For what it’s worth?

I feel I need to write about this.


With an academic position, which includes responsibilities to communicate research to the general public, comes side-effects. Especially when working on sensitive and politically-charged issues like extremism and terrorism. There are numerous incidents when right-wing extremists have threatened journalists and academics writing about issues concerning racism and xenophobia. I have also recevied my fair share of hatred and comments from this side since I sometimes publicly express my personal views and fear of increased right-wing tendencies in contemporary Europe.

I am all for criticism. As academics we should be able to cope with our arguments being scrutinized and our endeavours being questioned. But recently my ability to handle another, and for myself a new, form of unwanted side-effect has been challenged.

Currently I write about islamist extremism and terrorist groups’ use of media propaganda. My purpose, both in my academic writings and when I talk about it in public, is to deconstruct the mediated world view of extremist groups and contribute with understanding and knowledge about how organizations like ISIS attempt to destabilize societies through fear and shock, using media propaganda as tool for promoting their criminal enterprise of violence. Especially after the Paris attacks a few months ago I have been asked to, and often accepted, appear in news interviews and different forms of media outlets, expressing my professional opinion on ISIS. This has been rewarding and without a doubt helped gain interest for my research.

However, since then and in particular during the last month, as I have also used this blog to write about my ongoing academic work, I have experienced a mounting sense of being surveilled. Of being targeted and of interest for individuals and organizations tied to a very radical and violent ideology. And without going into details, let’s just say it’s difficult to explain as many indications are not outspoken but simply creepy in the sense that for instance suspicious accounts start to appear as followers on my social networks. Not just a few, but many. Some initiate contact, some disappear after a few days, only to have new and similar accounts appear again. When entering their profiles I see more or less explicit connections to for instance ISIS ideology and propaganda (through logos and material they share). I also see same tendencies in the statistics on visits to my blog and when (around what topic I have chosen to write about).

And to be honest it is much easier to cope with explicit rants by right-wing supporters declaring my incompetence in more or less nice words, than to know how to handle this subtle and creeping sense of being checked. Espacially since I know how extremist organizations (including supporters and more loosely tied networks) have developed their social media presence and capabilities for several years. Maybe I am naive to enter this field of research, and trust me – I have often questioned why I do it. But I have always reached the conclusion that my work can help and function as a useful framework in combatting online strategies of groups like ISIS. Although, the personal experiences and my well-being are now poking the rational self to atleast talk about the above mentioned consecuences of not only working on this subject, but being visible and open with it.


I know I will get reactions by writing this post. Probably of negative nature mostly, saying I have only myself to blame of actively choosing to accept requests for interviews etc. But my purpose is simply to initiate a discussion on how others cope with these issues. And by others I refer to academics, journalists or similar professionals who also must handle this dilemma of working with sensitive topics, talking about it and then handle consequences of the privileged position of communicating insights and knowledge in the media. Because I feel I am now closing in on the line of self-censorship. A point where I carefully weigh every word I say or write as a researcher. And I believe this is a serious threat to academic freedom and in a larger context, our increasingly fragile freedom of speech.

Media convergence of islamist extremism

Since ISIS and other islamist terrorist organizations time and time again have proved to conduct atrocities and preach morality in total opposition to islam teachings, including trafficking, sex-slavery, killings, forced conversion etc, it seems as we are more or less past focusing on the religious framework in our understanding of islamist terrorist organizations. I believe it is vital to see beyond the religious and theological foundation of their messaging. Their strategy to use islam as false pretext is important, yes, however a wider understanding and a way to better prepare ideological responses would be to actually start treating them as forms of mediated enterprises of violence, and their virtual operations as socially mediated terrorism. One way of doing this is to approach the conjunctures and intersections between ISIS and groups like Boko Haram, Jabhat Al-Nusra and Al-Shabaab.

For different reasons I have started looking into how other islamist groups are being influenced by the now well known information operations and media strategies of ISIS, and in addition framing this towards a contemporary history of islamist extremist communications.


