Call of Jihad

Phil Hammond, LSBU

In recent years the appearance of ISIS propaganda videos using the visual language of Western war films and videogames has revived discussion of the relationship between real and virtual warfare. In the texts themselves, and in the Western reaction to them, the relationship between real-life violence and its aestheticized on-screen representation seems to be the key focus – both for ISIS’s claims to authenticity and meaning, and for anxious Western reactions. Such reactions have ranged from outrage at the manipulation of young and/or vulnerable audiences, to relativistic recognition that Western films and games play a similar recruiting role.

ISIS’s cultural appropriation raises some interesting questions which have proved hard to answer. If, as some have suggested, Western pop culture can be used as a ‘recruiting tool’ for a nihilistic anti-Western outlook, what does that imply about the meaning of Western cultural products? Is it only their formal aesthetic properties which are being used? And most importantly, why does the West apparently find it so difficult to construct an appealing counter-narrative? While ISIS claims to be making videogame violence real (and is often credited with doing so by Western commentators), Western militaries seem intent on making real warfare more closely resemble a videogame.

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