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Visual terror: Analysis of the ISIS’s propaganda through imagery

published in online magazine Dabiq


Abstract

Based on the theoretical framework of propaganda analysis and visual rhetoric, this

study examines 1,004 images published in 11 issues of ISIS English online magazine, Dabiq.

Given the growing appeal of ISIS among Westerners, this study content analyzes the images for Commented [1]: Not an active process by Westerns..
rewrite
propaganda frames and themes in Dabiq. Analysis shows that ISIS uses propaganda techniques

of appeal to fear and name calling/labelling to influence its followers. Themes of violence/threat

and portrayal of the enemy were most prominent in the images of Dabiq. Commented [2]: Symbolization, indepth; qualitative
part
Keywords: Terrorism, Islamic State, Dabiq, propaganda, visual rhetoric.

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Introduction

More than 30,000 foreigners have traveled to Syria to fight for the Islamic State of Iraq

and Syria or ISIS since 2011 (Norton-Taylor, 2015; Schmitt & Sengupta, 2015). This number

has doubled since the terror group declared itself as a caliphate—an authoritative body or Islamic

state ruling Muslims all over the world with its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as the caliph

(successor) of Prophet Mohammed—in June 2014 (Crawford & Koran, 2015; Windrem, 2015). Commented [3]: Recent figures
Commented [4]: _Marked as resolved_
Scholars Byman and Shapiro (2014) state as the conflict in Syria advances, the flow of Western Commented [5]: _Re-opened_

recruits will continue to rise. This increasing attraction among Westerners towards ISIS (also

called as Daesh) reflects on the need for scholarly attention towards the promotional strategies of

the terrorist group in communicating its ideology. This study examines imagery in the ISIS

magazine titled Dabiq to investigate the propaganda techniques that the group adheres to.

Further, we study the symbolization in these visuals to support the propaganda analysis.

Like its parent group Al-Qaeda, ISIS has runs a media center called to produce

propaganda material. However, as compared to Al-Qaeda, ISIS attracts more supporters,

especially through its effective use of new media tools (Sherwin, 2014XXXX). Scholars argue

that Western leadership has been incompetent to devise combat strategies to match the appeal of

ISIS propaganda forwarded through films, short videos, tweets, documentaries, reports and

images (Cottee, 2015; Fernandez, 2015; Miller & Higham, 2015; Sherwin, 2014). According to

Winter (2015), ISIS conveys a narrative through its photographs that are produced in a

professional manner and go through a post-production process so that they are branded and

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enhanced with filters to maximize their effect. As part of its larger digital media strategy, ISIS

produces Dabiq, a magazine

Based on the framework of propaganda analysis and visual rhetoric, the study aims to

understand the propaganda strategies, themes and symbolizations that are projected in the visuals

of Dabiq. Propaganda is defined as intentional deception of information that is communicated to

a large group of people in order to manipulate their attitudes and behavior (Matusitz, 2013). Such

propaganda communicated through visuals is effective because images engage the audience

(Belicove, 2011; HubSpot, 2011), are an evidence of reality, and are easy means to communicate

meaning across different cultures (Li, 2013), and can change public opinion and government

policies (Mielczarek & Perlmutter, 2014), such as in the messages that ISIS directs to

Westerners. On the other hand, visual rhetoric aids in understanding the meaning communicated

through images.

it disseminates through the internet, especially through social media to communicate its

jihadist ideology.

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Moreover, ISIS propaganda machinery has demonstrated high production quality

(Becker, 2014) and volume (Iasiellao, 2015).

. Though the attraction of foreign recruiters towards the terrorist group cannot be seen as

a direct result of ISIS’ propaganda, it does correlate with the growth in the production of visual

propaganda tools the ISIS uses to reach foreigners. According to Leone (2015), a study of ISIS

propaganda, communicated through various media including images, is necessary to understand Commented [6]: Need a stronger argument

why Westerners are attracted to the terrorist group and also to create counter propaganda

strategies.

