A comparison of narratives of foreign members of armed groups of The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant and the Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics in Syria and Ukraine collected in 2015-2016 is presented in the paper. Some structural, figurative and lexical features of 83 stories are discussed. Key similarities and anomalies are determined. Ways of information dissemination are detected. Role of narratives is shown. Conclusions are proposed.
В статті наводиться порівняння наративів іноземних членів озброєних груп Ісламської Держави Іраку і Леванту (ISIS) на території Сирії і Луганської та Донецької Народних республік на території України, зібраних в 2015-2016 роках. Обговорюються структурні, фігуративні і лексичні властивості з 83 історій. Визначено ключові співпадіння і відмінності. Відстежено шляхи поширення інформації. Показано роль ключових наративів. Пропонуються висновки.
In the modern world the terroristic threat and conflicts intensity are closely connected with structure of information, evolution of methods of information expansion and ways of its dissemination. Our decisions should be based on understanding of socio-psychological and sociocultural phenomena and processes, which influent to security (Bjørgo, 2004). Narrative analysis is one of useful way of such understanding.
Despite of existing volume of “stories of terrorists”, we still need material to understand the nature of current threats. Imperfectness of data sources is the reason of lack of information (Van der Hulst, 2009).
For example, stories of arrested terrorists are different from their real stories, like as police record is different of detective novel. Arrested terrorist consider himself already dead, and this position influents to all components of narrative and deforming the analysis results.
Stories from “repentant terrorists” no contain necessary information, because the repentance act requires change the worldview and ideology. So we don’t obtain direct information on cognitive and reflective instruments of terrorist. Therefore, we need “in vivo experiments”.
Usually, available in media stories from militants are essentially censored: it remains no more 30-40% of original volume (real story told by real person), 20-40% of original lexicon is extracted, and in 10-20% of stories the structure of narrative is changed. Therefore, we need stories from “first hands”.
This is a big, time-consuming and difficult task. Especially, if is necessary to compare the material from different national, language and cultural communities. Processing this kind of data in security context requires development of algorithms of Big Data analysis, but all available and accessible data should be identified and collected (Chen et al, 2004).
Comparison of IS (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant) and L/DPR (Lugansk and Donetsk People’s Republics) makes a sense and has reasons. The “official” history of the IS and L/DPR began in 2013-2014, they have approximately the same military potential of 30,000 fighters, more than half of which are foreign citizens, the methods and instruments of their military operations have signs of terrorist activity.
Perhaps comparing the two, - at first glance, dissimilar cases, - will help us understand that the causes of terrorism and conflict in our new world of novel communications (Crelinsten, 2002) are deeper and more fundamental than simple ethnic and religious clichés.
In the framework of study purposed to calibration and verification of approaches and algorithms of big data analysis for terroristic behavior identification, numbers of direct interviews with members of illegal armed groups were made. Because narrative inquiry is increasingly being used across disciplines in the human sciences to investigate a multitude of questions (Duque, 2009), collected interviews have separate value for further research and could be descripted separately.
The stories of members of two big and heterogeneous illegal armed groups identified as terroristic were analyzed: members of IS and members of L/DPR.
Because narrative studies was not a part of basic author’s research, only limited number of wide range of existing methods and approaches (Labov, 1972, Polkinghorne, 1995, Riessman, 2005) has been used. In particular, stories of militants were investigated for common patterns of perception, general functional roles of different groups and individuals, and means to construct and sharing the reality reflection (Mishler, 1995).
For this purpose were selected stories of non-local militants, which have been on the conflict area more than 1 year. Thus were filtered random persons and people who aimed to easy money (swindlers, mercenaries, etc.).
The interviews with 38 participants of the IS and with 45 participants in L/DPR were selected (see Table 1 and Fig.1) from general data set of more than 700 available records.
All respondents are men with age between 18 and 50 years (see Fig.2). Among them were respondents who agreed to declare their origin and citizenship, and those who refused it. Data on refusers was extracted using indirect methods. These indirect methods based on algorithms of big data analysis, and focused on monitoring on social networks (Kostyuchenko & Yuschenko 2016, Kostyuchenko & Yuschenko 2017).
Among 38 interviewed members (officer, soldiers and administrative personnel) of the IS, were detected: four British citizens, two Belgians, one Canadian citizen, three French, two Spanish, two Italian citizens, one US citizen, five citizens of Kazakhstan, six citizens of Kyrgyzstan, nine citizens of Russia, 2 Afghan citizen, and 1 citizen of Egypt.
