The Islamic State Stole Videos From Canadian Tourism Ads To Recruit Westerners

Video of a cute little Canadian kid fishing with his dad was used to recruit jihadists to Syria.

Jul 16 2014, 6:35pm

We're officially living in the age of the mashup when the world's most feared jihadist organizations rip off scenes from tourism ads to make their recruitment videos—and that's exactly what ISIS has done with Canada's tourism board.

Today, the New York Times ran a story about the latest Islamic State recruitment video featuring André Poulin, aka Abu Muslim, a Canadian turned IS jihadist who died last year in a summer offensive. In the video, Poulin is seen talking about his regular life in Canada watching hockey, hunting, and hitting the cottage on the weekends.

“I had money, I had family,” said Poulin in army fatigues and a bandanna. “But at the end of the day, it’s still der al-kuffar (land of non-Muslims)”

Screenshot of Abu Muslim's video.

The Times is touting the video as the latest in a propaganda operation aimed at recruiting westerners into a life of jihad in Syria. To them, it’s a notable occasion for IS to be migrating into English language recruitment videos.

But instead of making me want to jump on the next flight to Turkey and hop the border to Sham, it accomplished something closer to the opposite. I was more like, "this video makes me want to do snow angels in the mountains and play pond hockey with my bros.”

At the beginning of the video, in between the masked jihadists brandishing their AK’s, or the brutal battle footage full of adventure, death, and destruction—there were glamour shots strewn into the footage, meant to juxtapose the emptiness of Canadian life with the meaningful world of mujahideen.

And that’s because IS ripped this directly from an Alberta tourism video meant to seduce stuck up eastern Canadians like myself into going to the hinterlands of western Canada for a vacation.

As the video began, I immediately became suspicious of the beautiful mountain landscapes. Shots like those are far above the kinds of resources IS has to make documentary film, regardless of how good the group is at social media.

Check out the first panoramic helicopter shot, or the slow motion snow rewind against the mountain cliffs from the "Travel Alberta" videos and their jihadist iterations:

Better yet, this cute little kid fishing with his dad (the perfect blonde-haired, blue-eyed version of Canadiana) wound up in a video trying to recruit militant jihadists. I wonder how he feels about it?

Obviously these two sets of videos are polar opposites: one meant to entice people to visit the great Canadian outdoors, the other to offer your life to a group fighting in a brutal civil war in the middle of a desert. Not only that, while folksy ballads play in the assortment of "Travel Alberta" videos these clips were pulled from, more aggressive jihadist hymns accompany the story of Abu Muslim's "Hijrah" (emmigration in Arabic) to Syria.

In a strange way, the video, produced by Al-Hayat (an IS news wing producing other slick videos), becomes the embodiment of media thievery in a YouTube world. Just as it can spit a tweet or Instagram with the best of them, IS can steal a YouTube video like any other westerner with an internet connection.

Interestingly, while there are other videos of Canadian soldiers in Afghanistan and local news clips of Abu Muslim, most of the locales you witness are in Alberta. But, as is well known, Poulin was from Timmins—a northern Ontario town over 3,000 kilometers from Alberta.

Some of the voice over that accompanies the remaining video calls Canada a place of "evil, kuffar [non-Muslims], and sin." He criticizes Muslims who pay taxes to the morally bankrupt society.

I thought the tone of those statements didn't match the almost god-like beauty of the Canadian Rockies captured earlier and stylized by Alberta tourism. To my mind, IS should've used stock footage of the apocalyptic smoke stacks in Fort McMurray or some of the grim bars of some small town in Canada. 

Ultimately, these recruitment videos using the deaths of Canadians isn't anything new in the online toolbox of IS or any other group active in Syria. One alleged online Canadian fighter has already made a tumblr blog preaching the heroic tales of dead Canadian fighters, while another Canadian who claims to be in Iraq tweets about how inspiring Abu Muslim was (and the fighters who have made hijrah from Canada in his honor). Not to mention, Poulin being in this recruitment video isn't breaking news: Stewart Bell of the National Post wrote about this video on Friday, along with other Canadian media.

In the end, the globalization and easy access of images led to the conflation of two worlds that visually should never really have met in the first place. But the better question is, if Al-Hayat wants to be a serious news agency, how much do they owe Travel Alberta in royalties?