Narrative warfare: Storytelling in Daesh and Al Qaida propaganda

Terrorists are skilled storytellers who use narratives to communicate and engage with their audiences effectively. However, the techniques employed in extremist narratives are poorly understood, and this may help to account for the generally poor reputation of counter-narrative responses. Sawab Center’s latest paper, titled Narrative warfare: Storytelling in Daesh and Al Qaida propaganda, explores the sophisticated use of narrative forms by Daesh and Al Qaida through a close reading of four articles from their publications in 2017. 

It uncovers how these narratives not only aim to indoctrinate and motivate through didactic content but also harness the inherent power of narrative techniques — such as selection, narrative voice, mimesis, manipulation of time, and intertextuality — to craft compelling and emotionally engaging stories that resonate deeply with their target audiences. These techniques are analyzed to demonstrate how extremists create a simplified world, portraying themselves as righteous warriors within a grand cosmic struggle. 

The paper argues for a nuanced understanding of extremist propaganda beyond its ideological surface, emphasizing the need for counter-narrative strategies that are equally sophisticated in their narrative construction and use of scriptural texts. By highlighting the importance of narrative form alongside content, this study offers critical insights for researchers, practitioners, and other stakeholders working to counter extremist violence, suggesting a creative and informed approach to developing effective counter-narratives. 

The main aim of this study is to show how terrorists use narrative form in their propaganda outputs. It takes a qualitative approach using purposive sampling to identify a small number of rich textual case study examples drawn from the two major global terror groups operating in the first two decades of the 21st century, namely Al Qaida and Daesh. The case studies are analyzed individually using ‘close reading’ – a method developed in literary studies that attends closely to the details of a text – and then compared to determine significant differences and similarities between the cases.

Read time: 35 MIN.

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Narrative warfare:

Storytelling in Daesh and Al Qaida propaganda

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