Week-by-week the fanatics who call themselves the "Islamic State" struggle with the same problem facing Hollywood celebrities, Rock bands, and politicians of every stripe. How do we hold our audience? With I.S.I.S. it's all about brutality and sadistic forms of execution. To listen to CNN meat puppets talking about the "slick production values" used in I.S.I.S. videos, is to realize that they are acknowledging a competitor for American 'eyes and ears'.... because 'hearts and minds' are completely out of the question.
Recently though, I was startled to learn that Canadians don't "get" many of the metaphors common to political theatre as practiced by Muslim militants. They certainly don't understand the orange-jumpsuit metaphor which is common to all I.S.I.S. snuff videos directed toward a Western audience. Following the recent murder of the two Japanese captives I asked several students their best guess why the videos were always staged the same way. Not a clue! Then I moved on to adults. Nobody knew! That's very, very odd because evidence suggests that millions of news viewers in the U.S. and Europe are savvy to "Gitmo-orange", but why not Canadians?
In short, the I.S.I.S. executioners are reminding us all of the Muslims imprisoned and indoctrinated at the American military base on Cuba. The whole sordid freak-show of the United States handling high risk enemy militants - with offshore military prisons, C.I.A. torture centers, rendition flights, etc., gets thrown back into American faces when I.S.I.S. puts its own prisoners on display and administers its own own sadistic and perverted form of "justice".
It's January 11, 2002 - and the first twenty "detainees" arrive at Camp X-Ray in the American Zone on Cuba. The prisoners, shackled and wearing orange jumpsuits, kneel with their heads bowed during "in-processing". [U.S. D.O.D. handout photo - click to enlarge] Twelve years later I.S.I.S. would storm out of Syria into Iraq and carve out a sinuous territory they call the "Islamic State" The Black banner and kneeling prisoners garbed in "Gitmo-orange" was evidence of a new form of militant threat and the Americans took several months to recover from the shock.
All over Europe and in many American cities, the display of political prisoners in orange jumpsuits, bound and often hooded, became the new shock-metaphor for those publicly rejecting American foreign policy, U.S. global surveillance, and Washington's continued illegal occupation of a corner of Cuba.
The Islamic State has captured thousands of Syrian soldiers and officers. Most have been executed by rifle fire, but a number have been beheaded on camera. None were garbed in "Gitmo-orange". The colour orange is reserved for "high value detainees", a term invented by the Americans and now whole-heartedly adopted by I.S.I.S. The use of video is common to both sides. For example, the Americans have given hundreds of T.O.W. missile launchers to an A.B.C. of crackpot Syrian guerrilla groups. The stipulation is that every missile launch MUST be videotaped. Not for publication on YOUTUBE (although many TOW shots have appeared) but because the Americans want to count every missile firing. After Syrian President Assad is dragged out and killed like Gaddafi, the U.S. will probably bomb the guerrilla arms depots, in attempt to destroy the borrowed launchers and unexpended missiles. Likewise every American assassination by Predator drone is video recorded, and I would suggest that atomizing a Toyota sedan and its passengers with a Hellfire missile is no less cowardly that taking the head of a bound captive.
I close with this Amnesty International poster (above) which is simple yet eloquent. I think you would agree that it is clever and definitely ironic. Three symbols - the dove of peace, the Amnesty International motif of barbed wire, and the bright orange of Guantanamo, combined into one. What I find especially ironic is that those first photographs taken of the kneeling terrorists at Camp X-Ray were not the work of some intrepid journalist using a long lens. They were taken by a U.S. Navy petty officer and released to the media by the D.O.D. Fast forward to 2015. I.S.I.S. captives are now posed on their knees as Muslim "detainees" were posed on their knees in 2002. Both sides kill, and kill often, but I.S.I.S. is much more clever at satisfying the worldwide thirst for menacing images and vicarious thrills.