Information War – The Sharp End

Not only are there specialized terrorist media groups operating under the command of ‘media Emirs’ in Iraq, special forces are being used to hunt them out. Bill Roggio gives us background in this 28 Nov post:

Multinational Forces Iraq began to heavily target al Qaeda’s media apparatus over the summer of 2007. The capture of Khalid Abdul Fatah Da’ud Mahmud al Mashadani, a senior al Qaeda in Iraq and Islamic State of Iraq leader and close associate of al Qaeda commander Abu Ayyub al Masri, was the first major blow against al Qaeda’s media network. Mashadani, also known as Abu Shahed, was al Qaeda’s media emir. He confirmed that Abu Omar al Baghdadi, the purported leader of the Islamic State of Iraq, is an imaginary figure created by himself and al Masri.

The hard core of this sort of propaganda production is real footage of terrorist attacks. Part of an Islamist sniper’s gear is a camera to record the kill for distribution to the cell phones of the faithful. Threatswatch has a video up which shows an IED attack. I haven’t been able to link this video directly, and if you world prefer not to view it, I have provided a verbal description of the content below. Of course there is no substitute for getting your own reaction which will naturally differ from mine. I should also note that I don’t read or understand Arabic. The video is just a minute long – there are no closeups, but something is blown away from the explosion that could be a human being. Even taking into account that we know from the work of Richard Landes that propagandists routinely fake footage, and that a skilled moviemaker could construct the footage seen here, I don’t particularly suspect fakery. Unlike the examples Landes shows at The Second Draft this clip is not cinematic, or suitable for sale to Western media outlets. Instead it looks like a low resolution surveillance video taken side on, at a great distance.

Here is the summary. The video opens with with a brief title and then a lead in of a background of flames and more Arabic titles set against male voices chanting what I take to be Muslim prayer. The quality of the voices is very attractive and beautiful – perhaps an Islamic equivalent of Gregorian chant. The singing continues as we see what looks like a tank moving from right to left on the screen hitting an IED. We hear the explosion and a presumably live voice of an observer cry “Allah hu akbar.” The clip is shown twice in real time, then slowed down while a red circle draws our attention to something being blown away from the front of the vehicle that could be, but is not necessarily, a soldier from the tank. The slowed down version is played a second time without the “Allah hu akbar” and continues on for several seconds with the sound of automatic weapon fire while a group of figures (presumably the attacking party) in the middle distance make their way toward the camera. The chanting continues throughout the entire video swelling to a climax during the final repetition.

To me the single most striking thing about this video is the juxtaposition of religious chanting with images of combat. The confounding of reverence and slaughter. A snuff flick sugar coated in ravishingly beautiful music. Second in importance for me is the looping of the video to repeat the emotional climax of the explosion reinforced with the triumphant and ecstatic, ejaculation of ‘Alla hu akbar’ – God is great. Thus a deadly serious religious fanaticism attempts to sanctify what is, at best, a necessary evil of war. There is complete loss of balance that goes well beyond the normal heat of combat, indeed of sanity. In the thrall of such fanaticism the leaders of such cults regress into degenerate abusers of power over friend and foe alike. Thier followers often become both dupes and perpetrators. Indeed, the Sunni Arabs of Anbar province discovered what it is like to be allied with those they now see as ‘Godless thugs.’ Fanaticism conveys a certain strength. The Islamist fanatics insist they are strong because they love death while their enemies love life. What they fail to see is that loving death is an inversion of normal human values and that the inversion is not only destructive, but also corrupting.

At a simply practical level , a key purpose of these productions is to recruit young Muslims of military age to join the fight. Naturally, part of counterinsurgency in the information war is to try to make the production of such material more difficult. Because the video of an attack is of equal or greater importance than the attack itself both sides are prepared to commit serious resources to propagating or suppressing the material. Sometimes the thrust and counterthrust takes place entirely on the media side of the struggle. As I wrote this post I remembered seeing a very similar terrorist video of an IED attack posted here by Michael Yon. That video too featured a military vehicle blown up to cries of Allah hu akbar and someone blown clear of the vehicle, except that the soldier involved survived and got to talk about it. So even at the sharp end of the information battlespace we find narrative and counter narrative – Youtube wars.

At a more general level these terrorist snuff flicks are instructive demonstrations ofa core capability of TV as a medium – emotional manipulation. Bill Roggio’s report relates that al Furqan – the media wing of al Qaeda in Iarq – has managed to regain some lost credibility recently by putting out two new videos.. One of the destruction of a Hummer and the other of the execution of nine Iraqi policemen. I’ll close with the end of Bill Roggio’s recent post enumerating more of the reasons these videos are a critical part of the information war:

al Qaeda in Iraq’s media wing is desperate to produce propaganda for multiple reasons. The terror group needs to demonstrate to its financial backers, supporters, fellow jihadis, the Iraqi people, and the wider world that it is capable of conducting meaningful operations. This is vital for fundraising, for the morale of its forces, and to demoralize the West and the Iraqi people.

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