Will True - The Inner Workings of ISIS

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  1 T HE  I NNER  W ORKINGS   OF  ISIS In mid-July, a video featuring Canadian-born Andre Poulin began spreading around the Internet. Poulin, who converted to the religion of Islam six years prior and vaguely resembles John Lennon, looks directly into the camera with an assault rifle resting against his right shoulder and the flag of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) waving over his left 1 . He implores Muslims of the Western world to abandon their lives and come to Syria to fulfill their religious obligation and fight against the kuffar   (non-Muslims). Later in the video, Poulin is seen firing a rocket toward a Syrian airfield before storming the battlefield. Te camera is rocked by an explosion, and a dust cloud covers the screen. In the next scene, Poulin is found slumped against a wall, unmoving. His death is celebrated as that of a martyr by the faceless narrator of the video.Since their declaration of statehood in June, ISIS has experienced an influx of foreign-born fighters. By mid-September, ISIS’s foreign mujahideen  (soldiers of Islam) numbered 15,000 in Syria, including 2,000 Westerners 2 . Tese outsiders join the ranks of Iraqi and Syrian radical Islamists in their 12,000-plus square miles of conquered territory  3 . But what prompts people to fight for ISIS? How does the Islamic State convince Muslims to abandon their daily lives and take up arms against their ideological opponents? What do they have to offer to the citizens of their state? Te Institute for the Study of War (ISW) has done extensive research on the ideology and reasoning behind ISIS’s publicity campaign and internal machinations, and the answer is deceptively simple: a strong claim to religious authority, and effective government. D  ABIQ   As the media is fond of noting, ISIS’s public relations campaign is of an extraordinarily high quality. Te propaganda videos produced by ISIS, which is also known as the Islamic State, are expertly edited and place a high premium on emotional manip-ulation. However, their most impressive work can be found in their monthly publication Dabiq  , an English-language magazine. It is beautifully crafted, brutally graphic and an intricately detailed representation of ISIS activity and their Islamist ideology.In her report “ Dabiq  : Te Strategic Messaging of the Islamic State,” Harleen Gambhir analyzed the first two editions of the magazine for the ISW  4 . Te small town of Dabiq is located in Syria, where the West and Islam meet in apocalyptic battle according to hadith  (traditional Islamic literature). itling the magazine with this end-of-days rhetoric “implies that ISIS  wants to be seen as the jihadist group that will lead the Muslim community into worldwide domination” as the result of the  West’s destruction at Dabiq. ISIS’s claim to religious authority is explicitly stated in their propaganda, and relies on passages from the Qu’ran and widely known hadiths  . Using these core texts, ISIS creates complex logical arguments supporting the formation of a true khilafa   (caliphate, or supreme Islamic state). Aside from justifying their religious authority, Dabiq  ’s secondary purpose is to bring Muslims into their ranks from all over the world. In the beginning of each issue, Dabiq  ’s staff asserts that it is every Muslim’s religious duty to perform hijrah  (mi-gration) and come to the Islamic State 5 . ISIS assures immigrating Muslims that they and their families will be well taken care of. o emphasize this, Dabiq   features accounts of their military victories, assuring their readers that this is what awaits 1 different-lands-abu-muslim-from-canada/2  by Will rue Te actions of the radical Islamist group ISIS in Syria and Iraq have drawn international condemnation and military intervention. Why have thousands of Muslims, domestic and foreign, pledged their lives and deaths to the cause? Te Institute for the Study of War’s analysis paints the picture of an organized, sophisticated, and unforgiving religious sect, rising to power from the ashes of civil war and Western withdrawal.  