Boko Haram has since the mid 2000’s used media outlets to distribute not only awareness of their existence to the world but also attempted to deliver messages of ideology, purpose and methods for achieving it. Their leader, Abubakar Shekau, has had a prominent role in the media messaging for several years. Similarities to how Al-Qaeida used Osama Bin-Ladin in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks are evident. In simple video productions, a talking head showing the respective leader delivering a message looking straight into the camera and thereby, almost like a newsanchor, attempting to appeal for trust and reliability to what they are saying.



But as time has gone by, new rules of engagement in the information operations of extremist groups have been set in motion. In recent posts of this blog I have showed screenshots from ISIS media propaganda, including emphasis on visual imagery and strategies to attract audiences. Without a doubt, when now looking at other islamist groups established in the MENA-region, there is an increased homogenization of visual strategies and imagery in the media propaganda and recruitment efforts for respective group. Boko Haram also now has its own media centre (Al-Urwah al-Wuthqa) and at present their media messaging is very similar to ISIS, atleast in terms of sophistication in production and editing techniques (content still varies). Here a screenshot from the video ”Harvest of Spies” coming out of Boko Haram media wing.

The most recent propaganda videos from Boko Haram have higher production values than in the past and other similarities to ISIS-produced videos.

One of the most important dimensions, which now goes for groups like Boko Haram, ISIS, Al-Shabaab and Jabhat Al-Nusra, is the management of turning fiction into reality. Encoding a message with strong connotations to fiction (ie video games, fiction films etc.) and using these identification markers of imagery, typography, camera angles, editing and so forth – there is a strong and visible will to get the audience to decode and read the message through the lens provided by the extremist organization behind it. ISIS is without a doubt a front-runner in this aspect given the now widespread media industry under their control (not only inside the Caliphate of Iraq/Syria but in regional provinces as well). But let’s look at how a rival group uses the same media tactic. Below, screenshots from a recent video posted by Jabhat Al-Nusra.

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The group that in many ways is most similar to ISIS, if we allow ourselves to rank ISIS at top in terms of production and postproduction value of media content, is Jabhat al-Nusra. Below is from yet another recent recruitment video, among other things showing a sophistication in lightning and mise-en-scéne.

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They have, as can be seen above, almost literally adopted the visual strategies of ISIS, who during the last year used for instance drones with camera attached as well as go-pro cameras on helmets and rifles, generating a blend of reality and fiction as these techniques are examples of something being grounded in both physical and digital worlds simultaneously. One of the first examples from ISIS was their use of video-games as simulating appeals to younger recruits.

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Al-Shabaab has shown a similar adaptation to ISIS media productions. Not necessarily to all narrative features within the videos, however there is an obvious relation to ISIS promotional efforts through media. Below is a capture-post for a video from the media wing Al-Katai’b Media contaning justification efforts for the Westgate attack in Kenya a few years back.


This group has, in line with the rest, increased their media production during the last two years and now hold a steady stream of messaging through different channels. However they are still suffering from lack of professionalism in their productions, making them appear as less visionary and organized than other groups perhaps. Also, Al-Shabaab operates in a different context and with different objectives than for instance ISIS, making their efforts for global reach to potential recruits a minor aim in their messaging.


So, why does this matter? Well it raises questions surrounding how extremist communication and information operations reveal relations between these organizations and perhaps speaks about the future of contemporary extremism. As their media messaging and increasingly industrial production of not only media propaganda but interactive and social media strategies, are more technically invested in than ever before, expanding our attention to the interplay between different groups becomes even more important. Only the screenshots above reveal a form of media convergence. Not always outspoken through official cooperation or allegiances, but still a convergence of communications, strategies, propaganda messaging and targeting audiences. And one of the reasons why this is important to grasp, is that it might help us to direct attention and measures towards the conjunctions and intersections between them, contributing to obstruct the expansion of these groups and making their agendas to clash rather than harmonize.


The convergence of media strategies and visual imagery are currently echoing in the virtual space and discourse of global jihadism and ISIS has set the first tone. We must break the echo before the intersections flourish into an even more physical reality.

Are we enhancing IS narratives?

I sometimes get accused for contributing to extremist groups agenda when replicating their material, publishing screen-shots from their videos in my work. Even if I don’t necessarily agree, I understand the opinion. It is a valid discussion.

