Countering the Daesh Narrative

Countering the Daesh Narrative

Cheryl Phillips

In the information war against Daesh, communication professionals must understand how the enemy’s narrative is constructed and promulgated. Only then can the United States and its partners offer alternative narratives. The West must also create a marketplace of ideas where these alternative narratives are discussed and debated and compete with Daesh for influence. These actions will counter Daesh’s propaganda and narrative that continue to attract recruits, sympathizers and supporters to its ideology.

Expressing his dissatisfaction with current efforts to defeat Daesh, President Donald Trump in January signed a Presidential Memorandum calling for the Department of Defense (DOD) to deliver a preliminary plan within 30 days that included information operations and other means to “isolate and delegitimize ISIS and its radical Islamist ideology.”[i] This effort illustrates the Trump administration’s view of the importance to national security of undermining the Daesh narrative.

The DOD plan, delivered the end of February, draws on all elements of national power – “diplomatic, financial, cyber, intelligence [and] public diplomacy, and it’s been drafted in close coordination with our interagency partners.”[ii] Administration officials continue to make Daesh’s defeat the centerpiece of national security strategy. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson later in March will host the foreign ministers and senior leaders of the Global Coalition to defeat Daesh, accelerating international efforts to destroy the extremist group militarily and starve it of funding, weapons and fighters.[iii] Brett McGurk, Special Presidential Envoy for the Global Coalition, views the fight against Daesh as an “unprecedented challenge.”[iv] General Joseph Dunford, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, believes that Daesh remains a threat to the nation and it citizens, partners and allies.[v]

The focus of the previous administration’s plan to counter extremist messaging is the work of the Global Engagement Center. Established in March 2016, it replaced the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications which was unable to successfully counter violent extremist propaganda during its six years of existence. A past National Security Council spokesman acknowledged that “the [Obama] administration’s initial strategy responding to the Islamic State’s messaging blitz wasn’t successful and needed to change.”[vi]

Despite the prior administration’s strategy, statements and reorganization efforts, “our narrative is being trumped by ISIL’s.”[vii] Then Undersecretary of Public Diplomacy and Public Affairs at the State Department, Richard Stengel made that pronouncement in a June 2015 internal assessment of actions by the Obama administration to combat the Daesh propaganda machine.

Although Daesh has recently lost large swaths of territory in Iraq and Syria and has steadily lost some of its appeal, the group is still has a potent propaganda machine. Despite setbacks, Daesh has expanded its reach to Yemen, Egypt, Turkey, Libya, Somalia, Tunisia and the Philippines. Since its inception, Daesh’s message globally attracts thousands of recruits and supporters, both physically and virtually. U.S. Congressional testimony and media reports put the number at more than 40,000 foreign fighters who have answered the call and flowed into Syria and Iraq since 2011.[viii] The Soufan Group, a strategic security consultancy, reported that the number of foreign fighters traveling to Syria more than doubled between June 2014 and December 2015.[ix]

Identities and Narratives

To begin any discussion of efforts to counter Daesh’s ideology and its promotion of terrorist acts, it is necessary to understand the concepts of individual and collective identities. An individual identity is constituted through social ties, or interacting relational networks. Different relationships with overlapping networks result in multiple identities – a lawyer can be a friend and a terrorist. An individual also has a collective identity gained from association with a group’s identity, whether religious, ethnic, national or the like.[x]

It is equally important to understand the concept of narrative. It is easy to think of a narrative as a story, especially when references to narratives as stories are frequently found in government documents, academic articles and the media. While narratives are empowered by “the art of telling stories,”[xi] Cristina Archetti argues that this analogy is too simple: “narratives are more complex than a story.”[xii]

The network of relationships shape an individual’s worldview, how information is interpreted, his or her behaviors and comprise an individual narrative. Archetti describes an individual narrative as the “unique perspective that an individual has on the world from his/her ‘corner’ of social reality.”[xiii]

Archetti borrows from relational sociology, actor network theory and social movement theory which maintain that narratives have deep cultural roots and are socially constructed over centuries. They “arise from a specific constellation of relationships – a social network.” Groups have their own collective narratives, such as a sense of belonging to a democracy, to which an individual comes into contact. [xiv]

A person’s individual narrative can be influenced by other narratives within that individual’s social network – a collection of relationships. A person comes into contact with other actors’ individual narratives, like friends for example, and collective narratives, like the sense of being a member of a democracy. Alberto Melucci states that terrorist groups “offer individuals the collective possibility of affirming themselves as actors and of finding an equilibrium between self-recognition and hetero-recognition.”[xv]

A person may or may not join an extremist group depending on whether his or her narrative is compatible with that of the group’s. Individuals who are members of the extremist’s network accept and align their own narrative with the collective Daesh narrative if it resonates and is relevant to their particular identity and situation. [xvi]

Individuals do not substitute their narrative for an external narrative. Being a member of a group means sharing a common collective narrative while at the same time having an individual narrative that is compatible with it.[xvii] “What matters is that terrorist action is the outcome of an identity and a corresponding narrative that legitimizes violent action.”[xviii]

An individual will filter incoming information through his or her narrative. Over time this might lead to a change in the individual’s worldview, relationships, identity, narrative and behavior in a continuous cycle. This is critical to understanding how to disrupt potential terrorist behavior or support.[xix] If an individual considers a differing narrative from that offered by Daesh, it may displace the terrorist ideology with an alternative that promotes positive political action rather than terrorist acts or tacit support to achieve societal change.

Archetti states that “where there is a narrative there must be a network.”[xx] Daesh uses relational networks to promote its propaganda, ideology and narrative, where it is continuously retold and reinterpreted by various actors to different intended audiences.[xxi]. Social media makes it even easier for Daesh and its followers to retell the narrative.

Western governments fixate on finding the right message that can be sent audiences to counter the extremist narrative. This line of thinking assumes a “silver bullet” approach to communication that expects individuals to receive and accept a particular message. As said earlier, where there is a narrative there must be a network. Sending a counter-narrative message “into the information environment…without there being a network to convey it and re-convey it could be compared to sending a message into outer space.” [xxii]

The Daesh Narrative

Daesh has created and promoted its ideology through a narrative “linked to an overarching strategic goal ‘to win hearts and minds’ and to provide a clear meaning to confusing events.” In actuality, the Daesh narrative is an instrument of psychological warfare.[xxiii] Certainly the 15-plus years of war in the Middle East have created confusion, marginalization, experiences of discrimination and grievances in the affected populations that can become easily drawn to Daesh’s narrative.

