Symbols serve several purposes for terrorist groups. Appearing on flags, communiqués, the Internet and as graffiti, they announce a group’s identity and purpose, deepen its sense of unity, appeal to the like-minded and frighten those to whom the group is opposed .
Each symbol is an arrangement of visual information drawn from the culture in which the group operates. The information has been arranged in order to convey, in a dramatic manner, ideas about the group’s founding, ideology, aims and methods. It is important to bear in mind that the elements in a symbol, taken by themselves, often have no innate connection to terrorism or political and religious radicalism.
Most of the Islamic group symbols include a Koran, for instance. Depending on the symbol, the Muslim holy book denotes one or more of the following similar, though not identical ideas: that its teachings are the reason for the group’s existence; that group members are especially pious; that the group views its actions as a religious duty; that the entire world should follow Islam; that the Koran justifies killing and conquest.
The elements of a symbol provide telling details about the group they represent. Flags and maps underscore nationalist aspirations. A sword, unlike a rifle, emphasizes historical Islam as well as violence. In grasping these details, our understanding of these groups becomes more vivid and specific.