LIGHTING THE PATH: THE STORY OF THE ISLAMIC STATE’S MEDIA ENTERPRISE

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From War on the Rocks:

“The Battle for Mosul kicked off earlier in the fall and this campaign to end Islamic State control of the historic city continues. As Patrick Ryan and Patrick Johnston noted recently in War on the Rocks, this will not be the end of the Islamic State movement any more than its defeat in 2007 in the face of the “surge” and the Awakening movement. It is likely that nothing can convince this movement’s core leadership and dedicated members to give up their political vision of achieving the Caliphate. While its products are often examined by analysts for its influence on foreign fighter migration or macabre efforts to terrorize its enemies, the Islamic State’s media department itself is understudied — a remarkable oversight since it was a crucial part of keeping the dream of a Caliphate alive during the dark years of 2008 to 2011.

A number of analysts and scholars who have written for War on the Rocks, including Charlie Winter, Haroro Ingram, and J.M. Berger, have joined an effort by the International Centre for Counter-Terrorism– The Hague (ICCT) to examine different aspects of strategic communications in the counter-terrorism field.  While some of these writings deal with the new and unique problems that the Islamic State has posed to countries around the world in the social media realm, other recent reports have discussed broader historical trends and the growing influence of white nationalist propaganda. As part of this effort, I co-authored an ICCT report on the history of the Islamic State media department. Our aim was to explain its evolution and growth, key historical figures, and how they innovated to achieve such impressive results.

Without a doubt, the story of the Islamic State media operations is full of intrigue, explosive secrets, and death. And yet, as we struggle to adjust to the bewildering speed of the information age and its daily surprises, we can mistakenly assign too much importance to the role of media organizations in general. The Islamic State understands this dynamic well. Its media men and women can only “light the path” for its followers, not build it. To be successful in the end, the revolutionary movement will have to demonstrate success as a functioning state – something that once again looks increasingly doubtful.”

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