Selling terror: a multidimensional analysis of the Islamic State’s recruitment propaganda

The Islamic State (ISIS) early became infamous for its broadcasts of extreme violence. However, within months, the group’s initially dominant images of combat and executions had been subsumed into a broader propaganda platform more focused on state-building and community engagement. Drawing on a close reading of Abu Bakr Naji’s Management of Savagery, this article conceptualises three dominant themes within ISIS’ recruitment propaganda—violence, state and caliphate—and analyses their development and presentation over time. Employing a recruitment model adapted from Prochaska and DiClemente’s theory of behavioural change, it finds that ISIS developed a multidimensional propaganda platform, undergoing both broad thematic and structural evolution, which democratised the appeal of its jihad to cohorts who would otherwise be uninspired by extremist violence. ‘Technological coding’—the selective publication of thematic content by broadcast format—is proposed as a means by which ISIS was able to sustain binary violent and non-violent identities, and its function in the group’s propaganda machine is explored in depth. In the wake of ISIS’ territorial defeat, understanding the logic and effectiveness of its recruitment methodology is essential in preventing its resurgence or the rise of a newer organisation seeking to take its place.

Tags: Extremism, ISIS, Propaganda, Radicalisation, Recruitment, terrorism