A study of images published in first 11 issues of Dabiq is a small part in understanding

ISIS’ ideology.

Thus, the study of visuals in Dabiq, though only a small part of ISIS propaganda

campaign, is an exploratory enquiry into the recruitment strategies and message construction of

the terrorist group.

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Theoretical framework

Propaganda is an important tool to communicate and impose an ideology, especially onto

those audiences who are not driven by a cause (Matusitz, 2013). In propagating such an Commented [7]: @enakshi: Can you cite some
prominent propaganda theorists?
ideology, the propagandist produces a believable and compelling narrative (Payne, 2009).

Propaganda is defined as a conscious act of construction that is grounded in the narrative

elements that the target audience can identify with (Matusitz, 2013). According to Tugwell

(1986), propaganda and terrorism are identical in their purpose because both seek to benefit

through the manipulation of their target audience. Terrorist propaganda, such as that of ISIS

(Winter, 2015) seeks to create fear and uncertainty about the enemy (Tugwell, 1986; Wilkinson,

1997).

In their study, Baines and O’Shaughnessy (2014) used semiotic, content and propaganda

analysis to compare video messages of Al Qaeda produced between 1998 and 2008. The study

found that in the pre-9/11 messages, bin Laden appealed to his audience to call jihad against

America whereas the post-9/11 messages made limited use of propaganda frames such as

constant repetition, prejudice, the ‘big lie’ intentional vagueness, labelling and character

assassination (Baines & O’Shaughnessy, 2014). Likewise, Payne (2009) concluded that in its

propaganda narrative, Al Qaeda mainly appealed to authority (Islam and Allah) to communicate

with its members. The article identified themes such as: “They are Attacking Us” (Westerners,

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particularly Americas, and Muslim leaders interfered with the creation of an idealized Islamic

state; ‘jihad is the only just response’ (call to arms as part of the actionable propaganda),

‘legitimization of terror’ and ‘glorification of martyrdom’.

For instance, in a study conducted in 2006, The Combating Terrorism Center at West

Point found that imagery was the main tool of communication for terrorist groups. Such imagery

targeted religious and cultural experiences of the audiences (Islamic Imagery Project, 2006).

Ciovacco, (2009) identified seven propaganda themes that were reinforced in nearly all their

media releases and found that these releases portrayed themes of call to jihad, clash of

civilizations, United States–Israel connection, Muslim unity, weakening of the United States,

apostate Muslim leaders are betraying Islam and United States is stealing Muslim oil.

Visual Framing and Propaganda

In modern history, visual images, are often regarded as reliable evidence of reality, and they

occupy an important part of collective the memory. Perlmutter (1998) stated that words or

images used to depict an event are selected facets of the issue in framing choice by describing

images that the media conveyed were “the most potentially powerful visual framing device”

because news photographs summarized certain events (p. 7).

Studies on war images show that as a result of the media framing, science-fiction-like

images can disparage very serious conflicts and hinder the public’s ability to face “the reality of

the cost of the war” (Moriarty & Show, 1995, p.7). A systematic analysis of visual depictions of

the first Gulf War to investigate the visual images presented in three U.S. news magazines—

Newsweek, Time, and U.S. News & World Report (Griffin & Lee, 1995; Moriarty & Show, 1995)

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demonstrated that a narrowly tailored aspect of the war such as military technology prevailed in

the pictorial coverage, whereas the brutal aspects of the war such as actual combat activity

including casualties were very limited (Griffin & Lee, 1995; Moriarty & Show, 1995).

More recently, a study examining the visual coverage of the September 11th terrorist

attacks and the subsequent conflict in Afghanistan showed how English and Arabic-language

newspapers framed the same conflict in different ways (Fahmy, 2005). The International Herald

Tribune published visual images that could be interpreted as more favorable to the United States

than did the Al-Hayat newspaper, even though both papers used the same sources provided by

wire news agencies for their visual coverage. The Tribune included more images of victims of

the terrorist attack and published fewer images of Afghan casualties compared with its Arabic-

language counterpart.

