IS, Social Media and the Next Steps

Molly Chattaway

The Future of IS

Flag of Islamic State via Wikimedia Commons

Barbaric images of the beheading of US journalist James Foley circulated globally on the 20th of August 2014; a day that made the threat of IS an alarming reality to the average citizen.  In a recent Al Jazeera debate, Shiraz Maher, a senior research fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization at Kings College London suggests the video which has leaked through the web can be viewed as a direct challenge to the USA and Obama[1]. He believes there is a clear overarching message to Obama to withdraw from activities in Iraq, whether militarily or humanitarian. Despite this particular video appealing to the west, Shiraz argues that the video is an extension of normal operations of IS and not a unique case of their violent extremism.

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Social media is performing an important role for IS and is a key tool utilised for propaganda and contributing to the recruitment of IS members. On Aljazeera’s inside story ‘Islamic State ‘beheading': A challenge to US?[2]’ an example of the kind of videos IS uses is shown. The video presented portrays life under the Islamic state in an idealised manner and highlights the protection citizens receive under IS. It is through videos such as these that a more appealing side of IS can be viewed and which arguably contributes to their recruitment.

Understandably, the world cannot ignore the threat that IS poses. Shiraz claims that western governments are essentially being held to ransom through blackmail. For instance, if the USA responds militarily there is a real danger that more hostages will be murdered and yet if no action is taken then violent extremism is likely to continue to expand and create further issues. An article written by Dr Simon Mabon and Dr Stephen Royle for the Foreign Policy Centre ‘IS, Regional Security and the End of Sykes-Picot[3]’ suggests several considerations and suggestions for future action. They firstly highlighted IS’s expansionist motives, writing that in a recent video at the Syrian border, an IS spokesperson claimed the group had intentions of IS expansion across Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon[4]. Mabon and Royle also noted that the climate for expansion is promising due to anti-government networks in Syria and Iraq as well as the presentation of a sectarian schism with Al Baghdadi’s organisation as ‘a Sunni vanguard against Iranian sponsored Shi’ism, appealing to those residing in countries such as Qatar, the UAE, Bahrain, Kuwait and perhaps most prominently Saudi Arabia.[5]’

Mabon and Royle suggest two key areas need to be addressed for future foreign policy, firstly, there should be a response to the unrest in Iraq to create some stability, they note it may require a military intervention to stop advancement and should involve regional actors to diffuse sectarian tensions. They also commented on the need to thwart advancements in Syria to demobilise the organisations ability to move between countries. Mabon and Royle suggest the second area that needed to be explored involves ‘responding to the political and socioeconomic conditions that have been created[6]’, this includes support for refugee camps, financial and technical support for host countries such as Jordan and Lebanon to ease ‘economic and political strains and encourage vigilance against the funding of militant groups such as IS[7]’, particularly in the Gulf States, Saudi Arabia’s links to Jaish Al-Islam were used a significant example.

For the meantime, David Cameron seems to bet set on Britain not engaging with Iraq militarily, an interview from the BBC on the same day as Foley’s murder saw Cameron adamant ‘to work with the new Iraqi government[8]’. He stated ‘we’re not going to put combat troops, combat boots on the ground – that’s not something we should do[9]’.  It suffices to say that the ever disturbing face of IS continues to evolve into unexpected territory, it is clear that there are several areas of concern and the brutality of the organisation makes the threat ever more alarming

[1]Al Jazzera. “Islamic State ‘beheading': A challenge to US?”, 21st of Aug 2014

[2] Ibid.

[3] Dr Simon Mabon and Dr Stephen Royle. “FPC Briefing: IS, Regional Security and the End of Sykes-Picot”, Foreign Policy Centre,  [accessed 21st of August 2014].

[4] Ibid. [5] Ibid. [6] Ibid. [7] Ibid.

[8] Nick Robinson. BBC “What’s the PM’s next move on Iraq?”, 20th of August 2014.

[9] Ibid.

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