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January 2008 . Vol 1 .

Issue 2

Combating Terrorism to understanding the difference between It also should be mentioned that
a counter-ideological and a counter- ideologies, or specific value and belief
Through a Counter- framing approach. sets, are not necessarily homogeneously
Framing Strategy accepted throughout an organization or
Operationalizing Ideology and Framing movement. In fact, the history of social
By Robert Wesley Although the concept of framing movements—including al-Qa`ida 5 —
processes as applied to social reveals that specific ideological
ideology is of great importance to movements is widely understood, components may not even be understood
understanding all social movements, surprisingly a common conception of by all adherents nor articulated
and the global jihadist movement what constitutes “ideology” does not publicly. These facts problematize a
is no exception. Indeed, many exist. In general terms, the framing purely counter-ideological approach.
policymakers and terrorism analysts process refers to how an organization It is also true—and especially so in
have emphasized the significance of or movement articulates its beliefs and respect to the conflict against the
ideology for determining the outcome strategy with the view of mobilizing jihadist movement—that individuals
of the current conflict. Unfortunately, support. The framing process approach and organizations of many types and
however, neither the conceptual developed by David A. Snow et al. was orientations may share a broader
intricacies nor the methods of analysis itself borrowed from John Wilson’s cultural ideology and yet disagree
for a counter-ideology approach have deconstruction of ideology, using over collective action processes. For
been usefully articulated. Although it the concepts of diagnosis, prognosis example, there are numerous relatively
is true that ideology plays a major role and rationale. 2 Therefore, what is the peaceful Muslim political, religious
in the communicative, mobilizing and difference between the related concepts and social organizations, as well as
indoctrinative aspects of this conflict, of ideologies and frames designed to individuals, who subscribe to general
focusing counter-movement strategies mobilize collective action? Although Salafist ideological tenets yet denounce
around “countering ideology” is both concepts involve the value and violence as a form of expression or
probably not the most promising vector belief systems of an organization strategy. These facts further support the
of influence for Western state-level or movement, there are important pursuance of an approach that negates
efforts. distinctions that need to be elaborated these inconsistencies by focusing on
in order to provide a sound foundation the communicative links between
This article presents some introductory for developing counter-strategies. organizational leaders and potential
argumentation found in a larger study adherents, thereby forgoing the risk
on improving analytical methodologies Pamela Oliver and Hank Johnston of getting bogged down in detailed
for combating the global jihadist provide a rough distinction, writing ideological discourse—an area of which
movement. 1 Governments should that “framing points to process, while Western governments have shown little
distinguish between the ideological ideology points to content.” 3 Robert competence.
tenets and framing practices of the Benford and Snow elaborate further,
jihadist movement, while concentrating mentioning that ideology can refer to a Indeed, the framing approach
on the latter to more efficaciously encompasses ideological developments,
influence the protracted nature of fairly pervasive and integrated while moving beyond the mere
the conflict. This distinction is an set of beliefs and values that have description of their details to elaborate
essential prerequisite to formulating a considerable staying power… the process of how these developments
comprehensive and methodologically- In contrast, collective action are used for the benefit of organizational
sound grand strategy. The counter- frames function as innovative or movemental growth. The framing
framing approach essentially provides amplifications and extensions process also reaches beyond pure
a set of concepts that allows both the of, or antidotes to, existing ideological discourse to include the
analyst and policymaker to better ideologies or components of them. strategic and interactive practices
understand how to reduce mobilization Accordingly, ideology functions of movement adherents and their
to both the ideology and the strategy of as both a constraint and resource audiences such as potential supporters,
al-Qa`ida by influencing the connectivity in relation to framing processes governments and rival organizations.
between content and audience. and collective action frames. 4
An Argument for Counter-Framing
Before addressing the differing 2 David A. Snow, E. Burke Rochford Jr., Steven K. There is clearly a complex and dynamic
potential approaches to countering Worden and Robert D. Benford, “Frame Alignment interactive process within the jihadist
mobilization to the ideas and strategy Processes, Micromobalization and Movement Participa- movement that necessitates a specific
of al-Qa`ida or the jihadist movement, tion,” American Sociological Review 51:4 (1986); John Wil- analytical framework. It is fair to say that
it is helpful to touch on the definitional, son, Introduction to Social Movements (New York: Basic for the jihadist movement, in everything
congruency and differentiating aspects Books, 1973). is ideology, yet not everything is pure
of the related concepts of ideology and 3 Pamela E. Oliver and Hank Johnston, “What a Good ideology. To describe this intricate
framing as conceptualized in social Idea! Frames and Ideologies in Social Movement Re- dynamic, the framing perspective is
movement theory. This is the first step search,” Mobilization 5:1 (2000).
4 Robert D. Benford and David A. Snow, “Framing Pro- 5 See, for example, Vahid Brown, Cracks in the Founda-
1 The author is currently writing a monograph on fram- cesses and Social Movements: An Overview and Assess- tion: Leadership Schisms in al-Qa`ida from 1989-2006
ing analysis and counter-strategies. ment,” Annual Review of Sociology (2000). (West Point, NY: Combating Terrorism Center, 2007).
January 2008 . Vol 1 . Issue 2

