The video shows a Jordanian pilot in an orange jumpsuit standing in a cage, his head bowed. A match hits unseen gasoline, and what follows is unspeakable. The pilot burns to death at the hands of the Islamic State, multiple cameras recording it in detail. The event itself was perhaps a minute, but the official edited video drags on for 22 minutes. Maximizing fear and horror on phones and computers worldwide — that’s the whole point.
Of all the geopolitical crises convulsing the Middle East today, most alarming is the rise of Islamic State (IS). Its propaganda thrives on spectacle —a self-obsessed, sensationalistic, and inciteful swarm of words, sounds and images that obliterates reality, rejects the Other, and basks in its own glory — and increasingly its opponents within the Arab world are fighting back with their own engrossing counter-spectacle.
As an expert in global media studies, Annenberg Professor Marwan M. Kraidy has been studying the use of communications by IS, which he approaches as a “war machine,” and his research now has a big new supporter: the Carnegie Corporation of New York.
Today it was announced that Kraidy has won a 2016 Andrew Carnegie Fellowship, one of the most prestigious prizes in the social sciences and humanities, bringing with it a grant of up to $200,000.
Kraidy, the Anthony Shadid Chair in Global Media, Politics and Culture and Founding Director of the Project for Advanced Research in Global Communication (PARGC) at the Annenberg School for Communication, is one of 33 new Andrew Carnegie Fellows who are given funding to pursue one to two years of scholarly research and writing aimed at addressing some of the world’s most urgent challenges to U.S. democracy and international order.
Kraidy argues that the Islamic State’s threat to global security is intimately connected to its uses of media and technology, which allow it to physically occupy relatively little territory, but still maintain a global presence through speed and spectacle. It is a war machine of the digital age.