A fast-paced animated film called produced in the UAE, has been viewed more than 200,000 times on social media and captured the attention of American and European policymakers.
A co-production of the Abu Dhabi-based Future Center for Advanced Research and Studies and the Al-Mesbar Center for Studies and Research in Dubai, it is based on a landmark study of over 45,000 Arabic-language Tweets by individuals who have either perpetrated terror attacks or trained to do so, along with 789 YouTube videos and numerous blogs.
“The Study and its animated summation fill a voice in the public discussion,” said Alan Luxenberg, President of the U.S.-based Foreign Policy Research Institute, in a mass communication Wednesday. “While so much research has been rightly focused on terrorists' means of recruiting followers in the West, the major source of fighters remains impressionable youth in the Arab world. The UAE-based scholars have the linguistic capacity and knowledge base to analyze the Arabic social media environment with greater intimacy than their Western peers, but a communications barrier between their learning environment and ours has made the pooling of insight more difficult. In an era of monograph overload, what better way to bridge that gap than a creative cartoon.”
The study’s findings appear to challenge conventional wisdom in the West about the functionality and strategies of “jihadist” propaganda. For example, it turned out that 59.7 percent of surveyed Tweets advocating for armed groups made purely political arguments, free of reference to religion per se; 18.6 percent conveyed a kind of "social criticism," also without a religious overlay; and only 21.4 percent of the total referred to religion as such. In other words, nearly four fifths of social media polemics used to persuade the audience of the legitimacy of armed "jihad" are essentially nonreligious. Among ideologies and entities for which jihadists voiced rejection, the Haruri branch of Kharijism topped the list, followed by secularism, while Zionism registered only a small proportion of the attention and the State of Israel escaped attention altogether.
The bilingual video was shared on Twitter and Facebook by a general audience of English- and Arabic-language posters. It was also distributed by specialists in jihadist social media from a variety of American and European think tanks and academic institutions, including the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, George Washington University’s “Program on Extremism,” the Gulf States Institute, and the United States Naval War College.
Asked why Al-Mesbar Center chose the novel medium of an animated cartoon to deliver the research findings, the Center's executive director, Mansour Alnogaidan, said, “"Terrorists have been better at communicating with the public than civilized peoples struggling against them. It's time to beat them at their own game."