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USIP: Pakistan and the Narratives of Extremism

Author: Amil Khan
March 7, 2013

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"This report looks at why extremist strategic communications in Pakistan have been so successful and what it would take for the government and its allies to reverse the gains of what is sometimes called 'the al-Qaeda worldview.' Like all good communications campaigns, extremist messaging is grounded in a reality. In this case, that reality is the views and emotions—and the narratives that articulate them—that were born out of the establishment and subsequent conduct of the state of Pakistan."

According to scholar Steven Corman, narratives help provide "an alternative way of thinking about the world." Whereas rationality is seen as dependent on facts and logic, narrative rationality depends on an audience's desire to align their own values to a depiction of an event. In essence, Corman is saying people often believe a version of events because they want to. Counterextremists often overlook this reality and operate on the hope that they will be able to present audiences with the "right" information capable of convincing them that extremist arguments are false.

Meanwhile, extremists skillfully exploit existing narratives to provide messages that the intended audiences will want to believe. This is especially true in Pakistan, where extremists have been able to exploit, to great effect, narratives related to the political, social, and historical conditions of Pakistan's birth. As a result, extremist arguments in Pakistan are increasingly seen as aligned with its people's fears, desires, and hopes. At the same time, extremists point to the country in their global messaging as an affirmation of their worldview. In short, Pakistan's narratives have become for extremists an asset as valuable as bombs, bullets, and recruits.

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