HOW THE ISIS TELLS ITS' SYRIAN STORY: PROPAGANDA AND MYSTICISM
story emphasizes the rebellion against Alawite oppression and the
mysticism of a religious war that's quoted in the ancient Islamic
scriptures, its epic combatants and the certainty of victory. “al
Sham” (the Great Syria) is mentioned by Mohammed whom, when asked
by one of his followers, says “I see the angels of Allah covering
al Sham with their wings” (quotations are recurrent in other ISIS
documents as well, because they inspired the caliph al Baghdadi in
his idea of fulfilling the mission suggested by the prophet).
Our booklet begins with the image of a boy writing on a wall: “the people want the regime to collapse” (in Arab “al Sha'ab yureed, iskaat ul nidhaam”). The boy is then arrested and tortured like many others before him during the 40 years of Alawite reign because – this is the thesis of the publication – half of the Syrian population is made up of spies; the secret police rapes women and kills men; the hired assassins of the Shabiya (Alawite paramilitary militias) will hunt you down and, once captured, will treat you ruthlessly; the Americans will send terrorism suspects back to Syria although they know that they will be tortured upon arrival.
But now, states the publication, after years of oppression, the people are reacting; the Sunni majority rebels against the Alawite tyranny by marching in street demonstrations. It is a crowd that demands change, like the “brothers” in Libya and Egypt; a crowd that chants “We have no other God but Allah”. And it is the truth – underlines the publication – because people are defenseless and disarmed as they risk their lives under the fire of snipers; only Allah is protecting them. These statements are coupled with an attached video showing a protester who is beaten to death during a demonstration.
The publication also describes in detail the ruthlessness of the Shiites (Alawites are Shiites) against the Sunnis: people are hung outside of their door; men are whipped, mothers are forced to chose which son will be thrown from a building's rooftop; fingernails are ripped from fingers during torture; pregnant women are raped and killed in a crescendo of sadism (it is notable that to abhor the use of violence by the enemy does not make the ISIS conscious of the violence which it also inflicts on its victims).
Finally, to complete this apocalyptic scenario that depicts the ruthlessness of others, there is a photograph of a tortured Sunni who lifts his index finger as if to point out what the Arabs call “taweed”, the uniqueness of God. The circumstance is tagged as a martyrdom of faith. Then there is another photograph of a woman being buried who seems to smile. The caption to this photo is again a quote from the prophet: “the martyr sees his place in Paradise in the act of death”.
Next, the booklet quotes the Bible: Moses asks that the tyrants of al Sham be attacked and destroyed. Faced with cowardly refusals, Allah's prophecy is dispensed: “This holy land will be precluded to them for 40 years”.
In the mystical ramblings of the ISIS, the revolution in Syria started in 2011, exactly 40 years after the rise to power of Hafez Assad. This circumstance is underlined by the publication in order to associate the role of the Islamic militias with Allah's prophecy, with the addition of a quote from Mohammed who says that, once conquered, al Sham “will be justly guided by a Caliph in accordance with the prophecy”. This last passage serves to legitimize the self proclamation of Abu Bakr al Baghdadi in his role of Caliph.
Once the religious legitimization of al Baghdadi has been ascertained, the text moves on to the epic of the civil war: Sunnis who defect from the army; their adhesion to the groups of demonstrators and protesters; the creation of the so-called “Free Syrian Army” (“al Jaish al Hurr”).
However, states the booklet, it was an army too weak to fight the regime on its own, until the “migrants” (“Mujahereen”) and the “supporters” (“Ansar”), joined its ranks. These were all Muslims, of course, coming from 50 different countries.
Their participation is explained by another quotation from the Koran (“Those that have believed and emigrated and fought for the cause of Allah and those that have provided help and refuge, they are the real believers. They will be pardoned and receive noble predicaments” - i.e. they will go to Paradise).
It is these men and women, the publication ironically states – that the world calls terrorists.
Next in the publication we find the diary of a “mujahereen”, a volunteer of British nationality and his adventures during his journey to Syria; the difficulties in crossing the border; the attempts by various individuals to ask money for their assistance in crossing to the other side; the extenuating wait in a hotel; the ISIS organization that provides for the traveller; the joy felt upon arrival… This part of the publication dwells on the connivance of the Turkish police which, after intercepting the British mujahereen, lets him and other suspect terrorists pass. The booklet then discusses the difficult relationship with the Free Syrian Army and the good relationship with Ahrar al Sham; the practice of hiding one's identity while travelling through Syria. This part of the narration is literally riddled with Koranic references.
There follows a brief chapter entitled “the 5-star Jihad” where we see photographs of a number of Jihadists as they swim in a hotel's swimming pool (explains the title), as they have a snowball fight and then as they engage in real war.
Next, there is a chapter called “Miracle in battle”. This chapter claims that, during the Syrian conflict, there have been miracles witnessed by the “slaves of God” (the concept introduces a basic principle of Islam: everything is chosen by God, man only follows his course in life according to the will of God. There exists no free will, as in Christianity).
