Losing the Plot: Narrative, Counter-Narrative and Violent Extremism

22 May 2017
 
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By Dr. Andrew Glazzard, Director of National Security and Resilience Studies at the Royal United Services Institute for Defence and Security Studies.

Counter-terrorist practitioners and policy makers appear to be very interested in narrative. They often describe the worldview of violent Islamist groups and movements as the ‘jihadi narrative’, while their efforts to confront terrorist propaganda are usually labelled as ‘counter-narrative’ or ‘alternative narrative’. However, while the counter-narrative approach has gained widespread acceptance in governments, think-tanks and civil society organisations, it is built on very shaky theoretical and empirical foundations. Some valuable theoretical contributions to the study of violent extremist narrative have been made by psychologists in particular, but there is one discipline which is conspicuous by its absence from the field: literary studies.

This paper makes a case for the value of studying violent extremist narratives as narratives in the literary sense. By employing the tools and techniques of literary criticism, violent extremist communication can be revealed as not only potentially persuasive, but also creative and aesthetically appealing: terrorists inspire their followers, they don’t merely persuade them. Understanding the creative sources of this inspiration is vital if counter-narrative is to succeed in presenting an alternative to the propaganda of violent extremist groups.

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How to cite: Glazzard, A. “Losing the Plot: Narrative, Counter-Narrative and Violent Extremism”, The International Centre for Counter-Terrorism – The Hague 8, no. 8 (2017).

DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.19165/2017.1.08

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