Children, Caged for Effect, to Mimic Imagery of ISIS


The killings have been both deliberately lurid and strangely intimate. Designed for broadcast, they have helped the Islamic State militant group build a brand of violence that shocks with its extreme brutality, yet feels as close to viewers as the family images on their smartphones.

Broadcast specifically to frighten and manipulate, the Islamic State’s flamboyant violence consumes the world’s attention while more familiar threats, like the Syrian government’s barrel bombs, kill far more but rarely provoke global outrage.

A few human rights advocates and antigovernment activists in Syria are creating shocking if nonviolent images and videos — even herding children in orange jumpsuits into a cage — to call attention to the wider scope of violence. So far, though, their voices have hardly been heard.

Children were herded into a cage in Douma, near Damascus, evoking an Islamic State video, to draw attention to violence in Syria. CreditBassam Khabieh/Reuters

Cameras zoom in as captors lay hands on their captives — Western reporters, a Jordanian pilot, Egyptian Christian laborers. In the group’s latest video, black-clad men lead the Egyptians almost gently, one by one, down a sunset-tinged beach, then saw off their heads until the waves turn red.

For many in the Middle East who obsessively share the latest images, the Islamic State’s exhibitionist brutality is the apotheosis of several years of carnage gone viral. The group’s bloody imagery, flooding social media already widely used to chronicle conflict, makes violence seem ubiquitous, even mesmerizing, and spurs a sensory overload that can both provoke feelings and numb them.

“It’s like action movies,” said Ahmad, 39, an employee of the Damascus Opera House in the Syrian capital, who asked to be identified by only his first name for his safety. Islamic State violence is stylized, as if in a Quentin Tarantino film, he said, in a macabre bid “to win the prestige of horror.”

The killings have been answered quickly with airstrikes — from the United States, Jordan and, on Monday, from Egypt, which said it struck in Libya, where the Egyptian Copts were killed.

Of course, that is partly a matter of realpolitik. While Western governments denounce Syria’s president, Bashar al-Assad, for attacks on civilians, they do not view him as a threat on the order of the Islamic State, which is encouraging followers to launch attacks in the West.


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