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PaVE’s ‘master message’ counters IS propaganda

People against Violent Extremism (PaVE) has initiated a YouTube channel to establish a counter-narrative to the powerful online messages aired by terrorist organisations.

Led by Dr Anne Aly, the non-government organisation aired three short films in October, which were produced with the aid of a $110,000 grant from the Attorney-General’s Department.

The films carry the message: “Violent extremism has many faces. Don’t make yours one.”

“We need to develop messages to counter the ISIS message,” said Dr Aly, the convener of PaVE who is also a professor at Department of Social Sciences and International Studies at Curtin University in Western Australia.

The project could be a forerunner to more funding for community-based strategies to counter violent extremism.

The three youth-focussed films are: Bachar Houli’s “Strongest Among You,” where Muslims in Perth speak out against terrorism while playing football; “Offline” that shows young men affected by online images being interrupted by their families; and “Walk Away” that depicts individuals walking away from fear, hate, ignorance, weakness, anger and violent extremism.

A need for such projects to disseminate a counter-terrorism message was called for by top academics and diplomats at Macquarie University’s “Countering Violent Extremism (CVE) Symposium 2014”.

“We need to develop messages to counter the ISIS message.”

– Dr Anne Aly, convener of PaVE

Dr Aly said the Australia remained “behind the eight-ball” in counteracting powerful online messages aired by Al Qaeda and more recently IS.

“Other countries including the UK, Sweden and US have non-government (organisations) and not-for-profits working specifically to combat violent extremism, but in Australia much of the work is taken on by government or the research community,” she said.

“When it comes from government (the message) loses its potency... its authenticity.”

A recent US-government Twitter campaign “Think again, Turn away,” was consequently mocked online and gave birth to the counter-slogan, “Think again, Run away,” she said.

The Attorney-General’s Department had “a good handle on CVE” and she’s hopeful that non-government organisations working on community projects of diversion, alternative pathways and deradicalisation receive more funding. “More needs to be invested in civil society,” she said.

Aly has called for a national body that brings together researchers, communities and government.

“Law enforcement agencies have received the vast majority of funding in the past, and it gives the impression that they’re more important, that they’re better to address the issue (than preventative community programs),” she said.

Handing out the counter-terrorism pie

The Attorney-General’s Department has allocated $630 million over the next four years to “boost the counter-terrorism capacity of Australian Government agencies,” a spokesperson for the Attorney-General’s Department said.

“As part of our $13.4 million commitment to countering violent extremism, we are developing a package in consultation with communities to address the particular requirements of young Australians at risk,” the spokesperson said.

“This may include youth diversion activities, healthcare, mentoring, employment and educational pathway support and counselling.”

“We will combat online radicalisation with education programmes and by working with communities, industry and overseas partners,” the spokesperson said.

The nation’s spy agency, ASIO, has received an additional $196.8 million over four years to investigate individuals and groups suspected of being involved in terrorist-related activities and to disrupt and mitigate the threat of foreign fighters returning to Australia.

The Australian Federal Police (AFP) received $6.2 million for a community diversion and monitoring team and $11.8 million for an investigations team; while an extra $32.7 million is being directed towards multi-agency foreign fighter investigations.

Countering terrorist propaganda

Mike Smith, the former executive director of the United Nations Counter-Terrorism Committee and former chair of the UN Commission for Human Rights, said at the Macquarie University CVE Symposium, that IS has been “extraordinarily successful” in attracting followers globally and western powers have failed to deliver a “master message” to counteract their propaganda.

Al Qaeda and now the IS have “practiced what they preach” while western governments too often fail to match their actions with words, Smith said.

Governments have been “slow to match” and “unable to replicate” the well-organised messages of terrorist groups that advocated a return to the “golden age of Islam", he said.

More collaboration between government agencies and the ability to counteract the glorified message of terrorism with a “master message of peace and tolerance” is now needed, he said.

There is a lack of continuity in the “watered down” government responses that should emphasise the advantages of an open and free society against the perils of Islamic states, such as Afghanistan’s experience under the Taliban: of a life of public floggings, the persecution of religious minorities and less female rights.

“For most of us, choosing between these contrasting visions would be a ‘no-brainer’,” Smith said.

Dr Clive Williams, a former military intelligence officer in Australia and now a professor at Australian National University, said at the Macquarie University CVE Symposium that preventing the draw of terrorism, including online, remained one of three clear objectives for counter-terrorism measures.

Providing alternative pathways for “at risk” young people and disruptions to returning fighters, as well as working with institutions, such as prisons and police, were also objectives, Dr Williams said.

The Point

Community organisation PaVE has initiated an online campaign to counteract powerful messages from terrorist organisations

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