How can we (as in academics, journalists etc) when working within fields that require public communication and publishing, avoid being part of the overall strategy of IS or other groups seeking their ideology and messaging to be widely spread, their images to be shown and their message to be intepreted in a specific way?

In any text I write, in any lecture I give or in any public presentation I create – there are always ethical considerations about what I can and should show. I make these considerations for two sakes: a) for the audience not to be drawn towards emotional disgust but instead be given the opportunity to focus on my words, and b) for caring about broader potential consequences of what I communicate. But it is tricky.

For instance, who really cares about what I write, when I also post a picture like this?

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Emotions take over, cognitive schematas a drawn fast and minds are filled with prejudice, fear, shock and, let’s be honest, a vast amount of people also stereotype religion (islam) accordingly. So does it matter if I were to elaborate in an academic critical analysis of the use of children in this socially mediated terrorism after you have seen this image?
Does it matter if I say that this strategy is part of the widespread mediatized criminal enterprise of violence, communicated through channels around the world, rather than an expression of religiously justified activity? Does it matter if I say that the visual imagery is carefully constructed with the ambition to turn codes of well-known fiction into harsh reality and thereby enhancing our sense of fear whilst simultaniously strengthen ideologically likeminded, further dividing societies around the world in order to recruit more extensively?

I am convinced that for many the answer is no on all three questions. And why?

Well, I believe it has little to do with the sometimes stiff and rigourous academic way of writing. Rather it is a matter of an already established image of IS. An image that we all have participated in creating without being aware of it. When reporting on their activities, when publishing images straight from their propaganda industry, when sharing videos and posts in social media, when talking about them in a certain way and when simplifying the phenomena of contemporary extremism. Too often guided by misconceptions, lack of knowledge and prejudices.


Their propaganda is powerful. But it is mainly not due to their own networks. It has a potential of becoming even more powerful when replicated and distributed in a certain way through everyone from journalists, politicians, academics like myself and people in general with keen sharing-fingers moving the cursor over click-bait online.

Therefor it is so important that not only me, in a position of public speaker, make considerations of what and how to publish or communicate.

It must be made by everyone. With knowledge and awareness.

(I know it is provocative to publish the above picture considering the approach in this post, however I firmly believe it serves a purpose to illustrate the argument here. The screenshot is from an IS video from Feb 10, 2016).

PS. A few weeks ago I was asked to be a session speaker at The Conference 2016 . I happily accepted and last week the first 7 speakers for the August event were announced. Since then the number of visitors to my website has increased rapidly and I guess it just shows the interest for The Conference and hopefully the topic I will talk about, namely extremist communication. And I would like to welcome those of you who just reached my blog here for the first time and I look forward to meet some of you in August. DS

Killing bees with a sledgehammer?

So after about two months of intense work through a number of lectures, interviews and talks, for which I am grateful to have been invited to give, I notice that many of the continuing questions I receive currently are aimed at understanding not only how, but why IS still advances. Military experts seem to be in total agreement that the caliphate decreases geographically as coaliation forces and joint efforts on the ground are seizing control over strategically important cities. This is only partially true. In the main region yes, however IS expands its provincial reach by establishing affiliating bases in Egypt, Libya, Nigeria and other mostly North African countries, but also in the far east towards Afghanistan and Pakistan. It is easy to be blinded by potential military success in Syria and Iraq, however it is an overestimation to say that current military efforts decrease the strength and spread of IS. That aside, the ideological and regional context are not only more worrying but at the same time also constitute the framework in which the true possibilities to engage and facilitate resistance exist. Reasons for this has an important historical outline.

Sunni vs. Shia context

IS takes a narrative point of departure in the treatment of sunni muslims in Iraq after the US invasion 2003. When removing the Baath Party and Saddam Hussein regime, the sunni minority in the country (which in comparison to shia muslims had been favoured the most by the regime and constituted about 20 {954dda8bc7e008127837716ba79cb61d816eeac0fabd617d124376b2f6078419} of the Iraqi population before the declaration of the caliphate) became politically marginalized. An insurgency grew from the dismantlement and former Baath Party members, leading generals etc in the former regime, became a strong part of this insurgency. Groups like Al-Quaida and above all IS absorbed this insurgency and politicized it in forms of seeking to build its state.

