THE PROPAGANDIST APPARATUS OF THE ISIS
The ISIS is an organization that craves international recognition; the publication of its feats is largely due to this. Recognition is an indirect legitimization of its existence.
The organization strives for such an ambitious design - the constitution of an Islamic State and the destruction of existing nations in the Middle East – that it needs to turn everything into Islamic history, legends of its heroes, divine signs and messianic functions. When al Baghdadi waves an Islamic flag, his war immediately turns into a war of religion.
The media coverage that is ensured to all of the events regarding
the ISIS is mere propaganda, part of which is aimed at spreading
the messianic message that everything is inherent to Islam, a
premonition of the Koran and the design of Allah.
For the ISIS, propaganda is also a way to attract new adepts, to make proselytism, to encourage the arrival of new foreign fighters and to provide the design of al Baghdadi with an international imprint that can ease its spread beyond the geographical borders of the Middle East.
Coupled with the above, there is also the propaganda aimed at the enemy, which is comprised of truculent images of beheadings and crucifixions that scare the enemy, intimidate the people that already live under the law of the Caliph and turns the path of the Islamic combatant into a one way street, where the mercy of the enemy is not expected in case of defeat.
It is important for the ISIS to portray itself in a dynamic way: a State that fights, wins, expands and consolidates itself in the name of Allah. The ISIS needs to publicize its progress, it needs to demonstrate that it is unstoppable. It is the narration of a military epic which, indirectly, also serves the purpose of hiding its defeats.
It is therefore easy to understand why the propagandist apparatus of the ISIS has become a central element in the survival and spread of the Islamic State.
A big contradiction
On the one side, it is the ISIS that calls upon traditional Islam, the immutable literal value of its sacred scriptures, without ever leaving any room for historical contextualization of their precepts. Theirs is a world where modernity is excluded. On the other side – and here lies the paradox – the ISIS is an organization that uses bleeding edge technology to spread its verb.
And this is why the propagandist apparatus of the ISIS, the Council of the Mass Media (or “Institution for public information of the Islamic State”), has become a structure that rivals in importance with the other central structures of the organization. The fact that the Council of the Mass Media has a direct line with all the other main structures of the ISIS (The Military Council, the Council of the Sharia, the Council of the Shura, The Defense, etc.) makes it capable of applying its propaganda/advertisement message to every significant event regarding the organization.
Abu al Athir Abbassi
The Council of the Mass Media and its offshoots
The Council of the Mass Media is headed by Abu al Athir Abbassi, while the most important figure therein is the famous spokesman of the ISIS, Taha Subhi Falaha, who also goes by the name of Abu Mohammed Adnani, whose death was hypothesized following a US air strike in the province of Anbar in November 2014. He also has a 5 million dollar prize on his head offered by the US department of Justice since last May. Adnani is a Syrian born 38-year-old who has also lived in Iraq and who is known to Coalition prisons since 2005 (he was then using other aliases) because of his militancy in al Zarqawi's group. The man is said to be the head of the foreign activity of the ISIS and is therefore thought to be involved in the recent attacks in Paris and Beirut.
Inside the Council of the Mass Media, there is also a special structure dedicated to religious aspects. The structure is headed by Abdullah al Janabi, who already headed the Council of the Shura in Falluja.
Hierarchy left aside, there are a number of young men within the ISIS that are gifted with a predisposition for the use of the net, computers, video and audio production, publications, and who are able to use social networks such as facebook, twitter, youtube, instagram, etc, to spread the Caliph's message.
These men operate within the Council of the Mass Media, where they form a series of sub-structures that produce films, record music, write documents, statements and articles which they translate into several languages and post clips and docs over the internet. Each one of these sub-structures is specialized in one or more of these tasks.
Al Hayat Media Center, one of the most important among the above-mentioned sub-structures, is dedicated to the propagandist aspects of the campaign (it strives to exalt the actions of the ISIS and to promote the recruiting of new combatants and volunteers). It also takes care of translations and of the production and diffusion of such material through a thick web-work of contacts and internet accounts. Such materials target the young, therefore the language of Al Hayat is easily understandable and recurs to suggestion and to the youth's infatuation with epic and brotherly tones.
On the opposite front we find Massassat Furqan (or the “Institute of criteria”. It is the title of one of the Shura in the Koran which sets the rules for what is right and what is not) whose messages are addressed to the people who oppose the ISIS. This sub-structure produces threats, intimidation (largely through the use of truculent videos with beheadings, crucifixions, etc.), strives to promote anti-Western feelings and produces films portraying battles and conquests. The target here is the enemy, the West, the apostate and the miscreant.
