Symbolism of terrorism
The examples and perspective in this article may not represent a
Terrorist organizations use
The International Terrorist Symbols Database is a compilation of insignias from terrorist organizations put together by the Anti-Defamation League. Published on their website, it features profiles of thirty different symbols from groups such as
One of several emblems used by Al Qaeda in Iraq, the adjacent image depicts a gray globe positioned in a black background. On top of the globe is an open
The flag represents Al Qaeda in Iraq's goal of creating an Islamic
The color green has represented Islam since its founding. Consequently, the green coloring of the central image indicates the organization's tie to Islam. Similar to the symbolism used by Al Qaeda in Iraq, the rifle represents commitment to militancy, while the globe indicates international involvement and ambition for their goals. The Quran indicates both a foundation in Islam, and their goal to found an Islamic state that encompasses Lebanon and Israel. Finally, the Islamic verse, which is from the Quran, bolsters support for their activities by citing a verse that celebrates and supports those who fight for Islam. The database does not analyze the symbolism of the seven-leafed branch,
The emblem of the
Once again, the color green, as well as the presence of a Quran, symbolizes the foundation of the Muslim Brotherhood in
The central figure of the image is a yellow tiger, which is surrounded by a ring of bullets and crossed by two rifles. The script both around the tiger, in
The Islamic Imagery Project is a report published in 2006 by the
“Visual motifs accomplish several objectives for jihadi propagandists. First, they create a mental conception of reality for their audiences. The use of carefully edited images evokes existing emotional or historical memories, eliciting an emotional response that may be conscious or subconscious…. Secondly, they help the author, or propagandist, communicate a message, which is often a visual argument for something or against something. Texts and language, including imagery, provide interactive ways for jihadis to engage the ideology itself.”
Critics of the project have deemed it oversimplified, arguing that much more study has yet to go into a symbolic analysis of terrorist imagery. Others have deemed it the best interpretation, in English, of imagery used by terrorist groups.
The document is a catalog of the 100 most common motifs in jihadist visual propaganda that the Combating Terrorism Center deemed significant. These motifs are sorted into five categories: Nature; Geography, Political Symbols, and States; People; Weapons, Warfare, and the Afterlife; Other. An example of a symbol from each category is provided below.
The moon is an extremely important symbol in Islam which has astrological, religious, and spiritual significance. Jihadi imagery typically simplifies this complex symbol, using to evoke the notion of the divine and a connection to Islamic identity and, for full moons in particular, the afterlife. When paired with images that reference martyrdom, the moon suggests that there will be a heavenly reward for the martyr. In the example image on the right, the presence of a white horse and clouds around the man's portrait indicate that he is a martyr, and the moon evokes the benefit he will gain for his sacrifice in heaven.
Inverted currency is a symbol that seeks to undermine typical power structures of Western countries. Currency is understood by many terrorist groups to represent Western materialism, power, and dominance. It is also an extremely powerful cultural symbol in the West, one that is closely tied to the national identity. Consequently, the inversion of currency by terrorist groups, as seen in the example at right, is a symbolic way of transferring the power of Western nations to the terrorists. By replacing Benjamin Franklin with Osama Bin Laden, the image seeks to symbolically argue that Osama Bin Laden and Al Qaeda have the power to undermine basic sources of American power, and turn the United States against itself.
Woman are commonly a symbol of masculine honor, pride, and purity. They are often depicted as innocent victims that jihadi efforts need to protect from dominance and abuse by the West or other enemies. Often, women are depicted in images as innocent and helpless victims of anti-Muslim oppression, and in need of protection. The intended effect is to create a sense of anger and need to protect one's pride and honor, in order to spur the audience to anger supporting or aiding the jihadi movements. Women are also portrayed as martyrs, in order to make Muslim men feel a sense of shame and oppression that their women are forced to fight against an oppressive force. In this way, it serves to shame men into action as much as it celebrates the sacrifice of the women martyrs.
A depiction of clasped hands symbolizes unity among the various jihadi groups and the Muslim community at large. The first example, at the right of the page, is an image published by Al Qaeda that uses handshakes to depict unity between Al Qaeda and other jihadi groups, creating a symbolic connection that ties various branches of the jihadi movement together. The clasped hands in the second example illustrate unity of the Muslim community as a whole. Each of the arms is a slightly different shade, representing the desire to bring the mission to bring the mission of specific jihad movements, which are often nation-based, to the international Muslim community.