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Myanmar between Woolwich and Al-Aqsa 2: graphical innovation

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- in which jihadis utilize the graphical technique known as kinetic typography for what may be the first time -- follow on to part 1: interfaith hatred ]
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Today the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point notified their mailing list of the launch of their Militant Imagery Project online. It’s a very helpful resource, covering much of the same issues as Artur Beifuss & Francesco Trivini Bellini, Branding Terror: The Logotypes and Iconography of Insurgent Groups and Terrorist Organizations and Asiem El Difraoui, The Jihad of Images — which I discussed briefly in Jottings 7: Two for the iconography of terror a while back.

The CTC explains:

The use of propaganda and imagery by terrorist groups has long been an understudied dimension of the broader field of political violence. This project explores the use of imagery and visual themes by militant groups, focusing largely on jihadist media production. Jihadist organizations and individuals inspired by their message are prolific producers and distributors of visual propaganda, and their efforts have expanded exponentially online. However, these images frequently utilize themes which can be inscrutable to those not familiar with the sub-culture. It is our hope that this project will provide academics, practitioners, and students with a basic contextual understanding of the ideas these images convey before they turn to the larger questions of why they are employed, how they work, and what responses they may elicit.

It is in that spirit that I would point you to the following three screengrabs from the Al-Shabaab video I discussed in my previous post…

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Imagine the images tilting and changing, as the words spoken on the soundtrack are gradually spelled out typographically on screen in this sequence:

Jihad was now global. Jihad in the West — Madrid — London — Paris — Boston — Jihad was now coming home to the West, And it was making a dramatic entrance… WOOLWICH ATTACK

Here are the screengrabs:

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These three screengrabs illustrate what may well be the first use of the technology called “kinetic typography” or more simply “moving text” in jihadist propaganda. Somali news outlet Harar24‘s Editorials team claim it’s a first, writing:

It is not unusual for jihadi videos to be laden with high graphics and effects. However Al-Shabaab this time used a never technique never adopted before in any jihadi videos, kinetic typography.

The best way to investigate kinetic typography in depth is via Marco Papale‘s video site, the Kinetic typography Channel on Vimeo.

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I don’t intend to embed the Shabaab piece itself, but here for your further illumination is the Grandmaster Flash sample rom which the screengrab at the top of this post was taken, in full:

That’s kinetic typography!

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Myanmar between Woolwich and Al-Aqsa 1: interfaith hatred

Wednesday, October 23rd, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- in which jihadis take on Jews, Christians, Muslims and Buddhists, quite an interfaith haul for hatred ]
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Aaron Zelin at Jihadology posted an hour-long video entitled Woolwich Attack a week or so ago, and I found it particularly interesting on two accounts: first, that it makes a multi-faith attack that includes Buddhism in its catalogue of enemies of Islam, and second, that it uses an innovative feature of modern digital typography. Here, I’ll concentrate on the first. Here’s the video’s title:

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Christianity as a target is well represented in the form of Dr Justin Welby, the recently-appointed Archbishop of Canterbury:

Notice also the lower of these two screengrabs, this one showing Ayman al-Zawahiri (left) berating a leading Muslim spokesman in the UK, Ibrahim Mogra of the Muslim Council of Britain (right), for speaking at the same event as the Archbishop. The damning subtitle suggests he’s one of those “who issue Fatwas according to the school of thought of the head of the Church of England”.

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It wasn’t the attack on Christians or fellow Muslims that caught my eye, though, but the unexpected presence of the monk Wirathu, the rhetorical leader of Myanmar’s recent Buddhist rioting against Burmese Muslims. I’d seen his face on Time magazine and elsewhere, but it came as a bit of a shock here in a jihadist video — I’d filed him and his 969 movement under “Buddhism” rather than “Islam” in my mental listing of violent movements with religious underpinnings.

Ugly, ugly.

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Finally, no invitation to jihad these days is complete without its mention of the al-Aqsa mosque and Jerusalem — and it is here that Judaism comes in for attack. Consider these two screengrabs:

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The video closes, significantly, with a long shot of the Dome of the Rock through a window…

Yesterday my friend William Benzon made a post titled On Describing a Painting which began:

Harvard art historian Jennifer Roberts bills her article thus: The Power of Patience: Teaching students the value of deceleration and immersive attention. OK. But I take a different lesson from it, one about one of my current hobby horses: description. Roberts focuses on an 18th Century painting by John Singleton Copley, A Boy with a Flying Squirrel. Her point is that the more you look at the painting, the more you notice and hence the more you can note in a written description. She asks her students to spend a full three hours with a single painting.

