Behead, Burn, Crucify, Crush: Theorizing the Islamic State’s public displays of violence

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  • Simone Molin Friis
The militant group known as the Islamic State has become notorious for its public displays of violence. Through slick high-definition videos showing beheadings, immolations and other forms of choreographed executions, the Islamic State has repeatedly captured the imagination of a global public and provoked vehement reactions. This article examines the Islamic State’s public displays of violence. Contrary to the public constitution of the Islamic State’s violence as an exceptional evil, the article argues that the group’s staging of killings and mutilations is not an unprecedented phenomenon, but a contemporary version of a distinct type of political violence that has been mobilized by various political agents throughout centuries. However, what is new and significant about the Islamic State’s choreographed executions is the public visibility of the acts and the global spectacle that the group has created. Thus, if the Islamic State is introducing a new dynamic in global politics, it is not a new form of violence or brutality, but rather a transformation of how spectacles of violence unfold on the global stage. Subsequently, the article highlights three dimensions of the Islamic State’s public displays of violence that have facilitated the creation of the global spectacle: the Islamic State’s technological skills and professional use of media (technology); the Islamic State’s mobilization of acts of violence that transgress prevailing sensibilities (transgression); and the violent acts’ function as not only a form of terror, but also an integral element of a state project and a visual manifestation of an alternative political order (politics).
TidsskriftEuropean Journal of International Relations
Udgave nummer2
Sider (fra-til)243-267
Antal sider25
StatusUdgivet - 2018

ID: 222751071