What Purpose Do the Islamic State’s “Faces of Death” Videos Serve?

The Islamic State’s violent videos may be part of a coordinated attempt to prevent another Iraqi “Awakening.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

The Islamic State’s violent videos may be part of a coordinated attempt to prevent another Iraqi “Awakening.” (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

Yesterday I wrote a Focal Points post about the increasing deviousness of the Islamic State’s forms of punishment. I quoted Tage Rai at Aeon, who wrote:

Across practices, across cultures, and throughout historical periods, when people support and engage in violence, their primary motivations are moral. By ‘moral’, I mean that people are violent because they feel they must be; because they feel that their violence is obligatory. They know that they are harming fully human beings. Nonetheless, they believe they should. Violence does not stem from a psychopathic lack of morality. Quite the reverse: it comes from the exercise of perceived moral rights and obligations.

… In spite of widespread beliefs about its existence, sadism is so rare that it is not even an official psychiatric diagnosis. Its closest relative is psychopathy, but psychopathy is not characterised by malevolent joy at the suffering of others.

In turn, I made this point: “Obviously, Mr. Rai, you don’t know the Islamic State.” In the past, some have maintained that the Islamic State’s version of a Faces of Death movie were for recruitment purposes. This latest, according to Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan at the Daily Beast, serves another purpose.

… ISIS’s primary audience with this latest exhibition. … is its core constituency and the only demographic force that can ultimately unhorse it on the battlefield. … This video is designed to forestall sahwa, or another “Awakening” tantamount to the one that was successfully mounted in al-Anbar province in mid-2000s. It was the original sahwa that helped the U.S. military drive ISIS’s earlier incarnation, al-Qaeda in Iraq, out.

“Sunnis,” they write, “are indeed being given a stark choice: either you accept the caliphate, renounce the international coalition and its proxies, or you will meet with ignoble death, of which even your own families won’t want to speak.”