Maneuvering within Islam`s narrative space
January-March 2018
By: Brian L Steed

Change (evolution)

The bombing of the Al Askari Shrine initiated a bloody civil war between Sunni and Shiite throughout Iraq, but primarily in Baghdad. Prior to the US invasion and the insurgency that rose in opposition to it, Iraq was relatively nonsectarian and certainly did not include the torture and slaughter of members of other sects by private citizens – torture was reserved for Saddam’s regime. Many Iraqis were married across sectarian lines and most Iraqi tribes included families from both Sunni and Shiite sects. The transformation of this stable environment to one of bloody sectarian violence took only a matter of months. Comments by Iraqis in 2016 that they could not trust members of other sects as ISIS governed large portions of the country were relatively new and unique in Iraqi history. Iraqis had not been killing each other for hundreds or thousands of years. This sectarian murder started in 2003 and grew rapidly over time due to “words-deeds-images” in the narrative space that both erupted and shook the existing societal norms, eroded old nonsectarian attitudes and then deposited notions of fear and loathing, sowing distrust between the communities. This all happened within months and years. Narrative space terrain can change and evolve rapidly. Iraq provides a sad example of such transformation.

From 2006 to 2011, the US government, through investment of personnel, equipment and money, also changed the Iraqi security forces and the trust with the populace for the better. The events and attitudes associated with the “surge” is an example of positive change through hard work to first erode the negative narrative landscape and then deposit along favorable lines for the United States, coalition forces and Iraqi security forces. Although there are critics of this example, it is difficult to argue that violence was not reduced and trust not increased between the Iraqi people and their security forces. Narrative terrain can be shaped and changed by both indigenous and foreign thinkers, doers and events. And it doesn’t always take decades.

Maneuver in the narrative space

Narrative morphology assists an actor to understand not just the nature of the influence environment, but also the inclination of individuals within the environment to receive the “words-deeds-images” delivered. Maneuver in the narrative space is about weaving together a coherently consistent message of “words-deeds-images” sufficient to influence opponents and partners toward the desired end. The maneuver in the narrative space theory advocates for a deeper understanding of the narrative space to more effectively engage and influence both opponents and partners. The better one understands narrative space, in both its construct and historicity, then the more effectively one can function within it, use it or shape it.

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