Ramadan ended this week, and the video-production team for the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS, has just released another video.
Here’s what it shows.
The video begins with a message from the group’s leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.
Next, Islamic State lieutenants offer a standard call to arms: The assembled fighters present their weapons to reinforce their raison d’etre of violent jihad. We see captured Humvees, littered bodies, and pickup trucks full of Islamic State fighters seizing Iraqi government buildings.
Under the narration of a high-pitched, crying psychopath, we hear celebrations of the killing of unbelievers (essentially, anyone who isn’t with the Islamic State) as the group raises its flag over newly conquered territory.
Next, the video explores a Shia mosque, highlighting its adorned pictures of Hussein ibn Ali (a revered Shia martyr). The group then destroys the Mosque (and other mosques are also destroyed, but don’t expect any protests in Europe).
After the deliberate desecration, an ISIS gang conducts drive-by shootings of Iraqi soldiers and civilians. The videographer takes special pleasure in recording fighters pumping the dying full of bullets.
The video editing is also telling: With the shaky camera, reverberating noise, and sharp turns of the car, the footage is clearly intended to attract young men to a life of excitement. Here we see the Islamic State as the ultimate street gang — unrestrained and omnipotent — GTA V in the flesh.
Following this, an Islamic State preacher addresses a group of fighters and lambasts secular democracy. Presenting the organization as a global caliphate, the video emphasizes the crowd’s diversity.
The organization saves its proudest (and humanity’s worst) actions for last: Truckloads of young men are led to the slaughter. They are beaten and taunted, and we watch as a sea of cowering faces are challenged to beg forgiveness and swear fealty. After they do so, the unarmed men are led into a field, made to lie down, and executed one by one.
Through all this mayhem, a jihadist soundtrack proclaims the group’s ordained mission. But this latest video isn’t about God, it’s about military propaganda. It has two specific objectives: to scare Islamic State opponents into retreat and to encourage new recruits to the cause. Pursuing those ends, the Islamic State uses fear and blood as political weapons. As I’ve said before, this group is “absolute war” incarnate.
Still, as we contemplate their death-cultism, it’s worth considering how other militaries recruit their personnel. Take military recruiting advertisements in Britain and America. In this typical British Army commercial, prospective soldiers are offered an array of career options. In this typical U.S. Marine Corps commercial, prospective Marines are encouraged toward a life in national service. In their core themes, British military ads tend to focus on the ethic of military professionalism, and American ads on defending a broad national identity. Put simply, both seek to advance morally compelling narratives.
In contrast, however, the Islamic State’s video ends with young men dragged before a bloodstained execution platform, shot in the head, and then hurled into a river. In slow motion, an armed man parades through the wilderness, celebrating his black flag of death.
How does the U.S. ad end? With a young family celebrating service in defense of life.
“We love death. The U.S. loves life. That is the big difference between us,” Osama bin Laden, once head of the world’s most powerful terrorist group, said. What increasingly looks like the group’s successor seems to think just the same way.