A Brief History of Propaganda During Conflict: Lessons for Counter-Terrorism Strategic Communications

There is a tendency in scholarly and strategic-policy fields to see the propaganda produced by groups like Islamic State and Al-Qaeda as historically unheralded. As evidence, slickly produced communiques and a penchant for using social media are typically highlighted. This narrow perspective, in placing the current phenomenon into an historical and thematic vacuum, infers that history has little to offer contemporary efforts to understand and confront extremist propaganda. This research paper explores the history of propaganda during conflict and draws out key lessons for improving counterterrorism strategic communications. Overall, history suggests that a strategic communications campaign during conflict is more likely to succeed if it based on a multifaceted approach characterised by the deployment of a diversity of messages that leverage a variety of target audience motivations, uses all pertinent means of communication (not just the latest), and synchronises this messaging with strategicpolicy/politico-military actions.

Tags: Al-Qaeda, Counterterrorism, ISIS