The recent attacks in Paris shine a light on the world’s current biggest boogeyman: ISIS. “Boogeyman” is a role that delights ISIS leadership, who are always intent on inflating their profile on the international stage. In fact, the urge to aggrandize the group only plays into its hand.
According to author Salman Rushdie, ISIS has proven itself to be extremely savvy at media creation and dissemination. It uses social media sites to assist with recruiting and to boost propaganda. Its violent hype videos are always shot in a way that maximizes horror, especially the grisly beheading ones from last year. The group’s goal is simple: Intimidate and scare as many Westerners as possible. Is it working?
Rushdie’s new book is titled Two Years Eight Months and Twenty-Eight Nights.
Salman Rushdie: Well aside from the obvious thoughts of ISIS, which is horror and disgust, I think we have to look at the fact that they’re so unusually good at using the media. That’s a great deal of their unique power is the way in which they can create themselves as the bogeyman, you know, and that they do it on purpose. It’s very — I mean even the chosen methods of execution, you know, are done for maximum shock horror value. You know you want to kill people; you can do it very straightforwardly. You don’t have to go through this gruesome ritual that they prefer. And the purpose of the gruesome ritual is to be scary and it works very well. They [are] also, it seems to be, extremely good at the recruitment video — where they use all these techniques including music so in order to make themselves a very attractive proposition, it seems, to some kinds of young men and women. I mean the thing that mystifies me is the women, you know. I can understand that a certain kind of disenfranchised, alienated young man might think that it was heroic or glamorous to go off and fight this secret war — or not secret war; this war in which you are a secret fighter.
I find it very difficult to understand the phenomenon of women defecting to enter the ISIS zone because women are treated so shockingly badly there, you know. And that again goes to show the enormous effectiveness of their propaganda in overcoming the obvious facts about how women are treated, which is basically as slaves. They’re certainly not given any kind of real dignity, you know. And yet the propaganda is so effective that young women from all over the world seem interested to go. So I think you have to see it as, just in media terms, as an enormously effective group. Much, much more so than any radical extremist group, I mean, in history. If you look back a bit and you look at things like the Baader Meinhof Group or, you know, The Weather Underground or whatever. They were lousy at communicating. Absolutely shockingly bad. And they certainly were not either able or interested to communicate their ideas in a way that were appealing, that was appealing to anybody. Of course they didn’t have these — the technology that is now available, but what is interesting is not just that ISIS is able to communicate so efficiently, but that they can actually make themselves attractive. Given all the evidence piling up every day of their extreme unattractiveness to be able to overcome that by propaganda is quite an achievement.