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Visual Jihad: Constructing the “Good Muslim” in Online Jihadist Magazines

Countering Violent Extremism (CVE)PreventionRadicalisation

Journal Abstract

Images are known to have important effects on human perception and persuasion. Jihadist groups are also known to make strategic use of emotive imagery and symbolism for persuasive ends. Yet until recently studies of the online magazines published by violent jihadist groups largely focused on their textual, not their image, content and, while the image content of these magazines is now the subject of a burgeoning number of studies, few of these compare the images used by different groups. This article accordingly offers a cross-group comparison, examining the image content of a total of thirty-nine issues of five online magazines published by four different jihadist groups. Starting with a content analysis, it shows that the images’ most common focus is non-leader jihadis. Using a news values analysis, it then shows how these images of non-leader jihadis are used to visually construct the identity of a “good Muslim.” This construct is characterized by three traits, each corresponding to a different news value: fulfilled (personalization); active (consonance); and respected (prominence). Moreover, these traits are intertwined: fulfillment comes from responding actively to the call to violent jihad, which in turn promises respect. The article concludes by highlighting some subtle differences between how the news values of personalization, consonance, and prominence are realized in the different magazines, and by discussing the implications of the “good Muslim” construct for efforts to develop countermessages.

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