Next we have the Anjad Media Foundation (the word Anjad in Arabic is an expression meaning “really” or “thruthfully”). It is the Foundation that produces music. They broadcast and share religious songs, the “nasheed”, which are comprised of choirs, melodies and monotonous repeated tunes. Their role is to provide the epic of the ISIS with a soundtrack which is often featured in the organization's videos. These songs are often chanted by the militia during battle and are used as an instrument of religious propaganda for the recruitment of new adepts. One of the most famous of these “nasheed”, which is the so-called ISIS national anthem, is entitled “Dawlat al Islam Qamat”. The song, as prescribed by pure Salafite orthodoxy, is not accompanied by music but rather by sounds: firing guns or cannons, marching soldiers, the sound of scimitars colliding. Words and sounds that exalt martyrdom, battle, the death of a hero, the contempt for and mockery of the enemy, the exaltation of religion. The nasheed were used by the Muslim Brothers in their fight against the military regimes in Syria and Egypt; even Osama bin Laden had founded and promoted a group of nasheed singers.
Then there is the Daqib magazine (a name that recalls both one of
the final battles of Islam against the miscreants and a location
in Syria) which is published online in several different tongues.
Once again the main theme is the holy war, the values of the
Islamic community, the search for religious truth, dissertation
over Islamic themes and the quality of life in the Islamic State;
which is, of course, made to look better than it really is.
The ISIS also has a radio that broadcasts via internet from Mosul: Al Bayan (“The message”).
Finally, as if it weren't enough, there are a series of minor structures that are also dedicated to information, propaganda and recruitment: the “Al l'tissan Media Foundation”, which focuses on the events in Syria and Iraq, the “Al Ghuraba Media” (“the foreigners”) which also spreads the message of the ISIS, the “Al Fursan al Balagh”, the “Al Malahem Media”, the Masada Media Foundation, the “al Asawirti Media” and so on. Over 30 internet websites are thought to be close to the ISIS and work actively to spread the word of the Caliph.
The bulk of this media production is packaged and distributed from the territories controlled by the Islamic state. Clearly enough, the numerous users that access such information over the internet help it in spreading and in multiplying its propagandist effect.
A highly efficient structure
This explains why over 30 thousand foreign fighters have traveled from the remotest corners of the globe to join the militias of al Baghdadi. The media productions of the Islamic State is high quality and produced by professionals who know how to use the issues at hand, how to give each event the right boost and how to turn an earthly circumstance into a religious one. They possess quality and promptness (that is why we know that they operate in conjunction with the leaders of the organization); they are well-trained professionals who use sophisticated structures to achieve their goals.
It is a huge bulk of work: the Syrian and Iraqi territory alone
produces roughly 2000 messages/products/videos/photographs in a
Lately it seems that the media production of the Islamic State has slightly decreased in both quality and quantity. This is probably due to the military defeats and to the probable death of some key players in ISIS' media sector. Yet this change does not seem to lessen the appeal of the Caliph's message in the world.
Aside from their propagandist aims, the ISIS media attempt to send out a cultural message. They propose a new world, which is told in their own words embellished by historical/religious connotations; they attempt to instruct and to reshape the society where they operate. This also explains the doggedness with which the ISIS forces all minors to attend Koranic schools and military training. It is the same doggedness that they use against those who dissent from their vision of the world. They demonize the enemy by attacking its religious and social characteristics, taking the message so far as to use iconoclastic forms that forcefully impress the world's public opinion. These include the deliberate distortion of the Western myths from which, according to the ISIS, stem the present times of frustration, coupled with a promise of a better future. In short, the propaganda serves the purpose of fueling a war of civilizations.
Behind this intricate network of propagandist web communications there is also an operative element: their use of the internet to exchange information, give commands, send out instructions. This aspect of the Caliphate's media was recently mentioned by the head of the FBI, James Coley. Thus computer technology is used not only for propaganda but also to exchange ciphered messages.
Currently, the ISIS' propaganda sector employs roughly a hundred individuals and, seen that their message is mainly addressed abroad, the majority of them are foreigners.
The brave Raqia Hassan Mohammed
Although the ISIS recognizes the central role that information plays in spreading their creed, they do not allow journalists or information contrary to their interests to circulate in the territories that they administer. Those that do not share their views are killed.
One sad example of this is the murder of the 30-year-old Kurd Raqia Hassan Mohammed, who wanted to be an independent journalist in Raqqa (she was accused of being a spy and killed last September), another was the killing of Iman al Halabi (in August 2013), whose crime was to be a political activist.
This is the final hypocrisy: the ISIS exploits the freedom of the
West to spread a message, or propaganda, while they do not allow
the same to happen in 'their' own Caliphate.