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Why Would Anyone Sell Paradise? The Islamic State of Iraq and the Making of a Martyr

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This paper examines the ways in which the ISI (now ISIS or Daesh) blends constitutive, instrumental, and mythic appeals to rhetorically construct martyrs from accounts of suicide missions undertaken in the group's name. We examine a 2007 suicide
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  Full Terms & Conditions of access and use can be found athttp://www.tandfonline.com/action/journalInformation?journalCode=rsjc20 Download by:  [Baylor University Library Serials], [Samuel Perry] Date:  13 January 2016, At: 08:36 Southern Communication Journal ISSN: 1041-794X (Print) 1930-3203 (Online) Journal homepage: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/rsjc20 “Why Would Anyone Sell Paradise?”: The IslamicState in Iraq and the Making of a Martyr Samuel P. Perry & Jerry Mark Long To cite this article:  Samuel P. Perry & Jerry Mark Long (2016): “Why Would Anyone SellParadise?”: The Islamic State in Iraq and the Making of a Martyr, Southern Communication Journal, DOI: 10.1080/1041794X.2015.1083047 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1041794X.2015.1083047 Published online: 13 Jan 2016.Submit your article to this journal View related articles View Crossmark data  “ Why Would Anyone Sell Paradise? ” : The Islamic State in Iraqand the Making of a Martyr Samuel P. Perry and Jerry Mark Long Honors College, Baylor University, Waco, Texas, USA ABSTRACT  This article examines the battlefield associated with the Islamic State in Iraq(ISI; now the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria [ISIS]) suicide attack   “ OperationRabi bin Amir. ”  In examining the ISI-produced recruitment video, manyfeatures of extremist rhetoric become apparent including the constitutive,instrumental, and mythic functions of battlefield videos. By focusing on theaccount of one attack, this rhetorical analysis shows the transformation of actual events into a mythic account of martyrdom that can be circulated onthe Internet ad infinitum in order to recruit members to ISIS. KEYWORDS Constitutive rhetoric; ISIS;mythic rhetoric; terrorism;violence Follow ing the announcement of a caliphate in July 2014, the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (hereafterISIS) 1 has spread through large areas of Iraq and Syria with the pace and devastation of a blitzkrieg.Moreover, to underscore its power and to promote fear, both among subject populations and in theWest, ISIS has propagated a theater of the macabre in its videos of beheadings, torture, and massmurder. However, the jihadist organization has a more fundamental purpose in its video production:to attract and retain recruits. It does so in a twofold way. First, ISIS offers potential adherents theopportunity to enter a narrative that specifically recapitulates Islamic history and develops acompelling new identity based on that history. That powerful inducement speaks to those whobelieve themselves to be dislocated from their own cultural milieu. As Akil Awan frames it, many  jihadists have experienced  “ dual cultural alterity, essentially a double alienation from both minority (ethnic or parental) culture, and majority (mainstream or host society) culture, as a result of beingunable or unwilling to fulfill either group ’ s normative expectations. ” 2 Sometimes as a result of thisalienation, many jihadists find individual identities within the constitutive, instrumental, and mythicappeals found in ISIS messaging.Second, ISIS promises the jihadist that should he be killed, he will become a martyr, leaving apowerful story that recaptures religious history and inspires others. In its important pronouncementfrom the fall 2014,  “ Your Lord is Watchful, ”  ISIS made precisely these promises to new recruits. Inthe 42-minute audio message, spokesman Abu Muhammad al-Adnani al-Shami declared to ISISmembers,  “ You encounter death bare-chested. Under your feet is the transitory world. By God, Ihave not known a single one of you as other than racing toward the battle cry, coveting the place of death in every battle.  I see the Quran walking alive among you …  . No one is killed without leavingbehind him a story ( qisah ) that awakens the Muslims by its very narration ( sard  ). ” 3 ISIS promulgates its narratives of martyrdom primarily through Internet videos; these typesof specially purposed videos, however, are not new. Jihadist battlefield videos date back to theearly 1990s with Emir Khattab in Chechnya, 4 and they have since proliferated dramatically,prompting Carol Winkler to argue that, because of the  “ steep growth in their production, CONTACT  Samuel P. Perry sam_perry@baylor.edu Honors College, Baylor University, One Bear Place #97350, Waco,TX 76798-7350, USA.Color versions of one or more of the figures in the article can be found online at www.tandfonline.com/rsjc. © 2016 Taylor & Francis