The Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI) has carved out a reputation as the premier tracker and exposer of jihadi social media regularly released by various Islamic State media companies. What MEMRI finds is a constant daily drumbeat of Islamic State propaganda.
The Nice, France, mass murderer Mohamed Lahouaiej-Bouhlel, for example, likely heard the call from jihadi networks to use vehicles to kill innocents. Aided by a ring of co-conspirators, Lahouaiej-Bouhlel drove a 20-ton truck through a Bastille Day crowd, killing 86. Authorities say he had traded text messages with Islamic State followers during the planning.
On Aug. 26 the pro-Islamic State Al-Battar media group posted an article on the Telegram messaging service calling on Muslims in the West to kill people in France and Germany.
“Do not make do with killing one, two, three, or even four of them,” the article says. “Target [subway] stations and bus stations, highways and tunnels.”
That same day, Islamic State’s headquarters in Raqqa, Syria, issued a video showing foreign children, one of them a Briton, executing five men described as Kurdish fighters. The children shouted “Allahu akbar” before shooting each man in the head at close range.
The fact that Islamic State can turn children into cold-blooded murderers is not only troubling on its face, but it also shows the terror group believes it can recruit more children by disseminating such gruesome propaganda.
Islamic State has also set up its own hacking group, the United Cyber Caliphate. In response to Twitter taking down jihadi accounts, UCC — which has its own Telegram channel — claimed on Aug. 2 that it has hacked thousands of legitimate accounts and turned them into propaganda tools.
Steven Stalinsky, MEMRI’s executive director, said the unsung heroes in the countermessaging war are Muslims living in occupied Syrian and Iraqi territory. They have set up their own networks and send out firsthand reports on the terror group’s brutality. One such group calls itself “Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently.”
Said Mr. Stalinsky, “It has a large social media presence and has had speaking appearances in the West. Supporting these groups and giving them a platform in the U.S. would go a long way toward providing a counter-message about what ISIS is doing inside its territories,” he said, using an acronym for the terror army.
MEMRI is not connected to the State Department’s opposition messaging. But it has created its own self-titled “Reform Project” that features videos of Muslims preaching a moderate form of Islam.
While Mr. Obama refuses to link extremists to Islam, some Muslim voices avoid such niceties.
One posted video features a Qatari TV discussion with Professor Abd al-Ansari, a professor who specializes in Shariah law and Islamic history. He bluntly states that Islam has been riven with fanaticism for centuries, from which it needs to finally make a clean break.
He endorses the arts as a way to keep extremist ideas from infecting youth. “All forms of art make you love people, love life,” the professor said. “The arts are a means of shielding our sons against the ideology of extremism.”
Noting that such productions have been viewed over 50 million times on YouTube, Mr. Stalinsky said, “We support and amplify voices of Muslim reformists. That’s the point: They are the ones from the region who say it like it should be said, not coming from the U.S. government.”
Mr. Stalinsky believes MEMRI has even helped make some Muslim moderates into cyberstars.
“Their social media accounts have gained thousands of followers,” he said. “Some have gone on to sell thousands of books and become international sensations.”
One is Dr. Wafa Sultan, a Syrian-born psychiatrist who went on Al-Jazeera TV in 2006 to condemn Islam as trapped in a violent past and abusive toward women. When MEMRI posted the interview, it went viral.
Dr. Sultan ended up facing death threats — and a book: “A God Who Hates: The Courageous Woman Who Inflamed the Muslim World Speaks out Against the Evils of Islam.”