‘Death to the infidels!’ Why it’s time to fix Hollywood’s problem with Muslims
Great convo w studio execs in LA. Good to hear their perspectives & ideas of how to counter #Daesh narrative,” tweeted John Kerry on 16 February, along with a photo of himself in a Hollywood meeting lounge with executives from Universal, Warner, Fox, Disney, Sony, Dreamworks and other big players – overwhelmingly middle-aged white men in suits.
One can’t help imagining there were some awkward moments to this “great convo”, though. Especially if Kerry queried what Hollywood had done to counter the “#Daesh narrative” so far. Even more so, if he asked what juicy counter-terrorism stories they had coming down the pipeline. Looking at the current output, such as Whiskey Tango Foxtrot, Rock the Kasbah and London Has Fallen, you could easily get the impression that Hollywood is part of the problem, rather than a potential solution.
If you accept the notion of a “war of narratives”, it’s an area where the extremists have done most of the running. Still ringing in Washington’s ears and heading its PowerPoint presentations is the declaration the al-Qaida leader Ayman al-Zawahiri made in 2005: “We are in a battle, and more than half of this battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media.” Isis/Daesh has been sending a steady stream of video content on to that media battlefield, the relative sophistication of which has filled western commentators with a mix of horror, concern and admiration. The US and its coalition partners have floundered over how to respond.
Kerry’s visit to Hollywood comes a month after the State Department revamped its Countering Violent Extremism programme. Since 2010, that role had been performed by the Center for Strategic Counterterrorism Communications (CSCC); its counter-messaging often leaned towards counter-productive messaging. One of its strategies, for example, was to engage directly with Isis jihadists on Twitter, but that only served to legitimise their voices. The CSCC also put out a parody recruitment video, repurposing Isis’s violent propaganda footage and broadcasting it under the seal of the State Department. “Run, do not walk to Isis land,” ran the text of the ad. “Travel is inexpensive because you won’t need a return ticket!” As the TV satirist John Oliver remarked: “You are banking a lot on any potential militants understanding that that is sarcasm.”
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