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Narrative Landmines

Narrative Landmines: Rumors, Islamist Extremism, and the Struggle for Strategic Influence

Daniel Leonard Bernardi
Pauline Hope Cheong
Chris Lundry
Scott W. Ruston
Copyright Date: 2012
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 220
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  • Book Info
    Narrative Landmines
    Book Description:

    Islamic extremism is the dominant security concern of many contemporary governments, spanning the industrialized West to the developing world.Narrative Landminesexplores how rumors fit into and extend narrative systems and ideologies, particularly in the context of terrorism, counter-terrorism, and extremist insurgencies. Its concern is to foster a more sophisticated understanding of how oral and digital cultures work alongside economic, diplomatic, and cultural factors that influence the struggles between states and non-state actors in the proverbial battle of hearts and minds. Beyond face-to-face communication, the authors also address the role of new and social media in the creation and spread of rumors.

    As narrative forms, rumors are suitable to a wide range of political expression, from citizens, insurgents, and governments alike, and in places as distinct as Singapore, Iraq, and Indonesia-the case studies presented for analysis. The authors make a compelling argument for understanding rumors in these contexts as "narrative IEDs," low-cost, low-tech weapons that can successfully counter such elaborate and expansive government initiatives as outreach campaigns or strategic communication efforts. While not exactly the same as the advanced technological systems or Improvised Explosive Devices to which they are metaphorically related, narrative IEDs nevertheless operate as weapons that can aid the extremist cause.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-5322-1
    Subjects: Sociology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-xii)
  4. Introduction: Narrative IEDs
    (pp. 1-6)

    We live in a world awash in rumors.The artificial sweetener in your diet soda can cause canceris a rumor that circulates with great frequency and with each introduction of new sweetener brands and chemicals. Frequently heard on street corners and right-wing talk radio,Barack Obama was born in Kenya, not Hawaii, and is thus not a natural-born U.S.citizen is a “birther” rumor that suggests Obama is not a lawful president of the United States. The rumor thatfour thousand Jews working in the World Trade Center, warned in advance by the Israeli government, stayed home from work...

  5. 1 Rumor Theory: Narrative Systems and Hegemonic Struggles in Contested Populations
    (pp. 7-42)

    On 20 January 2006, Mas Selamat Bin Kastari (Mas Selamat), a reported Jemaah Islamiyah terrorist, was arrested by Indonesian authorities and subsequently extradited to Singapore. After more than two years in custody, he escaped from Singapore’s maximum-security Whitley Road Detention Center. News of his escape broke fast. But the government failed to explain in a sufficient or timely manner how this feared terrorist could escape from Singapore’s most secure detention facility. Rumors filled the information void. Some reported that the government intentionally let Mas Selamat escape. Others suggested that he was killed in custody and that the government concocted the...

  6. 2 Rumor Transmediation: Critical Mash-ups and a Singaporean Prison Break
    (pp. 43-72)

    On the afternoon of 27 February 2008, guards at Singapore’s Whitley Road Detention Center were escorting Mas Selamat bin Kastari (Mas Selamat), one of Southeast Asia’s most wanted terrorists, to the visitors’ area of the center to meet with his family. Mas Selamat had been arrested two years earlier in Indonesia for using a fake identity card. He was extradited to Singapore, where he was being held without trial under the city-state’s Internal Security Act, a law that gives the police and military a great deal of latitude when dealing with suspected terrorists, including the ability to hold someone without...

  7. 3 Rumor Mosaics: Counterinsurgency Operations in Iraq’s Triangle of Death
    (pp. 73-100)

    In 2005, Multi-National Force–Iraq (MNF-I), the military command overseeing U.S. and coalition forces in the war-torn Arab nation, began a bovine inoculation campaign to improve the health of cattle throughout Iraq.¹ Although the intent was to stabilize the food supply and increase the return on investment for local cattle ranchers and dairy farmers, the inoculation program was also a key element of an information operation to counter insurgent violence and propaganda. At this stage of the war effort, the insurgents, who were mostly foreign jihadists, Ba’ath Party loyalists, and disgruntled Iraqi soldiers, had severely degraded counterinsurgency communication efforts by...

  8. 4 Whisper Campaigns: State-Sponsored Rumors and the Post-Mortem (De)Construction of an Indonesian Terrorist
    (pp. 101-134)

    Noordin Mohammed Top, a notorious Islamist extremist working in South-east Asia, had successfully evaded police for years while simultaneously directing deadly and large-scale attacks against Indonesian and Western targets. He is believed to be one of the masterminds of the 2003 Marriott Hotel bombing in Jakarta, the 2004 Australian embassy bombing in Jakarta, the 2005 Bali bombings, and the 2009 Marriott and Ritz-Carlton Hotel bombings in Jakarta. Noordin’s ability to evade capture despite being one of the most wanted terrorists in the world, let alone Southeast Asia, was the subject of numerous rumors emanating from various sources.¹ These rumors increased...

  9. 5 Coercion and Consent: Narrative Countermeasures in the Battle for “Hearts and Minds”
    (pp. 135-166)

    The preceding three case studies examined rumors and their function in narrative landscapes. In the case of Mas Selamat, a family of rumors about his escape sparked an online critique of government policy and efficacy. The different rumors intersected with pop culture iconography (movie posters, for example) and contributed to narratives positioning Mas Selamat as an outlaw hero rather than a terrorist threat. In the case of the Stack House facility in Iraq, a mosaic of rumors about the denizens and activities inside the compound smoothly integrated into a dominant narrative of the U.S. forces as Crusaders, eroding public support...

    (pp. 167-172)
  11. NOTES
    (pp. 173-192)
    (pp. 193-196)
  13. INDEX
    (pp. 197-206)
  14. Back Matter
    (pp. 207-208)