immensely useful. of their effectiveness. This study does that local authorities in predominately
not argue that ideology and its analysis Muslim countries (such as Egypt, Saudi
Analysis of ideology can determine can be ignored, but rather that viewing Arabia and Indonesia) have had some
what specific ideological developments the prospects for Western state-level success in “encouraging” imprisoned
have occurred, but there is no current interventional activities through a leaders to revise the ideological
framework (or methodology) from which counter-ideological lens is much less foundations of their organizations. 7
to analyze why these developments promising in terms of its success than Although it is important to analyze
matter. Framing analysis also helps an approach that focuses on framing ideological developments, without an
better explain the process of ideological analysis and its influence. Influencing active framing process the movement
interactions—“how” and “why” efforts potential acceptance and adherence to would not grow and mobilization would
were successful or unsuccessful. an ideology is difficult from a distance. prove difficult. Thus, framing analysis
Furthermore, it is not always possible In contrast, there is a much higher is a crucial component of this conflict
potential to disrupt the resonance of the for both the jihadists and those wishing
to minimize their success.
“Part of this strategy message for these ideas and acceptance
of the violent strategy designed to
entails disruption of the achieve them. Al-Qa`ida and the jihadist movement’s
recruitment and radicalization practices
further organizational In conflicts where ideology plays a provide additional evidence of the
development of al-Qa`ida leading role, the ideas and broader importance of strategic framing activities
ideologies involved can linger well to the vitality of the organization
from a network into a beyond the cessation of violence, and and movement. Recruits who join al-
larger movement.” thus the primary objective for any such Qa`ida-linked groups have generally
strategy should be focused firstly on undergone some sort of ideological
the removal or minimization of violent indoctrination process, many times
components. Part of this strategy entails in the form of classroom or camp-type
to empirically observe ideological disruption of the further organizational environments, where doctrinal growth
activities. As Snow and Benford point development of al-Qa`ida from a can be closely controlled. In more
out, such activities could in fact be network into a larger movement. The constrained operational environments
“mentalistic or cognitive” in nature, second component of the strategy is to such as those in Europe, smaller groups
and thus difficult to assess. 6 constrict mobilization of adherents to of peers—many times led by a more
the network of organizations. This study experienced “guide”—become an initial
Distinguishing between the argues that the best way of minimizing orientational community for potential
interactive processes of framing and mobilization is to influence the linkages recruits. 8 Evidence from arrests in
ideological development is essential between organization members and Spain and elsewhere in Europe indicate
to understanding the communication potential mobilized adherents. These that strategic communications materials
processes of the jihadist movement linkages are many, but most promisingly such as videos and literature were of
and al-Qa`ida proper. To be sure, are the communication practices of the central importance to the acceptance
the movement is dependent on its movement—specifically the relative of jihadist ideology and strategy—or
ideological foundations to maintain salience and resonance of frames. diagnostic and prognostic frames. 9
cohesiveness in spite of its decentralized
structure. It is also dependent on an Furthermore, there are additional The fact that many recruits have
active communications program that indicators that suggest a predominately attempted to join jihadist groups
places a heavy emphasis on core framing ideology-focused approach is less without fully subscribing to or fully
activities to articulate its ideological encouraging. We can see from viewing understanding jihadist ideology strongly
foundations while mobilizing additional the historical development of al-Qa`ida indicates that an ideological conversion
and essential support. and the jihadist movement that this has not yet fully taken root. Since this
process of ideological development “radicalization” process can take place
One of the objectives of the study occurs gradually. Since this process at a later stage after initial enlistment
from which this article is adopted is to is based on a somewhat—but still or exploration, it seems axiomatic that
provide a framework for monitoring and interpretative—pre-structured religious mobilization is not necessarily based
influencing the success of the jihadist system, the process is less dynamic than on a purely ideological acceptance, but
movement’s communication practices the prognostic framing and alignment
and by extension the longevity of the activities of the organizations involved. 7 Examples of notable leaders include Sayyid Imam and
overall conflict. At this juncture there It also seems to be much less malleable Najih Ibrahim.
is no existing analytical framework and much more consistent over time. 8 See, for example, Daniel Fried, U.S. Senate Subcom-
in open literature for understanding mittee Testimony, April 5, 2006; Edwin Bakker, “Jihadi
jihadist communications in the context The prospect of influencing intra- Terrorists in Europe: Their Characteristics and the Cir-
movemental ideological change is cumstances in which they Joined the Jihad,” Clingendael
6 David A. Snow and Robert D. Benford, “Clarifying probably low at the current stage in Security Paper, December 2006.
the Relationship Between Framing and Ideology in the the conflict. Although this article is 9 See, for example, Javier Jordan and Robert Wesley,
Study of Social Movements: A Comment on Oliver and primarily concerned with Western state- “The Threat of Grassroots Jihadi Networks: A Case
Johnston,” Mobilization 5:1 (2000). level activities, it should be mentioned Study from Ceuta, Spain,” Terrorism Monitor 1:3 (2007).
January 2008 . Vol 1 . Issue 2

