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

The shape of the physical landscape creates dead space. In cyberspace, there is an entire portion of the web referred to as the “dark web.” This includes domains that are discreet and not included on web browsers and which one must know the specific address to access. There are also applications that only allow entry to those with invitations from existing members and include highly secure forms of communication. Both of these types of sites create dead space for governments and security professionals. The nature of Bitcoin as a currency that is only available through online commerce also presents an effective dead space currency – a means to conduct business transactions that are both unobservable and untraceable.

Narrative space also includes dead space. Some of this is determined by decisions of the observer, just as is true for the physical space. Where one stands determines the observable world. In discussions of narrative, there tends to be a lot of emphasis on social media. This may be, in part, because there are existing tools that can track and map social networks, thereby making it easier to understand the terrain. The problem with this emphasis is that so focusing creates tremendous dead space for those groups or organizations that do not rely on social media to promote or promulgate their narrative. ISIS uses Twitter, YouTube posts and numerous other online media to promote their narrative and to develop narrative space terrain. Al Qaeda and their affiliates do not rely as much on these same tools. There are online publications from Al Qaeda, but most of their engagement is focused in region rather than extraregional. That means that discussions in mosques, actions in villages and conspiracy theories on the street are more important to Al Qaeda. Current tools do not capture this, as it requires people present in the environment to understand what is happening – hence dead space.


The narrative space has terrain including key and decisive terrain – “words, images, ideas” – that have greater value than others. Narrative space is not truly a separate space despite the depiction in Figure 1.1. Rather, it includes cyberspace and physical space, as they are all interrelated (see Figure 1.4). The figures show narrative space separate to communicate that it is a domain that requires a different way of thinking. Narrative space terrain pre-exists maneuver by any party in the conflict and denotes the inherent value within the community in which the competitors seek to attain a position of advantage.

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