Media: a partner in fight against extremism and terrorism (cases of Pakistan and Russia).

This article is based on speech delivered on Islamabad International Counter Terrorism Forum, Islamabad, April 3-5, 2018.

As we are speaking about the media, which is a set of instruments that is related to the formation of a narrative and a message that is then sent to the masses and target groups, we can begin with etymology. The word “terror” has an Indo-European origin. The Latin term terror is translated as “fear”, but the word emerged from the Sanskrit “trasat”, which means “he trembles”. The Oxford English Dictionary fairly clearly defines that all earlier meanings of the word meant terror as either a curse or a death caused by nature. It is only in 1795 that, thanks to the French Revolution and the work of the guillotine, “terrorism” became a tool of the government to terrify its population, or, at the very least, several groups of citizens. Therefore, in the socio-political context, terrorism as such is the product of a government that is itself of the epoch of Enlightenment originated in the Western Europe. As globalism is a logical continuation of the project of Western modernity and secularisation (including nihilism and various forms of extremism), developing countries have become the victim of this phenomenon. So it is precisely the developed countries who have been the engine of terrorism in its various forms and up to the current day. This sometimes did not happen deliberately, and in those cases, terrorism manifested itself as an extreme form of protest against the processes of globalisation and secularisation; however, there are also cases in which the use of terrorism was deliberate, which is characteristic for the execution of proxy wars.

In general, terrorism is far from being a homogenous phenomenon and includes:


A political phenomenon (motives);

A psychological effect, i.e. communication through the act of violence;

A planned nature;

A recognition of command and control methods (there is a clear chain of command).

As a rule, terrorism is not a governmental form of violence. It is executed by non-governmental actors. However, there does exist a concept of state terrorism, when the government of a certain country uses those means that lead to results comparable to those of a terrorist attack.

Terrorism can appear everywhere and does not follow the generally accepted rules of war, although recently, the actions of the terrorist organisation ISIS have shown the possibility of a terrorist organisation transforming into a quasi-state.

In addition, the problem of terrorism must be examined from a complex position that must account for:

- Regional specifics:

- The nature of terrorism in the context of postmodern culture and globalisation;

- The global geopolitical confrontation between the main poles of power.

This last point is also important. For example, while reflecting on the events that took place in New York in September 2001, the famous geopolitical scientist and expert on military strategy, professor of International Relations and Strategic Studies at the University of Reading Colin S. Gray noted that during unconventional operations, US special forces can act precisely the same way as terrorists in uniform.1

This was indicated by the citizens group of many countries that criticised the US invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

The next remark was made by the British scholars Peter Neumann and M.L.R. Smith, who insist that our contention with terrorism – even that of the supposedly ‘nihilist’ variety – does not necessarily fall within the realm of the abnormal. Instead, terrorism should more appropriately be viewed as a military strategy.2

The authors are of the opinion that only by examining the dynamics of strategic terrorism it is possible to create the necessary conceptual basis from which to arrive at a more complete understanding of the role played by terrorist violence in the campaigns of some of the groups that have gone beyond the use of strategic terrorism for the purpose of advancing their aims.

If terrorism is understood as a military strategy, it will automatically become a tool to achieve political goals, not only by radical groups, but also by state actors.

Also, we can to look into the research of the RAND Corporation on Special Warfare, from which it is clear that “the United States needs to employ a more sophisticated form of special warfare to secure its interests. Special warfare campaigns stabilize or destabilize a regime by operating “through and with” local state or nonstate partners, rather than through unilateral U.S. action.”3.

This politicised approach creates barriers on the path of the battle against terrorism and the eradication of extremism.

We will now turn to the tools of the media and communications. Nobody will deny that terrorism is a special kind of psychological warfare, a battle for hearts and minds with the help of the will4. If earlier terrorism was seen as a kind of abnormality, a deviation from the standard rules of force that were regulated by the norms of international law and all kinds of conventions, now there exists the opinion that it is a new norm, one that must be understood and dealt with.

Therefore, the media play an important role. They can be used as an instrument for the support of terrorism as well as the struggle against it. Taking into account global mediatisation (which has a direct relation to Pakistan), extremist activities begin to rely on social networks, forums, and their own mass media for propaganda and the recruitment of followers while simultaneously acquiring a trans-boundary character.

In the last review of the National Action Plan (which was titled Cultivating Peace) from March 2018, measures were indicated that were subsequently applied to block the spread of extremist ideas and terrorism through media and communications channels, including various technical means.5

Аs propaganda is considered the lifeblood of militant and terrorist organizations, a ban on electronic media use by activists of proscribed organizations has been enforced by way of Point 11 of the NAP.6

It is important to note, that cases regarding hate speech are not just related to verbal communications, but to cyberspace as well; their consequences can manifest at different levels, including the social, religious, educational and political.

