The powerful media propaganda machine of the Islamic State (Isis) churns out more material than any other terrorist organisation. From big budget, blockbuster movie studio productions, to the do-it-yourself selfie, the shear amount of information is impressive. The Islamic State carefully crafts its image: no press release, video, or photo report goes out without an ulterior intention. Ever.
In recent months, TRAC has been witnessing a groundswell of success of IS's latest propaganda campaign, A Perfect Caliphate. This campaign of Portraying an Idealistic Islamic Caliphate (click for TRAC's analysis) is an attempt to present life inside IS-controlled ash Sham (the historic region of Syria) as an idyllic world in which everyone is well fed, healthy, and most of all extremely happy — all amidst a raging war.
The campaign is a holistic one, predicated on some of the western cultural cornerstones IS purports to despise. Images of gleaming shopping malls and succulent burgers in fast-food joints are liberally held up as examples of IS's subjects enjoying life under the black flag. The Daash propagandists haven't yet concocted an advert featuring a whistled ditty and the slogan 'I'm lovin' it', but they might as well have done.
This attempt to leaven the Isis brand aren't exactly new. Images of everything from white burqa weddings to sunsets over beautiful newly planted parks to brand new dealerships and five-star hotel openings have been present in past publicity, but over the last three months the propaganda machine has been ramping up the message.
Why would IS invest so much time in this type of propaganda? Well there are three reasons.The first is that IS is desperate for everyone in the world to see them as a legitimate nation-state; the second is that IS wants to prove that it governs a Sunni population better than any nation ever has in the past; thirdly, and probably most importantly, IS wants to attract people to come and live in the Caliphate - or at very least come and visit on their next vacation.
Never mind the battlefield realities, the endless sieges of various cities and towns or the brutality imposed by the improvised public kangaroo courts held in every street that IS controls, the people are carefree and joyous according to the IS propaganda campaign.
To bolster the shiny images of smorgasbords of food at kitchen tables, full markets lit up with electricity, and radiant families, IS also sprinkles in a healthy dose of "administration" videos and images of everything from licensing offices to tribal conflict resolution, to police cars (such as the one below) patrolling the streets.
Much was made of IS's new monetary system, the ISD (Islamic State Dinar), by supporters, and further attention was lavished on the new birth certificates and passports, all of which created the illusion of order within the Caliphate.
The new official state ID cards not only have hologram imaging to prevent counterfeit replicas but also computer chips built into the plastic. All of this subject of propaganda further presses the rendering of the Caliphate that IS wants us to see: an orderly, efficient state without fault.
Another secondary propaganda campaign that IS presents to reinforce its image of "perfection" is the portrayal of its educational system. Videos depict kindergarten classes taught in English and shiny new classrooms for elementary school with children impressively speaking long passages of the Quran flawlessly. Professional opportunities include advanced university degrees from undergraduate to medical doctorates (MD). New libraries and a new curriculum all present the facade that ISIS' educational system is state-of-the-art.
IS supporters are quick to point out that inside IS controlled areas women are not only allowed to drive but also comprise at least half the attendees of the advanced educational system (then quickly make the comparison to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia). In addition, IS has changed the guidelines for achieving a medical degree, from the worldwide standard of four years to a fast track three-year program. In a recent English language e-book, A Brief Guide to the Islamic State 2015 by Abu Rumaysah al Britani (his taken name an indication of his former nationality), the educational system is described as better than any other because:
"There are no classes promoting homosexuality, evolution, music, drama, interfaith and the rest of the rubbish taught in non-Muslim schools. Your child's delicate mind is well and truly protected in the Caliphate and you can be sure that he or she will go on to achieve amazing things in the name of Islam."
The Caliphate, according to the Islamic State, is flawless in every way, a strong message to the disenfranchised. It is, however, all a mirage; the Islamic State has tailored its message for those looking for religious meaning and purpose in life: a so-called "Perfect Caliphate."
Beneath the utopian facade lies a cold brutal underbelly. The IS world contradicts its own projected values, where brutality, fear, policing, and spying on its own people are commonplace. Inside the Caliphate, complete rejection of anything but IS ideology underpins the daily life of its citizens. The rub is the obvious chasm between the hardships of life within the Caliphate and its idealistic portrayal.
Let there be no doubt, the Islamic State only ever shows you what they want you to see.
Veryan Khan and Jasmine Opperman are senior directors for the Terrorism Research & Analysis Consortium (TRAC), one of the world's largest electronic compendiums for data and analysis of terrorist groups, activities, trends and up to date developments. By subscription, TRAC serves corporations, governments and military, universities, the media, and professionals. For complete information see www.trackingterrorism.org or follow the group on Twitter @TRACterrorism.