The Islamic Imagery Project

Mar 01, 2006

The study of Islamic imagery has been the exclusive domain of art historians and museum curators, with pre-modern art being the central area of interest. Thus, there is a palpable lack of information on modern imagery associated with political Islam, especially imagery that is produced by radical, and often violent, Muslim groups. Nowhere is the dearth of critical research more apparent than in the study of jihadi organizations. These organizations have had a brief but prolific history in the production and distribution of visual propaganda and have arguably created their own distinct genre of Internet-based Islamic imagery. While the tragic events of September 11 highlighted the importance of understanding the ideology and methods of jihadi groups, the process of achieving this understanding is still at the early stages, and the remaining areas of ignorance are profound.

The current study on jihadi imagery, the first of its kind, is an important step in this process. Herein, visual propaganda is considered to be more than just a host for textual messages; rather, it is treated as an expressive medium unto itself—one which communicates ideas just as effectively, and sometimes as explicitly as the written word. We regard jihadi imagery to be a primary vehicle for the communication and diffusion of jihadi ideas, and an essential tool utilized by radical ideologues, terrorist organizations, and sympathetic propagandists, which plays to the particular religious and cultural experiences of their audience. Therefore, understanding how these images work, what ideas they convey, why they are employed, and what responses they may elicit is vital to our struggle against the influence of jihadi organizations and the violence they create.