By Marvin Andrade
In late summer of 2014, the world saw the establishment of Daesh, more commonly known as the Islamic State. Since August 2014, more than 20,000 foreign fighters from 50 different countries have left their homes to join the Islamic State. These estimates are taken from governments with sufficient and reliable data and, if true, mean that more foreign fighters have mobilized in the Middle East for this conflict since 1945 – even surpassing the amount of foreign fighters the Taliban were able to mobilize in the 1980s. The Islamic State has been wildly successful at expanding its territorial borders within Syria and Iraq, but has also expanded to other parts of the world. The investigation into the gunmen who performed the Jan. 8, 2014 attack in France on the Charlie Hebdo Magazine demonstrates a loose connection to the Islamic State. At the homes of these individuals, police found flags and video recordings mentioning the Islamic State, however, it is unclear whether the gunmen who carried out the Jan. 8 attack had direct orders from the Islamic State. It is abundantly clear, however, that the Islamic State’s strategy of exporting its ideological viewpoint has been, up to this moment, successful.
As the Islamic State fights for control of territory in Syria and Iraq, intelligence services fighting the Islamic State are just as worried about its less-than-lethal capabilities – a surprisingly complex varied media strategy used in order to gain support from abroad. The propaganda being released by the Islamic State approaches high levels of professionalism including multi-lingual twitter pages, state-of-the-art videos with copious amounts of post-production editing, and a state produced magazine (Dabiq). These external forms of communication have been effective at convincing wide audiences from various nationalities to join the movement being led by the Islamic State.
Twitter pages give live updates to victories and praise fighters on the battlefield. Another key point is the high degree of centralization with other organizations that have pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State. Unlike the franchise model Al Qaeda established where organizations that were aligned with Al Qaeda performed isolated functions and updates on social media, the organizations that have pledged their allegiance to the Islamic State seem to be issuing coordinated updates. Due to the level of coordination of recent IS social media posts, analysts are able to predict a deviation from the decentralized model Al Qaeda established. The Islamic State appears to have devised a centralized model for exporting its ideology and controlling the individuals in charge of different regional branches.
Dabiq is a time-intensive outreach effort which is produced on a monthly basis with the purposes of convincing supporters, future residents, and enemies why it is superior to other organizations and why it has the authority to rule over its territorial holdings. With publications in Arabic and multiple languages, Dabiq has been vital to the Islamic State’s outreach. Not only does it contain passages from the Qur’an detailing clear justifications for its rule, but it has insightful advice to soldiers such as “the importance of night watch duty”. In order to rationalize its actions to its reader base, Dabiq utilizes the Qur’an to underpin much of the instruction given to soldiers and citizens.
The video released on Feb. 3, 2015 of a Jordanian pilot being executed demonstrates a distant departure from other regional organization’s videos in that it utilizes a myriad of post-production effects. As more information is released, speculators state that due to the amount of time it is estimated went into producing the final version of this video and the timeline between negotiations with Jordan, the prisoner could have been killed prior to the conclusion of negotiations – which hurts the Islamic State’s legitimacy when negotiating with foreign states. This demonstrates how the Islamic State’s sophisticated strategy may serve as a double-edged sword, however. Analysts are able to use forensic techniques to identity past and future movements of the Islamic state and establish a counter-strategy to undermine their future efforts.
The Islamic State’s chauvinism and brutal executions may seem as though they come from a distant time, however, their outreach is very much on point with modern standards. Through its deft command of modern media, the Islamic State is able to intimidate enemies and captivate audiences by letting them know that the Islamic State is Remaining and Expanding.