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Tuesday, January 19th 2016
“Despite the praise heaped on the so-called Islamic State for its cutting-edge propaganda online, one of its most effective products is decidedly low tech. Dabiq, ISIS’s online news magazine, has a small but devoted readership that spans the globe,” wrote Will McCants of the Center for Middle East Policy and Clint Watts of the Foreign Policy Research Institute in an article, “Why the U.S. Can’t Make a Magazine Like ISIS,” posted on The Daily Beast website on January 11, 2016. Dabiq includes “attack reports,” biographies of fighters, and other features.
This alumnus of the U.S. Information Agency cannot help but recall that the agency had a vigorous magazine diplomacy, thrown overboard with no warning in the early 1990s as part of the “peace dividend,” bringing to an end such venerable and respected publications as America Illustrated (in Russian), Al-Majal (in Arabic), Topic (in English and French for Africa), Economic Impact, Dialog, Trends (in Japanese), and others.
Here are some quotes from the article by McCants and Watts. Public Diplomacy practitioners will sigh loudly at the second-to-last bullet below:
- Despite the praise heaped on the so-called Islamic State for its cutting-edge propaganda online, one of its most effective products is decidedly low tech. Dabiq, ISIS’s online news magazine, has a small but devoted readership that spans the globe.
- News of advances on the battlefield excite them—more evidence that God’s kingdom on Earth has returned and grows. Stories of fighters inspire them—more models to emulate as they contemplate what role they can play in the divine drama unfolding.
- The magazine clearly states the organization’s goals; provides news of its activities that advance those goals; showcases personal stories of the people engaged in the activities; and announces major developments in the organization’s fight against its enemies.
- Can you name a single U.S. government publication or online platform devoted to the anti-ISIS fight that is as informative or as widely-read as Dabiq? Is there anything that tells us what all these air sorties are for? Who’s fighting this fight on the ground? What advances the coalition has made and why we should we care? We couldn’t come up with one either.
- That got us to thinking: Why can’t the U.S. government publish something like Dabiq online? Lack of imagination isn’t the reason. A news magazine isn’t a very creative idea—Americans perfected the form, which ISIS copied.
- The executive branch’s complicated bureaucracy, legal strictures, and sensitivity to criticism from media and Congress make it tough to publish a Dabiq-style magazine.
- If the president asks his government to write attack reports for the public, the U.S. Department of State and the Department of Defense will quarrel about who will take the lead in writing and publishing them. Then they and the intelligence agencies will quarrel over which reports should be included. Will this report counter the president’s insistence that we have no boots on the ground? Will that report make it look like our Iraqi partners aren’t carrying their weight? Does this one tell the enemy too much about our game plan? Does that picture make U.S. soldiers look too menacing? Will this report later be discredited by the media? Will these battlefield successes be reversed in the future? Does anyone know if another agency has said this or its opposite? Will anyone trust what we’re saying? Shouldn’t someone else be saying this?
- When something finally slides off the serpentine conveyor belt months later, it will be a bland blob devoid of detail and relevance. Meanwhile, ISIS will have added 12 more volumes to its shelves.