Vulnerable individuals are attracted to a narrative that attempts to make sense of the world where their own community is mythologized, enemies are degraded, and conspiracy theories and salvation themes abound. “A narrative is thus a powerful, culturally embedded story, which consists of a mosaic of coherent stories and employs all semiotic levels.” Understanding their audiences, Daesh makes use of symbolisms, emotive images and music, popular stories and authoritative theology and ideology.[xxiv]

Academics agree that in general a narrative has a beginning, middle and conclusion. According to Quiggin, the beginning contains the grievance and an antagonist; the middle has a protagonist; the conclusion reveals the solution or calls on audiences to act on the problem. “This tri-part structure of a set-up, a climax and a resolution is a recurring theme.”[xxv]

David Betts maintains that the terrorist narrative the United States must counter goes something like this:

  • “Islam is under general unjust attack by Western crusaders led by the United States;
  • “Jihadis, whom the West refers to as ‘terrorists’ are defending against this attack;
  • “The actions they take in defense of Islam are proportionally just and religiously sanctified; and, therefore,
  • “It is the duty of good Muslims to support these actions.”[xxvi]

Further, Daesh adapts its narrative to account for local conditions in countries where it has or is planning to establish a presence, such as Libya, Afghanistan, Egypt, Somalia, Algeria and Yemen. Daesh appeals to disillusioned individuals globally by offering a close community with a potent identity. The collective Daesh narrative feeds into these individuals’ identities, “giving them a sense of serving a sacred mission.”[xxvii]

The Alternative Narrative

Informed by an understanding of Daesh’s narrative, Western communicators can craft an effective strategy to counter the propaganda. An alternative message will undercut Daesh’s narrative by providing other avenues for action rather than brutal acts to achieve political and social objectives. While alternative narratives typically do not directly challenge extremist messaging, “they instead attempt to influence those who might be sympathetic towards (but not actively supportive of) extremist causes, or help to unite the silent majority against extremists by emphasizing solidarity, common causes and shared values.”[xxviii] Alternative narratives focus on what we are “for” rather than what we are “against.”[xxix]

An example of a positive alternative narrative is former President Barack Obama’s 2009 Cairo speech. In it he reframed “the history between Islam and the West as one of shared progress.” This counter-narrative had a beginning, middle and end and “provided a positive, alternative vision or social construction of the world…that is equally plausible and equally parsimonious as the narrative it disputes.”[xxx] Unfortunately, Obama’s positive alternate narrative was unable to effectively counter Daesh’s and other extremist groups’ narratives.

It is important to provide many alternative messages and choices to dissuade those attracted to Daesh’s ideology. The more alternatives available to potential recruits, the greater their freedom and the less vulnerable they are to extremist narratives. “Having these choices will help reduce the likelihood that the terrorists’ and extremists’ global narrative – that the West is at war with Islam – resonates in individual psyches.”[xxxi]

Voices From Within

One of the strategic principles of the effort to undercut Daesh’s ideology and narrative is that to be effective, the alternative message should arise as much as possible from within the Muslim world. A possibly more promising approach is for the United States to bolster the voices of local and regional individuals who can promote a viable alternative narrative. The U.S. government should support and facilitate civil society efforts to design and deliver alternative narratives and take advantage of their social and cultural knowledge.[xxxii]

The United States should build capacity among those who can be the best counter-narrative messengers. There are a variety of alternative narratives that can be activated by a range of actors: inter-faith and inter-community networks, religious and secular opinion and community leaders, entrepreneurs, sports personalities, pop artists, writers, business people, media personalities and students. These voices can come together to create a marketplace of ideas where Muslims can talk among themselves and devise ways to diminish the influence of Daesh.[xxxiii]

A marketplace of ideas is the space and culture of questioning, debating and challenging the local grievances and solutions promoted by Daesh. Here competing ideas and visions can be heard and fostered, and Daesh’s inconsistencies can be exposed. A forum for this marketplace of ideas can occur in civic spaces such as town hall meetings, free associations, non-governmental universities and other places where people can gather. Virtual spaces can also serve as important forums for exchanging ideas, including newspapers, television, chat rooms and Internet blog sites. In authoritative regimes where civic space and freedom to assemble is restricted, virtual meeting places provide a viable alternative.[xxxiv]

The important issue for the West is how it can stimulate and shape a debate among Muslims about the extremist ideology promoted by Daesh. The goal is to help amplify diverse voices.[xxxv]

A counter-narrative campaign should be integrated at the outset of U.S. and ally government policy and strategy design, not as an afterthought. These programs should include a communication component that outlines how the initiative will support and enable U.S. objectives.

Conducting a thorough Target Audience Analysis is critical. Communicators need to develop a comprehensive list of the target audiences’ vulnerabilities and susceptibilities, which include grievances and motivations in the context of local and regional conditions.

There are differing views as to whom to target with an alternative counter-narrative, whether those who are already active extremists, somewhere along the radicalization path, sympathizers or passive supporters. Aiming alternative narratives at existing extremists is likely to be unsuccessful, given they have already made up their minds. The United States should instead target the radical network of relationships, rather than an individual. By altering an extremist’s network and the embedded narrative, the extremist’s identity can gradually change, “to a point perhaps in which the person is no longer an extremist.”[xxxvi]

The United States should also target those who sympathize or actively support Daesh, either by acts of omission or commission. This includes moderate Muslims who do not speak up against Daesh because of fear and timidity.[xxxvii] Again, the efforts should be targeted to the networks of these individuals.

One Size Does Not Fit All

Of important consideration is that one size does not fit all. The Qatar International Academy for Security Studies report “Countering Violent Extremism: The Counter Narrative Study” emphasized that “each region, country and community requires a unique approach to countering the call to terrorism because violent extremism is a fundamentally local issue, one commonly sparked by local grievances.”[xxxviii] In fact, Daesh adroitly uses this approach to tailor narratives that take advantage of the grievances of a particular region. Additionally, the United States must take a whole-of-government approach, coordinating and synchronizing with other entities the government and with international partners to ensure message coherence.