Two major dimensions must be regarded in this political, religious and weaponized project. First, the importance for IS to restore sunni political power in Baghdad after the war(different from Saddam Hussein as his politics were more secular and promoted Arab nationalism) and second, to unify Aleppo in Syria and Baghdad in Iraq under a joint rule of government. This unification is one of many endeavors by IS which can clearly be related to the islamic theology and history they are relying on. In addition, unification of that kind also constitutes a significant message of a vision needed to be sold to the sunni populations and tribes in these countries. By embedding this message in fear of ’kufr’ (non-believers) and a firm belief in the ’tawhid’ (the concept of monotheism and oneness with God) –  IS is to be perceived as the restorer of ”true” muslim faith and the great caliphate. So it’s a messianic vision with a strong political project underneath that in combination is not only powerful but also lethal in the increasingly tensed divisions between sunni and shia in these countries.

Speaking oh this division, what IS primarily has done over the years is to appeal to local sunni populations, playing on the concept of victimhood, mantling the role as defender of marginalized sunni groups in the region. The US left power in Baghdad to a shia minority and it didn’t take long for domestic and religious tensions to accelerate. In Syria, the Assad-regime continously tormented its citizens and still contributes widely to the deconstruction of Syria as we once knew it. So in the world of IS, there is an interplay between victimhood and strong aggression. These perpetual factors are intertwined and one cannot exist without the other.

The real enemy for IS, or primary might be a better word, seems to be the’rafik’ (their word for shia muslims) of Iraq. They are currently under the influence (and protection) of the Iranian revolutionary guard due to intense negotiations between the US and Iran, regarding operations in Iraq. One of the main figures in sunni islamist terrorism and Al-Quaida operations in Iraq after the US intervention 2003, Abu Musab Al-Zarqawi (dead 2006), early targeted the shia muslims as main enemies to destroy in order to have any possibilities to advance in the sunni jihadist project that later became IS. His approach and strategy to gain support from the sunni populations for Al-Quaida in Iraq was to strike against shia muslims in the most explicit way (burning their mosques, ruthless killing through religios motivations etc.) and make them retaliate. Because when an aggregated shia population were to do so, sunni muslims in the region would be empowered to join Al-Quaida in defending the sunni tradition and people of the (true) islam – a role now taken even further by IS.

The need for sunni awakening and cooperation

And today? Iranian, US and Syrian airstrikes bombing IS (self- proclaimed protectors of sunni islam and sunni muslims under their governing). Present foreign policies and military efforts of these coalition countries are increasingly playing in the hands of IS and also makes their messaging of victimhood and protectors against enemies and threats, more powerful for the sunni muslims in the region. Considering the historical context, this message is not hard to sell to ravaged and marginalized sunnis in fractioned countries. Many simply see an alliance between US, Iran, the Assad-regime in Syria and the shia-muslims in Iraq, Iran and other actors joining, and this makes the threat more evident, one-dimensional and enhances the image of IS as protectors, not villains, in the eyes of sunni groups and populations. I consider this to be the main reason for why there is no sunni insurgency within the ruled areas, rising against IS.

And let’s be honest. The only initial thing that truly and effectively can challenge the spread and further establishment of the IS caliphate, is to have sunni-muslims, regionally and internationally, to work together in a new joint rise (comparable to the Anbar Awakening in 2006 when roughly 30 tribes in the Anbar province stood up against Al-Quaida in Iraq) – something IS is determined to prevent from happening again and towards them. If acknowledging this, western states and policy makers are to engage in altering not only the political (military) strategies but also challenge the deeply rooted and continously growing belief among sunni muslims, that the US (and west in general) are out to get them.

Understanding the basis of IS, its core, background, vision, aim and especially strategies to achieve it expands our knowledge about these issues. Through it we can better prepare and execute the necessary ideological countering against islamic extremism. But by only advancing on a military front we can easily draw an analogy to hitting a nest of bees with a sledgehammer.

It just doesn’t work. No matter how hard you hit.


