Sunday, September 11, 2011

Fighting Popular Terrorism With Comic Book Propaganda (Part 1)

[via Okezone]

I don't have to remind any American of what happened ten years ago.

But ever since, trillions of dollars and hundreds of thousands of lives have been spent fighting loosely-organized groups ranging from political Islamists to drug cartels to Maoists. While the defense industry has made a killing off all of the killing, most of these conflicts are nowhere near resolution and more and more kids are recruited to fight every day.

But can comic books win hearts and minds where guns and bombs have failed?

Nasir Abas, an Indonesian former Al-Qaeda trainer-turned-informant has recently published a comic book about his life.
He went from helping train Muslim extremists who carried out some of Southeast Asia's deadliest attacks, including the 2002 Bali bombings, to informing police about the inner-workings of the Jemaah Islamiyah network. 
He's also joined a government program to convince convicted terrorists that killing unarmed civilians in the name of their faith is wrong. 
"I want children to learn from my experience," Abas said of the colorful 137-page comic "I Found the Meaning of Jihad," which appeared in bookstores Friday and will be handed out at some schools and libraries. 
"I don't want them to make the same mistakes."
Of course, as any junior high school nerd knows, comics only have so much appeal, and are only one small part of the media people consume every day.
"We know young people are often targeted for recruitment by jihadist groups," said Kumar Ramakrishna, a terrorism expert in Singapore. 
"So reaching out in innovative ways, such as through pop music and comics ... is certainly a very good idea in my view."
Since most kids today use the internet (and YouTube) for their main source of entertainment, the Mexican government has released an anti-narco trafficking webcomic on on its YouTube channel.
The 10-episode comic series, posted over the summer in two- to three-minute episodes to the blog of President Felipe Calderon, is the latest weapon in a “cultural struggle” against drug cartels. The comics are said to be “a new space for communication” that will “help us better understand the phenomenon of organized crime,” said federal security spokesman Alejandro Poire. That is, government propaganda with a pop art twist. 
“We cannot allow, as a government and society, impunity for criminals to invade cultural spheres to normalize their crimes, weaken our values and impede the construction of a culture of legality that we all need to achieve genuine security,” Poire said. He added, “We should not be indifferent to these ‘narco-corridos.’ We already were for too long.” 
What Poire means by narcocorridos, of course, are popular country songs that celebrate the exploits of drug lords while promoting a luxurious drug-fueled lifestyle.

Of course, this video currently has barely over 5,000 views. Looking through gobiernofederal's 3,208 uploaded videos, it looks like the Mexican federal government isn't quite as popular as auto-tuned news memes or sports clips.

In a future post, I'll look at what's actually popular in Indonesian and Mexican popular youth culture to see what kind of relevance these anti-insurgent comics are likely to have.

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