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Opinion: ISIS scores another propaganda win | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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ISIS fighters parade on military vehicles along the streets of northern Raqqa province in Syria on June 30, 2014. (Reuters)

Why was the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) eager to promote a video showing its fighters stoning a girl to death as her father stands by, unwilling to forgive her alleged adultery? This video is one of the most dreadful videos to emerge that debases Islam. At the same time, the footage does not only depict the brutality of the organization—which we are all now well aware of—but also shows its ability to remain a top news item by using social media to further its own agenda. ISIS has succeeded in reaching its goals, as the video dominated news coverage soon after it was released.

ISIS’ goal is to shock and terrorize people through harrowing images of beheadings, mass killings of unarmed civilians, and the persecution and stoning of women. Even Al-Qaeda, which first began producing these kinds of videos, did not display cruelty to the extent that ISIS has done.

This violence and brutality are not only showcased to the general public to demonstrate the group’s ferocity, but ISIS is also trying to persuade people that the ideology they espouse is true Islam. The group is trying to assert the claim that they are the alternative regime to that of Bashar Al-Assad and that only they can recruit more members and survive challenges and change by promoting their own interpretation of Islam. The most recent video showed the extremists’ ability to convince the ignorant father that after his daughter was stoned to death she would go to heaven. ISIS also wanted to show that its fighters were even able to convince the girl that she deserved to be stoned to atone for her sins.

ISIS followers circulated this video but they failed to address what happened in the Syrian city of Raqqa, where the group gathered together citizens near the municipal stadium to stone a young girl but the public refused to participate in the crime. ISIS fighters stoned her without circulating the video because they knew that the non-cooperation and condemnation of the city’s citizens would not be the best propaganda material.

Nevertheless, we must not underestimate the success of the organization’s propaganda. If ISIS was able to convince the father and daughter to accept the stoning, it won’t be difficult for the extremist group to convince thousands of naïve people to join or support it when they see and hear about its activities. Although politicians are incessantly talking about the prosecution of hardline preachers and others who spread jihadist ideology, just taking a quick glance at social networking sites and videos on YouTube will clearly show that ISIS is winning the propaganda battle.

Now, Syria and Iraq are no longer the promised land for those jihadists who are getting ready for battle; Yemen has become the new promised land. Taking on the Houthis, the Shi’ite rebel group that has taken over large parts of Yemen, is the new rallying call. Young men are being summoned to fight in Yemen, the goal of course is a bigger army for Al-Qaeda and its affiliates. It is not difficult to cross into Yemen via its extensive borders and rugged terrain, especially as the state is on the verge of collapse due to the alliance between ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the Houthi militias who are known for their loyalty to Iran.

We should not view ISIS from our moral and religious standards as it is a group that has decided to turn the world upside down, more so than Al-Qaeda has ever done. The ramifications of what we are witnessing will linger for years, especially when rescue from ISIS comes too late. Most coalition countries set out to fight ISIS in strategic towns such as Kobani, but what about the hundreds of towns and villages scattered across Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya?

There is no effective army to fight the extremists scattered throughout the region. Their numbers will never decrease, no matter how intense or precise the bombardment against them becomes, as they will continue to market their propaganda and recruit more members. Coalition efforts will be a losing battle unless there are coordinated policies by all governments to stop extremist propaganda from spreading, as well as holding all ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Muslim Brotherhood supporters to account. That way, we may be able to put an end to their propaganda and exterminate extremism.