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Just Terror: The Islamic State's Use of Strategic “Framing” to Recruit and Motivate


Author: L. C. Robinson

Date of Publication: 2017

Journal / Publisher: Orbis

Purpose of the study

Key questions 

This article examines the “framing” strategies employed by the Islamic State in espousing the group's salafist-takfiri doctrine, which includes the call for both defensive and offensive jihad.



Analytical: an analysis of the written documents, official statements and social media messaging issued by the Islamic State



Type of ‘participant’ 

Islamic terrorism/ISIS


Understanding the “framing” strategies employed by the Islamic State to mobilise defensive and offensive jihad, including mobilisation to fight, to conduct attack on home soil and encourage others to do the same. 

Key findings 

An analysis of the written documents, official statements and social media messaging issued by the Islamic State reveals three main framing strategies upon which the organization grounds its security claims. 

  • First, diagnostic frames are intended to highlight the threats that exist to its extreme vision of Islam;
  • Second, prognostic frames offer prescriptions for meeting those threats; and 
  • Third, motivational frames are designed to mobilize active support for the Islamic State and its doctrine.

Key recommendations 

In the immediate term, robust military operations can debilitate and degrade the Islamic State, as is illustrated by the shrinking scope of both the territory and population under the Islamic State's control. In order to legitimize these military efforts in the eyes of Iraqis, Syrians, and other Arab Muslims, it is crucial that local Arab ground forces—preferably Sunnis—take the lead. As one commander of a pro-government Sunni militia told the New York Times in June 2016, “In 2004, many people in Fallujah had resisted the American troops because they viewed the U.S. as invaders and that it was an Islamic obligation to fight them. This time, the people realized there is a difference, that there is no purpose to fight your own people. 

Reviewer's notes

Core framing tasks include diagnostic framing (problem identification and attribution), prognostic framing (articulating a solution to the problems identified within the diagnostic framing task), and motivational framing (a rationale for why individual action within the group setting is necessary for achieving the solution to the problem previously identified). 

The author analyses the Islamic States strategies through their doctrine and vision, depicting carefully the tactics employed – broken down by the 3 frames – to explain how the group have mobilised members to action. 

Among other sources, this article has mined the statements, publications, and imagery employed by the Islamic State in order to gain a deeper understanding of the group's efforts at framing its security moves in ways that resonate with key audience members for its message and vision.

Ultimate victory over the Islamic State requires that moderate Sunni Muslim religious and political elites offer both a credible counter-narrative that debunks the doctrinal vision of the Islamic State and an alternative doctrinal narrative that addresses the hopes, needs and concerns of young Muslims.

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