Leiden Safety and Security Blog

Better than Hollywood? Analyzing the IS propaganda movies instead of projecting fear

There is something strange about all the comments relating to the Jihadist-movies that flood across the social media. Brilliant propaganda, according to some commentators. Better stuff than Hollywood ever produced, others stated. Is it really? Let's try to get some realism in the assessment of the Jihadist propaganda material.

First of all, it is not that brilliant. Current digital technologies and equipment make it very easy to produce high-quality shootings; it's the democratization of the audio-visual branch. Especially the younger generations, raised in the digital area in which images are the dominant language are not only familiar with recording techniques but are also familiar with the power of images. The same applies for the digital marketing tricks one can use to pretend that one's audience is far more impressive than it is in reality. A cautious hypothesis: could it be the case that the majority of academic researcher didn't quite keep pace with modern digital times?

Second, the exaggerated assessments of the Jihadist video material suggests that a lot of commentators find it hard to understand that what seems to be strange men with beards fighting in a desert for a return into the Middle-Ages could be capable of operating a computer. This however says more about the biased perspective by which we look at IS than anything else.

Thirdly, from a tactical point of view it is not that wise to contribute to the image of invulnerability IS and comparable groups are cultivating with great care. 'Oh my God, they are not only conquering large parts of the Middle-East, they even produce better movies than Hollywood! How could such an adversary ever be beaten?'

It seems to be more sensible to analyse the IS propaganda movies from the academic body of knowledge. We know that every propaganda effort is founded on three principles: virtue, evil and inevitable victory. Virtue refers to the beauty of the Promised Land. Evil refers to casting the enemy as the incarnation of the evil which legitimizes violence. Inevitable victory assures the audience that they will overcome. This holy triad of any effective propaganda can also be traced in the current Jihadist propaganda material. It's more fruitful to analyse Jihadist propaganda from this perspective than moaning about the supposed superior quality of their products. What is the beauty of the Promised Land? What is the attractiveness of the Paradise offered? Is it about life or death? How is the evil being casted? And how is the inevitable victory being communicated? Of course one should look closely about possible changes in propaganda techniques. The personalized statements of a lot of foreign fighters for instance could point at another example of Selfie Extremism reflecting cultural changes in society.

One way or the other the motto should be 'stay calm and keep on analysing' instead of projecting fears and ignorance on the adversaries.

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