The Islamic Imagery Project, undertaken by the Combating Terrorism Center at West

Point, in 2006, is a study of on jihadi imagery. The jihadist organizations have had a brief but

prolific history in the production and distribution of visual propaganda, and have arguably

created their own distinct genre of Internet-based Islamic imagery (Islamic Imagery Report,

2006). The report identified 100 motifs and recurring themes within a discrete sample of radical

Islamic imagery that the center obtained over the course of several years.

The images help the author, or propagandist, communicate a message, which is often a

visual argument for something or against something. Texts and language, including imagery,

provide interactive ways for jihadis to engage the ideology itself. The notion of resonance, the

ways in which a message harmonizes with existing understandings of an audience, is the

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outcome of this dialectical process. The new motifs gain legitimacy when used in proximity to

widely accepted symbols and cultural references. Commented [8]: Needs citation

Visual propaganda of ISIS

Visuals change public opinion and bring about policy changes (Mielczarek & Perlmutter,

2014). Visual propaganda promotes an agenda through films, photographs, and the fine arts

(Goldstein, 2009). For instance, during World War II, the U.S. Office of War Information

utilized photography, films, and other visual material to shape public opinion. Likewise, the

Nazis produced photographs, films, posters, and art to promote Nazi ideologies while banning

films and art that did not conform to their ideology. Studies have shown that visual content Commented [9]: Citation

generates the most engagements in social media spheres (Belicove, 2011; HubSpot, 2011).

Visuals are immediate and easy to digest and thus popular in this age of fast- paced information

consumption (Li, 2013). In addition, visuals are more important when messages need to be

communicated across different cultures and countries. However, some studies have shown that

visuals do not change behavior and attitudes because audiences find them distracting Commented [10]: why? more details

(Edwardson, Grooms & Pringle, 1976; Mundorf, Drew, Zillmann, & Weaver, 1990).

When analyzing terror propaganda, Dauber and Winkler (2014) found that visual imagery

helps to avoid drawing incomplete or misleading conclusions about the messages embedded in

extremist online media campaigns. Jordan, Torres, Horsburgh (2005) argued that through

visuals, terrorists use emotions to change the attitudes of their audiences. According to Shane

and Hubberd (2014), jihadist propaganda has evolved from al Qaeda leader Osama bin Laden

addressing a single static frame conveying a long-winded rhetoric in formal Arabic to online

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jihad 3.0 of the Islamic State. ISIS primarily uses media platforms such as Twitter, Instagram

and Whats App to reach its target audience; services such as JustPaste are used to publish battle

summaries and SoundCloud to release audio reports. It had also developed Dawn of Glad

Tidings, an app to deliver information through smartphones (Shane & Hubberd, 2014).

Studies that have examined propaganda of ISIS are recent and limited. According to a

Homeland Security Report (2015), ISIS documented and publicized every execution it carried

out to serve as a reminder of its self-proclaimed supremacy, its ability to exact revenge,

intimidate enemies, warn locals of the punishment associated with dissent, provoke outrage from

the international media and cause knee-jerk responses from hostile policymakers. Additionally,

themes such as mercy and brutality (connected to the idea of repentance, before god and the

Islamic State organization itself), victimhood (aftermath of coalition airstrikes showing images

of dead or dying children), war (ISIS as a real ‘state’ with a real army, training camps, parades,

artillery guns, tanks), belonging (new recruits) emerged through its propaganda (Homeland

Security Report, 2015). Similarly, Winter (2015) analyzed 1,700 propaganda material produced

between June 2014 and June 2015 and found themes such as brutality, mercy, victimhood, war,

belonging and utopianism that aimed to promote the ISIS brand, create fear among its enemies

and attract potential recruits. In an article, Sherwin (2014) compared propaganda images of Al

Qaeda and ISIS and concluded that ISIS used violent images, such as of beheadings of American

and British journalists and aid workers that aimed to create fear among Westerners.