The credibility of the messenger should be considered, something the United States lacks with many audiences in the Middle East. It must be kept in mind that credibility should be viewed from the perspective of the audience. As stated earlier, the U.S. government should consider developing relationships with credible local actors such as young religious leaders, community activists, educators, journalists, role models and youth leaders who can deliver believable counter-narratives. Other credible voices are former jihadists, Daesh defectors, victims of terrorism, family members, neighbors and friends.

Multiple media platforms, both online and offline, should be used simultaneously to communicate positive alternative narratives. While there has been a lot of attention on Daesh’s communication through social media, that is not the only medium available. Knowing the audience preferences for media consumption will ensure the message reaches them.

The United States should take a long-term perspective and look for communication effects over an extended period of time. This means that counter-narrative efforts must be continually evaluated and assessed, with changes made to the message, audience, messenger and media based on their effectiveness in achieving the United States’ objectives.

A counter-narrative campaign may be most effective when the United States and its coalition partners are making significant military gains and Daesh is losing territory as is currently the situation, and its recruiting is faltering. Other measures of success are when there is growing popular backlash against its narrative, vision and tactics, and when more positive narratives spread. Thus, the United States must be flexible and adapt the counter-narrative to account for evolving conditions on the ground.

Finally, the United States can stop feeding Deash’s narrative by closing the say-do gap by aligning words and actions. “Ultimately, competing with the mobilizing power of an opponent’s narrative involves increasing one’s own appeal.” The use of torture and extraordinary rendition are just two examples that are contrary to American values and respect for human rights. They serve to reinforce the Daesh narrative that the West is involved in a crusade against Islam. The goal is consistency between words and deeds, what Betz calls “narrative alignment.”[xxxix]

Conclusion

The conflicts in Syria and Iraq will not end soon. Although Daesh is under pressure on the ground, it is likely to survive for some time and it will conduct more lethal operations, continue to morph its message and spread its propaganda and ideology to attract more recruits and supporters. It must be remembered that terrorism is about ideas. Even if Daesh is diminished militarily, its ideology will live on. It is possible that Daesh as a lethal idea will live on long after it is driven out of Mosul and Raqqa. The 9/11 Commission concluded in its final report that eliminating the threat of terrorism requires “prevailing in the longer term over the ideology that gives rise to Islamist terrorism.”[xl]

There can be no compelling counter-narrative until Daesh’s narrative is understood. “If, over time, the collective and individual narratives, in their continuous evolution, come to diverge, the dissonance between them will lead the individual to not identify any longer with the group.”[xli]

Having a greater understanding of the complexity of a narrative can make communication professionals’ efforts to counter Daesh’s communication more effective. Only then can the United States develop feasible options to contest Daesh’s demented view of the world. Masterfully using strategic communication to counter the Daesh narrative will diminish its aura, legitimacy, ideology and appeal. This is crucial to the overall information war against Daesh.

End Notes

[i] Donald Trump, Donald, “Presidential Memorandum Plan to Defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria,” Jan. 28, 2017, 2.

[ii] Cheryl Pellerin, “Pentagon Spokesman Discusses ISIS Preliminary Plan, Budget Amendment,” DoD News, U.S. Department of Defense, Feb. 27, 2017, 1.

[iii] Office of the Spokesperson, “Meeting of Ministers of the Global Coalition,” Department of State, March 9, 2017, 1.

[iv] Brett McGurk, Global Efforts to Defeat ISIS before the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., June 28, 2016, 1.

[v] Gen. Joseph F. Dunford, U.S. National Security Challenges and Ongoing Military Operations before the Senate Armed Services Committee, 114th Cong., 2nd sess., Sept. 22, 2016, 1.

[vi] W.J. Hennigan, “How the White House is Trying Again to Counter Islamic State Propaganda,” LA Times Online, Mar. 18, 2016, 4, http://www.latimes.com/world/middleeast/la-fg-islamic-state-propaganda-20160318-story.html (accessed Feb. 27, 2017).

[vii] Richard Stengel, “Note for the Secretary,” U.S. Department of State, June 9, 2015, 1.

[viii] McGurk, 1.

[ix] The Soufan Group, “Foreign Fighters: An Updated Assessment of the Flow of Foreign Fighters into Syria and Iraq,” Dec. 2015, 4.

[x] Cristina Archetti, “Understanding Terrorism in the Age of Global Media: A Communication Approach (Palgrave, New York, NY, 2013), 62-64, 81, 86.

[xi] Philipp Holtmann, “Countering Al-Qaeda’s Single Narrative, Perspectives on Terrorism,” Perspectives on Terrorism, 7, no. 2 (April 2013): 145.

[xii] Mike LaMarca, “Defeating al-Qaeda in the Battle of Ideas: The Case for a U.S. Counter-Narrative,” Department of Political Science, Duke University, 2012, 7-8.

[xiii] Archetti, 81.

[xiv] Archetti. “Terrorism, Communication and New Media: Explaining Radicalization in the Digital Age,” Perspectives on Terrorism, 9, no. 1, (February 2015): 51.

[xv] Ibid. 52, 53.

[xvi] Ibid. 53.

[xvii] Archetti. “Understanding Terrorism in the Age of Global Media,” 86.

[xviii] Archetti, “Terrorism, Communication and New Media, 54.

[xix] Archetti. “Understanding Terrorism in the Age of Global Media,” 85.

[xx] Archetti. “Terrorism, Communication and New Media,” 51.

[xxi] LaMarca 7-8.

[xxii] Archetti. “Terrorism, Communication and New Media,” 51.

[xxiii] Holtmann. 145.

[xxiv] Ibid.

[xxv] Tom Quiggin, “Understanding al-Qaeda’s Ideology for Counter-Narrative Work,” Perspectives on Terrorism, 3, no. 2, (August 2009): 13.

[xxvi] Christian Leuprecht, Todd Hataley and Sophia Moskalenka, Clark McCauley. “Winning the Narrative but Losing the War? Narrative and Counter-Narratives Strategy,” Perspectives on Terrorism, 3, no. 2, (August 2009): 26.

[xxvii] Fawaz A. Gerges, “ISIS and the Third Wave of Jihadism,” Current History, 113, no 767 (12, 2014): 342.

[xxviii] Rachel Briggs and Sebastien Feve, “Review of Programs to Counter Narratives of Violent Extremism: What Works and What are the Implications for Government?” Institute for Strategic Dialogue, 2013, 2, 12.

[xxix] Ibid.

[xxx] LaMarca, 35-37.

