The Two Faces of ISIS Jihadist Propaganda

The Two Faces of ISIS Jihadist Propaganda

Members and sympathizers of the jihadist terror group Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) have become notorious for the dedication they have to using social media and online resources to further their cause. As the jihadists topple city after city in Iraq, they have been posting photos of the brutality online.

While Western media focuses on the brutality of the mass murder photos distributed online, ISIS appears to be developing a two-pronged approach to online propaganda. Those on the ground in Iraq are painstakingly chronicling the mass killings of Iraqi soldiers, civilians, and any who may appear to be enemies of Jihad. Sympathizers online are using everything from common Western-style internet memes, to topical jihadist “jokes,” to questionably real images of supporters of ISIS rallying online.

Of the online ISIS memes, Vice has compiled some of the most uncannily similar to non-jihadist American memes. Some of them openly celebrate the death of American soldiers; others merely mock Shi’ites or the Ayatollah specifically.


The message of these memes is the same as the message of the graphic images of mass killings and serves to appeal to an audience that already has a certain impression of U.S. soldiers and Shi’ites generally. Some of these images serve as a horrific celebration of deaths that have already come, while others are topical reminders that ISIS’s endgame is the end of Western civilization:

The current year on the Islamic calendar is 1435, a threat that serves to remind the world that ISIS is not only keen on imposing their interpretation of Sharia law in Baghdad, but in destroying things the West holds dear.

Not all of ISIS and ISIS-affiliated propaganda is aimed at those already converted to the cause of Islam, however. One unofficial ISIS Facebook page began posting computer-enhanced portraits of jihadists, using soft light and nature backdrops to make the soldiers appear more heroic. Aesthetically, the images are not unlike many used in Latin America to promote Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) terrorists. The images were taken down this morning, but a screenshot of the page shows the general feel of this softer, more artistic ISIS propaganda:

Also on the softer side: ISIS supporters’ claims of large numbers of women supporting their invasion and takeover of Iraq:

The efforts by some on the jihadist side of what is slowly becoming an Iraqi civil war to mask the violence and depravity of ISIS’s culture of death are often impressively distant from their typical fare. They do little to hide the reality of ISIS’s thirst for destruction, and are ultimately masked behind the images they also choose to share, of piles of corpses and massive bloodshed, and–perhaps most alarmingly–the celebration of promoting their mass killing.


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