SOUTHERN COMMUNICATION JOURNALhttp://dx.doi.org/10.1080/1041794X.2015.1083047    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   B  a  y   l  o  r   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   L   i   b  r  a  r  y   S  e  r   i  a   l  s   ] ,   [   S  a  m  u  e   l   P  e  r  r  y   ]  a   t   0   8  :   3   6   1   3   J  a  n  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   6  coupled with their ability to reach audiences around the globe, ”  understanding such videos is “ an imperative. ” 5 Similarly, Cori E. Dauber notes the continuing spread of digital cameras,cheap digital storage space, wider Internet access, and greater availability of digital editingsoftware, all of which contribute to the uptick in the production of online videos and recruit-ment materials. 6 Moreover, well before ISIS moved into Syria, took Raqqa as its headquarters or declared acaliphate, its predecessor organization, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), produced such videos. Weanalyze one of those videos, titled  “ Operation Rabi bin Amir, ”  which describes a 2007 suicide assaulton the police headquarters in Samarra, Iraq. Visually, the productions are as sanguinary as those of ISIS. More important, they evoke the same historic elements and make the same promise of a new identity built on lasting individual narratives. We may call this  “ the continuity of the symbolic DNAof terrorism, ”  adapting Robert Rowland ’ s and Kirsten Theye ’ s significant analysis. 7 According toRowland and Theye, such videos produce a  “ terministic screen of jihad. ” 8 This terministic screenemploys an amalgam of instrumental, constitutive, and mythic rhetorical strategies, which blendtogether in distinctive ways through the production of the videos.In examining  “ Operation Rabi bin Amir, ”  one of ISI ’ s earliest such videos, we first sketch itscontemporary setting of Samarra. Then, we look at specific ways the video recapitulates Islamichistory and situates the featured jihadists in that reconstructed narrative, exploring more fully ISI ’ sspecific rhetorical strategies in the development of   “ Operation Rabi bin Amir. ”  We have selected this video to analyze for several reasons. First, it captures a key moment in the organization ’ s develop-ment. Only a few months prior, al-Qaida in Iraq (AQI) had taken the crucial step of rebranding itself as the  “ Islamic State of Iraq, ”  an intentional distancing — though not yet divorce — from its parentorganization, al-Qaida, still led at that time by Osama bin Laden.  “ Operation Rabi bin Amir, ”  then,captures this critical period of reorientation and an increased focus on violence as spectacle. Second,the video presents a constellation of religious elements and the  “ manufacturing ”  of a martyr. ISIappears to have regarded this formula a successful one for the constitutive, instrumental, and mythicrhetoric it continues to employ. Third, unlike some other videos that ISI, now ISIS, produced, “ Operation Rabi bin Amir, ”  saw an extended cyber life. Various venues remessaged both the  qisah that it presents and the images it incorporates. 9 Study of this nascent video can aid analysts who seek to explicate current ISIS productions.Explication is a critical step because, as Carol Winkler and others argue, Western media oftenmischaracterize, or even take a reductionist approach to, various jihadist organizations and theirmessages. Winkler maintains,  “ The ongoing search for a simple public explanation of the diverserange of  violent actors around the globe results in repeated mischaracterizations of the nation ’ sthreats. ” 10 Yet, only through accurately understanding these rhetorical strategies can we find ways tocounter ISIS ’ s narrative.Indeed, disrupting those rhetorical practices and promoting alternative hermeneutics may help tocombat terrorism. Rowland and Theye argue,  “ The fundamentally rhetorical nature of terrorismmeans that one key to defeating it depends on undercutting the rhetoric of terrorist organizations.Al-Qaida and associated organizations are not a kind of paramilitary organization that can bedestroyed in a military campaign …  . The key to the franchise is the message. ” 11 Similarly, Jerry Mark Long and Alex Wilner assert,  “ Targeting these narratives may  — theoretically speaking — alterbehavior: Strengthening opinions and positions that contradict the legitimization of terrorism may influence individuals and groups contemplating particular forms of violence, along with the socio-religious communities that facilitate their efforts. ” 12 Moreover, jihadists seem acutely aware of this potential vulnerability. Before he was killed in adrone strike, one early al-Qaida ideologue observed,  “ More than half of the battle is taking place inthe forum of the media. In the media battle we are in a race for the hearts and minds of ourUmmah. ” 13 By carefully studying ISI ’ s  “ Operation Rabi bin Amir, ”  we unpack the various rhetoricthat ISIS now uses, uncover