[xxxi] J. Scott Carpenter, Matthew Levitt and Michael Jackson. “Confronting the Ideology of Radical Extremism,” Journal of National Security Law & Policy, 3, no. 2, (2009): 305.

[xxxii] Briggs and Feve. “Review of Programs to Counter Narratives of Violent Extremism,” Institute for Strategic Dialogue, 2013, 12; Feith, Douglas J. “Organizing for a Strategic Ideas Campaign to Counter Ideological Challenges to U.S. National Security,” Hudson Institute, April 2012, 31.

[xxxiii] Ibid.

[xxxiv] Heather S. Gregg, “Fighting the Jihad of the Pen: Countering Revolutionary Islam’s Ideology,” Terrorism and Political Violence, 22, no. 2, (2010): 308-309.

[xxxv] Briggs and Feve, 12; Feith, 31.

[xxxvi] Archetti. “Terrorism, Communication and New Media,” 56.

[xxxvii] Alex P. Schmid, “Al-Qaeda’s Single Narrative and Attempts to Develop Counter-Narratives: The State of Knowledge,” International Center for Counter-Terrorism-The Hague, January 2014, 16.

[xxxviii] Ibid, 20.

[xxxix] Archetti. “Understanding Terrorism in the Age of Global Media,” 142.

[xl] 9/11 Commission Report, July 22, 2004, 380.

[xli] Archetti. “Understanding Terrorism in the Age of Global Media,” 87.

 

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Bill....a new narrative to think about....

English-speaking, Western anarchists establish @IRPGF in Syria to join the YPG & PKK's "Revolution in Rojava.”
http://dailymotion.com/video/x5gwr1v

Serious Q: Would it be legal for Americans, Brits etc. to go to Syria to join this "International Revolutionary People's Guerrilla Force”?

U.S policy has directly enabled this socialist militant growth in Syria.

IRPGF is directly linked to YPG/PKK foreign recruitment flows.

Photos clearly showing Communist/PKK slogans/flags on Syrian thread

Bill....here is the core US problem....

We have now formally under Trump, Tillerson and the US UN Ambassador "declared our unilateral support for Assad".....end of the story...done deal....

BUT WAIT ...we are supporting Assad's use now of chemical weapons SO just how does that counter a single Us counter IS/AQ narrative????

Statement from @MSF on hospital bombing of #Latamneh hospital last week in #Hama. Suggests chemical weapon attack.
http://www.msf.org/en/article/syria-...rted-hospital#

Dr Shajul Islam @DrShajulIslam
All charities working in Syria, hear our call. We are dying... If you can you get gas masks into Syria, please help us.

AND the US response has been....."we will not toss out Assad"...the SAME standard Putin party line for over one year now......

SO what will be the US counter IS/AQ narrative be now?????

We support genocide...ethnic cleansing..the Kurdish PKK and Assad's right for unlimited use of chemical weapons?????

So are we any different than IS and or AQ????

Outlaw:

First, let me attempt to set the "counter-narrative" question in strategic context. Thereafter, I will attempt to address the Assad situation you identify above:

1. Counter-narratives in strategic context:

Much as we would have, in the Old Cold War of yesterday, looked at such matters as "counter narratives" -- not in isolation -- but rather through a large, all-encompassing strategic lens (for example: through the larger strategic lens of "containing communism" in the Old Cold War),

Likewise today it would seem best for us to look at such things as "counter-narratives" -- again not in isolation -- but also through such a larger strategic lens (for example, as through the large strategic lens of "advancing market-democracy" today).

If I am right here, then the question would seem to become:

a. What counter-narrative,

b. That the U.S./the West and its allies might produce,

c. Best facilitates the advance of market-democracy; this,

d. In the face of significant efforts being made by both great nations and small -- and both state and non-state actors -- to resist/prevent our such transformation of their states and societies.

Bottom Line Thought On This Section:

As per the strategic objective of "advancing market-democracy" today, ISIS is but one of a number of opponents that the U.S./the West (a) has and (b) must overcome.

Thus, the "counter-narrative" that the U.S./the West produces -- to overcome this "both great nations and small and both state and non-state actor" opponent problem -- this such "counter-narrative" cannot be limited to one that focuses on ISIS alone.

2. The Assad Situation You Identify Above:

Re: the strategic goal of transforming outlying states and societies more along modern western lines, President Trump might believe (as evidenced by the chaos in the Greater Middle East today?) that the best way to achieve our goal -- of "advancing market-democracy" -- is (a) not by way of the populations but, rather, (b) by way of the regimes (for example: in Syria, by way of Assad; in Russia, by way of Putin).

Herein, President Trump believing that:

a. While the populations, supported by the U.S./the West or not, can neither (a) facilitate the transformation of their states and societies more along modern western lines nor (b) hold down "resisting westernization" entities such as ISIS, AQ, etc.,

b. The regimes, in fact, can achieve these missions.

Thus, in President Trump's mind, his efforts must be focused on working with these regimes (which he sees as the only viable "game in town?"); however odious these regimes may be.

Bottom Line Thought On This Section:

Over the past few decades, it is the regimes that have clearly been threatened by the U.S./the West's "population-centric" approach to "westernization."

Obviously this approach has not worked and, in fact, has caused both populations and regimes to often become allied against us and our such cause.

Thus, President Trump may believe that -- re: "westernization" --

a. Once the regimes are no longer thus threatened, and are looked at more as partners in this project, (the common enemy of Islamic Extremist being seen in this exact light) then

b. "Advancing market-democracy" might be more easily achieved?

Bill...even the author of this article totally misses the point...WHILE Trump talks about eradicating IS and AQ from this earth ALL seem to forget the Shia jihadists in the mix....SP he is going to war with Iran???

*NEW* interactive graphic on foreign jihadi Shia militia fighting for the Assad regime....... paid and fully supported by Iran.

http://fsaplatform.org/interactive/

Just roll you mouse over a Shia militia logo an experience a "brave new world of jihadism"

NOW tell me we the US have not totally "missed the boat on a one sided view of jihadism"??????

Bill...this is the perfect example of why the US counter narrative against IS will never work....especially when using US named Kurdish terror group the communist PKK......in largely Sunni Arab areas against IS....

Again it must be a Sunni Muslim voice against IS and AQ not a US or UK or German voice.....