Therefore, the following actions fall under the criminal liability the same way that behaviour corresponding to terrorist activity would:

• A public demonstration of solidarity with a terrorist organisation;

• Participation in activities that could lead to a terrorist act, the recruitment of individuals for a terrorist organisation or participation in training led by a terrorist organisation;

• The publication of direct calls for the completion of a terrorist act;

• The publication of messages praising or supporting a terrorist act.

As an observer who studies counter-terrorism in Pakistan, I would like to note, that in order to filter social media sites and enable vigilance against cybercrimes, a ‘Prevention of Electronic Crime’ Act 2016 has been passed by Parliament. Constant vigilance of internet traffic has resulted in the blocking of 1,447 URLs that hosted extremist content.7

Another interesting initiative is the multi-pronged Cyber CounterTerrorism drive by NACTA, which includes the mapping of radical content available on internet and social media as well as measures to counter such content and its spread and dissemination. NACTA has developed a web portal ( to counter the abuse of internet and social media. The purpose of this responsive web portal is to create eyes and ears in the cybersphere in order to counter radical and extremist ideology in the online realm. Using this web portal, everyone can report freely, securely and anonymously.

Another important project to mention is the recently launched mobile app called “CHAUKAS”, which is available on Google Play and Apple stores for public use and enables a common citizen to anonymously and securely report any hate speech or extremist content that takes the form of an internet video, audio, photo, or text.8 The same system can be used to notify authorities of periodicals or books containing hate content.

The measures that have been taken by the Pakistani government are fairly up to date and are having a pronounced effect.

Apart from this, it is necessary to mention the activities of newspapers and magazines themselves (including their electronic versions). It is from precisely because of Pakistani media information about the Paigham-e-Pakistan initiative was shared widely: a unanimous fatwa and joint deceleration against terrorism that reflects the unity and religious responsibility of eminent scholars from all schools of thought in the country.9

Along with the work of other government organs, this has led to a remarkable decline in incidents of terrorism-related violence in Pakistan.

Before we can present some facts about the role of the Russian mass media in the battle against terrorism, I would like to pay attention to one of the latest directions of informational operations, which has received the name of memetic warfare. What are memes? Memes are behavioural instructions that are located in the memory and reproduced with the help of imitation. They are a kind of metaphysical, intangible entities that are transmitted from person to person and mind to mind, either in an oral form accompanied by some kind of action, music etc. or by repeated actions and/or imitation. Anything can be a meme: an idea, a poem; in other words, anything that can be imitated. Memes are a kind of bytes of cultural information, transmitted and reproduced in all groups of a population and/or society.10

It is clear that memes have an influence on ideas, and that ideas, in turn, influence and form beliefs. Beliefs birth and influence political opinions in conjunction with feelings and emotions; and finally, these latter elements produce actions that inform and influence behaviour.11 Therefore, it is important to not only track down extremist content, but potentially dangerous memes as well, as well as knowing how to combat them.

The hashtag system is a special level of the memetic landscape of the Internet and different communications applications. These hashtags are also an element in the running of information campaigns12, as well as being extraordinarily important for the creation of some frames of perception.

We can see how hashtags are influential with one example. When a user writes two words (Pakistan, terrorism) in the Yahoo search, he will immediately be presented by suggestions like War against terrorism in Pakistan, education and terrorism Pakistan, Counter terrorism Pakistan, Against terrorism Pakistan.

What is interesting, is that when the words US and terrorism are entered into the Yahoo, the following suggestions appear: domestic terrorism USA, counter terrorism USA, terrorism USA Patriot Act, right wing terrorism USA.

It would seem that this is but a small difference, but the reception by the user is entirely different. An observer might get the impression that the phenomenon of terrorism exists in both countries, but that Pakistan is the scene of an active battle against it, while in the US it is of local origin and in some cases used by the government to achieve its goals.

But we need to pay attention that hashtag landscape in Internet has changing nature – narratives may be shifted, suppressed and eliminated.

Now we give some examples from Russia directly from the Northern Caucasus region, where, sadly, extremist groups are active to this day. According to statistical data, the share of the population of the Republic of Dagestan that is loyal to the ideas of extremism and terrorism (who do not hide their loyalty towards nationalist and religious organisations that allow the use of force) is 4,5%. The share of the population that holds an anti-terrorist ideology and that directly indicates its categorical rejection of the ideas of terrorism is 30%. Another 25% of the population is aware of the spread of informative material with an antiterrorist message. Lastly, 25% of the population knows about the legal aspects of anti-extremist and anti-terrorist measures (active hotlines used by law enforcement, social, and psychiatric agencies, the legal sanctions contained in articles on crimes of an extremist and terrorist nature, ways to end participation in terrorist activity etc.).13

Despite the predominance of materials with anti-terrorist content, there has been no qualitative difference in the situation in Dagestan compared to four years ago. 2015 saw a jump in the growth of persons involved in terrorist activity from 53 to 968, mainly because of growing participation in illegal activities in Syria on the side of ISIS. This tendency is correlated to the growth of propaganda material produced by terrorist organisations from 52 to 243 units.

