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Media Jihad: The Islamic State’s Doctrine for Information Warfare


Author: Charlie Winter

Date of Publication: 2017

Journal / Publisher: The International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence

Country of publication: UK

Purpose of the study

Key questions 

Emic (first person) perspective of the importance of jihadist propaganda



Translation and Analysis of ISIS Doctrine

Type of ‘participant’ 

Islamic terrorism


Understanding the role of the media jihadist and ISIS propaganda, from the ISIS perspective

Key findings 

The caliphate brand is entirely unspontaneous. Fluctuating in response to directives issued by the central media office, it revolves around three axes – a coherent narrative that is at once positive and alternative; comprehensive, rejection-based counter speech operations; and the launching of occasional, carefully calibrated media “projectiles.”

For the Islamic State, the mainstream media is considered to be an effective weapon that, if leveraged correctly, has “far-reaching” power that can exceed that of the most powerful bombs.

The Islamic State sustainably incites activism, whether from offline operatives or online volunteers, by venerating information warfare in a manner unparalleled by any other salafi-jihadist actor. As the document attests, in its eyes, propaganda production and dissemination is at times considered to be even more important than military jihad.

Islamic State media activists are artificially absorbed into a symbolic system of barter that is proactively nurtured and fertilised by the central media office. The cocktail of emotional, theological and ideological appeals delivered in the document is a potent derivation of this system, which is sufficient to keep volunteers active and interested indefinitely.

Central to the Islamic State’s outreach success is its flexible definition of what constitutes a “media operative.” As the document attests, the line between official and unofficial activism is deliberately blurred, something that renders the organisation’s offer of participation all the more alluring.

Key Recommendations 

Observers must not misdiagnose the problem. The Islamic State is where it is today because of strategic, innovative thinking, not just technological advances. The international community must be equally as creative and strategic-minded in its approach towards counter-communications.

Like the Islamic State, practitioners and activists must recognize that audiences, whether enemies or supporters, are heterogeneous and best accessed through a range of channels.

Counter-strategic communications must rest upon implicitly positive foundations and avoid targeting the Islamic State alone. Moreover, refuting salafi-jihadists’ claims to legitimacy is not enough – and will never be enough – to degrade the brand.

The Islamic State champions the offensive use of information to “infuriate the unbelievers.” With this in mind, media organisations must resist the production of nuance-less ‘clickbait’ articles derived from the Islamic State’s propaganda. If they do not, they run the risk of becoming unwitting instruments of its media strategists.

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