Our Man in Syria: The Increasing Dangers of International Journalism

Zach Klamann

In the mid-morning light of revolutionary Misrata, Libya, renowned photojournalist Tim Hetherington was in a situation he’d been in too many times to count: trekking through a warzone with other journalists searching for the shot he needed for his story assignment. It was early 2011, so the war was just beginning to intensify across the country, and against his better judgement and usual practice, Hetherington had placed himself very close to the increasingly dangerous fighting. When he and fellow wartime-photojournalist Chris Hondros crossed the street to get a photo of dead rebel soldiers, a mortar landed on them and the rebels with whom they were working. Immediately, the other journalists present rushed the two of them to hospital. Hondros would succumb to his wounds later that day, while Hetherington would bleed out in the arms of legendary Sunday Times war-correspondent Marie Colvin, who would suffer a similar fate just months later in Homs, Syria as Assad forces mortared her compound.

Hetherington and Hondros were in Misrata a month after four New York Times correspondents, including three Pulitzer Prize winners, were kidnapped and beaten by Qaddafi forces before being released. In the coming years, the public beheading of journalists James Foley and Steven Sotloff by Daesh would elicit worldwide horror. But, these are just the tip of the iceberg. Since 2011, 85 journalists have been killed in Syria alone, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Countless others have disappeared and remain missing to this day.

The danger has forced others out of the game or away from the worst of it. Prominent figures like Lynsey Addario, who considers spending months in the Korengal Valley, Afghanistan (“The Most Dangerous Place in the World”) with Hetherington and getting kidnapped by Qaddafi’s military normal hazards of her job, now calls not going to Syria a “no-brainer.” Pulitzer Prize winning Esquire and New York Times correspondent CJ Chivers, whose expertise in artillery and munitions helped conclude that forces loyal to Qaddafi were responsible for Hetherington’s and Hondros’ deaths, has retired from war reporting because of its growing danger

All of this helps explain where the trend has led: war reporting is too dangerous for many of the big players. Looking back just ten years, every major publication from the Guardian to Al Jazeera had a bureau in Kabul and one in Baghdad. But, not a single one retains a reporter in Damascus or Misrata, much less a bureau. The risk of having someone kidnapped and paying gigantic sums for his or her release is too great for most companies, especially with the budget constraints of journalism today.

Consequently, freelancers have filled the void where there were once well run, well organized and well paid organisations. For the freelancers themselves, this is often a bad deal. With regular reporters, there are checks, a system in which someone is constantly aware of where they are, what they’re doing and when they should be back in the bureau. Freelancers are rarely given this kind of support, being asked, instead, to simply get the work done. As Richard Pendry put it in the Columbia Journalism Review, ‘News outlets are happy to reap the rewards of dangerous reporting, so long as freelancers shoulder all the responsibility,’ responsibility that, because they don’t have an organisation to fund them, means getting first aid training, protective gear and, crucially, insurance for themselves..

Yet, the allure of war reporting still attracts some journalists — for some it’s the possibility of glory and thrill seeking, but most are really in it to show the atrocities of war. So for these intrepid few, what happens if or when they get to the border?

In the classic model, because visas in war-torn countries are hard to come by, most reporters are smuggled into the country and start paying translator and “fixers” to help them find drivers, places to stay and other basic necessities to take care of them in an environment they don’t know. Often, major publications have access to and knowledge of reliable fixers who can get their reporters to the story safely. This meant that, even in the old model, freelancers had a harder time getting around safely in war zones. Paying for all these people and the petrol and the hotels and the food is expensive, so without a wealthy media organisation’s funding, freelancers have to pay and make connections for themselves.

Syria has made this all the more complicated. In the early days of the revolution, everything was normal, according to foreign correspondent James Harkin. However, he says, this ‘normal’ only works because journalists bring attention to rebel causes and sometimes the abuses of the regime, which, they hope, will bring action from the West. When the help never came to Syria, they found a new purpose for the journalists: kidnappings for ransom.

Yet, while it started with ransom, it didn’t stay that way. When reporters are kidnapped, they aren’t always put up for ransom. Sometimes, they are traded back and forth between rebel groups, transferring between run-down factories and abandoned Roman-era catacombs. All the groups realise the prize of having a westerner, especially an American, so instead of hoping to shine international light on Assad Regime human rights abuses, they use reporters as trading pieces, as Harkin found in his search for the now deceased James Foley and the still missing Austin Tice. This shift in dynamics, in which no one wants the reporters for anything more than currency, has made Syria more dangerous for journalists than Lebanon, or Iraq, or the Balkans or anything else in recent memory.

