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

War is a contest for influence. This contest occurs in narrative space that contains terrain and has morphology. Organizations, nonstate actors and states operate throughout the narrative space to influence partners and opponents to accomplish their interests. The following material defines the terms associated with maneuver in the narrative space – maneuver, narrative and narrative space – and then explains the processes associated with the construction and transformation of narrative space. The primary example of this maneuver is the Islamic State, or ISIS.

Influence is combat power, or the power to achieve victory, in 21st-century conflict. This may be influence needed to convince an opponent that they are defeated, or it may be the influence essential to convincing a partner to pursue an action that is not perceived to be immediately beneficial to the actor. This also may be the influence to dissuade a potential adversary from moving toward violence. Influence comes through a variety of sources and means. In some cases, particularly when focused on the opponent, influence can come from the barrel of a gun. Influence, both with opponents and partners, can also come through relationships. In this case, the best kind of influence is that which lasts absent the influencer. The objective of competition, conflict or war is to influence the competitor, opponent or adversary to do that which is desired. The desire may be for the enemy to accept defeat, to modify behavior or to accept a subordinate market or global position. For the sake of clarity, this work uses “conflict” more than “war” because of the philosophical narrowing associated with the word “war.” Wars are often construed to imply conflict only between states or recognized political entities. Conflict is a competition of influence.

Influence occurs in narrative space

An example comes from the game of pool. This is a game played on a smooth and flat surface. A player does not intend to hit the cue ball into a pocket. The intent is to hit another ball into a pocket by using the cue ball, influencing one ball through the action and interaction with another ball. If the player wants to sink the eight ball, then the player must influence the eight ball through the cue ball – that is conflict with the opponent. Conflict that is by, with and through a partner, such as NATO forces working by, with and through local rebel forces in Libya in 2011 or the United States-led coalition working by, with and through Iraqi security forces and Kurdish Peshmerga in the fight against ISIS in Iraq and Syria from 2014 to the present, is a combination shot. In this case, the pool player influences the eight ball into the pocket by using the cue ball to, in turn, influence the four ball to then influence the eight ball. Such a combination shot is difficult on a standard pool table with a smooth, flat surface. Narrative space is not flat or featureless. It has terrain and shape – a morphology.

Narrative space is a philosophical conceptualization of the perception environment in which conflict exists. For this discussion, the conflict environment is divided into the physical battle space, cyberspace and narrative space (see Figure 1.1).

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