I had the privilege of attending Dr. Nathaniel Greenberg’s iteration of the “Lunch and Lecture” series hosted by the Arabic Flagship Program. While I’m not a member of the program itself, the prospect of analyzing the communications and aesthetics utilizes by the Islamic state instantly piqued my interest. Throw in the fact that the event was catered by Panera and the deal was sealed.
Dr. Greenberg’s lecture focused heavily on what he referred to as the “digital caliphate”–that is, the new format that Islamic communication and counter-communication have taken over the past few years. For example, it is reported that ISIS generates tens of thousands of tweets every day. That’s a staggering amount of web presence. However, it’s also estimated that the terror organization fields somewhere between 500-2,000 social media operatives. Most of those tweet are coming from bots, spewing their content into the void and hoping that something takes root.
As ISIS grows in presence online, so do those who satirize their message. Macabre “parody” videos that make mockery of ISIS actions, proclamations and media have begun to surface. Most famous is the Iraqi TV program ‘Dawlat al-Khurafa’ (State of Myths). The show aims to diffuse the aura of fear created by ISIS through sketch comedy; an approach that not everyone found appropriate. Dr. Greenberg stated that the show was received poorly by Iraqi citizens who felt that it made light of the situation and legitimized the terrorist group by further acknowledging their presence. The show’s trailer is certainly polarizing: It portrays the wedding of the devil and a Jewish woman, overseen by a whiskey-swilling cowboy. A fledging ISIS member is shown hatching from an egg a short time later and the trailer ends as divisively as it began.