The conclusion is very clear: it was necessary to effect a change of gears in the evaluation of the effectiveness of the creation and spreading of informational material.

Earlier, the effectiveness of informational countermeasures against the ideologies of terrorism and extremism (including the period 2014-2017) were measured by the amount of published informational materials. From 2018 onward, a qualitative instead of a quantitative approach is used; that is to say, the effectivity of informational work is measured by changes in public opinion and moral standards as well as decreases in the level of economic opinions in society.

We will examine what forms this takes in practice. On the basis of data of the “social portrait” and the moral positions of target groups as well as operational situations related to high-impact events, specially trained working groups in the Republic of Dagestan’s Ministry of Information and Press, with the support of an Inter-agency Working Group and Expert Council of the republic’s Anti-terrorism Committee, develop scenarios that contain key meanings for target groups; in addition, they produce and spread content depending on the target audience.

Two main lines of thought form the basis of content production: the destruction of ideologies of terrorism and extremism and their replacement by other, positive positions:

– Counter-narratives are theses that refute the narratives (arguments, points of view) of propagandists and recruiters from terrorist organisations. They do not contain finished (ready-made) opinions, but a consequent explanation of facts and events that lead the user to his own special conclusion;

– Alternative opinions are positively oriented propositions meant to lessen the attractiveness of promises made by extremist recruiters and switch the audience’s concentration (including that of high-risk individuals) to constructive, legal participation in civil life and the opportunity for transformation on a state’s legal foundations.

The attractiveness of counter-narratives is not based on objectivity and a basin in proof: their psychological effect is contingent on their clarity and originality as well as the user’s readiness to except conclusions and prepared information mainly by testing it for themselves.

The presence of counter-narratives in the information environment is telling in and of itself: it is proof of the presence of an alternative point of view and about social elements that can provide a counter to extremist ideas, not just passively (by not entering terrorist groups) but actively as well by using all available means (the effect of “anti-recruitment”).

Apart from this, the more educational material of an anti-terrorist character there is in the information environment and the clearer and more interesting it is, the higher the chance that an interested user (including one from an at-risk group) will first encounter this kind of material, and not the propaganda of terrorist structures.

In this area, great gains were made in Russia thanks to the creation of videos and their dissemination through social networks.

Although in Russia, just like in Pakistan, have experience with the creation of special applications for finding extremist content online and monitoring cyberspace.

Of course, irony and satire can also be used in order to construct several informational campaigns; however, these have to be used with care and a good understanding of the local culture.

As was shown in an EU report on strategic communications, such factors can be transmitted and disseminated through social media and local communities, with the result of raising resistance to disinformation on a community level. Internal instructions can be composed and spread through agencies, the media, and affiliated organisations.14

In conclusion, there is important to remind proposal of president Vladimir Putin on the necessity to fight terrorism jointly and as one team. His message was related to ISIS activity in Iraq and Syria and was addressed to Western countries (primarily the US), but it fell on deaf ears. However, this state is now not an unconditional hegemonic power, and the unipolar moment is ending. This is especially relevant for the countries of Eurasia, of which Russia and Pakistan are geopolitical actors of the highest order. Welcome to the multipolar world, a world that we will build together on the basis of the principles of mutual respect, the safeguarding of the traditions and values of our peoples, and joint future planning.


1 Colin S. Gray. The Sheriff: America's Defense of the New World Order, Lexington, KY: The University Press of Kentucky, 2004.

2 Neumann, Peter R. & M. L. R. Smith. Strategic terrorism: The framework and its fallacies. Journal of Strategic Studies, 2005, 28: 4, 571-595.

3 Madden, Dan & Hoffmann, Dick etc. Special Warfare. The Missing Middle in U.S. Coercive Options. RAND, 2014.

4 Chaliand, Gerard. Terrorism: From Popular Struggle to Media Spectacle, London: Saqi Books, 1987.

5 Cultivating Peace. National Action Plan, Islamabad, NACTA, March 2018.

6 Ibid. P. 19.

7 Ibid. P. 22.

8 NACTA Report, 2017, NACTA, Islamabad, January 2018. P. 10.

9 See fpr example: ‘Paigham-e-Pakistan key to counter terrorism’// The Nation, March 21, 2018; Paigham-e-Pakistan initiative to help counter terrorism// Pakistan Observer, March 27, 2018

10 Dawkins, R. The Selfish Gene, Oxford University Press, Oxford, 1976

11 Michael B. Prosser. Memetics — a growth Industry in US Military Operations, United States Marine Corps, School of Advanced Warfighting, Marine Corps University, 2006.

13 Снегирев С.В. Адресное продвижение материалов антитеррористического характера в социальных сетях и сети Интернет// Обзор. НЦПТИ, №2 (11), декабрь 2017, с. 18 - 23.

14 EU strategic communications. With a view to counteracting propaganda, European Parliament, 2016