‘Expose the lies and deceit of ISIS’: expert

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While Friday’s national unified khutbah against the Islamic State group has been hailed as “significant”, one terrorism expert has warned that the Muslim community in South Africa will need to do much more to be able to counter the ISIS propaganda campaign.

“Although such initiatives are welcomed, if one looks at ISIS propaganda campaign, we are talking about an organization is focused. It needs to be structured and focused and we need to teach the language of ISIS to counter it,” Jasmine Opperman, the director of the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC) told VOC Drivetime.

After a high profile meeting between various Muslim organisations and scholars a few weeks ago, a unified khutbah was drafted to discuss the problem posed by the attraction of the ISIS among some South African Muslims. The unified sermon was broadcasted live on VOC as well as Radio Islam in Johannesburg. The khutbah informs the Muslim community that there have recently been South Africans who have joined or attempted to join ISIS.

However, it asserts that the vast majority of Muslim scholars around the world have clearly condemned ISIS and have categorically stated that it does not represent Islam or the Shariah. From an Islamic perspective, the khutbah argues, ‘it is unlawful for anyone to join [ISIS]’, saying the group engages in ‘criminal activities’ and ‘sheds blood’ unlawfully.

This next step, according to Opperman, should be an education campaign of what ISIS actually represents.

“Countering ISIS requires an approach, where the counter narrative is focused not on the ideology, but the lies and deceit of ISIS propaganda. Once radicalisation has set in with individuals, de-radicalisation is extremely problematic and often fails. The art here is to engage and set up structured programmes where South African youth and society in general are informed on ISIS so that when exposure is happening, we all can take informed decisions. Without such programmes, vulnerability is set to increase.”

In her analysis, Opperman believes that the more voices there are talking about and exposing ISIS, the greater impact this will have. But she warned leaders not to have a “gun shot approach shooting at ISIS for what they believe should be the alternative narrative”.

“We need to create a structured engagement. If this is going to be personal opinions by certain individuals, we are fighting a losing battle. Personal opinions will not stand up against the structured programme that ISIS is running at this point in time.”

“If we talk about teenagers being targeted, to have community and religious leaders talking is fine, but you must use the language of young people. You need to have teenagers talking to teenagers about what ISIS is. It’s at that level where you starting engaging and countering the problem.”

As opposed to Muslim communities in other countries, South Africa seems to be a lot more pro-active in attempting to tackle the issue, Opperman conceded.

“When one looks at the profile of foreign fighters in Syria and Iraq, most of them are coming from your first and second generation’s communities in France, Belgium Denmark and the UK. SA is in a unique position here, because we are being pro-active and we have to use this to be best of our advantage.”

To listen to the national unified khutbah, download the podcast here: http://iono.fm/e/176908

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