Monday, May 18, 2015

Isis is the very model of a modern media organisation

On this morning's Today Programme Matthew Glanville and Muhannad Haimour were talking about ISIS taking the Iraqi city of Ramadi. They said ISIS isn't an army. It's a brand.

True enough. It doesn't have an HQ or command structure. It crosses borders with impunity. It's got young people talking about it. Out of nowhere it suddenly has a big voice in international affairs.

How has it done all this?

Through the manipulation of our imagination.

And social media.

This is what the would-be Citizen Kanes of 2015 dream of.


  1. Up to a point Lord Copper. I always tell my students - when we get to discussing the War on Terror - to think of Al Qaeda and ISIS as franchises. (There is a new series on Showtime called Happyish, set in the world of advertising, where a character marvels at how good Al Qaeda's marketing strategy has been). ISIS et al are a loose affiliation that people can link to with minimal connection to the centre. The ideology of ISIS is global, much like the Bolsheviks of yore, but with improved communications technology. So next year, when I stand up to lecture, I might steal the "brand" idea but I will preface it with, "As David Hepworth argues ..."

    On one level, they are the brand that exists in our imagination, but on another level they are quite a sophisticated physical organisation. In my previous work I was a security analyst working about 20km from the current frontline in northern Iraq. Watching the tactics of organisation that we now know to be ISIS revealed quite a complex grouping that could raise taxes and run assassination squads. They dug into the local collective imagination by a constant reign of targeted attacks on the security forces, local government, local imams and anyone else who supported central government. When they finally moved it was hardly surprising that people fled, they knew the brand, but they also had a pretty good idea of how it was going to act as well.

  2. It's 'Star Wars: Episode IV' for the Internet/torture porn generation (although the opportunities for merchandising are probably extremely limited - so far...). There'll never be a shortage of naïve, idealistic young men who want to find a cause or causes to latch onto, however nihilistic they are.

    Believe it or not there has been serious academic study of Al-Qaeda as a brand with a view of AQAP/ISIS/Daesh as a franchise. Some even view the latter as Pepsi to AQ's Coca-Cola (I expect Diet ISIS and ISIS Zero are having their recipes refined as we write...).

    I guess we can take succour that the 'Evil Empire' of the Soviet Union was defeated and we're all much safer now..!

  3. I can see the logo now - sort of like Abba, only darker. And if they could only decide which bloody flag to fly...

  4. If you remember there was a time after they ludicrously informed everyone of their new name, when various media organisations were calling they Islamic State, ISIL or ISIS.

    Of course eventually everyone fell into line as the ISIS 'brand' is obviously the strongest.

    I can't think of many things more utterly ridiculous. We should have continued to refer to them by their various names. At least it might have made them look a bit more ridiculous; like a teenager attempting to acquire a cool nickname. "It's not Barry anymore, Dude's. I go by 'YOFO Street slider' now."