Dabiq and visual propaganda

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Like Inspire, the online magazine of Al Qaeda, Dabiq is a high-quality magazine

published every month in many European languages, including English. Dabiq was available for

sale on Amazon and was described as, “a periodical magazine focusing on issues of tawhid

(unity), manhaj (truth-seeking), hijrah (migration), jihad (holy war), and jama'ah (community)”.

The author of the publication was listed as al-Hayat Media Centre, (Islamic State Magazine,

2015). Dabiq is an extremely visual magazine with an average of about 100 images per issue.

According to Gambhir (2014), Dabiq is a time-intensive, comprehensive form of literary

outreach to the Islamic State’s potential fighters and future residents, as well as to its enemies.

Dabiq’s content is in English, suggesting that it is specifically published as a recruitment tool for

the Western audiences (Becker, 2014).

In its first issue, ISIS stated that Dabiq was started as a response to its publications,

Islamic State News and Islamic State Report. As per the first issue, Dabiq has “photo reports,

current events, and informative articles on matters related to the Islamic State”. This 65-70 page

magazine also has in-depth reports called “Insight into the Islamic State” that detail ISIS strategy

and updates on its “successes.” Moreover, the first issue also states that the magazine was named

as Dabiq after a small town in northern Aleppo, Syria. It reasons that according to “hadith about

the events of the Malahim (what is sometimes referred to as Armageddon in English), one of the

greatest battles between the Muslims and the crusaders (West) will take place near Dabiq”.

According to Gambhir (2014), the location also has parallel historical significance as the

site of a decisive battle in 1516 between the Ottomans and the Mamluks, which led to Ottoman

victory and the consolidation of the last recognized Islamic Caliphate. By naming the magazine

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Dabiq, ISIS wants to be seen as the jihadist group that will lead the Muslim community into

worldwide domination (Gambhir, 2014).

Scholarly research indicates that Dabiq has greater efficacy on its audience than

magazines that are published by other terrorist groups. Skillicorn (2015), developed a new

semantic model to capture propaganda effectiveness through an examination of the issues of the

Inspire, Azan and Dabiq, magazines that are published by Al Qaeda, Taliban and ISIS

respectively. He categorized the language used by the magazines as informative, imaginative,

deceptive, jihadist and gamification and concluded that Inspire was less disciplined than Azan

and Dabiq. Additionally, Dabiq was the most dangerous because its issues scored highest on the

propaganda model, and had the lowest levels of deception, and portrayed high levels of sincerity.

Seib and Janbek (2011) argued that instead of publishing press releases or sending video

tapes to other outlets, ISIS established a direct communication channel through the availability of

online magazines such as Dabiq. As the youth are more attuned to a visual-form of

communication spreading their propaganda and recruitment messages through the magazine is a

strategy that the group has employed. Therefore, understanding how these images work, what

ideas they convey, why they are employed, and what responses they may elicit, is vital to our

struggle against the influence of jihadi organizations and the violence they create. Studying the

images of Dabiq to analyze the key frames of ISIS propaganda is important as it can help us

build counter strategies.

Based on the above discussion, we examine the following questions:

Research questions

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RQ1. What are the prominent themes in the visuals published the Islamic State’s online

magazine Dabiq?

RQ2. What are the prominent propaganda frames in the visuals published in Dabiq?

Method

A quantitative content analysis of visuals was conducted to examine propaganda frames

and themes. Visuals published in the first 11 issues of Dabiq were considered. Dabiq is a

monthly magazine and the first issue was released on July 5, 2014 while the 11th was released on

August 9, 2015. Imagery published only till the 11th issue was considered because it was the last

issue that was released when the study was undertaken. Digital copies of the first 11 issues were

accessed from the website of The Clarion Project, a non-profit group that fights against Islamic

extremism (clarionproject.org, 2013). Additionally, the issues were compared with copies

available on pro-ISIS Twitter accounts and websites to cross-check for authenticity.