rather on the successful mobilization strategies. The views expressed in this

result of either the framing processes article are those of the author and are not
of human operatives or of the more of any affiliated organization.
general framing processes of the wider
communications efforts—such as
the so-called “Media Jihad.” Indeed,
evidence from internet chat rooms
and other sources indicate that a level
of mobilization (both mental and
physical alignment) for the jihadist
conflict theatres have occurred through
communication efforts. These trends
are yet another strong indication
that the framing process—especially
through strategic communications—is a
vital link between the movement and its
potential supporters.

It is important to emphasize the
inextricable relationship between
ideology and the framing process for a
movement. For this reason, this study
does not argue that one analytical or
policy approach should be discarded
completely in favor of another. What
this study does argue is that for
Western authorities wishing to impact
the longevity of this conflict, a strategy
needs to be developed that is focused
on the linkages that enable the jihadist
movement to sustain itself over the long-
term. It is thus important to develop
a method for assessing the success of
this interactive process between the
movement and potential adherents
as well as providing a framework for
influencing this interactive dynamic.
Such an integrated analytical/policy
feedback approach does not functionally
exist. The counter-framing approach
provides the most accurate and thorough
method for optimizing grand strategy to
better identify areas of opportunity for
influence, while importantly providing
a feedback mechanism to determine the
effectiveness of the efforts of both sides
of the conflict.

Robert Wesley is Director of the Terrorism

Research Initiative and Editor of the
journal Perspectives on Terrorism, which
can be accessed at www.terrorismanalysts.
com. He has published and continues to lead
studies on violence in Islamist ideology,
counter-terrorism, Middle Eastern affairs
and nuclear and radiological terrorism.
He has worked closely with national
governments, international organizations
and the private sector on these issues. This
article is based on an ongoing study into
jihadist framing analysis and counter-