15:53 GMT28 May 2020
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    These days, the internet is crazy about adorable kitten pics. Netizens' soft spot for cute pics has become so obvious that it is even exploited by Daesh in its propaganda, alongside other "Western" imagery, to seduce young Westerners to join their "caliphate."

    Images of weapon-wielding "caliphate warriors" and promises of heaven on earth are not enough to brainwash Westerners. Instead, violent extremists meet their potential victims on their home court, trying to seduce them with a subculture heavily drawing on Western imagery, a Swedish study of Islamist propaganda found.

    The study by the Swedish Defense Research Agency (FOI), titled "The Digital Caliphate," found that Daesh (ISIS/ISIL) heavily leans on the subculture known as 'Jihadi Cool' for its brainwashing activities. In turn, 'Jihadi Cool' is an eclectic subculture trying to re-brand militant Islamism in a hipper package with its own music, fashion and expression, the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter reported.

    A particularly striking feature of the 'Jihadi Cool' is that its generic web proponent looks almost indistinguishable from your ordinary social media account, rife with pink-hued images, cute pics of kittens and horses, as well as snapshots of glitterati and comic characters, if it weren't for an odd intrusion of knives, blood and Jihadi slogans.

    For instance, Daesh is known for spreading images featuring Nutella chocolate cream and Skittles sweets to show that what is found in the Western countries is also present in the "caliphate." Daesh also seems to have noticed Westerners' soft spot for cute pics and is posting snapshots of its "warriors" petting cats.

    For an extremist movement that advocates the destruction of the West, it might seem a bit inconsistent to rely on Western references to such a high degree. Nevertheless, Daesh would have been much less successful in its perennial recruitment campaigns, FOI researcher Liisa Kaati told the Swedish news outlet The Local. Second-generation immigrants, who have grown up in Western countries, have been an almost inexhaustible source of reinforcements. For them, ideology is secondary to lifestyle, hence the message. By contrast, the propaganda spread across the Arab world is much more warlike and violent.

    Nevertheless, the researchers noticed a clear shift in the content of the propaganda towards the end of 2016. Until then, Daesh "publicity" was largely utopian and was mostly focused on portraying the unearthly benefits of living in the "caliphate." At some point around September 2016, the ideological output became more belligerent, and the focus shifted towards appeals to take action in one's home country. Around the same time, knives and vehicles started to emerge as the new themes and proved to become the preferred weapons in the recent spate of attacks across Europe.

    The FOI was assigned the task of carrying out this study by the Swedish government in its quest to raise awareness and counter the rise of violent extremism in the Nordic country.

    According to previous estimations by Sweden's Security Police, SÄPO, at least 300 people have traveled to the Middle East since 2012 to join various Islamist sects. Of these, around 130 have returned to Sweden and this group is ranked as the most serious threat to Sweden's security.

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    propaganda, Islamist terrorists, radical Islam, Daesh, Scandinavia, Sweden
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