Legitimizing the Caliphate and its politics: Moral disengagement rhetoric in Dabiq

Thomas Frissen*, Leen d'Haenens

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterAcademic


Both terrorist groups and authoritarian political establishments have in common that their existence is partly dependent on the effectiveness of their communication with their constituency. In both cases, one-sided propaganda, manipulation and self-legitimizing rhetoric are essential needs to survive. The content and style of such communication and rhetoric often reflect the psychological and emotional mindsets, including personality traits, of the individual actors in these organizations but also of their followers (e.g. Hancock et al., 2010). Taking this notion as a departure point, we looked at IS’s written propaganda output through a social cognitive lens. More specifically, the current study sets out to reveal and understand how the members and followers of IS reason, morally justify their actions, and persuade (or even radicalize) like-minded supporters. We did this by means of a systematic quantitative analysis of 279 articles in 14 consecutive issues of the Dabiq magazine series, perhaps the group’s most important written media outlet. The findings of our study are threefold: First, we found that Dabiq contextualizes the Caliphate and its politics from a political perspective rather than from a religious perspective; (2) The amount of citations from the Hadith decreases significantly over time; (3) Following Bandura’s (1999, 2002, 2004) Selective Moral Disengagement Theory, we found that IS is increasingly hostile towards the enemy by consistently activating dehumanization practices. Furthermore, implications of this study for countering violent extremism initiatives as well as suggestions for future research are discussed.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationAuthoritarian and Populist Influences in the New Media
EditorsSai Felicia Hensel
PublisherRoutledge/Taylor & Francis Group
Pages148 - 174
ISBN (Print)978-1-4724-8854-1
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2017
Externally publishedYes

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