Why we don’t need a CVE “counter narrative”: this war is about actions, not words

In the race to ‘do something’ to counter Daesh propaganda, Governments in the West have forgotten that actions speak louder than words – except in Canada, where they are walking the CVE talk.

In the United States, self-endorsed presidential candidate Donald Trump’s proposed plan to ban Muslims from immigrating to the country has the world talking in the wake of the San Bernardino shooting.

In Australia, former Prime Minister Tony Abbott’s assertion that Islam needs a reformation has a nation questioning just how far right of centre the Government really is; only days out from the tenth anniversary of the worst race-based riot in our history and the Sydney Siege.

Meanwhile in Canada, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau helps a newly arrived Canadian child (a Syrian refugee) put on a gifted, new winter jacket:

“You are home. Welcome home…. This is a wonderful night, where we get to show not just a planeload of new Canadians what Canada is all about, we get to show the world how to open our hearts and welcome in people who are fleeting extraordinarily difficult situations.”

Canadian Prime Minister, Justin Trudeau

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, centre, poses for a selfies with workers before he greets refugees from Syria at Pearson International airport, in Toronto, on Thursday, Dec. 10, 2015. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Strip away the political, vote-aspiring messaging and what you have in these three examples is astoundingly simplistic:

Trump – inciting civil division.

Abbott – inciting civil division.

Trudeau – demonstrating civil compassion and cohesion.

The truth is, while Trump and Abbott give Daesh yet another propaganda free kick to reinforce their ideological ‘us vs. them’ narrative; Trudeau is kicking them where it hurts – right in the civil cohesion crux.

“In the most simplistic of ways, Canada just started the West’s most effective countering violent extremism (CVE) narrative – with a warm winter jacket and a soft teddy bear.”

How?

He let his actions inform the narrative others write about them.

Why we don’t need a CVE ‘counter-narrative’

Constructing ‘counter narratives’ to Daesh messaging is in fact, a moot exercise without first establishing meaningful, authentic civil actions.

Why?

Firstly, because we don’t even have A narrative.

Not. A. Single. One.

In fact, if we were to create a ‘counter narrative’ based on our current terrain analysis it would be the construct of an abstract set of ideas of how we want other people to see the world around them; rather than the totality that is a reflection of their truth.

Our messaging won’t resonate with them because we fail to capture them at the hearts and minds level. We don’t challenge people to think critically about their often newfound beliefs and we don’t have a strategic conversion point to take online curiosity to offline engagement or intervention. We are so focused on the projection of words vs. words that we fail to see our own lack of meaningful action in this equation.

Secondly; while Governments continue to say one thing and do another, their messaging will be so fundamentally disparate that the resulting, conflicting narrative  will only serve to reinforce the ‘us vs. them’ mentality that Daesh seeks.

The solution is to be found in our actions, not our words

When Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote “The pen is mightier than the sword” in 1839, the power of fighting words with words was a gentleman’s sport. Those who could read also benefited from the freedom of movement and access to information that wealth and status afforded. The war was reputational. The largely illiterate population however, living in poverty or servitude, still settled their differences with the sword. This status quo didn’t changed until the broad-scale availability of the internet and social media gave everyone a voice with the ability to publish words, images or videos regardless of their socio-economic or educational backgrounds.

We can no longer fight words with words and win.

Daesh follow no social norms or rules of engagement and have proven time and again with their projection of soft power, that they have the intent and capability of following words through to actions with brutal effect.

This war isn’t about words. It’s about how people feel about themselves, the communities they belong to and the country they live in.

We can’t change a person’s reality with a tweet or a YouTube video any more successfully than extremists can. We know that neither radicalisation or de-radicalisation occurs in isolation but are a culmination of socio-demographic, economic and cultural factors.

When Justin Trudeau welcomed ‘new Canadians’ to their ‘home’ this morning, his actions spoke so loudly they shadowed his words. The resulting narrative?

If you migrated here, you are one of us.

If you were born here, you are one of us.

I don’t care if you wear a burqa or a turban or a yarmulke: you are one of us.

I don’t care if you believe in a god, or many or none at all: you are one of us.

No matter which culture or community you identify with: you are one of us.

The fact that Governments and the media still need to make the distinction between ‘refugee’ and ‘citizen’ is proof enough we aren’t as cohesive a society as we’d like to think.

While scandal still sells news and influences voters; the general populace keeps the hamster wheel spinning. Demand more of your country’s leadership and media. Be more within your own communities.

Think less about your words.

Think more about what positive effects your actions will create.