Amidst all their propaganda of executing people, engaging in combat, and doing public works projects, about once a week they release photographs that simply show scenes of nature. In the past, they have put out photographs of flowers, fields, and trees. Today, the propaganda outfit was particularly ambitious, putting out nature photos from Anbar, a province in Iraq that ISIS occupies but is fiercely fighting to hold onto.
What is in these latest photographs? There are flowers, geologic formations, an eagle (not a bald eagle this time), and even a herd of oryx antelopes at sunset.
So what is the deal with all of these nature photos? Is someone at ISIS just really proud of his DSLR camera? Is the group trying to promote ecotourism of their territory?
I requested comment by replying to multiple pro-ISIS Twitter accounts that were posting the photos (@yilqh, @mhm_is, and @aaahd23), but none responded.
Given that no one from Islamic State was forthcoming, I instead turned to two experts whose websites have inspired a number of pieces on this blog: Aaron Y. Zelin of Jihadology, and Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi.
“I’d say it’s to show the idyllic nature of the Caliphate to drive home the utopia narrative,” said Zelin. “Of course, the nature looked the same previously, but it’s one of the many angles they pursue in their media strategy.”
“Yes, the ‘nature’ theme is certainly a running strand in IS photo propaganda,” said Al-Tamimi. “My best guess as to its use is the idea of the supposed beauty of the land of the Caliphate. It also fits in with a notion of concern for the environment.”
Al-Tamimi cited a leaked IS fishing regulation document, in which they denounce unsustainable and destructive practices, as an example of their seeming to cultivate an image of environmental consciousness. Presumably that consciousness is based on their interpretation of Islam.
Two experts independently came to pretty much the same conclusion: ISIS propaganda photos of pristine nature are meant to convey a message that there is idyllic peace in their territory. Perhaps ISIS also wants to show themselves as being concerned about the environment.
And as of now, I am inclined to accept the experts’ opinions as the most plausible explanation. At least until I hear otherwise from Islamic State.
Copyright notice: all images are the intellectual property of Islamic State. If they object to my use they are free to notify me.