​‘Pop star’ coverage and British foreign policy will ensure ISIS longevity

Richard Sudan
Richard Sudan is a London-based writer, political activist, and performance poet. His writing has been published in many prominent publications, including the Independent, the Guardian, Huffington Post and Washington Spectator. He has been a guest speaker at events for different organizations ranging from the University of East London to the People's Assembly covering various topics. His opinion is that the mainstream media has a duty to challenge power, rather than to serve power. Richard has taught writing poetry for performance at Brunel University.
Reuters / Stringer
In recent days, we've seen further reports of young people being stopped by the authorities, suspected of attempting to carry out terrorist acts. What's really going on?

Since the birth of the Islamic State (formerly known as ISIS/ISIL) we've witnessed the growing phenomena of young people joining them. Young men want to be like the so-called Jihadis they see on TV, and young women want to be with them. Politicians, who are universally loathed, are scared of the Islamic State. The disillusioned can morph from being powerless in the one breath, to holding a knife to an aid worker’s neck the next, and suddenly having a direct line to Barack Obama. In some ways it’s not hard to understand why ISIS might appeal to the easily led. If we want to understand the problem in order to solve it, the widespread narrative that persists needs to be challenged.

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ISIS maintains and cultivates a pop star image with macho men posing in black with face masks and swords. The media present the same image in their style of reporting, thereby reinforcing the kind of propaganda that ISIS would like to cultivate. ISIS knows their target audience is impressionable young Muslims, often teenagers, who naturally at that age look to rebel against authority anyway. The media's coverage of ISIS so far has been the best free recruitment campaign they could have hoped for.

Sometimes the media are very careful, during high profile murder investigations for example, to not present things to the public in a way which might worsen the situation. The case seems to be the opposite with ISIS. The MSM seems to revel in giving the militants the kind of attention they want. Indeed, it is hard to imagine ISIS having become the force they've become without the free promotion, Hollywood style that they've had via the media.

By hyping up the obvious barbarity of ISIS, who could not be any more un-Islamic if they tried, and by ignoring the social, political, and cultural factors which lead people to join them, the MSM is playing a dangerous game. By design or by default, and by misrepresenting words like 'Jihadi', they've created a sanitized version of the truth, which is also blown out of proportion. They've sensationalized a serious topic for the sake of headlines.

They focus on the head choppers which are helpful to the Western powers' narrative, and not the head choppers we support elsewhere in the Middle East like Al Nusra, al-Qaeda, or the Saudi Royal family. And the media, just like the politicians, have presented ISIS as the greatest threat to civilization. This is simply absurd.

And of course, there is a backdrop to the wider appeal of ISIS, which is always ignored by their cheerleaders like Fox News. While the Islamic State's gruesomeness is almost gleefully paraded across news bulletins, real context, reflected in a very recent and bloody history is nearly always swept under the rug. Muslims being butchered in illegal wars since the year 2000 plays no role in creating anger and extremism we are led to believe.

The growth of ISIS, and the exacerbation of the Sunni/Shia war, Muslims killing Muslims, is a direct consequence of Western meddling in the region. The problem was created as a result of foreign policy, itself intent on securing Western interests, and the control of lands vital in the ongoing war of resources. The war in Iraq led to the complete destruction of it as a functioning Arab state and ensured an ongoing civil war.

Reuters/Stefan Wermuth

The campaign to drag Syria down the same path, which so far has not succeeded, continues.

Since The Project for the New American Century (PNAC) was rolled out, the flames of sectarian division have been fanned relentlessly. That's because Western governments seek to prolong the fighting, and not bring it to a halt. To that end whether directly or indirectly, ISIS and Western policy in the Middle East are two heads of the same snake - and the snake is perpetually chasing its own tail.

The Islamic State is useful to the West as it provides an excuse to justify continuing the same policy of occupation. The extremist group invites such a campaign as they essentially work for the same Western interests.

If we consider then that ISIS is useful for Western policy just like al-Qaeda was, then it makes sense that the MSM would talk about the group in a way which serves its narrative, hyping up all the bloody violence, which is empowering them. Add to that the Islamic State’s social media campaign, 24 hour rolling news, anger over military occupation, and social and economic problems, and we have a lethal cocktail of factors which help explain why young Muslims are being led to fight for the enemy. And ISIS is the enemy, the same as all the other terror groups backed in the region by our governments.

The calls we hear are always for Imams, mosques, schools and colleges to do more to root out extremism where it manifests. Aside from young people, apologies are constantly demanded from all Muslims for the actions of a handful. Of course 'radical Islamism' needs to be tackled, but so to do the radical security services which often play a huge role in creating the problem in the first place.

It feels like a vicious cycle. I would argue, that history teaches us, that if you apply a label and demonize a people for long enough, eventually those people will start to adopt the characteristics of the label being applied. There's no doubt that Muslim communities in Britain have been targeted, quite literally, by surveillance programs in places like Birmingham, and smeared in the tabloids. If the cultural narrative in Britain keeps insisting, however often it is cloaked in fluffy liberal language, that Islam is evil and that Muslims are terrorists, of course this will create a self-fulfilling prophecy. Widespread analysis of ISIS and why young people would join them is never more nuanced than the convenient line which says that Muslims hate our freedom because of miniskirts, McDonald's and Justin Bieber.

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Who remembers the video which went viral a few years back, which showed a drunken EDL (English Defence League) member talking about the threat of Muslims and famously 'Muslamic ray guns'? We all laughed at that, but it strikes me that the picture painted by most of the media is not much different from that young man's analysis. It is certainly no more sophisticated. In fact, maybe 'Newsnight' should have interviewed him instead of Quilliam’s Maajid Nawaz, and Tommy Robinson, when trying to unpack the causes of extremism, because entrenched racism like Islamophobia is in part created by focusing on ISIS and the manner in which they are presented.

If ever there was a psychological driving force to explain ISIS's appeal to the marginalized, it can surely be found in the line which is towed by the media and also the state, in terms of language and policy. Because lets also acknowledge, racism towards Muslims has not just been confined to the street.

The rise of UKIP, undoubtedly also helped by the media, signified the normalization of this racism going mainstream. That very same narrative also explains why young people run off to find ISIS.

David Cameron can make all the speeches he likes. Until the overall narrative shifts, changes to policy at home, more spy cameras, targeting children in school, and demonizing Muslims will only make things worse.

People get upset when you say it nowadays, if you mention Iraq, as if it’s a case of "Yes you would have to mention that wouldn't you?" That is, the killing of hundreds of thousands of Muslims, and the creation of countless refugees across the region.

The reason the wars are rarely mentioned in the same sentence as ISIS in the media, is precisely because they are the driving force behind young Muslims becoming more and more frustrated with Britain, and its policy, even if born here.

The media simply acts as a mouthpiece for Britain's racist colonial policies abroad. Young people will always rebel against authority. But if they understood that there isn't much difference between the violence perpetrated by our governments abroad and the violence inflicted by ISIS then they wouldn't join the extremist group. The last thing governments want is a generation of young politicized Muslims intent on getting rid of them democratically at the ballot, and getting rid of the white supremacist foreign policy they advocate. That is the real danger for elected governments and hegemonic rulers; it isn't really ISIS.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.