As is so obviously apparent, the Islamic State (a.k.a. ISIS) is, just like many fairly young start-ups, only just beginning to experiment with PR, marketing and social media recruitment. Their first attempts to recruit Westerners have so far involved poorly shot amateur videos of such bad quality that they’re useless even when analysed. Their clumsy efforts to reach out to potential recruits in the US have been a laughing stock. The Islamic State targeted a Minnesota high school’s alumni for recruitment and yet with their best efforts, only managed to interest three of them! Another US recruit was caught by the FBI before she even made it out of the country. And when it comes to us Brits, ISIS has failed to even get as many as 600 of us to join them in their killing spree. Clearly, they’re not as dangerous as they pretend to be and shouldn’t be taken seriously as a threat.
So it’s great to see that the mainstream media is helping the Islamic State’s PR campaign. The media didn’t stop at merely assisting ISIS in their rebranding as the Islamic State by publicising their new brand name and logo (the Islamic State flag)- a gesture that was perhaps made out of necessity rather than altruism. After all, reporters have to report rebrands. The media went further.
As we all know, ISIS’ PR campaign contains more truth and facts than even the Wonga ads. We all accept, as do 100% of Muslims, that ISIS embodies the Muslim ideal and is bringing back a true-to-history caliphate to herald a new Islamic golden age for the Middle East (and eventually the world). ISIS embraces all forms of Islam and is dedicated to creating a Muslim brotherhood to destroy the west. All Muslims welcome this– but you probably knew that from reading the Daily Mail. ISIS fighters are warriors for the faith against the evil governments, minorities, anyone who opposes ISIS, and children in their street whose parents aren’t their branch of Islam.
The Western media has very kindly helped spread the Islamic State’s image of daring warriors doing heroic deeds against the odds. In articles about westerners joining ISIS, the recruits’ motivation of becoming “warriors” is rarely questioned. Al Jazeera even calls Al Qaeda “Syrian rebels”. The article goes six paragraphs before one sentence mentions that the “rebels” were an Al Qaeda Syrian chapter, almost at the end. The use of language like “warriors” (in many articles) and “rebels” evokes a romanticised image of plucky underdogs battling the oppressor.
It is of course an accurate description: warriors were tribal soldiers whose job was sacred; often initiation rites were required before taking up the responsibility of safeguarding the tribe. In non-nomadic tribes, warriors had the additional task of protecting the land and food sources which fed the community. In a time without trade, sanctions, pressure from organisations like the UN or NATO, without the ICC or even developed forms of diplomacy, weaponry, warning systems or intelligence, being a warrior was a huge responsibility. It was also a very emotionally stressful one, as you would be fighting for the lives of people you knew and were related to. The fighting was hand to hand, not from a safe distance with minimisation of risk and trauma. Warriors often received spiritual guidance and engaged in ritualised forms of warfare. As anyone can see, this all neatly parralels ISIS murdering children.
Even if we take the modern version of a warrior- a soldier- we can see how right the media is to call ISIS such. Modern soldiers have to abide by rules. If they don’t, they are tried by military courts. Hence the soldiers who beat Iraqi hotel worker Baha Mousa to death were jailed and their names publicised. Soldiers use a lot of things when they kill people. Skill- with guns/helicopters/jets/unarmed combat. They also have to have courage. Though not all soldiers are involved in these last two, military strategy and intel still shape what they do. And of course soldiers risk their lives fighting combatants who are roughly equally well trained and equipped, and who have consented to being on the front line.
In the same way, the Islamic State fighters have to be very brave and skilled indeed. Kidnapping journalists is very risky even for a trained militant, as journalists carry pens and have been known to stab kidnappers with them. Journalists also tend to use words- such as “please let me go” against ISIS fighters, and as we all know, guns and military-style training are no match for these dirty tactics. Accurately spotting signs of the existence of a house, such as a door (often the first clue) and four walls requires not just time-consuming intelligence gathering, but also rigorous analysis of the information. This analysis takes place in the Islamic State fighter’s brain while he is approximately twenty feet from the target he is investigating for signs of being a house. The next step- going into the house and killing everyone inside- is very risky for ISIS fighters. Some children make a fuss when you behead them, so a lot of courage is needed for this. At moments like these, ISIS training is invaluable.
After this gruelling use of physical strength and careful aim of the tool of choice, further fighting is often required, as other family members will often violently persist in running away. Other children may be ferociously using large pieces of furniture as shields by hiding under them. (Beds are often turned against ISIS forces in this way, sometimes with surprising speed and efficiency, allowing the child to evade the Islamic State for periods of up to as much as ten minutes). No wonder ISIS fighters take such pride in winning these victories, as they require not just the things we tend to associate with soldiers such as courage, martial arts skill and great aim, but also tactical planning.
The media should continue to promote ISIS’ image and assist in their PR strategy. If it leads to a few more recruits, there’s no harm done. The threat posed by the Islamic State is basically exaggerated by everyone from Iraqis to journalists and politicians.