If the ominous headlines about the Islamic State that have dominated the news cycle for the past few weeks are to be believed, the extremist group that has gained control of large swaths of Iraq and Syria is the most serious threat to Western democracy since the Soviet Union. There’s no doubt that the Islamic State is an awful and terrifying organization: It’s instituted extremely harsh Sharia law in the territory it’s conquered, it’s reportedly forced women into sexual slavery, and it has notoriously beheaded Western journalists and aid workers on camera. But what it seems best at is churning out propaganda calibrated to terrify the rest of the world.
The video of the decapitation of American journalist James Foley last month generated a media panic (“SAVAGES!” shouted the cover of the New York Post, which featured a gruesome photo of the act) that was no doubt exactly what the jihadists anticipated. Provocations like that have led to the inevitable drumbeat of posturing that precedes a full-blown war. Last week President Obama informed America that he was going to order a “relentless” campaign against the group in Iraq and Syria while insisting that he wouldn’t be deploying ground troops to the region. That message was undercut by General Martin Dempsey, Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, saying publicly that the Iraqi military was horribly incompetent and boots on the ground might be needed after all. Meanwhile, many Republicans in Congress are essentially demanding an all-out offensive against the new bad guys. In other words, heigh-ho, heigh-ho, it’s off to war we go.
It's a war that the Islamic State seems to be intent on goading the US into. Its latest bit of America-baiting is a short video billed as a trailer for a movie called Flames of War. According to the Daily Mail, it’s a “Hollywood-style propaganda video” that serves as a “challenge to Obama,” and the Guardian referred to it as “slickly made” and noted that it includes the “now-familiar high-production hallmarks” of one of the group’s videos.
Knowing its provenance as the product of an organization of murderers, the minute-long clip is a bit disturbing to watch. But far from being “slick,” this is a shitty, incomprehensible video that could be made by any 14-year-old with a laptop, a fondness for Call of Duty, and an Adderall prescription.
It opens with every adolescent boy’s favorite thing: explosions!
The New York Times describes this portion of the video as showing “American tanks and troops under attack by fire,” but it’s not clear when or where these clips came from, and some of the explosions are obviously just bad CGI flames. The flames are accompanied by singing in Arabic.
After the first round of explosions, we get a second dose of fake flames surrounding clips of what are presumably fighters for the Islamic State firing weapons.
Then we’re back to the explosions. You can’t tell from this still, but this particular explosion is going in reverse slow motion:
This is threatening because it shows that the terrorists have acquired knowledge of Final Cut Pro.
Then we get more slow motion, this time of another jihadist shooting at another something:
…and yet more fake fire, this time laid over footage of American troops doing various things. It’s the kind of thing a dim-witted and conspiracy-obsessed film student might cook up in his spare time.
George W. Bush is never going to live that moment down, is he?
The Mission Accomplished banner is shown with a clip of Obama saying "American combat troops will not be returning to fight in Iraq" and a shaky shot of the exterior of the White House at night. The video ends with a brief glimpse at what looks like an execution of some prisoners…
…and finally, the Game of Thrones–esque title card. “Flames of War: Fighting Has Just Begun.”
Obviously the video is partially about glorifying the Islamic State, just as the group has attempted to do with its glossy English-language magazines and Twitter app. (Assholes are always concerned with how they appear to others, and these extremists aren’t an exception to that rule.) It’s also clearly meant as a threat and a taunt, and in that capacity it’s probably going to work.
Since the video came out, Republican senator Jim Inhofe went on Fox News and said that “Our homeland is at risk, and we’ve got to win the war,” and Eliot Engel, a Democrat from New York, stood on the House floor and said that if the Islamic State wasn’t stopped we’d have “many more September 11ths” in our future. Watching the Flames of War trailer it becomes evident that the jihadists are looking forward to the coming war; judging from the discourse in the US, a lot of American politicians are right there with them.
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