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Opinion: ISIS is no Hollywood Star | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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An image grab taken from a video uploaded on YouTube on June 12, 2014, allegedly shows Islamic State of Iraq and Syria militants taking part in a military parade in Mosul, Iraq. (AFP Photo)

Yes, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has succeeded in instilling fear in us. The continuous scenes of their displays of power in areas they control in Iraq and footage of decapitations, explosions and assassinations, as well as videos of mass executions and photos of them recruiting children and forcing them to attend executions are enough to make us quiver and admit that the organization takes the lead in practicing violence. The word “ISIS” has become a trademark in the world of murder and violence.

But the truth is, this bloodshed is nothing new. We’ve witnessed similar bloodiness during the last decade in Iraq, and there are also violent videos that mark three years of horrifying violations that the Syrian regime has committed and continues to commit. The history of the region, and indeed the entire world, is also full of such violence and murder, and some of it is documented in audio and video formats.

What distinguishes ISIS, in addition to its capability to control and expand in a dangerous zone in Iraq, is its media efficiency. Western parties have been occupied in following up and analyzing this organization’s energy and capability to shoot and broadcast videos and to spread them via social networking websites. For example, ISIS has many pages on Twitter. There is, for example, a page for “the state of Mosul” and “the state of Nineveh.” The organization has also begun to issue apps to broadcast its news, such as the Al-Fagr app. This is in addition to videos of chants, murder scenes and of the distribution of aid to people.

This proves that what ISIS is doing is a strategic use of media. The organization’s dedication to taking footage of its violations makes us feel like this murder and violence would not have occurred had there had been no camera to record it and broadcast it to us.

The discussion here is not the organization’s capability to keep up with the media—though this has already been done—but about the Western preoccupation with it. The Western media has fallen into the trap of accepting the allure of the violence that the ISIS murderers commit. It has begun to broadcast the group’s bloody videos in a manner that violates the commitment to standards that particularly distinguish US media. For example, CNN went as far as comparing a recently published ISIS video with a famous Hollywood movie showing the pursut of Osama Bin Laden. They showed many comparisons between the scenes of real murder—such as those caused by ISIS bombings—and the Hollywood fantasy as displayed in action movies.

Comparison with Hollywood films signifies some sort of admiration for ISIS. Yes, we do need to understand how this organization was established and why it managed to impose its control as such. However, we also need to reconsider how to deal with the fatalistic media material it throws our way every second. Yes, terror is an effective means of propaganda that in some cases can attract those in dire circumstances.

So, what to do? Prohibiting and banning are not a successful means to control this media insanity. Here’s ISIS teaching us a harsh lesson about misleading propaganda—especially when it’s associated with delusions of power. We—as individuals, media and states—are thus faced with a challenge to confront the violent rhetoric. Those who are occupied with the spread of ISIS propaganda must not settle with watching these videos and being scared by them. There’s a desperate need for a smart-media policy that will expose this rhetoric and will not depict it as the latest Hollywood blockbuster, when it is actually based on real-life murder.