Women in IS media enterprise of violence


After the attacks against Charlie Hebdo in Paris earlier this year as well as the more recent mass-shooting in San Bernardino, California, much media attention has been given to the role of women in radicalization and processes of recruitment to the Islamic State (IS) and other radical islamist terrorist organizations. Reasons for this are primarily a result of the fact that women in different levels were involved in these attacks, which seem to have come as a surprise as it contradicts a norm of terrorists are equal to men (especially in islamist radical organizations). This post is about this misconception.

In a time of a rhetoric of war, followed by political decisions supporting the verbal strategy, a much needed interest for how women are recruited has almost been neglected. The obvious reason why would be that military operations, islamic terrorism and all the discourses surrounding these issues – are framed through a very male perspective and understood through the same lens. Yes, the vast majority of foreign fighters travelling to join IS, or for that matter other self-proclaimed jihadists operating in Iraq and Syria, are men. However, a crucial fact is that far more women than mainstream media highlights, have been and are travelling to join as well. Men and women are socially vulnerable for exposure of radical ideologies, but in somewhat different ways. Extremist organizations use these differences in their attempt to target potential recruits (and simultaniously play on and exploit the established gender roles of western society).

Is the Islamic State different than similar organizations in this matter? Yes. Several reports on the quantity and frequency of tweets coming from pro-ISIS accounts (some argue for around 100 000 tweets each day). A large part of these tweets seem to come from women, which totally reverse the way Al-Quaida or the Taliban regime work with women as a central part of the propaganda machinery. IS truly puts effort in trying to make women visible, not only in terms of media quantity, but also in qualitative terms in virtual and physical spaces. Let me give you some excerpts.

The fact that IS recruitment strategies reach beyond online engagement and above all focus on physical presence in communities and mosques around Europe, is especially important to consider when higlighting the attempt to reach out to women from mainly a younger generation. Female recruiters are commonly used as a mean to make contact with younger female muslims in diasporic communities, for instance by physically handing out leaflets on the streets of London. Since much of the radicalization processes aimed at women involve promises of a new and better life, a life in which they have a significant role to play, an honorable existence and prospects of a future to practice their faith without feeling alienated – it differs from how men are primarily being targeted. There are ideological positions given to men and women respectively (basically enhancing their function in the nationbuilding and the utopian future) and this type of differences in gender-based emphasis must be stressed before attempting to draw political lines for effecient countermeasures.

In the media productions coming out of IS, female representations are significantly different in comparison to how men (usually younger male fighters) are being framed. Women are primarily portrayed as core of the family and of the intimate spheres of life in the caliphate. Messaging reveals how belonging and unity around the notion of freedom to practice religion and faith (the opposite of life in alienated European countries characterized by polarization and islamophobic measures) are clearly being adressed. In these type of messages, IS certainly draws upon the notion of contemporary polarizing nodes and structural injustice in western countries (muslims/non-muslims, religious/atheists and also men/women) and thereby attempts to further divide and appeal to especially muslim womens desire to improve life.

But also, if we look at the actual storytelling in many of the produced videos and reports coming out of the media centers under IS, much evolves around younger male jihadists, their journey towards martyrdom, their preserverence for the cause and their heroic efforts for the caliphate. So there is an attractive adventurism and heroism attached to men in the strategic media messaging, with hopes of targeting potential female recruits. The glorification of male jihadist fighters is central in this matter and constitute a substantial part of the propaganda.

In addition to this, IS consider women to be essential for the state itself to function both now and in the future. At present women dominate tasks of collecting taxes, medical and caring duties and above all within the educational system. They are also targeted for raising children, establishing family structures and values and appear as equal to men in terms of importance, however with different tasks and obligations


Life for women under the ruling of IS, is though completely different.


Taking all these aspects into consideration, it is not surprising to find women as being key figures in attacks inspired by the enterprise of violence that is the Islamic State.

Islamic State media reflects new despair

Last night a new IS execution video was spread in jihadist forums and through pro-IS social media accounts. It was yet another one in a row of gruesome graphic beheadings of prisoners dressed in orange suits and executioners standing behind them, dressed in black. First half of the video in English and second half in Arabic. A message to Barack Obama being read in English, and then, in Arabic, the allegations and explanations for why the prisoners now face death. The visual composition is more or less the same, the method is the same, the message is the same. We have seen it before. This time it is four Iraqi prisoners and not a US/UK journalist or aid-worker (which explains the fact that basically no western media have reported on this)

But there is a difference in this video compared to earlier. It may seem far-fetched and insignificant, but I believe it may still enhance our understanding of the relation between IS media strategies and the operations on the ground.

