Have you ever seen one of those ISIS propaganda videos? Yes, those with prisoners dressed in orange.
I genuinely hope you didn’t because they are pretty damn good. And I’m not talking about content here, I’m talking about the packaging, the Hollywood style special effects that can easily impress the emotionally weakest in the liquid society we live in today. This was the case for Omar Mateen, the 29-year-old US-born man with Afghan origins, who killed over 50 people in a gay nightclub in Orlando, Florida.
This militant group has evolved a lot over time since its first traces are found in 2003, it started as a small but viciously effective part of the Sunni resistance to America’s 2003 invasion of Iraq, calling itself “al-Qaeda in Iraq”, or AQI. In 2007, following the death of its founder (and criticism from al-Qaeda for being too bloodthirsty, imagine how crazy is this!!), AQI rebranded itself “the Islamic State in Iraq”. It suffered setbacks on its home turf, but as Syria descended into civil war in 2011 ISI spotted an opportunity. By 2013 it had inserted itself into eastern Syria and adopted a new name to match: the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Increasing the confusion, ISIS changed its name yet again in June 2014, declaring itself the State of the Islamic Caliphate (SIC), a title that reflects its ambitions to rule over Muslims everywhere. – the Economist explains on its website.
Nowadays the preferred term by the international community to be used to refer to the jihadist group is Daesh, a possible acronym of Al dawla al islamiya fi al Iraq wal Sham the equivalent of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant. What is important about this term is that it is an a lot more neutral expression, which gives less legitimacy to the terrorist group not mentioning the word “state”. On top of that, in the Arab word the sound of the word Daesh reminds words meaning “to stomp, crush, or smash”, which is why the group own members threaten with lashes those who use it.
The focus of our analysis now moves on the unique ability Daesh has shown to implement western media style to its advantage, Daesh has created a really successful brand, this is another reason why the word Daesh is preferred now, and the main problem is that a brand entails an emotional connection with it, something that the great majority of westerners would reasonably dislike and try to contain.
They attract those who the western society refuses, or who himself refuses the western values, a sort of utopia that appeals to a certain group of people. An ISIS militant, Abu Samayyah, states ISIS provides food for the poor[…] shelter, clothing, charity, clean roads. It does everything a normal state does[…] postal services, everything the people need. All of this doesn’t sound that attractive to a westerner, but imagine a middle easterner, maybe a Syrian whose country is wrecked by a civil war since 2011. I think this sounds pretty good to him.
My conclusion starts with a quote, one of the best ones I read in my life, and it goes like this: Why would some poor slob on a farm want to risk his life in a war when the best that he can get out of it is to come back to his farm in one piece. Naturally, the common people don’t want war […] That is understood. But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, […] the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism, and exposing the country to greater danger. – Herman Goering at the Nuremberg trials.
This is more than half a century old, but I would argue it is timeless. The Islamic State is applying this precise strategy, denouncing pretty much everyone in the world as infidels, stating that true Muslim values are being attacked and those who don’t want to fight for them are the enemies. The Alhayat media centre is what it all gravitates around. It is the equivalent of the German ministry for propaganda, the only problem is that unlike the German propaganda machine, no one knows who is behind the jihadist propaganda.
The only thing we can do for the moment it is to raise awareness, make people think and reflect, we are facing something as bad as Nazi Germany and some world leaders have already called for the formation of a great coalition to fight against it, something very similar to what was put in place against Adolf Hitler.