For those who do make it out, there’s often a toll to be paid. The University of Toronto conducted a study in which they found the rates of depression among journalists were much higher than they had been in Iraq. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is finally being recognised among war reporters and is being seen in many who return from Syria, especially those who have been kidnapped.

All of this has pushed media organisations like the Times, Telegraph and BBC to outlaw the usage of freelancers for their publications. However, many continue to do so when the need for the story is greatest or skirt their own rules by having the freelancer leave the danger area before filing the story, according to the Columbia Journalism Review.

For those of us at home, the dangers facing freelancers are also incredibly important. It means, as Uri Friedman put it in Vanity Fair, ‘This century's worst humanitarian crisis is grinding on as a dwindling number of journalists bear witness to its destruction,’ so we ‘rarely see it.’

While millions of migrants race toward Europe and hundreds of thousands die in the fighting, most of the freelancers have bowed out, leaving news organisations to gather what they can from a complex network of verifiable Twitter feeds and Syrian journalists, who often complain that they lack the training, safety or background to do their jobs properly. Yet, the work they do is often the only way we have any idea what is going on in Syria at all, and they face the same risks as foreign journalists, except they don’t have a home to return to in the West.

So, as the US, Russia, Iran and much of the rest of the Middle East funnel fighters and firearms into the desolate country, most of us have little to no idea exactly what’s happening and what our governments are doing because the situation is just too dangerous to send in a journalist who, if he or she survives, will be treated like currency by those he or she paid for protection.

The Missing Voice in the Syrian Civil War

Adam Porter

In international coverage of the ongoing crisis in Syria, there is a surprising absence: Israel. For decades, Israel has been closely identified with the quagmire of Middle Eastern politics: the perpetual tension with Palestine occupying, in the popular imagination, the role of an analogy to the region’s wider problems. Yet if Israel was once the poster-boy for regional strife, it is no longer. That mantle is undoubtedly, and tragically, taken by Syria. Nevertheless, Israel remains conspicuously absent, seemingly disengaged from the crisis on its doorstep.

Disengagement makes sense, however, when one considers the choices before Israel. On the one hand is Daesh, ostensibly the ‘Islamic State’: a death cult committed to the elimination of both the Jewish state, and the Jewish people. On the other hand, the Syrian Government, a long-standing opponent accused of arming Hezbollah, and which still claims territory in the Golan Heights. Israel, in consequence, is content for its many enemies to shed one another’s blood, leaving each either too weak, or else too distracted, to pose a threat.

Unfortunately, this explanation cannot fully capture why Israel remains disengaged. Doubtless western powers are equally content to see Assad and Daesh exhaust themselves in a protracted conflict, but have nonetheless opted to take action. The difference, quite possibly, lies in that unlike Israel, western nations feel an obligation to assist regional partners, especially Iraq, given their deep and contentious involvement in recent conflicts. Israel, bereft of allies, has faced no such call to arms, and has found disengagement more attractive as a consequence.

A further, and perhaps the key, element to the story is domestic. For one, Israelis have not faced attacks by Daesh like those in Tunisia and Paris, and have not been motivated by the resulting clamour for action that was most recently noted in the British parliament. Crucially, Israel has been, and remains still, far more likely to face terrorist attacks planned from Gaza and the West Bank than from Syria. The defining relationship in Israeli foreign affairs (or domestic, depending on one’s perspective) is surely that with Palestine. In consequence, Israel’s overriding priority is domestic security, and Israel’s foreign policy, manifest in what some commentators have called a ‘siege mentality’, is an expression of this desire for security. In this sense, disengagement, neutrality in Syria is not incongruous with Israel’s prominence in the region, but rather consistent with Israel’s long-standing foreign policy, focused on the maintenance of domestic security.

Given Israel’s focus on the domestic, it is unsurprising that they have not as yet decided to intervene in Syria, given that neither Assad, nor Daesh, have yet struck out against Israel. Daesh, however, facing airstrikes in Iraq and Syria, increasingly reaches out beyond its borders to inflict violence abroad, with one Israeli official describing a Daesh attack in Israel as ‘Only a matter of time’. This is more likely hyperbole than sense. However, it illuminates a crucial conclusion: that while Israel remains a missing voice in the Syrian crisis at present, events that threaten Israel’s domestic security may yet find this voice being raised.

