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Moderate Muslims Counter ISIS Propaganda With Their Own Media Strategy

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In the video "Does Islam Encourage Violence?" Imam Omar Atia (left) and Zac Parsons discuss modern perceptions of Islam.

U.S. officials are concerned about the recruiting efforts of the self-proclaimed Islamic State, also known as ISIS, as the group has stepped up its online outreach.

One team in southwestern Indiana who opposes the radical Islamist group is taking to the Web to reclaim the message of Islam.

Dozens of four-minute Web episodes, targeting young people with questions about Islam and its relationship to violence, are being released by Reclamation Studios.

In one episode, Zac Parsons is walking side by side with Imam Omar Atia on a sunny day in Evansville, Ind., asking him a question about Islam: "You're a Muslim guy, a peaceful guy, and yet, you know, we see all this stuff in the news all the time about, you know, terrorism and violence and killing, you know, in the name of Islam — which is supposed to be a religion of peace. How is it that for them it's not peaceful, but for you it is?"

"It's not even left for question," Atia says. "Unjust killing is completely forbidden."

The video "Does Islam Encourage Violence?" is simply an interaction between Parsons and Atia, the leader of the Islamic Society of Evansville.

Atia, co-founder of Reclamation Studios' initiative, wants to try to dispel the image that Islam is a foreign religion that forces believers to choose between nation and faith.

"There's still this identity crisis that a lot of Muslim-Americans live, unfortunately," Atia says, "because right now, still, the concept that Islam is a foreign faith to America."

Parsons, a digital marketer, says these videos try to be engaging enough to reach younger viewers.

"Unfortunately, ISIS is doing a great job of creating that really compelling 'this is something you can do to change the world,' " he says, "and we hope that we're able to use some of those same ideas and technology to say, 'No, this is actually what the religion of Islam teaches.' "

Nour Shams, who works on Reclamation Studios' website from Egypt, says it's important to get this information across as directly as possible.

"They can ask us questions, we can do consultations, we can give them further answers for any questions that they have," she says. "We can even host people and just have everything transparent in front of the camera, and listen to people and answer their questions."

Richard Maass, who researches international security at the University of Evansville, says the Islamic State has been successful at targeting isolated people who have little or no knowledge of Islam.

"So the more initiatives like this one that openly refute ISIS ideology, especially online — and especially through live communications with people online — the more difficult it will be for ISIS to monopolize the perceptions of those vulnerable individuals," he says.

There are now more than a dozen people working on this project; the goal is to produce 70 Web episodes, all in an effort to help counter what they see as misinformation about Islam.

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