Table 1. Distribution of responders by citizenship/country of origin
|Number of responders:
|Number of responders:
Among the 45 participants (officer, soldiers and administrative personnel) of the L/DPR were detected: 34 Russian citizens, 2 citizens of Serbia, 1 Italian, 1 British citizen, and 7 Ukrainian citizens (not local, included as control group).
Current social roles of responders are also different: main part is self-positioning as soldiers and minor fighters (26 from IS and 29 of L/DPR members), few as the leaders of small groups or officers (5 of IS and 9 of L/DPR), and as support military personnel (medics, intendants, clerks, etc.) (7 of IS and 7 of L/DPR, see Fig.3).
It is important to note, that this samples could not be recognized as complete and representative samples toward the parent populations (IS and L/DPR groups) in the strict statistical sense. This dataset should be interpreted as some kind of so called judgmental or purposive sampling, collected by expert for aim of algorithm calibration.
During the interview, everybody was asked to tell his story: why and how you were here, what and why you are doing here.
The stories clearly show the division into periods of generalization: the past, the present and the future. They are described in radically different words, reflections and patterns. This periodization, words and patterns are common for all responders from both groups (IS and L/DPR).
When responders describing their past, they most frequently use the words "I", "me", mine". When they describing the present state - "we", and "our" were prevalent. And for describing the future, the words "they", "their” are mainly used. That may indicate the absence of a personal plan for the future.
At the same time, for describing the past, the main reflections of all responders are: “disunity”, “loneliness”, “looseness”, “total lies around”, “conspiracy”, “fear”, “lack of future”, “death”, and passive role in relation to violence. In describing the present the main reflections are: an active role in relation to violence, “interaction”, “support”, “mutual respect”, “responsibility”, “participation in decision-making”, “determination”, “resilience”. And for describing the future main part of responders use images: a "big last war", a "new world", and some other contextual ideological clichés.
It is interesting that the stages of “past”, “present” and “future” are not directly linked in narrative. Between these parts usually exist obvious gaps.
In all stories there is a clear division into "friends" and "foes". "Friends" are usually personal relatives and personal friends. "Foes" are always enemies. In both groups (IS and L/DPR) there is a wide and complex set of categories for denoting enemies (usually 4-5 categories), but limited and indistinct - for "friends" (1 or 2 hardly determined categories).
When responders describing relatives and friends in the past they use words such as: “weak”, “lost”, “forgotten”. For the present state of friend they use: “faithful”, “selfless”, also exist many descriptions of the dead friends. Members of IS usually present little personal information, and members of L/DPR usually present many mythological descriptions (some folk kind of "sacral life description") about their friends. In the future all responders see for their friend two types of fat: or “burning in the flames of war”, or “way in freedom along the free land”. “Friends” in the “past” and “present” are not linked, and in the “future” are not determined clear.
To characterize the enemies in the past the responders use words such as: “conspiracy”, “meanness”, “strength”, “indifference”, “inhumanity”. In the current situation: “greedy”, “tricky”, “cruel”, “strong”, “cowardly”, “stupid”, “insane”, “mired in luxury”. In the future: “they will perish”, “they will be slaves”, “they will become objects for ridicule”. All categories of “enemies” exist in “past”, “present” and “future”. In this context, “enemies” is exceptional item, which linking a time in the narratives.
Thus, there are common for members of IS and L/DPR narrative roles for different types of people.
Strategy of argumentation is based on few simple basics. First, no arguments from enemies exist. Second, arguments from relatives are deformed/false and should be corrected. “Our” arguments are truthfully because it directed against our enemies.
Tactics of argumentation is also the similar in both groups, but has interesting linguistic differences. Among anomalies it is interesting to note, that the most frequently used for arguing words are: in L/DPR is "listen to me", "I do not know", "I'm saying", but in the IS - "look", "I believe", "you will understand".
Therefore, there are the set of common patterns, themes, and regularities of studied narratives of two different groups. So, observing common for IS and L/DPR narratives functional roles, which serve for different groups of individuals (Nock & Prinstein, 2004, Bruner, 1986).
Description of death and life is different in groups IS and L/DPR. Members of IS describe “life” as a set of regulations, institutions and services, and recognize “death” as the kind of personal service. At the same time, members of L/DPR describe “death” as the way to overcome the meaninglessness of life, and “life” has no sense and value in their system of world.