how it seeks to win the media war and then offer a few preliminary suggestions on how to counter it. 2 S. P. PERRY AND J. M. LONG    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   B  a  y   l  o  r   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   L   i   b  r  a  r  y   S  e  r   i  a   l  s   ] ,   [   S  a  m  u  e   l   P  e  r  r  y   ]  a   t   0   8  :   3   6   1   3   J  a  n  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   6  Sketch of the May 2007 attack  While titled  “ Operation Rabi bin Amir, ”  the martyrdom video focuses on a 30-year-old Arab, “ Abu Jafr al-Yemeni, ”  rather than the video ’ s eponymous jihadist. Although background infor-mation about Abu Jafr up to the time of the attack is only sketchy, 14 we do know that he wasborn in Yemen, as the patronym indicates, and moved to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, where he spentthe rest of his youth. At some point, distressed by the suffering of Sunni Muslims during the warin Iraq, he left his family to join Islamic militants to fight the  “ apostates ”  and  “ crusaders. ” Coalition forces captured him, holding him at Abu Ghraib prison. Following the media exposéabout conditions there, authorities transferred Abu Jafr and his fellow prisoners to Badushprison, outside Mosul, north of Baghdad. In March 2007 (the first dateable event in hisbiography), militants affiliated with the Islamic State in Iraq (ISI) stormed the prison andfreed the prisoners.While still in Badush prison, Abu Jafr became  “ dear friends ”  with Rabi bin Amir, anotherYemeni, who  “ longed to attain the approval of his Lord and the gardens of paradise. ” 15 Havingescaped with Abu Jafr, the 23-year-old Rabi bin Amir joined other ISI militants in an attack on theIraqi police in Samarra. According to the ISI account,  “ It was by God ’ s determination that elementsof the police force surrounded [Rabi bin Amir] and were on the verge of seizing him when he threw a hand grenade between himself and them. Thus he did a heroic deed ( bala ’  ) in which both some of them and he himself were killed. ”  Moved by his friend ’ s sacrifice, Abu Jafr decided to carry out asuicide mission, asking only for the privilege of naming it for his compatriot. Thus, one understandsthe impetus for, and designation of,  “ Operation Rabi bin Amir. ”  On May 6, 2007, Abu Jafr fulfilledhis wish to honor his friend and become a martyr, driving an explosives-laden van into the policeheadquarters in Samarra. That attack and its accompanying gun battles killed 40 Iraqi police and 18U.S. troops. Four ISI militants also died in the operation. It is the video of the operation that weanalyze. We first analyze the rhetorical functions of the names of the operatives that ground thereading of the battlefield video. Constitutive naming in Operation Rabi bin Amir The ISIS terministic screen consists of a constellation of mythical srcin stories and rhetorically constructed martyrs, both of which serve important constitutive functions. ISIS narrative construc-tions consistently invoke the concept of   “ sacred time ”  as Mircea Eliade conceives of it. 16 Sacred time,or  “ a primordial mythical time made present  , ” 17 functions rhetorically to position martyrs as “ transhistorical figures. ” 18 The consubstantial link between the living and the dead, present andhistorical figures, that Maurice Charland conceives of as an important ideological effect rendered inconstitutive rhetoric is present in these videos. In fact, the references to the historical companions of the Prophet Muhammad figures both srcin myths and recent history prominently so as to doublethe ideological effect of transhistorical figures noted by Charland. The ideological effect is double inthat the videos identify mythically important figures, and operatives assume those names to likentheir actions to the deeds of companions of the Prophet Muhammad and other figures in early Islam.In turn, ISIS uses representations of the deceased operatives, who use the names derived from thenames of the companions, to cultivate and maintain relationships with consumers of jihadist mediato propagate their  “ brand. ”“ Operation Rabi bin Amir ”  participates in the rhetorical strategy of sacred time. Abu Jafr andRabi bin Amir are not the given names of the principle characters in this battlefield video. Abu Jafrembraced a new identity well before he carried out his suicide mission to honor his friend Rabi binAmir. In fact, neither the specific clan name nor the given name of the ISI member, Abu Jafr al-Yemeni, is known. The patronym, al-Yemeni, simply specifies country of srcin, not a particularregion, and e ven the name  “ al-Yemini ”  likely was given to him after he had moved to Iraq to join the jihad there. 