Increased Middle East Intervention

In the past week Western nations have ramped up the intensity of their attacks on Da'esh, with France increasing its air strikes and David Cameron pledging to also strike Da'esh positions in Syria. Meanwhile, further gains have been made by resurgent Assad regime forces, backed by Russian air strikes.

Is the Western response the right move at this time - and is it strategically motivated, or an emotional response to the recent terror attacks? Will closer intervention in Syria lead to co-operation with Assad, or further tensions with his sponsors in Russia? Whatever your view, send it in - via Twitter, Facebook or our website. The contributors best insights will be invited to explore their views further for our journal Sir!

A Poisonous Smokescreen: Da'esh and Central Asia

Katherine Crofts-Gibbons

On the 15th of September, the Collective Security Treaty Organisation (CSTO), a Russian-dominated military alliance, held a summit in Dushanbe, Tajikistan. In the wake of major alleged terror plots in Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan, Da'esh, the organisation terming itself "Islamic State", loomed large. The threat of radical Islam has been used across the region to justify increased border security and harsher repression, particularly of religious groups. The five Central Asian Republics (CARs) do face a threat from Da'esh and radical Islam more broadly, but the danger is not as grave as the heads of state suggested at the CSTO summit. Increasing authoritarianism dressed up as defence against terrorism poses a more immediate threat to Central Asia than Da'esh itself.

On 16th July in Bishkek, the Kyrgyz capital, special forces stormed a house, killing four men, and arresting seven. According to the official account, the men were part of an Da'esh cell plotting attacks in Bishkek and a Russian air force base in Kant. The authorities allege that Tariel Djumagulov, a notorious crime boss, was involved in the plot. Evidence that the men had anything to do with Da'esh is very thin on the ground, and Djumagulov is not known for radical Islamism. 

On 4th September in Tajikistan, at least 22 people were killed in gun attacks in Dushanbe and the nearby city of Vahdat. The militants appear to have been led by a sacked deputy defence minister, General Abdukhalim Nazarzoda. President Rakhmon told citizens that the perpetrators were ‘terrorists’ who ‘pursued the same goals as Islamic State.’ As with the Kyrgyz case, this has not been independently verified. 

Neither incident has been conclusively, or even convincingly, linked to Da'esh. The involvement of individuals who have long been prominent for reasons other than radicalism, suggests that they are iterations of the sort of political and criminal conflicts (the line between the two is very hard to draw) that have plagued Kyrgyzstan and Tajikistan since the 1990s, rather than evidence of a new and immediate threat. That the authorities have been so keen to tie the attacks to radical Islam indicates how useful it can be to them. Across the region, presidents use authoritarian methods to keep the opposition at bay. Rakhmon in particular has been cracking down, and Kyrgyzstan has recently escalated pressure against religious groups. Harsh methods are increasingly being justified by the need to keep radical Islam at bay. Debate can be shut down by labelling opponents Islamic terrorists.

There is a threat from Da'esh. Central Asians are travelling to Syria. Estimates range from a few hundred to several thousand. The recruits include the occasional high profile defector, like the commander of Tajikistan’s elite police force, Colonel Gulmurod Khalimov. Tatyana Dronzina, a Bulgarian terrorism expert, argues that returning militants pose a particular threat in the CARs because their governments lack programmes to tackle the issue and, given the permeability of their borders, there is little they could do to prevent their return or keep tabs on them. 

However, the numbers are much lower than those for many Western countries. 1 in 40,000 Tajiks have joined IS, compared to 1 in 23,800 Belgians. Tajikistan is 90 per cent Muslim, whilst Belgium is only 6 per cent Muslim. A report by the Polish Institute of International Affairs (PISM), one of the only substantial studies on the issue, found that, despite fears of widespread radicalisation, support for Da'esh was generally low in the CARs.  

Central Asia does not appear to be very high on Da'esh’s agenda. The central command rarely mentions the region. Although the CAR’s governments portray Da'esh as an imminent security threat, the PISM study found that the organisation is simply not very interested in the CARs, having largely ignored the Islamic Movement of Uzbekistan’s declaration of support. That said, Central Asia is on Da'esh's radar. Recruitment videos have been released in local languages. The first such video was in November 2014 in Kazakh. A recently released Kyrgyz language video bears the Da'esh logo, but John Heathershaw, a British Academic, thinks that it was probably conceived and created by Kyrgyz radicals, rather than under the direction of the top brass, suggesting a limited interest in Kyrgyzstan on their part.

