A critical multimodal approach to understanding radicalisation in terrorist recruitment materials

Mat Isa, Noor Aqsa Nabila (2020) A critical multimodal approach to understanding radicalisation in terrorist recruitment materials. PhD thesis, UNSPECIFIED.

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In this research, I examine the ways a terrorist group uses online videos and magazines to construct its own and others’ identities, how they describe their operations and how they and others live, and also how in their view people should live and see the world. The analytical framework draws on critical discourse studies (CDS) and multimodal social semiotics, specifically Reisigl and Wodak’s (2016) discourse-historical approach (DHA) and Kress and van Leeuwen’s (2006) grammar of visual design. Additionally, I summarise reasons for radicalisation based on past scholarly work which include finding solutions to personal, social and economic crises (see King & Taylor, 2011; el-Said and Barrett, 2017). A detailed qualitative semiotic analysis of the recruitment materials leads to a taxonomy of semiotic elements with different meaning-making possibilities. These are actors (e.g. the group and their perceived enemies), symbols (e.g. enemies’ flags), music (e.g. recitation of holy texts), and texts (e.g. text fragments in English or Arabic within the materials). I juxtapose these elements with existing radicalisation models. Among other salient findings, I concluded that the group position themselves as victims of war because of coalition attacks, and the target audiences as being on the side of their enemies. They also indicate what they expect their readers/viewers to do if they haven’t been on the “right path” (e.g. instructing them to “terrorise” their enemies). In terms of argumentation, the findings reveal that they are mostly theological (e.g. references to Quranic verses), with evidence of manipulation, such as through recontextualisation (e.g. verses isolated from historical contexts). Ultimately, this research aims to contribute to the body of knowledge about the recruitment and manipulation strategies of terrorist groups from a critical discursive perspective, and further provide a detailed understanding of digitally mediated recruitment processes which may ultimately help to reduce the risk of radicalisation among vulnerable groups and inform public policy.

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Thesis (PhD)
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11 Jun 2020 12:15
Last Modified:
21 Sep 2023 03:33