Countering the Information Invasion

Countering the Information Invasion

The Jordan Armed Forces Directorate of Moral Guidance combats terrorist messaging

UNIPATH STAFF

It was no secret that terrorist groups were active on certain isolated webpages, but Daesh’s invasion of social media sites in 2014 and the emergence of terrorist media and an electronic army on Twitter surprised the world’s security apparatuses. Daesh propagandists invaded social media sites in an unprecedented campaign, posting thousands of messages and images that were copied by other Daesh-affiliated accounts to ensure they would reach the largest possible number of followers. Daesh waged a media campaign and a vast psychological war on Facebook and Twitter, making it necessary to open an electronic front to defeat terrorism as battles raged in Syria and Iraq.

Unipath sat down with Brig. Gen. Ouda Shudeifat, director of media and moral guidance in the Jordan Armed Forces, who described Jordan’s role in exposing Daesh lies, hindering Daesh’s ability to ensnare young people on social media, and helping young people recover from terrorist brainwashing.

Unipath: What is Jordan’s role in exposing terrorist ideology in social media?

Brig. Gen. Ouda: The Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan was one of the first countries to raise the alarm about this radical ideology. His Majesty King Abdullah II bin Al Hussein addressed the international community in more than one venue to warn it about the dangers of this ideology that began invading social media networks through Daesh promoters and sympathizers. Daesh targeted young people specifically and started using nefarious enticements that deviated from divine law. It exploited the free time that a lot of young people have, it exploited material poverty in some places, it exploited marginalized youth in some countries — in that way it found a broad audience on the internet. It promoted sinister and exclusionary ideas that resonated with its target audience on social media networks to attract the largest possible number of supporters and sympathizers and recruit them to carry out terrorist acts that are incompatible with religious, humanitarian and societal norms and traditions.

From that starting point, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan acted to combat this ideology. It developed plans and studies within its programs in the security ministries. It also worked internationally, coordinating with sisterly and friendly nations both within and outside the region. There was a significant effort between the United States of America and Jordan to counter terrorist threats and prevent this scourge that Daesh represented to all countries.

Unipath: How does the Directorate of Media and Moral Guidance unmask Daesh rhetoric?

Brig. Gen. Ouda: After these terrorist groups emerged on the ground and on social media networks alike, the Directorate of Moral Guidance got started. The directorate is the entity concerned with media, psychological warfare and strategic communication in the Jordan Armed Forces. We worked to monitor everything published by Daesh groups because they have used all available media and even mass media like speeches, mosque sermons, poetry forums, and social activities. The Directorate of Moral Guidance began by tracking and analyzing all publications and messages, and in cooperation with all the relevant authorities in the kingdom of Jordan, we formulated countermessages to illustrate the ugliness of those ideas and how remote they are from reality, humanity and Islam. The terrorist propagandists cherry-picked certain texts and fabricated interpretations of hadiths, then used them to lure young people and deceive the uninformed and the general public.

But there was a very significant effort through an integrated task force at the media center and the strategic communication unit. We began to track everything that Daesh published and sent countermessages to educate the community locally and messages exposing the lies and crimes of these terrorist gangs. There was a great deal of cooperation with our American partners in the field of information operations to counter Daesh’s lies with scientifically based messages. The exchange of information and ideas is essential, and producing effective content is very necessary because this intellectual invasion is not limited to a particular region or nation. It is a declaration of hostility against all nations of the world. And the evils of this deviant faction have arrived in various nations of the world. I’ll point out that the remnants of Daesh are on the ground, and the generations raised in the shadow of Daesh and the so-called Cubs of the Caliphate need follow-up and rehabilitation and careful messaging so that we can work together as allied, friendly forces and amicable, like-minded countries to pluck the seed of evil from the earth before it takes root. 

Unipath: Daesh had a media machine that blanketed social media pages at that time. What steps have you taken to prevent it from coming back? 

Brig. Gen. Ouda: Social media pages are a recently established form of media that has spread very quickly and is available to all age groups. This requires that we establish media within this media, both pages for the Armed Forces and pages for those who support the Jordan Armed Forces and other state institutions, speaking in a unified voice to encourage tolerance and peaceful coexistence and to reject violence and exclusion. We have fought them using the same means that they use to spread terrorist ideology and lure our youth. We have not been working alone but rather by cooperating and coordinating with other ministries, civil society, international organizations and friendly forces with whom we participate in joint exercises and exchange experiences. We established a specialized strategic communication unit that is monitoring and analyzing terrorist rhetoric and sending messages to the local community, countries in the region, and the international community to highlight the principles of Islam and to demonstrate the moderation and centrism of this religion, which arose for the sake of human dignity and humanity.

The khawarij have exploited and abused the religion through their inhumane practices. Here, on behalf of myself and the Directorate of Moral Guidance and all its leaders and staff, I would like to extend our thanks and appreciation to our friends in the American forces who have never ceased providing ideas and assistance with all the techniques for delivering messages to the international community and messaging to expose the lies of the misguided faction targeting young people and getting them mixed up in terrorist operations.

Unipath: You mentioned the Cubs of the Caliphate. What in your view is the best solution to this problem?

Brig. Gen. Ouda: Based on my work and from following events, I think the issue is extremely worrying. Here in Jordan, we are monitoring it with the utmost concern and caution. The Cubs of the Caliphate are children who have been raised in the shadow of a depraved ideology. Most of them now are children without fathers or mothers. They have been raised on killing, torture and all manner of violations and crimes. It has been sown in their young minds that this Daesh ideology is what will save the world. They call others infidels and believe that they are right and that they will be the ones who lead the world to salvation.

From this standpoint, I think there must be a major focus on refined programs to rehabilitate these people, or some of them, and to cleanse their minds of these terrorist ideas that they received through brainwashing. I think that efforts must be aligned among all stakeholders in friendly nations concerned with this problem to find approaches, methods and ideas to care for these groups, and to activate media content within social media to serve the goals and objectives that the world seeks to achieve.

This is a dilemma, and the world must be attentive to it. These people, if they leave, could infiltrate all the nations of the world. Especially because some of them are illegitimate children, or they don’t know who their fathers are, and they may be called by different names, which means they can disguise themselves and disappear. We need to be more careful in dealing with the risk of this generation, which could be worse than Daesh. It is an international problem and must be addressed internationally, because it is impossible to solve it at a local level because it is not uniquely a concern for Iraq, Jordan, Syria, or any other nation. It is a global concern.

The world must also turn to Africa. Terrorists are using African countries — where terrorist groups loyal to Daesh reside — as incubators and alternative locations. In these African children, they may find a terrorist element prepared to kill innocent people. Especially because some of these nations have a complex geographical, political, ethnic and religious environment. My hope is that all nations of the world and civil society organizations will turn to this problem and work toward groundbreaking, international solutions.

Unipath: What is the role of partnerships in developing the combat capabilities of friendly forces and enforcing security in the region? 

Brig. Gen. Ouda: We have been working with our friends the Americans for a long time. We are linked to them by deeply rooted political and military relationships, and great support and cooperation exist between us. We also cooperate through exercises, exchange of experience and living together in the field. We have worked with American forces in more than one place in the world. We have provided them much of the expertise that they need in the region because we are the closest and most aware of customs and traditions — we know what messages are most effective with the public. In exchange, they also offer us military expertise through joint drills, armaments and training in nontraditional combat and guerrilla warfare. We cooperate effectively in all logistical, tactical and technical areas with the American military, for which we have total respect and appreciation. We work together to benefit our countries.