PARIS — A new French government ad campaign features mourning families to discourage young people from joining extremists in Syria — an attempt at a counter-narrative against an Islamic State publicity machine that churns out huge amounts of propaganda.
More than 500 people have left France to join Islamic State and other jihadi groups in the war zones of Syria and Iraq — more than any other country in Western Europe. France has tightened some restrictions, including allowing families to flag their children to law enforcement and put a hold on their travel documents, and set up a hotline for worried parents to call. But still, the departures have accelerated.
"We are not the parents of a terrorist. We are victims," Baptiste, the father of a girl who left for Syria just shy of her 17th birthday, says in one of the four commercials that began broadcasting Wednesday. He and others in the campaign speak directly to the camera and are only identified by their first names.
The video clips "involve families going through a hard time, and send a very strong message to young people tempted to swing to a terrorist commitment," said French Interior Minister Bernard Cazeneuve.
The minister said he also would be rescinding the citizenships of five people linked to terrorism and will ramp up deportations for "preachers of hatred."
Governments have had difficulty countering the extremist IS message, which draws in and keeps followers by glorifying violence, threating retribution for defectors and portraying life under its rule as utopian. In a report this week, Britain's Quilliam Foundation found that Islamic State had released more than 1,100 pieces of propaganda in a one-month period this summer.
The United States has also expanded an online campaign to counter jihadi messages, sharing stories of defectors, highlighting Muslim victims of terrorism, and showcasing the living conditions and battlefield realities in areas held by the extremist group.