Maps of Daesh – The Cartographic Warfare Surrounding Insurgent Statehood

Dietmar Offenhuber

The ongoing Syrian civil war raises new cartographic challenges, including the ethical question of how the self-proclaimed Islamic State should be represented. States and news organizations face a conundrum: by mapping IS territory, they implicitly acknowledge its statehood. I investigate how different mapping methods carry different connotations for representing the strength and nature of the terror state, arguing that the statehood the IS is symbolically contested through cartographic choices that reflect the diverging interests of map makers.

Based on a comparative study, this article investigates the visual languages of IS sanctuary maps as published by news agencies, intelligence agencies, or circulated by the insurgents themselves. I argue that the statehood of territory held by the IS is symbolically contested through cartographic choices that reflect the diverging interests of the map makers. Beyond official representations, the article also considers the maps created by amateur conflict mappers and visual forensics experts, who extract and cross-reference information from social media including posted cell phone and drone footage, georeferenced tweets, and satellite images. I argue that the novel visual strategies developed by these practitioners for presenting visual evidence emphasize nonrepresentational aspects of cartography and represent a countermodel to established cartographic languages that follows an indexical rather than iconic or symbolic paradigm.

Offenhuber, D. (2017). Maps of Daesh: The Cartographic Warfare Surrounding Insurgent Statehood. GeoHumanities 4/1, 1–24.

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Image: based on IS sanctuary map by Institute of Study of War, Azam Majooni