James Foley and the ISIS propaganda

Last night I watched the video showing the beheading of American journalist James Foley. I am not suggesting you should watch it too, let me be absolutely clear on this. I will not publish it, neither here nor anywhere else, and I profoundly respect Foley’s family grief and their request not to share the video on social networks. But I did watch it, and disgust and anger are feelings not even remotely close to describe how I felt.

The question is, was it right or wrong to do so? My personal view is that images of violence are spread by the media on a daily basis. Whether coming from civilians massacred in Syria by Assad’s forces or from innocent people killed in Gaza by Israeli strikes (as I recently wrote here) we are presented with graphic pictures day in, day out.

You may ask why I decided to watch the ISIS video and the answer is pretty straightforward. I wanted to see who we are dealing with, what are they capable of, where is the limit – if there’s any – of their madness.

I decided to do so because I think you should know your enemy, and in this specific case always bear in mind the seriousness required to counter ISIS’s brutality. I strongly believe the reality of war and humanitarian crisis should be shown and seen, and this video is not different from those events.

I am well aware of the two reasons why ISIS has been filming and distributing Foley’s video: to spread fear and to use it as a powerful propaganda tool.

When 9/11 happened I was barely a teenager and although I had already shown some interest in current affairs and politics, I had never witnessed such a huge event like that one. Those images – the planes, the fire, the smoke, the people jumping off the Twin Towers – will be with me forever and in many ways shaped my point of view on numerous subjects.

I had to see them, and at that time I didn’t even question whether it was the preferable option. It just happened and I spent that day and the following weeks going through hours of footages.

Even then a full scale propaganda was in place. Even then the ultimate goal of al-Qaeda was to generate fear within the western audience. After the first plane hit one of the towers, every TV and news channel had their cameras pointing in that direction, recording and live broadcasting the second plane’s impact and tens of innocent people jumping to their death. The whole world watched it, powerless.

Today I see a very strong connection between the images of 9/11 and the ISIS video of Foley’s beheading. Like him, those people falling hopelessly from the sky were someone’s son, someone’s brother, someone’s friend. And if we want – as we should – eradicate ISIS and its sick ideology once and for all, we shouldn’t hide ourselves from acknowledging the existence of such violent imageries.


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