr. Jad Melki, who received his doctorate in journalism from this university, presented his research about the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and the media Feb. 26. He opened with a warning that some video content was graphic and his classification of the Islamic State could be offensive.
“Western media are often seen as Islamophobic,” he said, noting the prejudice can be used as propaganda by the Islamic State to gain new recruits.
He used a 2010 article about terror warnings from The Guardian where the original photo featured a Muslim couple in front of the Eiffel Tower as an example. It has since changed to just the Parisian landmark.
In 2015, the group recruited 30,000 people from over 100 countries, he said. Melki explained not all people influenced by the Islamic State are Muslim.
He showed a short documentary from The New York Times about a rural Washington state woman who began communicating with a man who had ties to radical Islam. She wasn’t interested in joining the group when she first got in contact with the British man on Twitter, shortly after journalist James Foley was beheaded.
“I was looking for people who agreed with what they were doing, so I could understand why they were doing it,” the woman said in the video. “It was actually really easy to find them.”
This terrorism is kind of like a populist movement, going by a non-mainstream definition of “populism,” Melki said.
His definition was a group gaining power or popularity by exploiting the fears, grievances, divisions and prejudices by presenting itself as the solution and protection.
“ISIS offers a solution in a credible way,” he said.
The “splinter group” from al-Qaida fights the enemy within rather than abroad, and offers a solution and has proven it can fulfill it on the ground, he said.
Melki discussed how the relationship between media and terrorism is complicated, putting journalists in a predicament regarding coverage of terrorist attacks.
If journalists cover the attack, then they “serve the purpose of the perpetrator,” Melki said. So logically, journalists should not report on these acts. However, coverage provides information to keep other people safe and notify them about their loved ones, he said.
When the 9/11 terrorist attacks happened al-Qaida was methodical in its planning, Melki said. They knew the time, place and symbol to attack to get maximum coverage, he said. Journalists had no choice but to report.
Melki asked the audience how journalists could cover the attack without serving the purposes of terrorism — spreading the group’s image and name — while still serving the purpose of journalism, reporting the news.
One student suggested journalists report the facts but not spend days on it, which helps spread the group’s message.
Terrorism from the Islamic State will not stop if journalists do not report it or give it attention. The group does not have to rely solely on the news media due to the rise of social media, he said.
Global reach, crowdsourcing and like-minded clusters of people are just a few benefits for the Islamic State to utilize this platform, Melki said.
Following the 2015 Paris attack, a recruitment video resurfaced that included shaming language and showed French recruits burning their passports, Melki said. He explained the video produced a message of “What are you waiting for?”
“This is not an isolated instance, this is a trend,” he said.
The Islamic State released a 22-minute video in 2015 that included the live burning of a captured Jordanian pilot.
“I was surprised by how sophisticated the videos looked,” said Lindsay Huth, a journalism graduate student. “The graphics looked high-budget.”
The Islamic State is also systematic about how it plans attacks and spreads its messages. Its holding of territory, thousands of supporters and “sophisticated military operations” do not make it a terrorist group, according to a 2015 Foreign Affairs article Melki referenced.
“ISIS is a group that uses terrorism intentionally,” he said. “It’s more of a military tactic, but I don’t deny it’s evil.”
Melki is an associate professor of journalism and the chairman of the Department of Communication Arts at Lebanese American University in Beirut. The event was organized by Dr. Linda Steiner, a journalism professor at this university, who is co-editing a book Melki co-wrote a chapter for.
Featured Photo Credit: Courtesy of Jon S’s Flickr account.
Talia is a sophomore journalism major and history major and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.