ISIS’s Defeat in Syria and Iraq Is Also the End of ISIS’s Media as We Know It

ISIS's famed propaganda machine will never be the same. In the inaugural issue of the MDC's new weekly, "Jihadiscope," Gilad Shiloach explains why.

Cover of the first issue of the ISIS propaganda outlet Rumiyah ("Rome")
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The resounding collapse of the Islamic State across its territories in Iraq and Syria, and the loss of its two "capitals" - Mosul in early July and al-Raqqa in mid-October 2017 - comes at the same time as the collapse of the “virtual caliphate”, which has amplified and contributed to its success over the past few years.

The Islamic State’s propaganda apparatus -- once a sleek, efficient machine that has released dozens of propaganda products every day-- experiences in recent weeks a significant decline in its output. The monthly multilingual Rumiyah magazine, considered as one of IS' propaganda flagships and published in 11 different languages (including English, French, and German), has not been released since September 2017. For an unknown reason, Rumiyah has skipped an issue for the first time since it has replaced Dabiq magazine as IS' leading media product for the western audience in September 2016.

Another IS propaganda product that has suddenly disappeared is the daily radio bulletin of the group's official al-Bayan Radio, which have been regularly broadcast every day since April 2015 but last appeared on 25 October 2017.  The online streaming link of al-Bayan -- http://albayaan.biz.ua/ -- is no longer functioning either. The sudden disappearance of these two propaganda products is unprecedented in the history of IS' media activities. The fact that it came at the same time when the Islamic State was driven entirely out of Raqqa could indicate that the production and publication of both Rumiyah and al-Bayan Radio, as well as other major IS media outlets, have operated from the city of Raqqa. Thus, the physical collapse of the de-facto capital of IS also marked the end of much of its virtual caliphate.

Furthermore, as the Islamic State is losing all its urban strongholds and safe havens in Syria and Iraq and squeezed into an ever-shrinking territory in the desert areas in those two countries, its media output has also shrunk considerably. The daily propaganda publications distributed by the Islamic State on social media and Telegram, IS' favorite messaging app, suggest that only a few of its "provinces" (Wilayat) participate in the propaganda effort these days. The long, high-definition and well-produced video publications by the jihadi group had become rare, and the same applies to dozens of publications the Islamic State used to publish every week to show the "civilian aspect" in its territories and the flourishing daily life of the population under its control. According to Charlie Winter, a Senior Research Fellow at the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR), the Islamic State's media produced during September 2017 a third as much propaganda as it did in August 2015.

The publications that are still operating, like the Arabic-language 16-page weekly bulletin al-Naba ("The News"), are mostly ignoring the significant territorial losses, conveying instead a message that the group now "is stronger than it ever was" and promising to "continue with the Jihad and punishment against the enemies of Allah." Given the mass surrenders of IS fighters and attempts by some of its members to flee the group, it's unclear how many IS members still believe in this message, but IS is presenting in al-Naba an alternative reality of a strong and "remaining" Caliphate, despite all of the losses the group has sustained over the last few months.

The immediate reason for the absence of any civilian aspects (let alone news of new territorial expansions of its self-declared Caliphate) from IS' propaganda offices/departments/apparatus is that there is very little news to report from the steadily diminishing territories. With no significant urban strongholds or a large population under its control, as was the case after IS' great victories and expansion in the years 2014-2015, the propaganda products are becoming less diversified and concentrate mainly on covering the group's battles in the few places that remain under its control. The loss of large cities such as Raqqa, where IS' media apparatus could operate freely, has undoubtedly contributed to this decline in output.