ISIS’ branding and propaganda has been enormously successful since they seemingly came out of nowhere to seize the city of Mosul last summer. Islamist groups from Yemen to Central Asia to Libya are purportedly pledging allegiance to the group and flying its black flag. Washington, the Kremlin, and Beijing are all warning of the danger of this next iteration of Tamerlane’s savagery (even in places like Xinjiang, where there is little sign of the group actually taking root among the Muslim Uighurs), while the Islamists themselves are putting out video after video that at once shock and elicit contempt.
The majority of ISIS propaganda that reaches the West is deliberately calculated to bait Western involvement in Iraq and Syria. Videos of beheadings, pilots being burned alive, and antiquities being smashed with sledgehammers are intended to induce outrage. So is the flaunting of the sexual enslavement of Iraqi and Yezidi women. They are made as savage as possible, not as deterrents, but as provocations. ISIS personnel have said this themselves; the “media officer” in the VICE video series “Inside the Islamic State” openly said to the Americans, “Send your soldiers, the ones we humiliated in Iraq. We will humiliate them everywhere, God willing, and we will raise the flag of Allah in the White House.” Every outrage is intended to draw Western militaries into the fight.
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