Each unit of analysis was an image that included logos, photographs and maps. If the

images were republished, they were counted only once. One of the authors numbered all the

images in the 11 issues without counting the republished images to ensure all images were coded

only once. Images the appeared in the magazines, such as cover photos, images superimposed

with text, images in the inset were considered. Photo collages were broken down into

independent images and each image was counted as a single unit. A total of 1,004 images were

analyzed for propaganda frames and themes.

Coding scheme

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Previous studies (Baines & Shaughnessy, 2014) that examined terrorist propaganda

helped in defining categories for propaganda frames and analyzing symbolizations (Islamic

Imagery Project, 2006). An initial analysis revealed seven frames:

Bandwagon: This type of propaganda technique makes use of ‘inevitable victory’ appeals

to persuade target audience. This category included images of ISIS members showing unity,

holding hands, flags, standing next to dead bodies of the enemy as a symbol of triumph.

Appeal to fear: This type of propaganda technique is defined as building support by

installation of anxieties and/or panic: Images of beheading, slaughter, ISIS members pointing

guns at the enemy (not the dead body), weapons, tanks were included.

Appeal to prejudice: This technique consists of using loaded or emotive terms to attach

value or moral goodness to believing the proposition: Images showing children reading religions

texts, ISIS members praying were included in this category.

Euphoric appeals: This technique is defined as an attempt to demonstrate how being part

of the group generates euphoria and a sense of oneness: Images of ISIS members eating together,

chatting together were included in this.

Half-truths: This technique consists of deception by presenting some truth to camouflage

falsity: Picturesque imagery, scenic beauty, rising sun, birds flying were included in this

category.

Appeal to authority/testimonials: Citation of prominent figures to support a position,

idea, argument or course of action. The use of quotations to support of rejecting a given policy,

program or personality. The reputation of the respected person or authority is exploited as a

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result. Selective editing of quotes which can change original meanings. Photos of religious

places (Mecca, Medina), prominent ISIS leaders, other prominent jihadi leaders (eg. Bin Laden)

were included.

Name calling/labelling/stereotyping: These techniques aim to construct a negative

opinion about a group or set of beliefs or ideas so that the audience fears, hates, loathes, or finds

the enemy undesirable. ISIS publishes photos of Western and Arab political leaders and terms

them as enemies. The context (text) highlights the “bad things” that the West or America is

doing.

For drawing themes, we used inductive analysis approach and independently coded all

possible themes that emerged. The common themes that emerged after the initial open coding

were retained. The other themes were redefined and coded as new categories or added to the

existing categories. The following table provides the identified themes and their definitions:

Themes Definition
Violence and threats Images of beheaded bodies, soldiers standing
next to dead bodies, weapons, tanks;
destructions of buildings and other structures
Triumph/victories Images showing ISIS members holding
hands, raising flags,
Religion Images of religious texts, Koran, religious
places (Mecca, Medina, mosques), praying,
Civic issues Picturesque imagery that includes scenic
beauty, rising sun, birds flying, sunsets; ISIS
members eating together, chatting, clicking
photographs, having a good time, local
money, administration.
New recruits/ISIS members Single mug shots of ISIS members, leaders or
new recruits (not engaged in any activity)

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Enemy: Western leaders and Arab leaders Leaders of Western or Arab countries, their
government officials termed as enemies
(photo captions indicate whether these leaders
are considered enemies)
Allies: Leaders of Muslim countries as allies Leaders of Muslim countries, their
or neutral relationship with nations government officials termed as friends (photo
captions indicate whether these leaders are
considered enemies)

The reliability of the coding scheme employed for analysis was tested through one author

and one independent coder, who was trained with detailed information about each category, and

the definitions of the variables Each of the coders complete a sample of 102 identical images

randomly selected from the dataset to determine inter-coder reliability. This sample comprised

10% sample of the dataset. The average intercoder reliability coefficient for frames and themes

was: Scott’s pi = .92 and .90 respectively. The two authors coded rest of the images.

Results

The 11 issues that were analyzed had a total of 646 pages and on an average each issue

consisted of 59 pages (M= 58.72; SD = 18.69). A total of 1,004 images were published in these

issues with an average of 91.27 images per issue.

