A few weeks ago ISIS or at least ISIS inspired individuals reached a new stage in their development as an extreme radical Islamist group. They have crossed the rubicon and left the main stream of terrorist groups by no longer focusing purely on local enemies and have instead sought to wage transnational jihad. Such a transition for most people seems logical, however the reality is aside from Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, most terrorist groups have focused on local enemies at home, having neither the time, manpower, ideological inclination or resources to waste on a far superior enemy abroad that won't yield results in the short term.
Hold on a second, this assessment of the situation is far too simplistic, especially as important facts surrounding the attacks in France, Tunisia and Kuwait are still unknown such as the extent to which the individuals were actually associated by ISIS. However In the case of Kuwait where ISIS have claimed responsibility and in France where an ISIS style flag was discovered in San Quentein Fevallier. there is no doubt is where the assailants drew their inspiration from.
We also should be in no doubt that ISIS are winning the war. Okay, that might be an exaggeration but they are definitely winning the media war and we might be helping them. By presenting ISIS as a successful and at times invincible we are unwittingly playing into a dangerous narrative. Major international news publications and broadcasters have referred to the collapse of the Iraqi army for example as 'spectacular' and time and time again emphasised the success of ISIS to the detriment of highlighting their weaknesses as an group both ideological and operationally. Using such language is loaded and without providing sufficient context for the collapse potentially misleading.
Whether we like it or not ISIS's success and seeming invincibility has resonated deeply with angry, disaffected, isolated and vulnerable people. I say people as opposed to muslims deliberately. Obama may be criticised for not using the term 'Islamic extremism' however this is one of the few occasions I applaud one of his decisions. We have to face facts, ISIS inspires not just an extreme minority of muslims but also rather more worrying many non muslims. It would be disingenuous to brandish muslims and indeed mainstream political Islamists as extremists when we use the term 'Islamic Extremism', however we must wake up to the facts, ISIS's strategy of sowing fear and hatred coupled with military success has been better at winning hearts and minds than any strategy we in the west have been able to come up with.
They're winning by the fact they are surviving in the fact of airstrikes from the US and Iranian coordinated land attacks in Iraq and Syria. Just the other day ISIS fighter re-entered Kobani where only a few months ago their defeat there was used by some as a symbol of the turning tide.
However many in the media are also complicit in their victory. It's no secret that ISIS have a sophisticated media wing. They use online social media platforms such as twitter and even broadcast their own news programmes to great effect. They terrorise and inspire with such tools. Quite rightly we ban the publication of such material and seek to take down dangerous extremist websites where so many are radicalised.
However by continuously emphasising ISIS's strengths without countering it with the group's inherent weaknesses we are playing a part in the construction of the ISIS myth as the invincible anti hegemonic anti western force.
Only this morning did I hear a report from a major British News broadcaster that Tunisia was essentially doomed. The report ignored the huge progress Tunisia had made, the fact Ennahda the Islamist party was very moderate and had peacefully relinquished power in the last elections. The ignoring of the fact Tunisia had held relative peace and stability in the transition away from dictatorship was extremely misleading. This is an incredibly hard feat to achieve regardless of location as events across the region and world continue to show.
By implying that Tunisia is now doomed we magnify and amplify the impact of ISIS. We present them as more powerful than they actually are and unwittingly help them.
ISIS media is so advanced that from now any terrorist attack in any country will automatically be assumed to be perpetrated by them even if is not by large numbers of people, including policy makers, voters and journalists. Many articles assume in the case of Tunisia that ISIS are responsible. They indeed maybe however by mentioning it in publications we have handed ISIS a powerful tool. They now can do more with less. They can appear to be not only invincible but also universal, with the skill, intelligence and resources to strike anyone, anywhere. No one is safe. ISIS need only produce an unverified video or as in regards to Tunisia three grainy pictures of a gunman walking down a street holding a rifle for most people to connect the dots and assume its footage of their attack on Tunisia. Thankfully most media outlets stress that images such as these are unverified, however for most people who lack experience or knowledge of political manoeuvring every attack is automatically associated with the group. ISIS most likely beyond a shadow of a doubt is responsible for the attacks, however we must be careful to not be manipulated by the ISIS myth and overemphasise their power. They are a terrorist group; However they are no different from terrorist groups before them. There is nothing particularly special about them only that our response towards them has been especially incompetent.
I was working in the newsroom when three major terrorist attacks happened in three countries. Journalism of course has its place in the world of informed discussion and debate, however we must avoid temptation to dumb down the message too much to appeal to a broader audience. Specifically we must inform the public of the ISIS threat without falling into the habit of presenting them as all powerful. A middle way to inform and not exclude one's audience is possible. Unfortunately as events concerning ISIS especially highlight this has not always been the case which is partly why I am putting pen to paper.Needless to say ISIS is not going away any time soon and so journalists must be more careful of when providing coverage of them.