Between oppression & injustice. We choose freedom.
This is our story.

http://youtu.be/93OTrVqpJjU

SO is now the official US FP to actually support Assad WHO actively supports IS....??????

Assad working together with IS against Syrian FSA....
SyAF Su-22 bombed FSA during operations to expel ISIS from S. Syria desert.
Full video:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FmNj639WVLI …

BUT WAIT...US does not want to toss out Assad as their FP now...

Counter-terrorism Pitfalls: What the U.S. Fight against ISIS and al-Qaeda Should Avoid

https://www.crisisgroup.org/middle-e...a-should-avoid

This report examines President Trump’s emerging counter-terrorism policies, the dilemmas his administration faces in battling ISIS and al-Qaeda across the Middle East and South Asia, and how to avoid deepening the disorder both groups exploit.
 

You cannot counter a single IS and or AQ narrative and narrative meaning an ideological statement......whether true or fake IF you the US are killing Syrian and or Iraqi civilians with the same abandonment as the Russia AF is in Syria....

Over and over and over they have been countless statements that this is contributing to the continued support to IS and AQ by expert non military ME analysts....

WHEN 600 Iraqi Sunni men and boys are marched into the desert and never heard from again ..and the marchers are a sectarian Iraqi Shia militia and YET the US says nothing about this.....

The US is just as complicit in a possible war crime as are the Shia....

You can have all the communications professionals in the world but they cannot counter reality facts on the ground.....seen daily by right now Sunni's.....

AND it is the Sunni who are the assumed communications target audience.....

The Pentagon is 'looking into' reports an airstrike killed hundreds of civilians in Mosul
http://read.bi/2mA1jtx

I very much like Outlaw's -- what I might call "in context" -- comment above.

Opening this "in context" aperture even further, thus to ask:

If states and/or societies (and/or elements thereof) believe that their way of life, etc., are threatened by alien and profane "expansionist"/ "universalist" great nations (threatened, thus, by the Soviets/the communists back in the day and likewise threatened by the U.S./the West today); threatened, thus, by alien and profane great nations that seek to "transform and incorporate" them,

Then what would cause these such threatened populations to give even the slightest consideration to a "counter-narrative" being offered to them by these such exact same -- alien and profane -- threatening "expansionist"/"universalist" foreign great nation enemies? (A "counter-narrative," thus, that might be offered to them by the Soviets/the communists yesterday and/or by the U.S./the West today.)

In this exact context, to suggest that the following quote from the first part of our article above may need to be changed:

a. From: "In the information war against Daesh, communication professionals must understand how the enemy’s narrative is constructed and promulgated."

b. To: "In the information war against these resisting "transformation and incorporation" entities (includes but is not limited to Daesh), communications professionals must understand how our very own narrative (as per Outlaw above, significantly presented, yesterday and today, not only by way of our rhetoric but more importantly by way of our actions) has been constructed and promulgated."

Thus, item "b" immediately above ("our" narrative) -- and not item "a" above ("their" narrative) -- being, in fact, the primary difficulty/obstacle/challenge that our communications professionals, hoping to develop a "counter-narrative" for Deash (etc., etc., etc.), must somehow overcome?

This, if we are to have any hope of winning consent from the world's less-western and/or non-western populations; consent to transform (more along modern western lines) and incorporate (more in the western sphere of power, influence and control) their individual states and societies. (Which, of course, is the U.S./the West's long-running mission-at-hand.)

Bill... developments such as this urgently need to be supported...regardless of political strips....Muslims talking straight to other Muslims...that is the only way you can break an ideologically driven religious element...non Muslim's sitting somewhere in Dc or NATO won't cut it.....non Muslims are not the greatest explainers of the Quran..Shura's and Sunnahs the last time I checked...NOR can they chant and twirl as well as the Sufi's....

What many in the world of Trump do not understand is the depth and breath of Islam....and the many positions one can take inside it and still be a Muslim...how to focus say this narrative straight back at the Salafist/Takfirist/jihadist is the question...

I saw yesterday an interview with a UK jihadist who had escaped Mosul and was in Raqqa and who wanted to escape to Turkey with his wife and son and then back to the UK....he voiced after three years in Iraq a similar transformation in his thinking...BUT the West is simply not listening to them....

Can a Former Islamist Make It Cool to Be Moderate?

Maajid Nawaz has started a foundation to combat Muslim extremism — and has made a lot of enemies in the process.

By THOMAS CHATTERTON WILLIAMSMARCH 28, 2017

https://www.nytimes.com/2017/03/28/magazine/can-a-former-islamist-make-i...

Probably one of the better fair minded profiles on this individual...

Outlaw:

But can "Muslims talking straight to other Muslims" -- (the new counter-narrative, thus, originating with and coming from these other, more-moderate Muslims, and not, as it were, from U.S./Western governments) -- can this such approach overcome the problem of our current situation; wherein, we find -- due specifically to the U.S./the West's aggressive "transform and incorporate" mission of the last decades -- these such more-moderate Muslims being seen:

a. As cultural and/or religious traitors? And/or

b. Simply as agents of the great power that seeks to "transform" (more along alien and profane lines) and "incorporate" (more into this great power's sphere of power, influence and control) the outlying states and societies of the world?

(These such more-moderate Muslims today, and re: the U.S./the West's current "transform and incorporate" mission, thus being seen in the exact same light as they were seen in the Old Cold War of yesterday, and re: the Soviets'/the communists' similar "transform and incorporate" mission back then?)

Add to this the fact that our great nation adversaries today (ex: Russia, China, Iran, etc.), much as the U.S./the West did in the Old Cold War of yesterday, seem to be embracing "containment" and "roll back" strategies. (Strategies thus, which in the face of opponent great power "transform and incorporate" efforts, logically appeal to and make great use of the more "conservative" religious and/or political groups and causes of the world.)

http://www.businessinsider.com/russia-supporting-taliban-2017-1

Then, given the extremely negative context I have offered above, how can even a "home grown" Muslim counter-narrative, in such an adverse environment, (a) expect to find acceptance and/or (b) hope to prevail?

Bill...any nation state that air strikes civilians haphazardly in the name of eradicating IS/AQ from this earth which is a totally stupid statement to begin with....if doomed to lose..it is that simple.

The US based on research by open source analysts has killed far more civilians in the name of fighting IS/AQ than they are willing to openly admit...to the point that the narrative on the ground coming from Sunni's is....they are no different than the Russians and they want the eradication of all Sunni's....