Prominent themes

RQ1 examined prominent themes in the images published in Dabiq. Analysis of 1,004

images showed that the theme of ‘Violence and Threat’ (37.1%) was the most prominent,

followed by the theme of ‘Enemy: Western leaders and Arab leaders’ (20.3%). This was

followed by themes of ‘Civic Issues’ (12.1%), ‘Triumph/Victories’ (11.4%), ‘New Recruits/ISIS

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members’ (10.6%), ‘Religion’ (5.5%) and ‘Allies’ (3.3%) as the prominent themes in the images

published in Dabiq.

Table 1: Themes of images in Dabiq

Themes N Percentage

Violence and Threats 371 37.1


Triumph/Victories 114 11.4
Religion 55 5.5
Civic Issues 121 12.1
New Recruits/ISIS members 106 10.6
Enemy: Western and Arab leaders 203 20.3
Allies: Leaders of Muslim countries as Allies 33 3.3
or neutral relationship with nations

Total 1,004 100

Propaganda frames

To understand propaganda strategies implemented by ISIS, RQ2 examined the prominent

propaganda frames in the images published in Dabiq. Analysis showed that frame of appeal to

fear (38.5%) was the most prominent in the images published in Dabiq. However, other

propaganda frames of name calling/ labelling/ stereotyping (20.2%) bandwagon (12.5%) and

euphoric appeal (11.3%) were less predominant as compared to the ‘appeal to fear’ strategy.

Table 2 shows propaganda frames that were prominent in the images published in Dabiq.

Implications and interpretation of these findings are discussed in the following sections.

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Table 2: Propaganda frames in Dabiq

Propaganda frames N Percentage

Bandwagon 125 12.5


Appeal to fear 385 38.5
Appeal to prejudice 37 3.7
Euphoric appeal 113 11.3
Half-truths 64 6.4
Appeal to authority/testimonials/quotes out of context 77 7.7
Name calling, labelling, stereotyping 202 20.2
Total 1004 100

Discussion

This study examined ISIS propaganda promoted through an examination of use of

imagery published in the ISIS magazine, Dabiq. The aim was to understand the propaganda

techniques of the terrorist group. The images published in Dabiq were high quality and photo-

shopped which reflect the work of a skilled graphic designer.

Figure 1: Execution of Shuaytat prisoners published in the third issue of Dabiq, an example of violence
and threat theme.

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Violence and threat emerged as the most prominent theme in the images published in Dabiq.

Images, which mainly consisted of photographs, showed dead bodies of non-believers, PKK

(Kurdish) soldiers and other members of the enemy tribes, beheadings of captured Western

soldiers and journalists, weapons such as rifles, rocket launchers, ISIS members in action on the

battlefield equipped with weapons, and destruction of buildings, temples and churches. These

images appeared in special sections in all the 11 issues that report on the latest attacks that ISIS

has carried out. The sections praised the act of ISIS members portraying them as true followers

and believers of Allah and frames them as soldiers of the Khilāfah. For instance, images of

injured and the dead during strikes carried out in Yemen and Tunisia described ISIS soldiers as

“men whose allegiance lies, not with a false citizenship, but with Allah, His Messenger, and the

believers”.

Photographs of dead bodies were gruesome and accompanied warning to non-believers

(Westerners) of meeting the same fate as the dead. For instance, in the third issue, the photo of

the execution of Shuaytat prisoners (see figure 1) is accompanied by a justification for the killing

with a quote by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi that “any tribe or party or assembly whose involvement

and collaboration with the crusaders and their apostate agents are confirmed, then by He who

sent Muhammad with the truth, we will target them just as we target the crusaders, and we will

eradicate and distinguish them, for there are only two camps: the camp of truth and its followers,

and the camp of falsehood and its factions. So choose to be from one of the two camps.”