Da'esh receives little support in Central Asia, and Central Asia receives little attention from Da'esh. The threat posed by returning militants and radicalisation at home must be tackled, but, for the people of Central Asia, overreaction is just as threatening, as the official stories woven around the shootings in Bishkek and Dushanbe demonstrate. Central Asia is being pulled deeper into authoritarianism under the cover of defence against radical Islam.  

Culturally Combating Da'esh


He saw life as a saga. All the events in it were significant: all personages in contact with him heroic. His mind was stored with poems of old raids and epic tales of fights, and he overflowed with them on the nearest listener. - T.E Lawrence, Seven Pillars of Wisdom

T.E Lawrence's description of Auda, a desert warlord, homeless but armed with poems and stories, resonates with the essential function of Jihadi poetry in creating a sense of cultural identity within Da'esh, the organisation that calls itself 'Islamic State'.  Admittedly, Lawrence was writing in an entirely different, and importantly less religiously radicalised society, however, he frequently notes how essential culture and particularly poetry was to an essentially nomadic people. Whilst Da'esh's rapid expansion, declaration of a 'caliphate' and alleged issue of passports seem to propose a strong sense of state identity this is flawed. Its success is fundamentally based upon military victory, for example the capture of Mosul was touted as a clear sign of God's favour, however, as they encounter more organised resistance in the form of the Iraqi Military and a reinvigorated Kurdish force this is waning. In its place a fledgling cultural identity is forming and presents an essential target for attack. There are many admirable initiatives rewriting and poking fun at Da'esh and the exaggerated culture it's weaving but more must be done to undermine the dangerously attractive image it presents that not only strengthens it internally but allures potential foreign fighters.

A principle player in fostering Da'esh's poetry is Ahlam-al-Nasr, whose collection 'The Blaze of Truth' was published online last summer and circulated extremely quickly through militant networks. Known as 'The Poetess of Da'esh' she's the closest thing to a literary celebrity that Da'esh can hold and she provides a powerful rallying call. Indeed in February she wrote a 30 page essay defending the leadership's decision to burn the Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh. In a recent article in the New Yorker Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel comprehensively dissect a number of the collections 107 poems and consider their cultural impact. They noted the importance of her recent marriage  to Abu Usama al-Gharib, a Vienna-born jihadi close to the movements leadership which was reported on numerous Da'esh-affiliated twitter accounts. However the celebrations of nuptial bliss also mark the creation of media power couple as Al-Gharib is a veteran propagandist, initially for al-Qaeda and now for Da'esh. 

Political Poetry 

To get an idea of the importance of Jihadi poetry in fostering Da'esh's identity we must examine both its roots in traditional Arab poetry and its politicisation in the Arab Spring.  The poems Lawrence frequently encountered were the latest in a long tradition based in a oral culture. The earliest poems were written primarily in monorhyme, for easy memorisation, and functioned as historical record. By celebrating famous victories, lamenting the fallen, celebrating love and degrading their enemies they fostered a culture of romance and more importantly gave a fixed identity within it. Even now television shows such as the UAE-based 'Sha'ir al-Milyoon', or 'Millionaire Poet',  in which poets compete along the lines of American Idol for enormous prizes, continue to celebrate this oral tradition. The political dimension of this poetry is  paramount - indeed the 2010 winner of 'Millionaire Poet' delivered a piece fiercely critical of hard-line Saudi clerics. The most obvious example of poetry's political use is in the Arab Spring. During the Egyptian revolution lines from an early 20th century Tunisian poem by Abul-Qasim al Shabi were chanted, recitals broke out nightly and poetry was a catalyst for staying inciting cohesive resistance. An Al-Jazeera correspondent reported that protestors were chanting throughout the evening. He commented ‘There’ve been poetry readings. It seems as if they’re saying, “It’s early in the morning but we’re here to stay. We’re not going anywhere".' Indeed, Nasser Farghaly, an Egyptian filmmaker, poet and writer, recently spoke to Granta about the use of poems as a tool for political movement in modern Arabic poetry:

"The dialectic that has characterised the Arabic contemporary poetry scene for the last fifty years was very evident in the revolution; this is the dialectic of revolution in poetry, or revolution by poetry."

A State - or a State in Our Eyes 

The poems that are chanted by Da'esh militants now may be different but they serve the same function of social cohesion. 'The Poetess of Da'esh' herself began her poetic career penning verses in support of the protests to oust Bashar al-Assad in 2011. Since then her work has become progressively more Islamist and extremist.  Celebrating the symbolic capture of Mosul she wrote

Ask Mosul, city of Islam, about the lions—

How their fierce struggle brought liberation.

