Despite constant coverage of ISIS, known by their Arabic name as Daesh, Western media has overlooked the fact that a large proportion of their victims are ordinary Sunni Muslims - the very people they claims to represent. By doing this they are unwittingly aiding the narrative that Daesh is representing all Muslims against the West.
The news cycle has been inundated with reports on the death of Mohammed Emwazi, also known as 'Jihadi John', and the recent video with his de facto successor, Siddhartha Dhar, known as Abu Rumaysah, who led the execution of five men accused of spying for Britain. The common focus throughout is the phenomenon of Westerners fleeing to Syria to join Daesh, which has elicited fear mongering and sensationalism throughout the Western news cycle.
In the video with Siddhartha Dhar, five men "confessed" to being British spies. However, their testimonies indicate they were all from either Syria or Libya. Of course, if these men were Shia Muslims, Daesh wouldn't need the excuse of their "spying for Britain" to justify killing them, as in their viewpoint, Shiites are not Muslim. To kill a Sunni Muslim while still claiming to represent their interests, Daesh has to find a way to justify their paradoxical policy to fit with their narrative. They do this by labelling them apostates - traitors to their religion.
Of the countless thousands of Sunni Muslims Daesh has executed since their founding, they have justified these killings with a plethora of excuses, in one case saying they were "drowning" in alcohol and drugs, in another they were said to be spying for the Egyptian military. It appears that Daesh can and will kill any Muslim they wish and easily maintain their image by rationalising it within their extreme interpretation of a Sharia context. In Management of Savagery by Abu Bakr Naji (the de facto manifesto for Daesh), it celebrates the lack of remorse they should experience in their killings, exclaiming, "Praise be to God, we are confronting...the apostates and their army. Thus, there is nothing preventing us from spilling their blood".
If Daesh convinces their members that their Sunni victims have gone against their faith, they will have no ideological concern in killing them as they would no longer be considered Muslims. Essentially, built into the Daesh ideology are convenient loopholes that allow the killing of anyone that gets in their way. However, this method does not always work. One Daesh defector from Syria spoke on his reason for leaving: "Everybody in Syria, is [considered a] kafir (an apostate). Period. They treat people in this way, which is wrong. Even by [Daesh's] standards, that's clearly wrong. They are Muslims, they have to be treated as Muslims." If people do not discover this hypocrisy until they join Daesh it is usually already too late. Once there it is nearly impossible to get out alive.
Western media needs to expose Daesh for what they are - the real apostates. The narrative they are propagating, of a caliphate against all things non-Islamic, is false. And Western media coverage is unintentionally helping to spread their message. The biggest difference between the coverage of Emwazi's videos and Dhar's is the clear lack of focus on Dhar's victims. These men are all from the Arab world and are apparent Sunni Muslims, but Western media hardly mentioned it. Contrary to this, Emwazi's victims, like American journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff and British aid worker David Haines, received significant media coverage. In Emwazi's video when he killed American Peter Kassig, coverage virtually ignored the remaining part of the video showing the execution of over a dozen Syrians. This distinction helps Daesh reinforce the 'us and them' mentality between the Muslim world and the West. Daesh only benefits from this intense coverage of their Western victims and lack of interest in their Muslim victims. As the most influential jihadist group in terms of attracting foreign fighters, they know the potential value the media has in spreading their message. Western media needs to avoid inadvertently helping them justify themselves to potential recruits.
Moral arguments aside, it is strategically unwise to help spread this narrative. In speaking with counterterrorism expert Dr. Sajjan Gohel of the Asia-Pacific Foundation, he points out, "Daesh's greatest strength is its illusion of power, which actually serves as its most vulnerable weakness. Clever spin is not needed to expose Daesh's half-truths. Articulating the truth is powerful enough. Yet the problem is that there aren't enough sustained efforts to show the truth of how the Daesh death cult is un-Islamic".
Unfortunately, many naïve, impressionable or disenfranchised Muslim youth around the world see Daesh as their advocates. They are drawn to Daesh under the false premise that they are uniting the Muslim world against Western hegemony. The moment you poke holes in this narrative, you can dissuade those at risk from joining their idea of jihad. Once Daesh are exposed as the hypocritical apostates they claim their victims are, they will lose any perceived legitimacy they have. The media has the power to disrupt the foreign fighter phenomenon by showing the world the whole truth about Daesh.