ISIS Twitter Supporters Try to Recruit One Direction Band Member to Jihad
The Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) has distinguished itself among similar jihadist groups by its sophisticated use of propaganda. Like all such groups, it posts videos of mass killings and photos of beheadings, but it also courts celebrity: First, it was soccer star Lionel Messi. Now, it's One Direction teen sensation Zayn Malik.
"Zayn Malik @zaynmalik needs to join jihad, not be another dumb sissy celebrity :)," writes the Twitter account @ISILCats, directing its attention to the 21-year-old. Malik is a member of wildly popular UK boy band One Direction--and, as a young British Muslim of Pakistani descent, a prime target for a group like ISIS. While there is no evidence that Malik's faith has led to any tendencies towards jihad, some fringe bloggers have accused him of promoting radical Islam. Malik does not appear to have responded to neither the accusations nor the invitation to jihad, instead starring in a shirtless photo posted online by his fiancé that appears to be causing a stir among his teen fans.
The attack on Malik is among the more aggressive tweets from the account, which is dedicated to posting photos of ISIS jihadists posing with kittens, puppies, lambs, and children. A sample tweet:
The account does not exclusively post cute things, however; it also attempts to court Westerners, using references to Western pop culture. It is also heavy on jihadist humor--a genre of comedy which ISIS and ISIS supporters appear to have single-handedly created. ISIS's attempts at humor make it an especially effective recruiting organization for Western jihadists. While it is tempting to dismiss jokes as a perverse, unique element to ISIS, its international recruitment has spiked significantly in recent months on the back of its PR savvy, which can and will include celebrity puns:
Unlike other jihadist groups, ISIS does not appear concerned that its public image is sufficiently violent. It can afford this luxury because the other wing of ISIS's public relations effort--both officially through Al-Hayat Media and unofficially--is gruesome enough to continue establishing its reputation as the most indiscriminately bloodthirsty jihadist group in the Middle East. The images of ISIS executing soldiers en masse, crucifying them, and throwing victims off cliffs speak for themselves. ISIS can afford to soften its image for a Western audience, and such efficient use of English-language propaganda helps them appear to be a more attractive group of jihadists to join than others for anyone considering leaving his life in the West to fight in Syria and Iraq.