For the first time in this blog I now post images from the videos I am working with and have to watch. I choose as non-graphic captures as I can to illustrate my arguments. Below I put screen-shots of the four prisoners kneeling. They are reading their final prey. But three of them are then forced to witness one of their friends being behedaded first, and only two meters in front of them. This adds a layer of fear in the video, different from similar earlier videos spread during the last year. Previous examples of this type of videos have shown prisoners being killed at exactly the same time, within the same seconds, like a manifestation och collective death (reports from inside the area have argued that the explanations for prisoners being so calm before they die is that they are largely unaware of what is going to happen).


This latest video shows something else. It focuses more on the fear and horrific reactions of the prisoners watching their friend being decapitated, hence realizing what is going to happen to them. The fear in their eyes, the panic in their bodies, are given a more prominent position in the visual composition rather than the graphic effect and theatrical setting of executing everybody at the same time.

Having studied this subject for a while, I ask myself how the visual strategies and use of online propaganda like this are reflecting changes in how IS operates. Nowadays I experience that much of the brutality is beyond attempts to reach the worlds attention. Effects and high production value are being toned down for the ”message”. The herendous proof of what happens to prisoners, for those who oppose. Mentally and physically. In my opinion both visual and audio messages are increasingly becoming more desperate in its content, more frequent distribution and less thoughtful.

As the military operations against IS intensifies, yesterdays announcment to put US military on the ground in Syria naturally also intensifies the measures of desperation from IS. The video above is not necessarily a clear-cut evidence of this, but maybe an indicator. Considering the development over the last year I believe there are tendiencies for expecting an escalation on different levels. In Iraq and Syria, potential attacks around the world as reqruitment and radicalization expand, but also an increasing brutality in the online messaging and videos coming out of the vast number of media production centers under IS control.

Mediatized violence in Israel/Palestine conflict

As the level of violence continues to rise between Israelis and Palestinians, the role of technology and activist use of media intensifies accordingly. Commentators and op-eds talk about a third Intifada but in comparison to the former two, this one is much more intesively taking place online and through social media platforms as well. It is not specific for this region to deal with violence being filmed, photographed and spread online for either propaganda or purpose of gaining support (just remember the Arab Spring), however the ongoing struggles are increasingly being debated through the lens of activists’ and governments’ use of social media. And what is the most important aspects of this dimension?

Just through a fast overlook of pro-Palestinian as well as pro-Israeli websites, networks and forums, a few things stand out. (Note: this is by no means a justification for drawing attention from the actual human suffering of the conflict, nor from the historical narratives of the holy land, but a mere reminder of the role of media technologies in this conflict.)

There are different types of videos and material surrounding the ongoing clashes (some would label it murders, attacks etc.) The graphic images published on several social networks, as well as integrated in a simplified way in traditional news media, are not only grusome to its nature but also orchestrated and strategically placed. In combination with a rather hateful rhetoric from political (and religious) leaders from both sides, the videos becomes a catalyst for further escalation. Even Israeli newspaper Haaretz highlighted the increased aggression in language a few days ago. The material and videos being spread, and perhaps in particular the celebration of violence and encouraging attacks type of videos, can be seen as an extension of the political and ideological branches and structures on the conflict, of course with a strong historical development and tension leading up to it.


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An interesting aspect I interpret as rooted in the religious dimension between jews and muslims, is the difference in what is actually shown. There seems to be a widespread form of resistance or objection towards exhibiting the dead (for instance victims in images or videos from attacks) within the Jewish community. But within an islamic frame, if muslims are being considered martyred they are equal to heroes, hence subject for visibility and also their story are to be told and shown to the world. This means that pro-palestinian videos frequently show dead or dying bodies as a means for not only reveal Israeli atrocities and gain support from the international community, but also as a part of celebration for the deceased. The pro-Israeli videos seem more restrictive and focus more on the actual attacks being aimed at israeli citizens or police forces, but without graphically showing deceased bodies if it can be avoided

There are also a great number of videos circulating, spread deliberately as counter evidence to official government statements from both sides. A good example is the shooting of palestinian Fadi Alloun. Israeli officials claimed Alloun had attempted to kill an Israeli youngster with a knife, however this is yet to be proved. The video seem to show he had no knife and were shot without representing an immediate danger to the police.

