The colonial representation of Jihadi John: matters of life and death in the 'war on terror'

Spring 2016

Malcolm James analyses the ways that the reception of the ‘Jihadi John’ videos reinforces the idea of a civilised ‘us’ confronting a barbaric ‘them’: this was mobilised to suggest that the civilised world are fighting an enemy that is savage and inhuman - a setting up of civilisational oppositions that is happily embraced on the other side by Isis. He shows how the videos tap into anxieties about the enemy within, and are used to reinforce a view of all British Muslims as potentially dangerous - an almost inevitable consequence of the crude civilisational oppositions that circulate in mainstream discourse. The symbiotic relationships between the internet and broadcast news exponentially multiplied the numbers of viewers of the videos; and at the same time internet viewing made the experience more intimate, more immediate and more frightening, while the absence of context allowed for the creation of a wide range of meanings and interpretations both in the mainstream media and on the internet. In contrast to the use of the videos as propaganda - by both ‘sides’ - the article makes a case for the valuing all human life and against the kinds of colonial representation that work to dehumanise some people so that their death (or oppression) becomes possible.

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