In July, a father and son trip to the mountains turned into a mother’s unimaginable nightmare. Her son’s father calls to inform her the two have entered Syria with the intent of following ISIS. The 8-year-old boy, now returned to his mother, is one of several children to be taken by their parents to ISIS-occupied regions. Cases have appeared in France, Morocco, and Germany, among others. ISIS’ persuasive recruitment tactics not only condone adult professionals to join them in their mission against Western values, but to bring children and build a future generation of followers. As the organization continues to operate in Syria and Iraq, the reach of its media undeniably spreads far beyond those borders. How is it though that this guerilla group has successfully utilized media more so than ever seen in these types of organizations? And why, after months of shocking media releases, has it slowed down?
While mainstream media notably covers graphic videos of beheadings that threaten Western hostages, there has been an array of videos advocating their cause. One recently ordered for followers to kill disbelievers, civilian or soldier, in countries that have allied to defeat the terrorist organization. But is there a brilliant mastermind behind these videos, formatting and strategically using social media to promote the organization? Or is it simply crazed amateurs that sporadically create and distribute media without an end goal?
According to Channel 4 News’ Kamal Kaddourah, ISIS is highly dependant on the moderation of media both coming out of ISIS and coming in to ISIS-occupied regions. Aligned with typical authoritarian regime behaviour, the organization aimed to control all pictures and film, and forbade filming in all of their controlled areas. Despite tight restrictions, ISIS has also been quick to respond to Western speculation of their censored media – when Western authorities questioned the authenticity of the beheading videos, Kaddourah points out that ISIS released slow motion footage of the videos proving their actions.
In some respect, ISIS’ media domination in the realm of guerilla groups was a matter of timing. By flourishing in the broken state of Syria, the group connected with alienated and marginalized Muslims disconnected with Western norms and supremacy. As Kaddourah highlights, the propagandist features of ISIS media work to reign in on certain sectors of the Muslim community. They dedicate their videos to the empowerment of religion; yet still evoke the qualities of their organization by presenting themselves as organized and methodical.
Channel 4 News’ Jonathan Miller sheds light on another aspect of ISIS media: the quality of their productions supersedes the expectations of the average group, such as Al Qaeda. They have certainly mastered the art of editing, even recruiting professional journalists and editors. From their choreography to their distribution, they have calculated their media production to a tee. In his personal interpretation of their videos, Miller describes the propagandist nature of their footage:
“These are jihadis fuelled by their vision of self-fulfilling end of days prophecy from the Hadiths – about the black flag commandos coming from the east and ultimately re-conquering Jerusalem. Everything about their output has an apocalyptic feel, reinforcing the imagery they seek to propagate. They slo-mo and use graphic effects. They seek to instill fear and create a sense of their own omnipotence far in excess of the actual threat they pose.”
With a plethora of media headlines on ISIS throughout the summer and into the fall, there now seems to be a gap in newsworthy ISIS attention. Specifically on the Canadian front, news organizations have primarily highlighted Canadian military action in the area, reporting targeted actions following the Parliamentary vote. Is ISIS’ media taking a lull? An article in the Daily Mail notes ISIS’ media obsession may have slightly backfired: the group is now instructing its members to remove metadata from tweets, as this may compromise their locations. Perhaps what has become evident is that while ISIS holds no shortage of shock value its in media, Western powers arguably have a bigger grasp on analyzing media, and this may be ISIS’ Achilles heel.
From the power of propaganda, to high-quality output and calculated circulation, ISIS defines the new face of guerilla group media. Though there are apparent gaps in their strategy, their power and demonstration of media outreach for a cause of this nature is unmatched. If ISIS is to fall, I have no doubt we are seeing the new face if guerilla media.
Daily Mail article:
A news report on ISIS recruiting through online media by Jonathan Miller: