Before drilling deep into the revolution of DAESH propaganda, it is important to understand the classical understanding of propaganda as the “management of collective attitude by the manipulation of significant symbols” (Lasswell, 1927, p.627) From geo-political perspectives, digital propaganda as the “Gerasimove Doctrine” points out, is an effective non-military means for achieving political and strategic goals, in a way that exceeds the power of force of weapons (MacFarquhar, 2016).
In other words, the weaponization of information through digital propaganda has come to be seen by DAESH as the optimal instrument for legitimizing their existence in global standing. Since its inception, ISIS has maintained a powerful online media campaign aimed at recruiting members internationally. According to national security expert John Little, “ISIS launched its offensive with a well-planned media campaign in advance. The campaign wasn’t an afterthought.” Recruitment methods include efficiently produced videos, and online magazine, and the use of social media outlets.
ISIS’s Al-Hayat Media Center is responsible for much of the group’s marketing and recruitment. The group has also released propaganda materials through media centers Al-Furqan and Al-I’tasim Media, news agencies Amaq Agency and Bayan Radio, as well as through more than a dozen regional media outlets that produce content on behalf of the group’s various districts. The center’s explicit goal is to “convey the message of the Islamic State in different languages with the aim of unifying Muslims under one flag.” In addition to pursuing fighters, recruiters seek to attract doctors, accountants, engineers, and wives, in the interest of building a “new society.”
This chapter will analyze the evolution of DAESH propaganda in accordance of Internet technology advancement. The rise of DAESH has been identified on 29 June 2014 (the first day of Ramadhan 1435) when Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi declared the revival of the Caliphate with territory conquered from Aleppo, Syria to Diyala, Iraq . During that time, Internet technologies has been gone to Web 2.0 allowing human interaction upon the information posted in the websites.
Then, the analysis continued with communication technology revolution through maximum used of smart phone due to large 3G network coverage across the globe. The significance increasing of smart phone user gave huge advantages to DAESH as their propaganda content can easily penetrate to the large number of people. At the end of this chapter will relate back the terrorist propaganda revolution in Malaysia before closed by conclusion.
To reach a wide range of audiences, ISIS magazines are translated into a variety of languages, including Arabic, English, French, German, and Russian. ISIS’s online magazines released en masse through Telegram, Twitter, and other online outlets are filled with propaganda detailing the group’s strategy. Dabiq and Rumiyah initially encouraged all Muslims to migrate to the Islamic State or carry out domestic attacks, but the messaging has since shifted to encourage more domestic and lone-wolf-style attacks.
ISIS recruiters have utilized social media outlets to “field questions about joining” the group, a process which resembles an “online version of [a] religious seminar.” CEP has documented as ISIS recruiters exploit online platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Tumblr, Ask.fm, and Askbook, to advertise and recruit for ISIS. Recruiters also use instant-messaging services such as Telegram, WhatsApp, Wickr, KiK, and YikYak to provide advice about logistical issues–such as transportation and finances–regarding the trek to Syria as well as instructions on how to carry out domestic attacks on behalf of the terrorist group.
Canadian national Mubin Shaikh, a Taliban recruiter turned security operative, claims that recruiters interview potential jihadists to ensure commitment to the cause, as well as to weed out spies. According to Shaikh, recruiters use whatever means possible. “If they can Skype you, they’ll Skype you. They want to see what you look like.
You can’t be that secretive with them.” Common interview tactics include testing the recruit’s knowledge of Islamic scholars. Shaikh also describes a large net of jihadists, claiming that recruiters often contact established ISIS sympathizers within a potential recruit’s city in order to vet recruits, “whether American, Canadian or British.” To avoid detection, recruiters use encryption software and proxy servers during the interview process.
ISIS’s Al-Hayat Media Center produces much of the recruitment material disseminated by the terror group, though the group also releases high-production video content through Al-Faruq Media, Al-I’tisam Media, and through regional video producers dispersed throughout the group’s various wilayas. In May 2014, the media center launched a video series called the Mujatweets, shot in HD quality, to show “snippets of day-to-day life in the Islamic State.” The Mujatweets serve as explicit propaganda, aimed at depicting life in the Islamic State as bountiful and heroic.
In the first episode of Mujatweets, an ISIS fighter appeals to Western jihadists by singing in German. In the sixth episode, a member of ISIS speaks in French, claiming that it is an obligation for Muslims to immigrate to the Islamic State. In the third and seventh episodes, shots of a sandwich shop and a bustling marketplace aim to attract newcomers with scenes of abundance. According to the Middle East Media Research Institute (MEMRI), “the purpose [of the Mujatweets] is to show that life under ISIS rule is peaceful and normal, and to shatter the image of the jihad fighters as fierce religious fanatics by presenting them as ordinary, friendly people eager to help the local population.”