End of story....and we have the Obama FP and now the DoD/Trump FP to thank for this "new narrative"....

I personally do not care which Muslim starts the talking process internally but it must start...and that includes I do not care what their political strips are as well....we need to nudge them to just start the dialogue....

We have reached the tipping point and the failure of the US to address in a serious fashion the ongoing genocide and ethnic cleansing in Syria and Iraq is dragging the US into a VN we will literally never get out of in my lifetime.

We will someday look back and actually state...VN was a win compared to what we are being dragged into in Syria and Iraq because regardless of what one thinks...nation rebuilding is on the table now...at a cost to the US that Trump and company cannot even comtemplate..

If one wants to gain a better understanding of why crafting an effective "counter-narrative" -- to that of our "resisting transformation" enemies today (not just the Islamist but also the Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, etc., also) -- is so difficult, then consider the following:

In the Old Cold War of yesterday, when the Afghan/Islamist Freedom Fighters met with President Reagan in the White House, these folks, their cause (resisting the transformation of their states and societies more along the alien and profane political, economic, social and value lines of communism) and their related actions (terrorism and/or whatever it took) WERE NOT, back then, and re: this effort, considered to be "extreme" or "extremist."

https://reaganlibrary.archives.gov/archives/photographs/large/c12820-32.jpg

Rather, back then, these such "resisting transformation" folks, their such "resisting transformation" cause and their such "resisting transformation" actions were -- not only considered normal, natural, rational, etc. -- but also commendable, honorable, courageous and, most importantly, consistent with the national security strategy, goals and activities of the U.S./the West. (Which, back in the Old Cold War of yesterday, were focused on "containing" and "rolling back" the spread of the alien and profane way of life, way of governance, etc., known as communism.)

Thus, it is important for us to acknowledge, accordingly, that these "resisting transformation" folks, their "resisting transformation" cause and their "resisting transformation" efforts only came to be seen as "extreme"/"extremist" in the context of the U.S./the West's CURRENT national security strategy, goals and activities. (Which, in the New/Reverse Cold War of today, have come to be focused on achieving, throughout the world, the spread of OUR alien and profane way of life, OUR alien and profane way of governance, etc.)

Because of our "resisting transformation" common cause with much of the Rest of the World back in Old Cold War days, the U.S./the West held the strategic "high ground" back then; herein, being seen as both the leader, and indeed the champion, of "conservative" populations and causes and "traditional" values.

In the New/Reverse Cold War of today, however, it is such nations as Russia, China and Iran -- and such non-state actors as AQ and ISIS -- who (a) now appear to hold such strategic "high ground" and (b) appear to be seen as such leaders and such champions.

Bottom Line:

If, for half a century or more at the bottom half of the 20th Century, one has condemned (as the U.S./the West did the Old Cold War) the efforts by a foreign intervening great power (the Soviets/the communists back then) to transform the outlying states and societies of the world more along this foreign intervening great power's alien and profane political, economic, social lines and value lines,

Then, it becomes extremely difficult, indeed, to justify -- much less develop a positive narrative for -- the U.S./the West, in the top half of the 21st Century, doing this exact same thing.

The Russians, the Chinese, the Iranians, AQ, ISIS, etc., today?

These folks are simply wallowing in -- and relishing (much as we did in the Old Cold War) -- the narratival and other strategic advantages that:

a. Come so easily to those that pursue "resisting transformation" and related "containment" and/or "roll back" strategic initiatives. Narratival and other strategic advantages that, for logical reasons,

b. Are not available/do not come as easily to those pursuing, instead -- highly unpopular -- "transformative," "expansionist" and "universalist" strategic ends.

(Thus, force/coercion/deception/political warfare, etc., increasingly become the only available tools for these such -- strategically and narratively disadvantaged/challenged -- "expansionist"/"universalist" folks to pursue their, much more difficult, strategic objectives?)

To Bill C. RE: "Counter-Narrative"

I think that you may have erred at the outset here. You claim that our Salafi-Qutbi-Takfiri-Jihadi adversaries are reactionaries opposing the transformation of their societies by us. You are wrong on both counts:

Firstly, these adversaries are revolutionaries whose primary objective is the transformation of their own societies: the destruction of all other secular and spiritual authorities in the Muslim world other than their "Caliphate", and the purification of Islam. Their ideologies and practices certainly involve traditional practices (if the Wahhabi ascetic lifestyle is "traditional"), but in the main, they represent new theories and practices wrapped in the trappings of “tradition” as a way to claim legitimacy and an unbroken link to the past. I have yet to see a revolutionary ideology not portray itself as the predetermined end state of civilization. Al Qaeda may have appeared more focused on the “other” (infidels) than fellow Muslims, but that was because it was a network of small groups that either resided in non-Muslim societies or Islamist societies that were already transforming their societies along Salafi-Takfiri lines, such as Afghanistan under the Taliban and Sudan under al Bashir.

Secondly, prior to 2001, the Salafi-Takfiri-Jihadis already regarded most Muslims as apostates or heretics, and regarded most Muslim religious and political leaders as illegitimate. Al Qaeda hoped to invite Western intervention and attempts at transformation in order to attract more support from Muslims and more adherents, and to undermine the legitimacy of “moderate” Muslims and pro-Western Muslim governments.

Lastly, your Afghan example is also wrong. The remnants of the original anti-Soviet Mujaheddin were the Northern Alliance, which acted as the main Coalition ground force in 2001. The Taliban were a post-Cold War development among children of Afghan refugees (too young to fight the Soviets), and the creature of Pakistan’s Islamist policies which sought to channel any Pashtun nationalism into Salafism. Prior to September 11, 2001, Al Qaeda murdered one of the most renowned leaders of the Mujaheddin in order to help the Taliban, who were renowned more for raping and killing women than killing Soviets, who had never blown up a BMP but had blown up schools, and who wanted to transform Afghanistan into a Pashtun-Salafi supremacist state.

Azor...you sometimes impress me...this is a strong well thought through answer....

Many in the US and yes even Europe have failed to see that much of the AQ and IS violence has been actually directed against Muslims...many of the secular types.....why because actually when you think about it...it is the secular Muslim who is actually a moderate and is largely tolerant of others...secularism is a core basic threat to the more radical elements in the Sunni/Shia divide...not the Us...not CENTCOM...not Trump not Europe...BUT WAIT...in some aspects this is why IS attacks Europe as they view Europe as being a basically degenerated secular set of nation states...and are seriously afraid of this impact on Sunni and here I will include Shia refugees/residents currently in Europe...

