ISIS Propaganda Mags Urge Suicide ‘Mayhem’
The violent fantasies of jihadi propaganda magazines
To get a sense of how ISIS sees itself—and how it wants to be seen—it’s worth taking a glance at the terror group’s online English-language magazines.
The designers have a lot of decisions to make. What’s the proper placement for a photograph of an Iraqi soldier with his head destroyed by AK-47 fire? What color palette properly reflects the Islamic khalifah established in formerly Iraqi and Syrian territory?
Islamic State Report, Islamic State News and Dabiq magazine is ISIS’s message to the world. The publications—available here—clearly show inspiration from Inspire, the digital Al Qaida magazine that carried interviews with prominent jihadis while gloating about the 9/11 attacks—and printing instructions on how to make D-I-Y explosives.
Like Inspire, the point is to broadcast the group’s message to sympathetic ears. There’s also plenty of gruesome jihadi war porn.
Photo features in Islamic State Report serve to promote the idea that Syrians and Iraqis are happy living under ISIS rule. But no Syrians or Iraqis are ever quoted. To further press its message, the magazines show images of shopkeepers with deer-caught-in-headlights expressions next to those of dead Iraqi soldiers.
Unless anyone thinks ISIS will keep its war contained in the region, the group’s magazines heavily implies otherwise. ISIS sees itself engaged in a Manichean struggle of good versus evil, with the latter represented by America and Russia—both seen as controlled by a global Jewish conspiracy.
The first edition of the group’s Dabiq magazine quotes ISIS chief Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi’s belief that the world is “divided into two camps.” The first is “the camp of Islam and faith,” with the latter being “the camp of kufr (disbelief) and hypocrisy.”
He elaborates further. “The camp of Muslims and the mujahidin everywhere, and the camp of the Jews, the crusaders, their allies, and with them the rest of the nations and religions of kufr, all being led by America and Russia, and being mobilized by the Jews.”
ISIS also sees its strategy as following a direct line from Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, the jihadist warlord who U.S. forces killed in Iraq in 2006.
This strategy follows several steps. The first is “immigrating to a land with a weak central authority to use as a base where a [community] can form, recruit members, and train them.” This provokes the state’s security forces to “partially withdraw from rural territory and regroup in major urban regions.”
The next step is simply described as “mayhem.”
To carry out the mayhem, the magazine reaches back to Zarqawi’s tactics. The weapons are guns, improvised explosive ambushes and car bombs. The targets are “Iraqi apostate forces (army, police, and intelligence), the Rafidah (Shia markets, temples, and militias), and the Kurdish secularists (Barzani and Talabani partisans).”
Enough mayhem, and the result is the collapse of the entire state, and the creation of an Islamist state in its place. But Dabiq doesn’t mention the possibility of an international coalition coming together to defeat the jihadis.
The second edition of Islamic State Report cites ISIS as miraculously being the cause of better grain harvests. “The Islamic State provided harvest machine owners many things to facilitate their work,” the magazine states.
There’s no mention of what specific things.
There’s a brief interview with Abdul Abbas Ash Shami, the chief of the Islamic Police in the Syrian city of Ar Raqqah. According to the interview, the main law and order problem in the city is petty crime. Another interview follows the head of the city’s Consumer Protection Office—a kind of Islamist version of the FDA.
However, you won’t find any mention of crippling power shortages and a collapse in public services in Mosul. Nor will you hear about the thousands of people who fled ISIS’s advance.
But there does appear to be some grains of truth in the propaganda. The magazines emphasize a new freedom—of sorts—found under ISIS rule. “It doesn’t feel like Iraq any more. There is total freedom,” one Mosul resident recently told The Daily Telegraph.
However, The Telegraph noted residents are stockpiling cigarettes before ISIS bans them. ISIS militants have forced women to cover their faces, and are cracking down on gaming.
To put it another way, that “freedom” appears to reflect anarchy in a newly-conquered city—before ISIS can begin implementing theocratic rule. People who openly oppose ISIS rule are also imprisoned or shot. Its magazines provide a hint of what comes next.