How ISIS is winning the propaganda war

The Economist reports: A study of a single week’s output by IS conducted by Aaron Zelin of the Washington Institute for Near East Studies found 123 media releases in six languages, 24 of them videos. The savage imagery that many contain is calculated to shock and grab mainstream media attention.

Yet violence may not be IS’s most potent visual message. In a detailed analysis of its propaganda, Charlie Winter of the Quilliam Foundation, a think-tank, identifies a range of themes that include mercy, victimhood, belonging and Utopianism in addition to war and murder. Rather than the chopping of heads, it is dreams of Sunni brotherhood and of revived Muslim glory that inspire, says Mr Winter.

Whereas previous jihadist narratives were all about “resistance” to imagined enemies, IS propounds what Mr Winter calls “the propaganda of the winner”. Building on well-worn grievances of political Islam, it does not just talk about creating a caliphate but actually does so (sort of). It doesn’t merely speak of eradicating colonial borders but physically bulldozes them. And it does not merely aspire to reintroduce “full sharia”, but imposes the most starkly unrevised and demonstratively cruel version of Islamic law seen in centuries, if not ever.

In Mr Zelin’s research of a week’s propaganda output, more than a third of IS’s messages were not about war. Instead they extolled the caliphate and its Islamic virtues, showing hospitals opening, schoolchildren smiling and citizens eagerly pledging loyalty to the caliph. Charles Lister, a scholar at Brookings, another think-tank, suggests that such positive images explain IS’s staying power: “In both Syria and Iraq, IS presents itself as both an army and an alternative “state” to defend against and replace repressive or failed political systems perceived as oppressive to Sunni Muslims.” This approach has allowed IS to put down roots that could help it survive for a long time, he says. [Continue reading…]

Print Friendly, PDF & Email