The land of glory has shed its humiliation and defeat

And put on the raiment of splendour.

By repeatedly portraying Da'esh in paradisal language she is balming an integral existential anxiety within it. Surrounded by enemies on all sides and pounded by coalition bombing, the identity of Da'esh lies less in its fluctuating borders than the imaginative fantasy realm of the 'Caliphate'. By exploiting the rich oral tradition of Arabic poetry they are in effect hijacking a cohesive cultural identity for themselves and appropriating the societal roots they lack.  Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel make the important distinction between Ahlam's poems and other like it and videos of beheadings and burnings. The graphic atrocities 'are made primarily for foreign consumption' whereas 'poetry provides a window onto the movement talking to itself. It is in verse that militants most clearly articulate the fantasy life of jihad'. 

Da'esh itself has a troubled relationship with the idea of 'statehood'. In the early summer of 2014 Abu Bakr al-Bhagdadi declared 'Syria is not for Syrians and Iraq is not for Iraqis. The land is for the Muslims, all Muslims', thus disavowing traditional notions of statehood which typically find their model in a Westphalian secular system. However, in some respects Da'esh is behaving very much like a state. Indeed, a comprehensive study by Charles C. Caris & Samuel Reynolds for the institute of war examined how it 'has built a holistic system of governance that includes religious, educational, judicial, security, humanitarian, and infrastructure projects, among others'. Admittedly these initiatives were largely centred around the stronghold of Raqqa but the resemblance to organized statehood is striking and this is also reflected in its governing structure. Beneath him, al-Baghdadi has a chief advisor on Syria and a chief advisor on Iraq, each of whom lead 5-7 governors. There are nine councils, including the Leadership Council, the Shore Council, the Military Council, the Legal Council, the Fighters’ Assistance Council, the Financial Council, the Intelligence Council, the Security Council, and the Media Council. Thus it's clear that Da'esh is striving after a kind of sovereignty and statehood whilst simultaneously rejecting traditional, or at least Western, definitions of them. This is reflected in the names they employ. On the one hand, they use the term khalifah, a religious term far older than the 19th century nation state, to refer to Bhagdadi. This proclaims him the leader of the entire Muslim community across the world thus disregarding traditional state boundaries and national identities in favour of religion. On the other, they call themselves 'Dawlah' a term originating in the 10th century but used more recently to describe a sovereign state with the panoply of statehood. In this way Is both subscribes to and frustrates Western conceptions of secular statehood. Da'esh claims sovereignty for its 'caliphate' yet rejects the treaty from which 'sovereignty' as a modern concept was born – the treaty of Westphalia. The poetry of Ahlam-al-Nasr and others like her treads between these seemingly conflicting positions by not only perpetuating the religious call of the caliphate but also celebrating the everyday life within the 'state' of Da'esh. The two positions are collapsed in her declaration 'In the caliphate, I saw women wearing the veil, everyone treating each other with virtue, and people closing up their shops at prayer times' written in an essay defending the leadership's decision to burn Moaz al-Kasasbeh. However, the danger of propagandists like Ahlam al Nasr is that they inspire followers who in turn encourage foreign fighters disaffected with western sovereignty. One such is a British Da'esh militant, Abuqaqa Britani, who used to go by the name 'greenbirdexpress' on the social networking site Ask.fm and has started posting his own verse on Twitter.  The widespread proliferation of jihadi poetry not only serves to redefine traditional notions of sovereignty but also endeavours to lure disaffected Muslims abroad to become foreign fighters. 

The Emerging Cultural Battleground

However, around the world people are fighting back. Sana al-Yemen, a British teenager recently found herself the centre of a media craze after she uploaded a video reciting her own anti-Da'esh poem on youtube. Within minutes Al-Jazeera, CNN and the BBC had contacted her for comment and the poem had gone viral. She now has over 4000 followers on Twitter and has been the focus of a feature length documentary. The poem itself specifically attacked preachers in Europe calling for young people take up arms in support of Da'esh. In particular she comments upon Sheikh Mohamed al-Areifi, a Salafist cleric from Saudi Arabia who has been accused of encouraging young British Muslims to head to Syria and Iraq. There are countless other individuals around the world undermining Da'esh's rhetoric, another British example being Humza Arshad. His joint project with Scotland Yard is an essential part of their counter extremism outreach work. Alongside police officers he participates in presentations at schools all over the UK. His tongue in cheek delivery was recorded by Griff White who observed:

The police officer had just finished an earnest presentation on counter-extremism before an audience of 200 restless teenagers at an East London secondary school when a young man of Pakistani origin in a black hoodie took the stage. "How many of you people are Muslim?" the man barked. He grinned as nearly every hand went up. "Guys, we can take over! Sharia law coming soon!" the man cried gleefully. "Allahu Akbar!"