There are also a number of videos, photographs and tweets containing instructions on how to perform a deadly attacks with knives, and encouraging mainly younger palestinians to attack Israelis. This aspect has been widely highlighted in traditional news reporting during the last week or two, but increasing voices online question these instructional material (claiming they are from older and other contexts, aimed at totally different audiences and in other communities). Also there are videos claiming to show Israeli police placing knives next to Palestinian bodies. So it is a complex array of agendas, desinformation and propaganda right now.

No matter what side of the conflict we are on, how we choose to understand the violence, it is without a doubt a countinuation of a human tragedy in a region suffering from domestic and international conflicts for deacades. The second intifada, that lasted until 2005, was also discussed through the use of different type of media, at least from time to time. And whether or not we should label the ongoing escalation of the conflict as a third one, is of minor significance. However I do believe it is important to understand that this is not simply a palestinian rebellion, but an escalation of violence and attacks from both sides. And what makes it specifically interesting for a simple media researcher interested in the region like myself, is that the social media activism and information war taking place today is much more strategic and widespread, and plays a larger role, compared to 2005. It should also tell us something about how this conflict will proceed in the future.

Not only on the streets, but online as well.

Media and self exposure of academic research

Sometimes you manage to write something that people can relate to, attach an idea to, identify with or challenge. Earlier this summer I wrote a very honest blogpost on how researching extremist propaganda affected me as a human being. Showing vulnerability turned out to be a way for people interested in the subject to connect and ask me further questions. Initiate discussions. I received a lot of feedback and often positive response. Some of the feedback shared a sense of gratefulness for helping to understand a complex and in many ways challenging subject and especially for the way I talked and expressed myself regarding the emotional aspects of it.

And it made me wonder – if we as academics want to communicate our research (often situated within an academic institution) to others outside the walls of academia, maybe dare to personalize our processes and adapt our results/ideas, is the most efficient way?
I believe for the general public, academic research is a rather remote business taking place in a different world so to speak, and if there is anything that directly concerns society, the news will surely tell. But maybe we as researchers can contribute to bridge this by exposing ourselves in somewhat unfamiliar territories?

Since my blogpost a few months ago I have made some interviews and media appearances in which I have felt there is a genuin interest of what I do, interest for my subject (ISIS use of media activism for radicalisation and propaganda) – and I am convinced it is also a result of an openness and willingness from my side to discuss my research in different ways and in different environments. Formalized strict academic writing and publishing results in a journal for the research community is one thing, but talking to and discussing with people, parents, young adults as well as older generations, is a different thing and equally important. I believe we have a responsibility as researchers to be useful resources in bridging the gap between academia and the general public. And while fulfilling this responsibility, it evidently doesn’t hurt to personalize our communication. Sure, some people mock me, make fun of me and criticize me for being visible and that’s fine. Even good.

Because it just proves I am doing something of use.

(Note: some of my brilliant colleagues and closest friends share their research and interests on different platforms as well. Tobias Denskus, senior lecturer in Communication for Development with focus on International aid and development, has his website, and Bo Reimer, professor in Media and communication studies shares his work and interests in Collaborative media here)


Emotions of researching ISIS propaganda

In my current writings about ISIS and their propaganda through several media outlets, I have encountered the most difficult task ever, both professionally and emotionally. Setting out to understand what type of messages are produced, the purpose and the mechanisms emphasized to appeal and target audiences, followers, supporters, adversaries and enemies, I have had to read, watch and analyze videos, texts, photographs, posters and other forms of media material. If I am to be credible as a researcher and write and argue about the strategies of ISIS I need to actually take part of the uncensored and raw footage of for instance the widely known execution videos from time to time mentioned on the news. If you just watch the news and see short extracts or pixel frames from the videos, I can honestly tell you that you have no idea what unfolds in this material. Words cannot describe the despicable acts, the horror and indifference to human life that escalates as time goes by and the number of graphic videos increases.

