ISIS propaganda and state-sponsored terrorism
The Islamic State (ISIS) is known to rush to claim responsibility for any and all terrorist attacks, even those that turn out to have nothing to do with the group directly, to spread its propaganda and burnish its fearsome reputation. At the same time, ISIS is providing an opportunity for governments to clamp down on freedoms and rights and strengthen their own positions.
Much has been written about ISIS’s slick propaganda, from its daring use of social media to the production values of its videos. ISIS, more than any other terrorist group, is keen to sow terror and fear among its opponents and does not care how it does this. This explains the group’s approach of focusing on “soft” civilian targets, seeking to score as high a civilian death toll as possible.
This also explains the videos — from executions to battle clips — that are constantly being posted online by the group and all of which seek to spread the group’s infamous brand of terrorism no matter the cost to the image of Islam. For ISIS, the most important thing is to spread fear and increase its infamy.
Images of death and destruction are ISIS’s preferred weapons, as much as the guns and bombs it uses to create death and destruction. ISIS is aware that this is something that not only helps radicalise misguided young Muslims but also weakens and divides its opponents, spreading sectarianism and Islamophobia.
ISIS was keen to publicise how it, with relatively few numbers, sent the stronger and better equipped Iraqi Army into a desperate panic and retreat to seize the city of Mosul in June 2014.
The irony is that ISIS’s terrorism, and particularly its propaganda success, has given Arab governments — which continue to promise their citizens freedom, justice and dignity — the opportunity to restrict all this under the guise of fighting terrorism. More than this, it allows those governments to clamp down on political rivals and democracy for the sake of “national security”.
The war against terrorism is a slogan that has been raised by many governments and regimes but rarely to actually combat terrorism. The main aim is to perpetrate state-sponsored terrorism against the people, serving as a justification for clinging on to power whatever the cost.
When the Syrian revolution broke out more than five years ago, it was a peaceful protest against the transgressions of President Bashar Assad’s regime, demanding freedom, democracy and dignity. It was the regime’s violent response that resulted in civil war that contributed to the rise of ISIS.
Now that ISIS is present, Assad says he does not dare step down for fear of leaving a power vacuum that ISIS could exploit.
It is almost the same story in Iraq. The policies of the Shia-dominated government of former prime minister Nuri al-Maliki created dangerous sectarian tensions across the country, which served as the perfect incubator for ISIS and its ilk.
Today, Baghdad is seeking to “liberate” ISIS-held territory, such as the city of Mosul, but is using government-backed Shia militias to do so. These are the same militias that faced accusations of war crimes and targeting of Sunni civilians during the liberation of Falluja. This has created dangerous sectarian tensions that help both the Iraqi government and ISIS to endure.
ISIS propaganda is a dangerous phenomenon, one that simultaneously strengthens this terrorist group and weakens its opponents, while giving certain Arab governments the opportunity to commit similar transgressions. As for Arab citizens, they are being targeted from both sides.