If we go back say 10 years ago in Syria...the Syrian society of Alawites...Sunni's...Shia...Kurds..and Christians was actually a strong multi ethnic society with largely little violence among the different ethnic groups....only when violence was rained down on peaceful demonstrating Sunni's largely by the Syrian Alawite security services did suddenly the "radical messaging" take off among the Sunni....and when Iran jumped in the "messaging became even more radicalized"...meaning "sectarianized"....

If fighting in Syria were to stop today I estimate it would take 10-20 years to restore what was there in say 2011/2012....maybe if there was a large scale rebuilding project turned loose on Syria and applied to all destroyed areas regardless of ethnic makeup...maybe via economics the internal divides there are in place now might disappear...

But that is a big IF.......

We saw in Baqubah Iraq in 2005/2006 where once we established a moderate level of violence and the secular elements were allowed to show their heads above the trench line suddenly AQI in their black uniforms would attempt to intimidate the locals into doing what they said reference dress codes...music....vails...men and women walking on different sides of the street and or not holding hands in public etc...and when we drove them off the streets the moderates would pop up again....

Then it would start all over again when we slacked off on pressuring AQI presence....

YET none of this experience never made it into the public discourse around Islam....and still does not.

Azor:

Re: the New/Reverse Cold War of today (wherein, the U.S./the West, today, seeks to transform the Rest of the World more along our alien and profane political, economic, social and value lines); look at this parallel from the Old Cold War of yesterday (wherein, the Soviets/the communists, then, sought to transform the Rest of the World more along their alien and profane political, economic, social and value lines).

BEGIN QUOTE

The overt attack on Afghan social values was presented, by the resistance forces, as an attack on Islamic values. This was also seen as an attack on the honor of women. The initiatives introduced by PDPA -- to impose literacy on women and girls -- inevitably raised questions as to the potential role of women outside the home. This provoked defensive actions from men, concerned with protecting the honor of women with their families, and to also ensure that traditional roles of women within the domestic sphere continued to be performed. It also generated fears that the important roles of women, as the primary vehicles for passing traditional and Islamic values from one generation to another, would be undermined if they were exposed to external and, particularly, non-Islamic values. This enabled the exiled radical Islamic parties to claim leadership of the resistance and to also declare a jihad.

END QUOTE

http://www.amazon.com/Afghanistan-Armies-Empires-Peter-Marsden/dp/184511... (On Page 58, in Chapter 4 entitled "The Soviet Military Intervention."

Azor: Given the above, can you now see the connection between, for example:

a. Radical Islamic parties. And

b. The utility of same re: the "resistance to unwanted transformation" by the -- -- clearly threatened -- Islamic populations of the day (to wit: those threatened by the Soviets/the communists during the Old Cold War of yesterday and those threatened by the U.S./the West in the New/Reverse Cold War of today)?

Thus, to:

a. Better understand the strategic and narratival difficulties presented to both the Soviets/the communists (back then) -- and to the U.S./the West (today) --

b. Via a better understanding -- and acknowledgement -- of this such critical connection?

Bill C.,

I’ve discussed your concept of a “New/Reverse Cold War” on the other discussion (“Winning Indefinite Conflicts”), so I won’t touch on it here for the sake of brevity.

I don’t see how you can compare the American-led Coalition or ISAF of 2001 to the PDPA of 1978. I thought that you might draw parallels between the PDPA and the Shah, who himself was following in the footsteps of Ataturk and Nasser. Both the PDPA and the Shah attempted to rapidly transform their very religious societies into secular ones, despite the warnings of their superpower patrons. Secular revolutionaries and religious counter-revolutionaries were extremely fanatical given the clash of secular ideas spreading across the Muslim world in the 1950s-1970s and the religious backlash in the form of the Iranian Revolution, the Gulf Arab attempts to contain it and Pakistan’s Islamization policies. At that time, secular nationalism, such as the Nasserist or Ba’athist variants, still had great currency and was by no means seen as a way to replace one autocrat (monarch) for another (president-for-life), which would come to pass in the 1990s.

The United States began Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan with the Northern Alliance (representing mainly non-Pashtun Afghans) onboard, after the CIA had spent at least a decade developing a relationship with them. The Coalition was fairly careful to avoid sparking a Pashtun backlash by not attempting to transform ultra-conservative Pashtun society, and this strategy has been comparatively successful: the insurgents even at their peak have been 4X less than the strength encountered by the Soviets and the PDPA. But I won’t bore you with any anecdotes. The numbers speak for themselves:

In the Soviet-Afghan War, civilians were at least 79% of the overall fatalities, and these were mainly caused by Soviet forces who used chemical weapons and committed war crimes (all documented). During the current war in Afghanistan, civilians have been 30% of the overall fatalities, with 75% of these caused by the Taliban. Basically, there is no comparison. You might as well compare the British operations in Northern Ireland to the Russian operations in Chechnya…

The author almost gives away the possible answer when she writes 'communication professionals must understand how the enemy’s narrative is constructed and promulgated. Only then can the United States and its partners offer alternative narratives. The West must also create a marketplace of ideas where these alternative narratives are discussed and debated and compete with Daesh for influence. These actions will counter Daesh’s propaganda and narrative that continue to attract recruits, sympathizers and supporters to its ideology.'

Are these professionals really the people with the answers. If the existing efforts are seen to have failed till now, why will they change now?

Surely it is far better that those who actually know their own people, whether in a region or a nation-state, create and offer an alternative narrative. Perhaps they have failed to date, preferring their own methods; which I expect give coercion and fear a higher priority.

Is what the 'West' seeks to offer really acceptable to those governments. Take one example, Saudi Arabia which has its own issues; would it permit access to US-designed and led 'are discussed and debate(d)'.

From my "armchair" any communication strategy needs to consider two targets, the vast majority of the population who have NOT joined the extremists (whether ISIS or AQ or others) and those who may consider the extremists messaging is legitimate and effective.

