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Global leaders need to rethink the way they talk about terrorism.
Whenever a politician denounces a terror attack as an attack on all democracies everywhere, on freedoms everywhere they are stepping right into the propaganda traps of extremist groups.
“We reinforce their talking points,” Dr Hararo Ingram from the Department of International Relations said.
“We reinforce the way in which they see the world and their supporters see the world. That they’re this malevolent, ubiquitous kind of threat that are just everywhere.”
These are the perceptions terror groups want to create.
“We don’t need to lie to counter that,” Dr Ingram said.
“We also shouldn’t think that counter-proselytising with ‘moderate’ ideology is appropriate either.”
In October, Dr Ingram drew together the speakers – including headliner Peter Greste – for the Information Warfare in the 21st Century event.
Across a range of panels, the event canvassed media jihad, new cold wars and fake news. Drawing from his own research, Dr Ingram spoke about ISIS and how the group would respond in the wake of devastating losses.
“As it loses territorial control, it has become popular to think that ISIS will look to survive into the future by establishing a virtual caliphate,” he said.
“But their virtual propaganda effort online is a virtual means to real world ends. Not the other way around. That’s very important to understand and appreciate. ISIS will remain very much focused on the real world.”
The pressure is on, then, for military and intelligence efforts to evolve in tandem with the capabilities of terrorist groups.
“Part of being human is to persuasively communicate. Democracies have been grappling with these challenges since the Greeks – and we’re still grappling with it,” Dr Ingram said. According to Dr Ingram, when governments engage in counter-proselyting campaigns, they invariably make things worse.
“We need to develop a far more sophisticated understanding of the diversity of threats that are involved here, and how they impact on us strategically but also on our politics,” he said.
He emphasised that ANU was already leading in these efforts, serving as the hub of a network extending through Europe, the US, South East Asia and the Middle East on the issue.
“If we’re going to understand these complex problems we have to go where these complex problems are and work with locals to understand them,” Dr Ingram said.