Of her own experience with that painting she observes:

It took me nine minutes to notice that the shape of the boy’s ear precisely echoes that of the ruff along the squirrel’s belly—and that Copley was making some kind of connection between the animal and the human body and the sensory capacities of each. It was 21 minutes before I registered the fact that the fingers holding the chain exactly span the diameter of the water glass beneath them. It took a good 45 minutes before I realized that the seemingly random folds and wrinkles in the background curtain are actually perfect copies of the shapes of the boy’s ear and eye, as if Copley had imagined those sensory organs distributing or imprinting themselves on the surface behind him. And so on.

She begins her next paragraph: “What this exercise shows students is that just because you have looked at something doesn’t mean that you have seen it.”

Looking at that final screengrab with this in mind, I see a close correlation between the golden Dome that focuses our attention on the Noble Sanctuary / Temple Mount, and the round, yellow-gold keffiyeh of the jihadist observing it through his window — “making some kind of connection between” them, to echo the words of Harvard’s Elizabeth Cary Agassiz Professor of the Humanities…

It’s a skilled and meaning-filled use of the medium.

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In my second post in this series, I’ll point to a significant development in graphics and technology introduced in this video.

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One person’s this is another person’s that

Saturday, October 12th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- under the same black flag ]
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In this case, one neighborhood’s supplier of food relief (upper panel)…

is another soldier’s execution squad (lower panel).

Food for a Sunni neighborhood, in other words, death for the Alawite soldier.

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Both images from Aaron Zelin‘s 46 Scenes From The Islamic State In Syria on BuzzFeed today — recommended.

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Photographic enantiodromia at the Zaynab shrine?

Friday, September 20th, 2013

[ by Charles Cameron -- in recognition that Photoshop is a weapon that can turn enemies into friends, at least within Photoshop! ]
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How to describe this? It’s a DoubleQuote in Two Tweets from Phillip Smyth in which [Almost] the Same Photo of a Guy with an Israeli Rifle Poses on Both Sides of the Conflict around the Sayyida Zaynab Shrine in Southern Damascus:

So the guy in the original photo does a bit of an enantiondromia thanks to Photoshop…

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For some in depth reading:

  • On the Shia side of things, see Phillip Smyth‘s Hizballah Cavalcade posts at Jihadology.
  • For the same on the Sunni side, see Aymenn Al-Tamimi‘s Musings of an Iraqi Brasenostril series, also on Jihadology.
  • And for both and all else, well, there’s always Aaron Zelin‘s Jihadology itself!
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    The Spaceball Jihad

    Thursday, August 15th, 2013

    [ by Charles Cameron -- hidden humor in deep scholarship, ahoy! -- with hat tips to JM Berger, Phillip Smyth, and Aaron Zelin ]
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    I’ve noticed that JM Berger wrote an excellent book on American jihadis and has been keeping us seriously informed on a whole host of related topics including jihadist activity on the hidden gardens of the internet, but it’s only when he notices an AQ attempt to crowdsource suggestions for improving AQ’s social media presence, appropriates their hashtag and invites his buddies to add their own suggestions that his work at last catches the attention of a larger audience via Rachel Maddow:

    Visit NBCNews.com for breaking news, world news, and news about the economy

    Okay, lesson learned — it’s the “tainment” in edutainment that makes the “edu” suddently attractive.

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    So here, for your edutainment and general entercation is a serious piece of writing by Phillip Smyth in his Hizbollah Cavalcade series on Jihadology, which will no doubt be of interest to some ZP readers — Hizballah Cavalcade: Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s Liwa’a Kafeel Zaynab:

    Albeit, it was a rarity for groups like LAFA to make an official written statement over social media or on forums stating AAH was a supplier. Instead, the inference AAH was supplying fighters to the group could be made by looking at the AAH imagery for their dead, which was then reposted by LAFA.

    However, starting at the end of May, 2013 a number of videos (posted to YouTube) explicitly claimed Asa’ib Ahl al-Haq’s fighters were in Syria. This differed from the more typical rolling of AAH personnel into the ranks of LAFA or other militias. While these videos were sporadic, they were the first piece of a trend which would culminate in the announcement of a unique organizational name for AAH’s force deployment in Syria.

    Here’s a sampling of the wares displayed therein:

    and here’s the pop-cultural ref that I missed when I first saw Smyth’s article:

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    Foolish me: Smyth even had a dead giveaway footnote:

    [5] See: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3UunQXXxAWY and “Have a nice day”.

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