At times, photographs had a ‘before and after’ sequence that emphasized the fate of the

enemies. For instance, in the fourth issue, the image of the beheading of journalist Steven Joel

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Sotloff (see figure 2) was followed by a warning in the form of a letter written from Sotloff to

the US government to stop attacking civilians in Syria. The end of the letter was followed by a

beheaded shot of Sotloff with the caption, “Sotloff was executed in retaliation for the numerous

Muslims killed in Iraq by the US. American airstrikes similarly killed the Muslim families on

“September 15th” after Sotloff’s death”. Hence, such images reflect on the strategy of ISIS to

spread fear among Westerners. As a result, the images used the propaganda technique of appeal

to fear to spread its ideology.

Figure 2: The beheading of Steven Joel published in the third issue of Dabiq. An example of violence
and threat theme.

The theme ‘Enemy: Western and Arab leaders’ was the second most prominent theme

portrayed in the images. Under the section ‘In the words of the enemy’, which is a regular

section in all the issues of Dabiq, ISIS published news about policies and decisions taken by

Western leaders, who are accompanied by photographs of Western and Arab leaders.

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These leaders were current and former head of states such as US President Obama and

former President George Bush, the Russian President Vladimir Putin, the UK Prime Minister

David Cameroon. Additionally, images of Arab leaders such as King of Saudi Arabia, Salman Al

Saud and ministers in his regime, leader of Iran Ali Khamenei and President of Syria Bashar al-

Assad are also published.

Figure 3: This image of Obama with Mohammed bin Salman Al Saud, son of the King of Saudi Arabia
and also the minister of defense, published in the fifth issue of Dabiq is an example of the theme,
‘Enemy: Western and Arab leaders’.

In publishing photographs of Western and Arab leaders, ISIS defines its enemies for its

followers. Western leaders are labelled as ‘crusaders’ whereas Arab or other Muslim leaders,

who are allies with the West are labelled as ‘kafirs’ or non-believers. It also terms the tribes

fighting against it as ‘taghuts’ or those who do not rule as per Allah’s revelations. Such name

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calling and stereotyping of Western and Arab leaders and labelling them as enemy is a prominent

propaganda technique that ISIS has used.

Other prominent themes that emerge through the images is the portrayal of the ‘inevitable

victory’. The special section on attacks that ISIS members carry out have images loaded with

members holding hands, atop dead bodies and tanks or carrying weapons with raised ISIS flags,

using a single, raised index finger as the symbol of their cause That's the TAWHID finger!

Means there is no Allah but One Allah! Muslims when they pray, they use that finger in the

prayers indicating the Tawhid

All Muslims do that regardless of what sect they come from

In the picture what is written on the black flag he is raising is the same thing that his

raised finger means 'la ilaha illa allah'

Additionally, with images showing the good work that ISIS is doing in Syria and in the

region it controls (see figures 4 and 5), ISIS resorts to the technique of half-truth to attract

recruits. For instance, in the ninth issue it has published a special report titled, ‘Healthcare in

Khilafah’ that has images of doctors treating patients, advanced medical equipment, and gives a

detailed information on the current and future medical facilities that it has made available for

members.

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Figure 4 and 5: (Left) This image of a doctor treating a child, published in the ninth issue of Dabiq and
(right) of a worker cleaning the streets of Syria are examples of the theme, ‘Civic calling’ that use the
technique of half-truth to attract recruits.
Conclusion

An analysis of 11 issues of Dabiq showed that ISIS used images predominantly to convey

its ideology to its followers. It resorts to propaganda techniques of appeal to fear and name

calling/stereotyping/labelling. The themes of violence and threat and images of ‘enemy’ appear

predominantly in the images published in Dabiq. Although, the percentage of images with a

religion as its theme is low, the text cites Islamic ideology, verses of Mohammed and his

successors and also quotes from the Hadith (heard sayings of Prophet Mohammed) to attract

recruits. The images are prominently placed along with the text that legitimized its terror

activities through citing Islamic theology.

This study examined ISIS propaganda through an examination of images published in

Dabiq which limits the scope of investigation. Future studies should consider examining the text

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and images together to understand propaganda techniques of the terrorist group to produce

counter strategies.

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