The Structure and Visual Rhetoric of the Martyrdom Video: An Enquiry into the Martyrdom Video Genre

Yorck Beese


Since its inception in the 1980s, the genre of vehicular martyrdom videos has served to promote radical Islam. Its history has been generally unsystematic but it has led to the development of several story elements and formal requirements whose occurrence in martyrdom videos has become a contingency. In going beyond the structure of the martyrdom attack genre, this article provides an exemplary analysis of the visual rhetoric of the martyrdom video based on an adapted reading of Roland Barthes’ Rhetoric of the Image, adapted for the analysis of audiovisual content. The effectiveness of the genre in matters of recruitment is found in the genre’s use of pathos: the genre suggests that a martyr goes to the beyond and, from that place, sends a message to this world. This is most evident in the visual language of the genre which is ideologically informed on the level of connotation.