Picturing the “Hordes of Hated Barbarians”: Islamic State Propaganda, (Self)Orientalism, and Strategic Self-Othering

Jared Ahmad


In recent years, there has been a proliferation of research into the Islamic State’s (IS) visual communications output. The current article provides a conceptual contribution to this literature by developing an original framework for the analysis of the group’s propaganda. Drawing together postcolonial and political communications scholarship, it shows how IS photopropagandists have sought to mobilize civilizational discourses surrounding the “dangerous Orient” as a core feature of its image operations. More provocatively, the article argues that the group has weaponized the Orientalist image in order to strike fear into the hearts and minds of its enemies. Using visual discourse analysis, and focusing on images produced within the group’s propaganda alongside their remediation by Western media and political actors, the article develops the concept of strategic self-Othering to show how IS successfully harnesses the discursive power of Orientalism in its messaging, thus feeding into a wider posttruth communications style that prioritizes shocking, fear-inducing imagery over notions of truth and reason.



hybridity, Islamic State, Orientalism, propaganda, posttruth, strategic essentialism, strategic self-Othering

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