SWJ today has a quote from Bernard Fall, written in 1965, which seems appropriate here today and have changed one word, the original is now in brackets: In The Viet-Nam Reader, a literal handbook for anti-war activism published in 1965, Fall rolled up his perspective on the United States’ role in world succinctly and in a manner with resonance today: “In this world of nuclear weapons, irrational men, frightened nations, rampant technology, and permanent revolution, it is the foolish nation indeed which attempts to arrogate to itself the role of world persuader (policeman) or moral arbiter without recourse to what others think, do, want or need.”

From: http://smallwarsjournal.com/jrnl/art/bernard-fall-and-vietnamese-revolut...

I would suggest that there is a two-part solution here:

1. Establish strong states to deal with these non-state actors
2. Ensure that those states are pro-Western/Western allies

Basically, the current problems are akin to what we may have seen in much of Western Europe in the late 1940s and 1950s if the American and British/Commonwealth forces withdrew, and the Soviets did not fill the vacuum short of some assistance to Communist movements.

Short of a major commitment, as the West did for France, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, Norway, Denmark, Italy, Greece, Austria, Japan, Taiwan and South Korea, we have two choices:

1. Install a pro-Western dictator to keep a lid on things
2. Seal off failed states and play whack-a-mole with anti-Western militants

Vietnam was the first half-baked American intervention that was a commitment more than that undertaken in Guatemala or Chile, but far less than that undertaken in South Korea or Taiwan. In some respects, Iran and Saudi Arabia received more attention. Yet the desire to preserve the South Vietnamese "domino" on a shoestring led to a far greater cost in blood and treasure than if Eisenhower and Kennedy had made a proper effort in the beginning...

I don’t see how Col. Phillips’ recommendations are substantively different from the approaches already undertaken by the GEC or its previous iterations.

There are two major flaws with this essay:

(1) A misunderstanding of Daesh’s ideology
(2) Conflating the various ways in which Daesh recruits new members

Firstly, Col. Phillips omits the key ideological tenets of Daesh that do not deal with the West. Daesh has stated a Salafi-Takfiri desire to purify Islam of apostates and heretics, which include Shias and “moderate” Muslims (which Col. Phillips regards as key allies), in addition to overthrowing all secular and clerical Muslim authorities that challenge Daesh’s authority and power, including states such as Saudi Arabia as well as non-state actors such as the Wahhabi clerics, Hamas or the Taliban.

These other tenets render “alternative narratives” (or counter-propaganda) and “voices from within” (local allies, moderate Muslims), rather pointless. Why?

Daesh is more interested in purifying the Muslim world than it is in conquering the infidels, and has expressed more concern over the religious and secular beliefs and practices of Hamas, than over Israel’s conflicts with Muslims. This Stalinist war of Daesh’s against internal enemies directly contradicts any appeal to common values, whether within Islam or between Muslims and non-Muslims.

How can the West and local allies propagate “alternative narratives” without those narratives being seen as Western products?

Secondly, Col. Phillips does not delve into how Daesh recruits members in various countries. While much attention is paid to foreign volunteers who travel to Syria and Muslims in the West who declare allegiance and launch lone-wolf or small-group terrorist acts, Daesh’s manpower is built on Sunni Arab support in northern Iraq and eastern Syria, where it has established its Caliphate. Why has the Daesh “brand” outshone that of Al Qaeda’s, leading to Al Shabaab and Boko Haram declaring allegiance? Because of its physical Caliphate with millions of subjects and the lighting victories it achieved against Iraqi forces in 2014.

Col. Phillips claims that current members of Daesh have already “made up their minds”. Yet Daesh’s manpower is primarily comprised of Sunni Arabs who transitioned from secular Ba’athists to anti-American and anti-Shia insurgents, to anti-Al Qaeda militias, to Iraqi soldiers and to members of Daesh. Daesh’s military is led by leaders who have changed allegiance many times from 2003 to present and who have reacted violently to being marginalized by the Shias. Iran’s involvement in Syria only compounds their grievances and gives Sunni Arab Syrians common cause with their Iraqi brethren.

The West gives Daesh less of a pass than it gave the Germans, Japanese and Italians after World War II and the Croat, Bosniak and Albanian militias after the dissolution of Yugoslavia, and we wonder why Daesh fights on? No enemy capitulates without an off-ramp. Nor is there any strategy to protect the Sunni Arabs from sectarian cleansing and oppression; if Daesh is defeated, another “guardian” of the Sunni Arabs will emerge…

According to Scott Atran, Daesh doesn’t recruit new members in the West; it attracts them. They are comprised of lone wolves and small groups of close-knit friends who feel marginalized and see Daesh as offering a sense of belonging as well as a higher purpose. These people aren’t interested in the nuances of the Quran or what the clerics in Mecca think of Daesh, and they won’t be “caught” by internet sock-puppets.

I think it’s back to the drawing board…

Azor..you are fine tuning your comments...actually well stated...

Another problem is the old saying...to defeat the enemy you must become the enemy in thinking and actions...on the thinking part we are solely lacking...

In the 2003 through 2008 period in Iraq when first QJBR then AQI now IS and the rest of the Sunni insurgency used battle videos as their primary IO means...there was extensive use of symbols..logos...colors in their videos along with Koranic music phases....

ALL totally non understood by the Us military and intel analysts....

THEN came along a CTC issued research PDF in roughly 2005/2006 on jihadi symbols...color and music tied to the logos and colors and music....which told a story to those watching them.....

Largely ignored by many and used extensively by myself for years to help understand the narrative being presented to the viewer....

I used this info in interrogations with much success as it allowed me to get into conversations that were nonexistent otherwise...

The military never learns from their experiences....BUT they do collect a massive amount of lessons learned...BUT never really applying them...

Outlaw,

Well, conversing with you and CrowBat over the past few years has caused me to dig a bit deeper than I might have otherwise, and now I shake my head as you must when I hear Wahhabis being blamed for the rise of Al Qaeda, Daesh, Al Shabaab, Boko Haram and the Taliban.

Again, as I argued in "Winning Indefinite Conflicts", the solution is the establishment of strong and friendly states. Otherwise, we are looking at decades of containment and attrition.

In a peaceful world of shared values, Al Baghdadi is a nobody and the loser in Belgium remains a loser in Belgium. But perhaps that also means that the Sunni Arabs live in peaceful co-existence with the Kurds and Shias? Perhaps the narrative should be about graceful victory and humane treatment of the enemy, so that no group succumbs to greed, or is obligated to fight to the death or can only exist in an ethno-sectarian state.

Well said.....