19 While he had many nicknames, among his  “ brothers in jihad, ”  he especially loved to be SOUTHERN COMMUNICATION JOURNAL 3    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   B  a  y   l  o  r   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   L   i   b  r  a  r  y   S  e  r   i  a   l  s   ] ,   [   S  a  m  u  e   l   P  e  r  r  y   ]  a   t   0   8  :   3   6   1   3   J  a  n  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   6  called  “ Abu Jafr ”  because the story of   “ the noble companion ”  of the Prophet Muhammad, Jafr ibnAbi Talib, deeply affected him. The historic Jafr figured prominently in the early Islamiccommunity. 20 The Prophet ’ s cousin and brother to the future caliph Ali, he numbered among thefirst  muhajirun  (émigrés, sing.,  muhajir  ). 21 Jihadists now symbolically appropriate the term torepresent anyone who leaves his homeland to participate in jihad, as with Abu Jafr and Rabi binAmir. Believers remember the historical  muhajirun  for their fierce fighting, and their stories endwith either victory over a foreign foe or death and entrance into paradise. Contemporary jihadistsconsider themselves pioneers of Islam akin to the old émigrés who left their countries to fight,spreading Islam throughout the land.In this way, the names tap into a mythic-historical conception of Islam that invokes  “ sacred time. ” That a young man chose a story from the centuries-long history of Islam is significant because itshows a broader impulse within his community, ISI, to repeat and recover Islamic srcin stories. Italso indicates the young man was persuaded to interpret those srcin stories in a particular way through the ISI terministic screen of jihad. Eliade suggests srcin stories figure largely in religiousnarratives because: The  time of srcin  of a reality  — that is the time inaugurated by the first appearance of the reality  — has aparadigmatic value and function; that is why man seeks to reactualize it periodically by means of appropriaterituals  …  religious man believes that he lives in  another   time, that he has succeeded in returning to the mythical illud tempus . 22 In other words, the srcins of a culture provide examples for religious practices or rites of peoplewho inherit that religious culture as a means of returning to the time of srcin,  “ sacred time. ” To that end, the actions of the historical Jafr ibn Abi Talib gain great significance as the present-day Abu Jafr attempted to participate in rites that would grant him access to  “ sacred time. ”  LeavingMecca because of persecution of the new faith, the historical Jafr traveled to Abyssinia (present-day Ethiopia) where he converted the  “ Negus al-Asham, ”  its Christian king, to Islam. 23 Several yearslater, Muhammad commissioned Jafr as second in command of the military force sent to confrontthe Byzantine army at the Battle of Mu ’ tah, in present-day Jordan. Once there, Jafr hamstrung hishorse (the first in Islam to do so) to ensure he himself could not flee if the battle turned against theMuslims. Charging into battle, Jafr reputedly shouted: How wonderful is Paradise as it draws near!How pleasant and cool is its drink!Punishment for the Byzantines is not far away! There he fell in battle as a martyr, and, when soldiers discovered his body, they found he hadsustained numerous wounds  …  with none in the back. 24 Later, Muhammad, who wept on hearing of his death, dreamed of Jafr, seeing him flying with bloody wings among the angels in paradise. Hethus became  Jafr al-tayyar fee al-janna ,  “ Jafr, the one who flies in paradise. ”  In addition, an early poet described him as  “ the iron-clad young man with two wings. ” 25 The historical narrative of hisnamesake provides a basis for both the identity and the actions of Abu Jafr.In this case, the adoption of a historically significant name associated with discourses of Islamicmilitary history provides grounds for a subject position; moreover, the discourse refigures Abu Jafr ’ seventual attack as a heroic death, not a suicide. In other words, Abu Jafr ’ s identity is constructed notonly through his actions in a suicide bombing mission but perhaps to an even greater extent hisidentity is rhetorically constructed through associations with narratives that invoke sacred time andtranshistorical figures. Charland argues,  “ History, and indeed discourse itself, form the ground forsubjectivity   …  [and] the position one embodies as a subject is a rhetorical effect. ” 26 Through therepeating of the heroic death of a noble companion of  the Prophet, one becomes a witness ( shaheed  )to the  apodictic  truth of the community  ’ s narrative. 27 The names chosen by operatives warrant violence, and not only in this one instance. Taking a name also makes heroic deaths a ritualisticrepeating of the srcin story of Islam, offering entry into paradise for participants in the repetition. 4 S. P. PERRY AND J. M. LONG    D  o  w  n   l  o  a   d  e   d   b  y   [   B  a  y   l  o  r   U  n   i  v  e  r  s   i   t  y   L   i   b  r  a  r  y   S  e  r   i  a   l  s   ] ,   [   S  a  m  u  e   l   P  e  r  r  y   ]  a   t   0   8  :   3   6   1   3   J  a  n  u  a  r  y   2   0   1   6
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