Written by Hadi Gholami Nohouji exclusively for SouthFront
For journalists and especially for those working at TV stations, it has never been easy to cover terrorism-related news, but things got much harder with the sudden advances made by the Islamic State (ISIS) in both Iraq and Syria in 2014, and the de facto establishment of its self-proclaimed Caliphate. ISIS, through its heavy reliance and use of social media as a propaganda tool, rapidly shocked the world with its savagery and barbarity. It continues to find new and horrifying ways of effectively “entertaining” the audience and attracting media attention. This violent group was by no means the first group to carry out such savage acts which it put on display through its social media accounts, but it was effectively the first to record (in a professional manner) and distribute them as means of getting fame and terrorizing the global community.
One of the groups affected by the barbaric videos and images distributed by this group were and continue to be journalists, especially those focusing on the Middle East and Africa, who have been exposed to the emotional and psychological harm caused by the imagery of the inhumanity displayed by ISIS.
As someone working primarily on the Middle East section of the news (where in recent years, the majority of terrorism related incidents have been perpetrated), there have been numerous times that I have had to cover violent events which required me to view the images and videos made by ISIS. The very first months that the Islamic State occupied large swaths of Iraq and Syria there was an element of shock to most of us here at Hispan TV and many of my colleagues just would prefer to ignore the news relating to ISIS’s executions and barbaric acts. Some, such as myself, were just curious and felt that we had an obligation to view those horrendous images to be able to give a full account of each incident at hand. I personally felt that not looking at those images meant neglecting my professional obligations, be that correct or not.
Those of us who decided to watch those videos in their entirety, were simply terrified at first. Many of our colleagues started having recurring nightmares of being subjected to the very same brutal executions and acts of violence carried out by the terrorists. Others simply couldn’t take those images out of their minds and kept reliving them, over and over again. Others started to exhibit actual symptoms of depression (there was at least one case that I know of that someone was clinically diagnosed with severe depression and one of the major causes was being subjected to heavy doses of “violence”) while there were those who just got used to the violence. I am of in the latter group, and I do recognize that this is in no way a positive personal trait.
Surely, the same applies to the general population, especially those who watch the butchery and the multitude of grotesquely innovative ways in which ISIS manages to terrorize its audience. In the past 3 years (excluding the first months when I had yet to be psychologically acclimated) the only thing that managed to horrify me was the execution by tank of a Syrian soldier by the terrorists, while in the pre-ISIS era “one simple beheading video” would have been enough, as says one of our colleagues likes to put it. This normalization of violence alone is horrifying. Those who, directly or indirectly, facilitated the propagation and empowerment of the Islamic State, and who gave it free reign on social media platforms to post such horrifying propaganda, may not yet comprehend the larger, negative effect on society. The general normalization of extreme forms of violence will eventually come back to harm us all, as now there is an overall higher tolerance for, or psychological acceptance of violence by an increasing percentage of the global population who have been exposed to ISIS’s online propaganda campaign. The biggest harm done by ISIS since its creation may have not fully impacted the global community at this juncture, but may have a long-lasting destabilizing influence over time. The fact that beheadings are now normal scenery for tens of millions of people is a serious concern that should not be ignored.