2 them in the Islamic State. By contrast, Dabiq   also publishes graphic photographics of dead opposition fighters, sending the message that apostates and nonbelievers are destined for the same fate.If a Muslim cannot perform hijrah , it is their duty to hold localized bayat   (pledges of allegiance) to ISIS and its khalifah  (reli-gious leader) Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. If possible, these bayat   should be recorded to promote a sense of unity among Muslims and “fill the hearts of the kuffar   with painful agony.” Tis is a sentiment echoed by Andre Poulin in his posthumous propa-ganda video: “If you cannot fight, then you can give money. If you cannot give money, then you can assist in technology.” “C ONTROL  T HROUGH  G OVERNANCE ” In its Middle East security report “ISIS Governance in Syria,” the ISW examines the government that was installed in their regional capital of Raqqa, which was captured in January of 2014 6 . Authors Charles Caris and Samuel Reynolds find that “ISIS has built a holistic system of governance,” offering services and goods once offered by the Syrian government before civil war threw the country into turmoil. Tis model of government is touted by ISIS as a significant reason for fellow Mus-lims to join them in their war against the kuffar  .Unlike similar radical Islamist sects like al-Qaeda, which try to establish religious authority first and foremost, ISIS believes that a functional government is the first step toward establishing a legitimate caliphate. o ensure that their state is home to like-minded Muslims only, ISIS forces rival rebel groups out of newly conquered territory and either excommunicates or exe-cutes apostates and dissenters. One of the first things ISIS does upon entering a new location is hold an outreach meeting called a Da’wa  , in which ISIS teaches the public about their brand of Islam in a welcoming manner, so as not to stir up controversy. When ISIS informally conquers a city or province, they establish rudimentary governmental offices in two branches: administrative and service-oriented. Te administrative branch establishes their brand of Islam as law among the people, establishing a court system, a police force, and an Islamic education system. On the other side of the coin, the citizens of  war-torn regions benefit greatly from ISIS’ “Muslim services,” their term for human services. Tey provide their Muslim constituents with any basic needs they require, including food, gasoline and medical aid. Tey also control several bakeries  which provide cheap food for the local population. After gaining full control of the territory, ISIS tightens its grip with stricter religious enforcement and further-reaching human service efforts. Instead of letting electricity and water systems fall to ruin, they repair damaged power lines and dams, keeping the local population somewhat complacent. However, in eliminating ideological opposition, they often eliminate the technical expertise that would be needed to expand their efforts. o address this, ISIS calls upon foreign Muslims not only to fight but to help maintain their more technical services. Incoming Muslim professionals could bolster the sustainability of the Islamic State and further increase the power of their caliphate. F IGHTING   ON  T WO  F RONTS Every week, it seems, a new twist in the ISIS propaganda narrative rears its head. Whether it be a new issue of Dabiq  , a  journalist reciting ISIS talking points under threat of death, or the brutal beheading of a Western aid worker, ISIS finds new  ways to spread their message across the world. Tis brutal message of religious extremism appears to be working anecdotally, giving the messengers that much more power. In one story, a Chicago teen was arrested on October 6th at the airport for attempting to join the extremist group 7 . In another, two teenage girls fled their home country of Austria to join ISIS, and are now married to ISIS fighters and expecting children 8 . Tese stories help spread ISIS’s content through more traditional media, and play a significant factor in their recruitment of Muslim extremists worldwide. On September 10th, President Barack Obama announced to the public that the United States would begin conducting airstrikes on strategic ISIS locations in Iraq and Syria 9 . Joining the US in action against the perceived international threat 6 7eenage-girl-jihadists-inspire-copycats-try-run-away-Syria-join-ISIS.html9  3 is a coalition of forces from countries as diverse as the United Kingdom, Australia, Saudi Arabia and Egypt 10 . Just prior to that, ISIS released the third issue of Dabiq. In the following month, no new editions of the magazine appeared online, leading some to conclude that ISIS’s propaganda efforts had taken a hit. However, on October 14th, the fourth issue of Dabiq   hit the web, this time covered by a picture of the Vatican with the flag of the Islamic State flying overhead. For the time being, the war against ISIS will be fought on two fronts: on the battlefield, and in digital media. 10
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