Propaganda: The Isis Way

Propaganda is an ideological concept that is organized using specific communication techniques to manipulate people. Since its conception during World War I by the British, the usage of propaganda is constantly changing. Propaganda is not just limited to history, it but it is a doctrine that is used in present times that permeates every aspect of society. (Hexham, 2014)

The article written by Steve Rose discusses The Islamic State of Iraq and Levant’s (Isis) usage of social media to carry out recruitment of members outside the Middle East. The article begins with the discussion of how the US government commissioned Hollywood director Frank Capra in 1941 to create propagandist films for the war effort against the Nazi’s. Rose examines how Capra used the Nazi’s technique of film against them when he created his seven-film documentary series, Why We Fight. The document informed American soldiers what they were up against. Rose states that as Capra used the Nazis techniques against the Nazi, so is Isis “using the west’s media tools and techniques against it [west]. Isis has proven fluent in YouTube, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr, Internet memes and other social media” (Rose, 2014).

Harold Lasswell mentions the purpose of propaganda is to inform society about what the propagandist(s) are defending and who the real enemy is (Hexham, 2014). Isis seems to have taken up these methodological concepts in relation to their cause. In terms of presenting the enemy, Isis clearly states their rejection of democracy and anyone who is not Muslim. Isis portrays its cause as being a defender of the authentic Islamic State. They use their hostages to condemn the US government’s criminality by portraying the US government and the west as being the bad guys and place any wrong doing on them. Since we have contemplated Lasswell’s concept of propaganda, we must understand who the propaganda is targeted towards.

Isis’s social media is specifically aimed at the younger generation who they can convert into their ideology. They recruit members by illustrating the justness of their cause and the greatness of the Khilafah by utilizing diverse approaches. This is done by displaying a gentle side of Isis from soldiers comforting the wounded to handing out ice cream to children. At the same time they utilize gruesome propaganda. The Flame of the War, a documentary about Isis heroic militarism includes graphic combat footage, genuine roadside bombings, gun battles, executions and other gory details. I find the diversity in the types of propaganda used interesting. Typically when it comes to propaganda, we see the propagandist use images that show the best characteristic of their ideologies. Here we have the opposite; Isis is not hiding the disturbing images but rather seems to be flaunting them. I acknowledge that Isis does not show every brutality in their regime such as the rape and lashing of women, the cruelty towards individuals who do not adhere to their extreme interpretations and other horrific punishments. Nonetheless they are displaying an extremely violent side of themselves. As mentioned in the article, Isis is using society’s obsession with gore and depravity to push their agenda by exploiting Hollywood’s violent scenes. Isis’s version of Grand Theft Auto as a recruitment method demonstrates the every changing approaches towards propaganda. Propaganda is not a method that has one formula but is diverse in its techniques.


#349 #uwreligions



Hexham, I. (Professor) (2014, October 6). Propaganda. Rels 349. Lecture conducted from University of Calgary, Calgary.


2 thoughts on “Propaganda: The Isis Way

  1. This was a very interesting read. It’s amazing to see the power of propaganda and how effective it is in pushing people to act in even the most horrendous of ways on a belief. In class Professor Hexham mentioned how the key to propaganda is its ability to not only convince people of a certain way of thinking, but also inspire them to act on those beliefs and adopt a new lifestyle. I believe that that is the case here with ISIS. As you mentioned, they adopted similar tactics as the US army did in WWII in order to portray a certain image to their followers. Particularly with the disenchantment and discontent that many individuals in the Middle East feel about Western involvement in that region, it is easy to see how some might see ISIS acting as freedom fighters, as opposed to terrorists. As you mentioned, it should be noted that despite the image they portray, ISIS has been behind many horrendous acts against innocent women and children, and have committed senseless acts of terrorism. However, the success of their recruitment campaign seems to suggest that they have successfully, as you mention, been able to portray and image wherein they are saviors of a certain way of life and the Western world are the true perpetrators.

    While I am against the actions and ideologies of ISIS, I can see why some might think otherwise. You made an interesting point about the effect of social media on this. It was already proven to be a very effective strategy when the US had those anti-Nazi films made, but with the introduction of social media wherein information can be spread very fast to all corners of the Earth, the message ISIS is trying to spread is moving faster than can be contained, and that’s frankly, a scary thought. I have to ask, what would you think would be an effective way of curtailing this, and perhaps slowing down the spread of this type of propaganda? And also, do you think that ISIS is less of a threat than believed, and us as subscribers of Western news have been under our own shroud of WWII like propaganda about the level threat ISIS poses? I can’t help but wonder that the amount of news coverage ISIS gets is simply to push citizens to allow for, and encourage military action.

    Miss Kay #349

  2. In your response to “Calgary Muslim leaders denounce deadly attacks” from the Calgary Herald, you make some good points on how retaliating with the terrorist group, ISIS is having a dangerous and threatening impact on Canadian society. However, I do not necessarily believe that Canada should step back and not interfere at all. As a first world country, I believe it is our responsibility to intervene with a crisis that is so cruel for innocent people in Iraq and Syria. I feel this way because I would hope that other countries privileged enough to live in peace would help my nation if we were in any such situation. This may be my opinion only and it may also sound a little harsh but as a Canadian by birth I feel it would be honourable to stand behind my nation in such decisions that have the best interest of the innocent at heart, despite the threat it could cause to my life. As a multicultural nation, we cannot stand by to such atrocious crimes against humanity for the sake of a few extremists hidden in our nation. I believe Canada should rethink their approach towards the situation but to completely step away from the situation would tarnish the reputation Canada has created as a country of peacemakers from all nations and many religions.

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