In addition to the Mujatweets series, the al-Hayat media center produces longer recruitment videos, the infamous beheading videos, and online propaganda magazines. Al-Hayat media center is notable for high video production quality and consistent circulation. Long War Journal editor Bill Roggio commented on the fast turnout of the al-Hayat’s videos. “Al-Qaeda will issue a propaganda statement, what, once every month? With the Islamic State, I saw the aftermath of the battle of Tabqa that gave them full control of a province in Syria — I saw that video two days after the battle.”
Both Dabiq and Rumiyah serve as another recruitment tool for the terror group. The group also releases text missives through its al-Naba newsletter, and through text releases from the group’s propaganda news agency, Amaq. ISIS’s released its first online, multi-language magazine on July 5, 2014, just one month after capturing the Iraqi city of Mosul. Dabiq was named after a small town in northern Syria where Islamic scriptures prophesized the final apocalyptic battle between Christians and Muslims would be held.
The magazine provided English-language readers with battlefield updates, administrative reporting, and religious commentary. ISIS also used Dabiq’s 15 issues to promote religious propaganda to justify its crimes, such as enslaving and selling Yazidi women as sex slaves. The magazine was available via pro-ISIS Telegram accounts, widely shared on Twitter and Facebook, and briefly available for purchase on Amazon.
In September 2016, as it appeared that the town of Dabiq would soon fall to Turkish-backed Free Syrian Army forces, ISIS replaced its magazine with a new one, Rumiyah. The name change sought to shift emphasis away from a mythical final battle between Muslims and Christians that was to take place in Dabiq.
The name Rumiyah refers to two hadiths that calls for Islam to conquer Constantinople and then Rome on its path to conquering the West, which ISIS referenced in a eulogy of its recently deceased spokesman Abu Muhammed al-Adnani in Rumiyah’s first issue. ISIS has used the magazine to call for lone-wolf attacks in Western countries, including the United States and Australia. ISIS releases Rumiyah via pro-ISIS Telegram accounts and social media accounts.
Some psychologists believe that potential jihadists joined ISIS in their quest for “personal significance” or due to the existential desire to matter and be respected, according to psychology professor Arie W. Kruglanski. According to this theory, ISIS recruitment measures directly appeal to disaffected and disillusioned individuals seeking to “make their mark.” MEMRI deputy director Eliot Zweig concurred, stating, “You see messages of camaraderie” rather than difficulty, gore and suffering.
“It is ‘come and join us, join me and we’ll fight the good fight together.’” Others claim that recruits are simply “thrill seekers,” or young people craving a “fresh identity.” According to terrorism expert Max Abrahms, recruitment over social media lures “ignorant people with respect to religion… [who] would probably fail the most basic test on Islam.”
The depiction of the Islamic State as a free and open society is another recruiting approach. According to John Horgan, a psychologist who studies terrorists, the exploitation of this image “makes radicalization and recruitment much easier.” Recruits believe that ISIS “is an equal opportunity organization.” Indeed, its recruitment tactics appeal to “everything from the sadistic psychopath to the humanitarian to the idealistic driven,” says Horgan.
Andrew Poulin, a Canadian who converted to Islam and immigrated to the Islamic State, was featured in one of the group’s propaganda videos, saying: “Before I come here to Syria, I had money, I had a family, I had good friends. It wasn’t like I was some anarchist or somebody who just wants to destroy the world and kill everybody. I was a regular person. We need the engineers, we need doctors, we need professionals. Every person can contribute something to the Islamic State.”
Recruiters also radicalize by exploiting grievances, declaring that the Muslim world has endured humiliation and victimization at the hands of the West. The recruiters paint the choice of every Muslim individual in black and white: either join ISIS and live in dignity, or continue living as a victimized Muslim in a secular land. ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, in his speech introducing the creation of the “caliphate,” declared, “by Allah’s grace—you have a state and Khilafah [caliphate], which will return your dignity, might, rights, and leadership.”
This Manichean approach feeds into the message of obligation. According to terrorism expert Paul Cruickshank, ISIS recruiters flood social media with the message of “you have to join. It’s your religious duty.” However, as ISIS lost its territory in Syria and Iraq, its propaganda shifted to encourage more domestic and lone-wolf-style attacks.