The so-called Islamic State is playing us with a sophisticated propaganda machine designed to terrify the West and recruit young Muslims from all around the globe. We don't need to see James Foley's actual execution to believe IS means business...so what next?  

The horrific beheading of American journalist James Foley, at the hands of a so-called Islamic State (IS) militant with a British accent, has caused an earthquake on the mainstream and social media platforms.

It was at once a video of a barbaric cold blooded murder, and also a masterful challenge to the United States’ bombing of IS forces in Iraq.

Masterful because on the surface it is so simple - you keep bombing us and another American journalist in captivity will be beheaded.

Beneath that message addressed to the US directly were the sinister subtleties of IS propaganda.

The executioner spoke with a British accent which told the West that its nationals were indeed involved up front in the fight to establish a Caliphate; this in turn is an appeal to young Muslims who may be attracted to the ‘brotherhood’ fighting the infidels; it is designed to spread fear and subsequently anti-Muslim hatred throughout Western communities in which many Muslims are domiciled; it is a dramatic power play which paints Western leaders into a corner by transferring the blood of further execution victims onto the hands of Western leaders such as US President Obama and UK Prime Minister David Cameron.

In short the IS group has shown that it is now a very sophisticated organisation, particularly in its use of social media in order to manipulate and control public opinion.

If it revolts you it is likely to also terrify you.

If it interests you, you might come join the fight.

It definitely meets that criteria of propaganda which is to stimulate political action.

Social media companies went into overdrive to shut down the video once they became aware of it...but shutting down such material can not be done immediately.

Such is the reality when an international communication forum which is often reliant on its users to flag objectionable material, is used by those intent on disseminating violent terrorist messages.

They are able to put YouTube, Twitter and others at the front lines of a war.

When some of their users agree with various messages - terrorist, pornographic, hate speech or whatever else is usually considered repellent - those account holders will find ways to keep the posting alive.

But what about the so-called mainstream media? There’s a classic dilemma involved here and that is telling and illustrating the story.

The likes of AlJazeera, the BBC, major American networks and others did not and will not show the actual execution of Foley, but his death is certainly a major story.

That is because of the nature of the ‘framing’ of the IS message in that it is directed to Obama, and also that Foley’s killer appears to be a British citizen - the last point being the only one in the weeks of Middle East drama from Gaza’s destruction to the persecution of religious minorities in Iraq that could entice Cameron back to Downing Street from his hugely long summer hols.

Some media outlets - television and print - have shown still images of Foley before his beheading. Others have shown none.

Foley’s family has pleaded with people around the globe to not watch the video, and not to share it if they have it.

It appears restraint is the order of the day.

But why?

Every day people are dying violent and unnecessary deaths in the Middle East (and countless other places of course).

Correspondents from all over the world are bearing witness to this.

In the early days of the Israel-Gaza war, the Independent’s Robert Fisk lambasted those he called “weak kneed television producers” who placed a “weird, mystical cloud” over the images of dead human faces.

Fisk argued the producers were more worried about being censured by broadcasting regulators who insisted on so called good taste and did so under the guise of being respectful of the dead, than they were about exposing the reality of war.

Fisk holds that the reality of course is that the world never respected the Palestinians when they were alive, otherwise it would have “intervened in the bloodbath of Gaza”.

The wider point is that it is distressing and haunting to see death of innocents in our living rooms, and we should feel distressed and haunted by them.

They are the price of our politics, and it took hours of television and hundreds of photos to shock the world into paying attention to the unending despair of Gazans.

Is Foley then the price of our politics too?

In many ways he is given the consequences of the disastrous invasion of Iraq and then the lack of action in Syria - where he was actually kidnapped nearly two years ago.

But playing his execution on telly only gives oxygen to the IS propaganda machine. 

We do not need the actual footage of his execution to believe it?

The still, with the British accent of the executioner is enough.

Once seen, I would defy anyone to forget the 1969 Pulitzer Prize winning photo of the execution of a Viet Cong prisoner.

The genius of the IS tactic is that it is so clear and so simple.

The next video they promise will be of journalist Steven Sotloff unless Obama quits bombing in Iraq.

IS will be delighting in the world-wide horror it has caused. 

IS has become increasingly sophisticated in its media presentations and video productions aimed at simultaneously terrorizing and recruiting.

IS leaves no doubt about its disregard for the lives of anyone who disagrees with its simplistic interpretation of Islam.

There is no doubt IS intends to indulge in every excess of war.

There is also no doubt IS has handed the next play to Obama who is now, along with some allies, backed into an extremely uncomfortable corner.

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