You might think that a film showing your organisation randomly murdering people would not attract new recruits. But Isis’s various communications have achieved two objectives. First, they have terrified the Iraqi army, sapping the soldiers’ will to defend the Iraqi state. Threatening text messages sent direct to their mobile phones reinforce the point. Second, Isis has quickly carved out a global presence. A few weeks ago it seemed that only policy wonks had heard of it. It didn’t even have a settled acronym: some called it Isis, others Isil (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant – the Arabic supports either). The distinction hardly matters now as the organisation has renamed itself the Islamic State, with its leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, as its caliph. Whatever it’s called, its pitch relies on glamour shots of earnest young men with dishevelled, flowing hair living in rural settings unsullied by the paraphernalia of modern life – except for the assault rifles and ammunition strapped to their chests. The talk is all about duty, sacrifice and martyrdom.
But in many respects Isis is a very modern organisation. The brochure detailing its 2012-13 activities is like a state of the art corporate report. The most striking page, with slick graphic design, has 15 silhouetted icons – time bombs, handcuffs, a car, a man running – with each representing a field of activity: roadside bombs, prisoner escapes, car bombs and the clearance of apostates’ homes.