To what extent does ISIS use the media to gain power and influence their global political position?
For my essay, I will be exploring the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria and how the militant group has become more known throughout the world, posing greater threats to Western nations. Generally known for their acts of terror and efforts to ‘scare’ the public through using shocking imagery and propagandised pieces in the media, ISIS has generally become a household name. In the essay I will identify events where ISIS have been involved through direct case studies such as the beheadings of David Cawthorne Haines and Alan Henning in 2014, the Charlie Hebdo shootings in early 2015 as well as the coordinated attacks in Paris. These examples will look at how the media has represented the attacks and the material used to do so. Over time it appears that ISIS has become bigger than itself almost. People automatically link such terror attacks with this militant group when often they are not directly responsible. Examples will be used in my essay showing evidence of this in the media such as during the attacks in Nice. ISIS can also claim that one of their followers was responsible but often this makes no difference as people already associate the group with the terrorist act because of the things they’ve seen, the things presented to them by the media.
Examining the techniques used by ISIS and how they’ve benefited from using the media, I will reference a number of theorists that identify power, memory and spectacle as the more important elements to having effective influence. Foucault has it that power is something that we have to almost learn. He states, in an essay entitled ‘Prison talk’, that “it is not possible for power to be exercised without knowledge, it is impossible for knowledge not to engender power” (Foucault 1980d: 52). The Islamic state understand how they orchestrate their power, how they deliver the ‘terrifying’ videos online as so many have put it. Knowing how to use the media to their advantage gives them the power. Certain methods in the last few years deployed by ISIS has made their intentions appear as a spectacle, something to be witnessed on a grand scale. Anyone who seems powerful or enforces power usually makes it known to the world in as clear a way as possible. ISIS release videos to countries, to governments, online for all the world to see. This is how they primarily spread fear by announcing it via the Internet. Analysing the thoughts of Guy Debord in his work ‘The Society of the Spectacle’ he talks about how the idea of the ‘spectacle’ has altered our lives and at times changed the way we think and look at things. We passively consume all of this media as it is shown as this over-arching thing that we must listen to and respect. Something that has such control over people consciously and subconsciously can be a dangerous thing, hence the threat posed from groups such as ISIS using the media to send their messages. “In a world that really has been turned on its head, truth is a moment of falsehood” (Debord, 2014, p.9) It is difficult to establish truth anymore or validity. I will explore this in my essay, as ISIS will claim responsibility of events that often are not perpetrated by them at all.
The third aspect to focus on is memory and through the initial research I have done, the idea looks at prosthetic memories; the idea that we have memories for something that we haven’t actually experienced ourselves. The development of media over the years has given us the ability to share content relating to specific events. People are able to watch videos, hear stories, and interact with those affected directly by the event. It almost gets to a point where people feel that they have experienced the event themselves through what they have watched, read, spoke about. “the most important element of which was the invention of electronic means of recording and transmitting information, which not only change the way we remember, but provide new ways of conceptualizing memory.” (Olick, J.K. & Robbins, J. 1998, p.115)
I will reference these theorists throughout my essay and how their ideas work in line with my themes. I will also conduct some primary research and create a survey posing questions regarding the status of ISIS and whether people agree that they have used the media to their advantage.
Bibliography (Examples of Core Texts, there will be wider references to case studies, articles and content online through the secondary research that I’ve done):
- DEBORD, G. (1967) Translated by KNABB, K. (2014) The Society of the Spectacle Bureau of Public Secrets
- FOUCAULT, M. & GORDON, C. (1980) ‘Prison talk’ Power/Knowledge, Brighton: Harvester, pp. 37–52.
- MCNIFF, C. & ROWEN, B. ‘ISIS Timeline’ [Online] http://www.infoplease.com/world/events/isis-timeline.html [Accessed: 12/11/16]
- MILLS, S. (2003) ‘Michel Foucault’ Routledge Critical Thinkers. Routledge: 11 New Fetter Lane, London EC4P 4EE
- OLICK, J.K. & ROBBINS, J. (1998) SOCIAL MEMORY STUDIES: From “Collective Memory” to the Historical Sociology of Mnemonic Practices Department of Sociology: Columbia University, New York