Analyzed narratives allow to suppose that the way in which individuals construct and make sense of reality, and the ways in which meanings are created and shared for members of IS and L/DPR are very similar (Sandelowski, 1991, Cortazzi, 2014).
No significant differences of Ukrainian members were detected. All respondents did not very clearly tell about details of their travel to terrorist organizations, but Ukrainian participants preferred to keep silent about it.
There is certain difference in stories dissemination.
The stories told by the Mujahideen are hardly directly used by IS propaganda. Only well prepared stories such as shahid myths, officially broadcasting to the world through such specialized institutions as the Amaq News Agency, al-Furqan Media, al-I’tisam Foundation, al-Himmah Library, or the al-Hayat Media Center. The stories of IS fighters is disseminating in social networks with alertness, carefulness and under the self-censorship. Nonetheless, about 46.000 groups involving more than 7 million users are accessible now in social networks for sharing of information on IS.
At the same time, the "militant stories" from L/DPR tranches are widely used by local propaganda, distributed by local and federal Russian TV channels and through social networks by friends and supporters, especially in Russia. Social media contains more than 6.500 groups, which involving about 3,7 million users, aimed to propaganda of L/DPR, dissemination of information and recruiting of fighters and volunteers.
Dissemination of this information on the territory of the Russian Federation allowed to attract new supporters (from 10 to 30 thousand per year during 2014-2016), material assistance (from 170 to 200 thousand tons of various cargoes per year) and financing (about 1.2 million USD donations per year). And also a network on the territory of the Russian Federation for public, economic and political support of the project was created.
Stories also form a near-conflict mythology. In the territories of the IS, this affects the content of "songs": people from Western countries contribute to it content from the "La Marseillaise" and the "l’Internationale". In the territories controlled by the L/DPR, a discourse is reconstructed, almost identical to the discourse that accompanied the Soviet invasion to Afghanistan and the stamps of the Soviet propaganda of 1965-85 related to the cult of WW2. The mythology reconstructed in this way is used by the official bodies of the IS, L/DPR and the Russian Federation in their propaganda.
Escalation of terroristic threats requires deeper understanding of the conflicts nature and of the evolution of communicative space. Therefore, we need field surveys to monitor socio-psychological and socio-cultural variations, as well as new instruments of security research based on these surveys.
Narrative analysis may be successfully used as an important tool of security monitoring and control.
Analyzed stories may be used as a good example of security oriented survey.
Despite of formal incompleteness and statistical non-representability of data sample, the selected narratives good describe socio-psychological and sociocultural features of IS and L/DPR members. All responders of both groups reproduce basic messages of their group’s propaganda and key ideological and religious cliché.
However, under this shell it is possible to reveal the general structure of the narrative, common instruments of world vision and creation of the sense, common reflections and patterns.
It should be noted the amazing structural, figurative and lexical similarity of stories, told by the participants of the IS and L/DPR. This testifies to the similarity of the internal logic of the conflict, to the common driving forces of terrorism on a global scale.
It is also possible to make an assumption about the similarity of the socio-psychological driving forces of the conflict, and the general (global) social base of participants in terrorist organizations of the IS and the L/DPR. It seems to be the same “technology”, which is used with varying success to achieve similar goals. In seems, we dealing with one large group of vulnerable populations, which under certain conditions may be affected by any propaganda that will use the identity crisis codes.
The role of tradition and social media here is different. Common is the dissemination of information, the mobilization of supporters, the attraction of resources, formation of social discourse, useful for propaganda.
Investigated narrative inquiry aimed to helps to create an identity as well as to construct and demonstrate new cultural values and group traditions (Reason & Bradbury 2001, McAndrew, 2010). Also studied narratives serve to arguing a point and mobilizing people from marginalized groups into action (Miskovic, 2007).
At the same time, social media translate important indicators of terrorist activity (Kostyuchenko & Yuschenko 2016, Van der Hulst, 2009).
Besides, one more quite trivial conclusion may be proposed here. Well-known “key words” could not be recognized as universal and full indicators of terroristic behavior. For correct decision making, the key words should be analyzed taking into account the structure, lexicon and figurative specifics of the message in the wide communicational context. It will require more sophisticated tools we currently have, but it will lead more robust security.
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