Kraidy examines use of fire in Islamic State’s media at international conference

April 01, 2021

During a presentation at a conference on media in the Middle East, Northwestern Qatar Dean Marwan M. Kraidy explained how fire is used in the Islamic State’s publications and media to define the group and elicit fear within its enemies.

Joining an expert panel discussion at the conference – Producing the Middle East: New Directions in Regional Media and Politics hosted by the Institute for Middle East Studies at  George Washington University — Kraidy presented findings from his research on how the Islamic State has mobilized the power of fire both as a symbolic military weapon and a terrorizing tool.

Kraidy explained that central to understanding the Islamic State’s identity is its use of fire symbolism to define a world where the caliphate is protected by a ring of fire and the enemy’s land is subdued by the blaze of war. Fire, he noted, is also used as an operative image that portrays the Islamic State’s expansion “as a raging inferno devouring enemy settlements one after another.”

“Fire is also an ‘affect,’ a feeling,” noted Kraidy, “It is an experience that orients us towards a specific feeling and specific imaginaries,” emphasizing that the Islamic State’s use of fire imagery also operates as a war weapon by shifting audiences’ attention from the metaphorical messages they convey to the bodily sensations they impart, including the emotions of fear and anxiety.

“Fire is also an ‘affect,’ a feeling ... it is an experience that orients us towards a specific feeling and specific imaginaries.”
- Marwan M. Kraidy , Dean and CEO of Northwestern Qatar.

Using a hybrid of snuff cinema, reality TV, and pornography, Kraidy said that the Islamic State wraps fire images in familiar visual and narrative formats to efficiently inflict the ‘affect’ of terror on global audiences. He pointed out how French Islamic State fighters in a Hollywood-style recruitment video urged French Muslims to migrate to the caliphate by gathering around a bonfire symbolizing the extreme dose of violence that would overwhelm “the infidels.”
The Islamic State’s use of fire symbolisms and other ‘projectilic’ images in its social media campaigns, Kraidy noted, has made radical movements and non-state groups around the world aware of digital media’s potential to broadly and rapidly circulate terror and to potently spread their ideologies.
Funded by the Carnegie Corp. through a 2016 Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, Kraidy’s latest research project — The Spectacle of Islamic State: War Machines in the Era of Global Communication — focuses on the Islamic State’s use of global communication platforms and tactics as war machines to spread hostility and insecurity.
To learn more and watch the presentation, click here.