Sunday, January 15, 2012

“How should we handle strategic communication to win war on terrorism?”

Thanks Mamdoh for the interesting question on “How should we handle strategic communication to win war on terrorism?”

These are my thoughts ...

1. Know the Ultimate Target Audience. Firstly, we must understand that an act of terrorism is a message in and of itself. A quick analysis of the objective of the “message” will reveal that it is to seek publicity for their cause. However, I believe that this is just the Apparent Target Audience. I believe that the Ultimate Target Audience of the terrorists act are the followers and supporters of the cause. This is because, I doubt (and I believe the terrorists know themselves) that no act of terrorism can accomplish what they want i.e. Al-Qaeda desire for a complete break from all foreign influences in Muslim countries, and the creation of a new Islamic world wide caliphate. Hence, in my mind, acts of terrorism have the specific aim of showing their followers that the organization is still active so as to garner support and funds. In fact, simply highlighting that such and such an organization is planning an attack, already gives the terrorist organization street credibility to fuel their cause. Hence, in my opinion, the first thing that Strategic Communication needs to do, is deny terrorists this publicity.

2. Understand the Target Audience. Secondly, I believe that terrorist organizations are not a homogeneous group. Structured like a pyramid, I believe that the top of the pyramid is made up of a small group of vocal and violent people who are fanatical in their beliefs. And, it is this group that plan and carry out the attacks often times at great personal risk to themselves. The pyramid is then made up of a larger second layer of silent but active supporters. It is this layer that provides the top layer with the needed physical and financial support to plan and execute terrorist attacks. In this layer, you will find people who believe in the cause and who are willing to make small sacrifices. They however do not support the cause to the extent of risking their own lives. The third and final layer is the broad base of the pyramid. Here, you will find people that tolerate the actions of the upper two layers, but will not do anything as long as it does not inconvenience them. It is this third layer which the upper two layers believe they act for. With this better understanding of the conditions, attitudes and beliefs of these 3 target audience, Strategic Communications can now better select and use the appropriate Theme and Messages to achieve the desired effect.

3. In short, if you ask me if the war on terrorism can be won? I would say no. This is because we cannot eradicate terrorism completely as there will always be fanatics out there. If however you are asking if we can win by minimizing terrorism, my answer would be yes. Strategic Communications can “win the war on terrorism” if it seeks to undermine the terrorists' credibility and their support base by by turning its silent supporters and the larger population's tolerance against them.

I hope my perspective helps.

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