The teens erupted in laughter even before the man had a chance to clarify: "I'm kidding. I'm kidding. I think I scared the white people."

There is a fine balance between ascribing media coverage to anti-Da'esh Muslim voices and ascribing expectation. A combination of the religious motivation of IS and the hesitancy of western media to confront to 'Islamic' aspect of 'Islamic State' has been counter-productive. Whilst striving to avoid offence, news agencies are overlooking how religion - if a warped interpretation - is fuelling the conflict. The danger with this approach is that it places an inordinate pressure upon the Muslim community to denounce Da'esh's use of religion. One example of this is the decision of the mosque that Mohammad Abdulazeez, the Tennessee shooter, prayed at to cancel its Eid al-Fitr celebrations and mourn the dead marines. The eyes of America and its news agencies were upon them and thus they felt unable to continue with their own un-radicalised religious practises, and obliged to provide the rejection of Da'esh's religion that others have avoided.  Headlines such as 'Government to take firmer stance on Muslims who fail to denounce jihadis' (the Independent, 18/07/2015) simply serve to increase this pressure and create an expectation for Muslim's to 'prove' their non-radicalisation by denouncing Da'esh. Marc Schneier wrote persuasively on this topic, commenting that this question arises out of the failure of the western media to effectively record the instant rejections of radicalism that surround many Islamist terrorist attacks. For instance, during the summer of 2014, the war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza triggered an explosion of violent anti-Semitism across Europe; many acts were committed by Muslims. While the media highlighted the very real and deeply troubling upsurge of violence in countries like France, Germany and Belgium, they rarely reported on Muslim leaders who denounced the violence. This media neglect then occasionally boils over into sudden bouts fierce expectancy where various Muslim communities are forced to 'prove' their moderate beliefs even though they have frequently espoused them in the past. Ironically, the trepidation of news agencies to approach the clear religious motivation of Da'esh is placing an inordinate expectation and ultimately suspicion upon wider Muslim communities to do so. This is why the widespread coverage of everyday low key actors such as Sana al-Yemen is so important.

This coverage is also essential as initiatives such as Humza Arshad's showcase the power of humour to undermine Da'esh's rhetoric. In a recent interview on CNN Egyptian satirist Bassem Youssef, former host of Al Bernameg, summed this up perfectly when he said 'I think satire is incredible because basically it takes down this kind of fear from the hearts of people and when you take away the fear through laughter, they aren’t scary anymore'. Indeed, just across the border from Da'esh is the new hit Iraqi comedy show Dawlat al-Khurafa or the Superstitious State — a play on khilafa, or caliphate. It features Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, Da'esh's leader, as a buffoon who hatches from an egg after a truly bizarre ceremony involving Satan, the Joker and, as far as I can make out, a Western cowboy. The show draws attention to the little known ludicrous laws imposed by Da'esh such as the banning of electric razors and the displaying of tomatoes side by side. 

Da'esh is in a critical stage in its development. No longer fuelled by constant military success and under increasing threat from Kurdish forces, who recently captured military bases 30 miles from Raqqa, it is becoming increasingly reliant on its own interpretation of sovereignty. Nevertheless, it still poses an enormous threat to regional and international security so this cultural weakness needs to exploited to destroy the fantasy caliphate that both holds Da'esh together internally and allures foreign fighters. By examining jihadi poetry we can gain an essential glimpse into the cultural mindset of the fighters and use this to target anxieties afflicting the self proclaimed state as a whole. To do this the international community must draw media attention to individuals such as Sana, Humza and the unpublicised hundreds like them who recognise this weakness. News of the military battle against Da'esh is daily reported, with accounts of coalition bombing filling headlines, but its cultural and intellectual counterpart has not been sufficiently covered.  The intellectual battleground needs to be placed at the forefront by policymakers, not simply sidelined in favour of an expansion of coalition bombing. In codifying its reinterpretation and rejection of Western sovereignty, Da'esh is becoming more reliant on its own self proclaimed myth. By waging this 'intellectual war' and expanding media coverage of everyday rejections of radicalism we can both deconstruct Da'esh's self edifying mythos and reduce the number of foreign fighters flocking to support it.

Click here for an Iraqi News report on Dawlat al-Khurafa.