Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Brutal IS propaganda video part of wider strategy of cultivated savagery

Viewpoint - The Global Times

"The Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage Through Which the Umma will Pass"

The savagery seems not to stop when it comes to Islamic State (IS). The burning to death of the Jordanian air pilot Moath al-Kasasbeh last week was yet another brutal killing by the group, adding to its lengthy tally of beheadings, stonings and executions, be it journalists, soldiers, civilians, or even its own disgruntled members, as the recent killings of three Chinese members for wanting to desert showed.

Such spectacles for public consumption are not going to stop until IS itself is crushed. However, they are not going to stop when getting widespread media coverage that gives IS such sustained air time. But that is what these videos are meant to do.

They are high-quality films, Hollywood-esque in choreography, style and even backdrop. Sickening they are, but certainly slickly done.

In Egypt, and throughout the region, the video showing the burning of al-Kasasbeh went viral on social media. I was shown it within hours of its breaking, and anecdotally, lots of people seem to have watched it and been horrified.

Airing such graphic violence is rare in the West and elsewhere, although Fox News posted the video in full, but Middle Eastern media have never been squeamish about showing such violent imagery, which over the past decade has been used to highlight the actions of the US in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Lately, with the events of the "Arab Spring," gruesome images are frequently coming out of Syria and Iraq showing the actions of IS, al-Nusra Front and other groups. It is a brutality that is morally indefensible yet serves a warped purpose. It is part of a strategy attributed to Abu Bakr Naji's 2004 book, popular with the Jihadi movement, The Management of Savagery: The Most Critical Stage Through Which the Umma will Pass.

In the text, which advocates the creation of an Islamic caliphate, violence is to be utilized between Muslims to create "regions of savagery" that leads locals in areas, in this case controlled by IS, to capitulate to Islamic rule to have order and stability, while drawing in enemies, in this case the Syrian government, and on a wider scale, the US and its regional allies, Jordan and the Gulf states. The brutal videos are an integral part of this strategy, as laid out in the text, as a propaganda tool to spread fear and provoke a reaction.

IS hopes to provoke a response that is intended to go beyond military air strikes, which the book in fact anticipates,  and lead to states committing ground troops for a prolonged war that will create more instability in the region.

The air strikes, underway by the US-led coalition since August last year, have weakened but clearly not "cut the head off the snake." Killing journalists, civilians and Iraqi, Syrian and Lebanese soldiers is one thing; a pilot from the coalition has effectively upped the game. The US has pledged to increase military support to Jordan, which is out for "punishment and revenge."

The US appears unwilling to commit ground troops, with the American public weary after 14 years of the "war on terror," so it is to be left to its regional allies.

The US is unwilling, like Saudi Arabia and others, to support or engage with Syria to eliminate IS, especially in its stronghold of North-East Syria.

Only a concerted, unified effort will tackle IS, but Yemen is in chaos, Lebanon is struggling with the Syrian crisis, Egypt is going through a turbulent transition, Saudi Arabia has a new king, and Libya is mired in conflict.

What would diminish the reach of IS would be if the media ignored or even marginalized such propaganda videos. But as the old newsroom saying goes, "if it bleeds, it leads."

Indeed, to counter IS' "management of savagery" requires good regional and national management and the establishment of alternative forms of order to the tyranny of IS and other militants.

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