Propaganda Mala Fide: a Semiotic Reading of Terrorist Jihadist Propaganda


Tuesday 10 February 2015, 10h00 - 12h00


Collegium de Lyon, 15 parvis René-Descartes, 69007 Lyon

Propaganda Mala Fide: a Semiotic Reading of Terrorist Jihadist Propaganda

Whereas in the past terrorist jihadist groups would fabricate messages to be transmitted by mainstream media (think at the role of Al Jazeera in distributing Osama Bin Laden’s videos), from the second half of the 2000s on, these groups more and more aimed at developing their own media. The shift has been also a consequence of the planetary diffusion of social media. Through them, indeed, terrorist jihadist groups can not only reach large audiences, but also learn how to become increasingly proficient at it. As several analysts have already underlined, there is a technical abyss between the amateurish videotapes that Osama Bin Laden would broadcast through Al Jazeera and the sophisticated visual editing by which the so called Islamic State flaunts its tragic accomplishments to the world. Moreover, whereas in the past a temporal gap would occur between perpetration of a terror act and communication interpreting it for the global audience, nowadays the gap has practically disappeared. As some commentators have pointed out, whilst in the past war acts were accompanied by rolling of drums, today terrorist jihadist violence is simultaneously ushered by drones of Twits and Youtube videos.


Timing and technique are not the only elements that have marked the evolution of terrorist jihadist communication in the last decade. Also the target of such communication has changed. Osama Bin Laden’s videos were primarily addressed to an Arabic-speaking and Muslim audience. Most Westerners could access their content only through the linguistic and cultural mediation of translators and interpreters. Moreover, these videos would mostly target Westerners as addressees of threats. On the contrary, communication developed by IS, especially from the second half of 2014 on, has had a different communicative agenda: it addresses Westerners not only as targets of terrorist threats, but also as potential affiliates. That is why IS communication increasingly resorts to European languages, and mainly to English and French, but also to Russian, German, Spanish, and Italian, in order to communicate with its audience. In these messages, the visual dimension is becoming more and more preponderant, yet it too seems to adopt the codes and styles of Western visual communication (for instance, Hollywood narratives and visual effects). Made by Western affiliates for other potential Western affiliates, the current IS communication seems to bridge more and more the gap between state war propaganda and terrorist communication; social media have enabled terrorists to directly reach a global audience as effectively, and sometimes even more effectively, than traditional state broadcasting propaganda.


The conference is meant to propose some essential lines for decoding current terrorist jihadist propaganda, gauge its persuasive effects, and assess present-day governmental attempts at counter-propaganda.


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21/09/2014 - 15/07/2015