Not only is it important to raise awareness of what these videos may embrace in terms of new recruitment and above all, fear and resistance for intervening in the area. But also to generate understanding for this type of research, the efforts behind it. Sure you can say that it is voluntary and I only have myself to blame if I feel sick when watching this. But I firmly believe that the issue is so vital for decision makers and publics to know how ISIS operates in their media use and how they take advantage of participatory media and culture and exploit it, and for once in my life I feel I am doing useful research. And as it is emotionally challenging, I use this opportunity to write about my experiences. It helps me and hopefully others.

2A46809B00000578-3159638-image-a-19_1436810138628  (Photo:

When I started going through all this material, I had no idea what was coming. I had seen gruesome footage before and was convinced I would be able to handle it, distance myself from it. But after several months of work, watching, analyzing, taking notes, writing, watch again, listen and reflect, I admit that it has been everything but pleasurable, to say the least. The well produced and designed videos mentioned on the news during the last year (executions of westerners) are seriously nothing in relation to the videos depicting spontaneous torture and executions of local minorities, non-believers or captives of any sort. The mobile phones capturing what is the most unimaginable acts I have ever seen. It is so horrific I can’t even begin to describe. And I will not.


I will not mention the lonely farmer being filmed outside Aleppo when ISIS fighters ask him to recite a verse from the Quran and he cannot seem to remember, falls to his knees and alive being cut in different pieces. The panic in his eyes, his struggle for getting away when they hold him down and start. And I will not tell you how the bystanders cheer and one puts the camera in close-up of his eyes closing as he is obstructed to take his final breath as it is taken from him instead.


And I will certainly not tell you how the 13 year old boy helps bury Yazidi girls of similar age alive, nor how the decapitated bodies of infants, young girls and boys, women and men, are filmed as trophies for the extremist ideology and the caliphate.


And finally I will not tell you about how a body reacts to pain. What it looks like when the torture starts and the silence and stillness during the first moments of seconds, when the victims’ body doesn’t understand what is happening and puts every sense on hold. And it feels like a photograph. Only to suddenly release extreme pain, panic and spasms when it can’t be silent no more.


I will not tell you that.


But I will tell you this.


I have sat through so many videos by now. You may be fooled by the weeks/months of silence about new videos on the news, but trust me, currently about two or three videos of this kind are uploaded every week. I have taken notes on everything I have seen. But above all, I more than ever really feel fear. Not for my safety, but the fear of human beings. What men are capable of. My pulse raises as I think about what I have seen. I have nightmares from time to time. I have felt sick, throwed up and have turned my head a number of times.


And I know that the writings I will produce of how ISIS use media for spreading fear, will not ever reflect the agony and feelings of anxiety that I experienced from watching all this. At best it will be a journal article read by fellow researchers and an informational short news piece. At best. But if I can contribute to make one simple step towards understanding how this group operates, and that step leads closer to a more effective work to counter them online and make people aware, then I guess a form of satisfaction will emerge making it all worthwhile. And if I manage to close this and produce a text worth to publish and be read, it will be the greatest accomplishment I’ve ever achieved on a professional level.


And on a personal front? When I put my daughter to sleep at night, kiss her good night and stroke her hair, I guess I better and really understand the precious that is life and human value.

Debattartikel på Svt Opinion

Idag skriver jag en debattartikel på Svt Opinion där jag efterfrågar en större precision i det förebyggande arbetet mot extremistgruppers (läs IS) radikalisering och rekrytering på nätet. Min poäng är att belysa att det inte är mediet eller de sociala medierna i sig som är det viktiga att fokusera på, utan snarare att förstå hur själva budskapen i propagandamaterialet (texter, filmer etc) är konstruerade och därmed kunna motverka och förebygga radikalisering på ett mer effektivt sätt från politiskt håll. Jag vänder mig också mot andra debattörers vilja att företag som t.ex. Twitter ska utveckla sina strategier för att förbjuda att den typen av material sprids via dess plattform. Jag anser att de redan gör tillräckligt stort arbete för att hjälpa situationen.

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