There follow various stories that float on the verge of suggestion, exaltation and reality (a lot more of the former two than of the latter): a volunteer from Australia says that bombs were dropped by the regime but did not incur any damage on the nearby homes; that, although he was without water, the mujaheddin did not sweat or smell bad (neither him nor others who were near him, while in Turkey they smelled horrible); that the mujaheddin needed an off-road vehicle which, despite the meager family finances, was acquired by his parents; that he had seen the regime's troops advancing, then inexplicably falling back and retreating; that the MIG fighter planes from Damascus were bombing abandoned areas without any real targets (thus without damaging the ISIS structures); that the bodies of the martyrs did not decompose, even after burial; the case of a wounded mujaheddin who, unable to move, dug a hole and found water; or of other mujaheddins who knew they would die prior to the fight, so they decided to give their things to their comrades and face death with a smile; that the youths in the villages were the first to hear the sound of helicopters and to alert the population (note that the miracle is in the details: these youths were 2 years old and up); all the way to the plants which, in ISIS-controlled territories, bear abundant and tasty fruit without being watered.
In general, the miracles described in the Australian mujaheddin's story (his presumed nationality is mentioned in order to make him more credibile) are such low-level miracles that one can't help but wonder what kind of impact they can have in boosting proselytism and fanaticism. The answer is that, perhaps, the kind of person that the message is intended for is believed to be very naive and gullible.
But the tales of “Miracles” do not end here. There follow the so-called 'humorous' accounts. The tale of a group of mujaheddins who fight, advance and dig trenches only to later find that the enemy is stationed behind them; the reaction of two combatants when they see explosive barrels being launched over their heads (one chases the helicopter in an attempt to be martyred while the other jumps out of the trench and challenges the enemy face to face – no need to mention that both mujaheddins survive); the laughter of a brigade commander who says that the shots fired by an enemy impacted his Kalashnikov's charger, thus saving his life.
The publication then speaks of the courage of the Islamic combatants: it describes the attack by 5 brothers against the strongholds of the Syrian regime, with the sole survivor forcing the enemy's retreat; it depicts the enemy airplanes that bomb the mountains but always fail to target the rebels (and here we have a parallel with Afghanistan and Chechnya, where the Uzbek militiamen face the enemy shirtless and inevitably win the fight); the struggle against the Kurdish PKK militias (actually, it's the YPG) who, during a conversation on the radio, state: “how can we continue to fight against an enemy that has a thousand suicide bombers at its disposal”.
Then there is the tale of a “pyramid” (probably a mausoleum) in a strip of land confiscated from an “adorer of Satan” (possibly a Yazidi, since that's what the Sunnis call them) which was destroyed, putting a militiaman's life at risk (the incident is attributed to the intercession of a “jinn” - a supernatural evil spirit). The description of the findings inside the 'pyramid' seems to support the hypothesis that it was used in satanic rituals (hair, tied strings, bloody razors, pungent-smelling liquids).
A later chapter is dedicated to the Free Syrian Army that fights against the ISIS, killing its men and raping its women. “Why does this happen”, asks rhetorically the publication. “After we helped them fight a common enemy”. The answer is simple: “we want a global Caliphate to free Palestine and the rest of the Muslim worlds from tyrants, while they want secular national regimes that they hope to perpetuate by using money and support from the West and from the Arab regimes.
Here the publication speaks of the epic fight against the “sahwa”
(Arab word that means “awakening”, but which is used to refer to
militias that are financed and trained by the USA). I will let the
reader guess who wins in the end. This part of the booklet is not
merely a fight of firearms, but also a competition of epithets
(“pigs”, “dogs”, “you don't have Osama Bin Laden helping you now”;
Saudi Arabia is called a “lap-dog”).
When the ISIS fighters conquer a “sahwa” stronghold, the publication states, they find food rations and western equipment (while the ISIS militia have the sole protection of Allah). The cowardice of the sahwa is stigmatized: their flight when faced with the ISIS is described; their pleading when they are beaten is risible; their retreats that leave behind weapons and equipment; the fact that they had raped and killed Saudi women before escaping...
Next, the booklet speaks thoroughly of the military epic and of the religious mission amidst a holy war against the apostates (here the Turkish stance is criticized) and the unfaithful.
There follows a number of stories of martyrdom where the corpses
smell like moss. There are photographs that depict smiling dead
martyrs, while those of the unfaithful are decomposing (another
obvious divine message). Religious quotes are literally squandered
in these pages.
Finally, the booklet publicizes a number of e-books that further support the literary epic of the ISIS.
Altogether, this publication matches the basic emphasis of all of the ISIS messages: a just cause in a just war; a message and a divine will to fulfill; the epic of the mujaheddin; the legitimization of the Caliph and of the Caliphate; martyrdom as a final goal with Paradise as a reward. Finally, perhaps in an attempt to impress and convince the low-level, highly-suggestible reader, there are a number of claims that transform this religious mysticism into popular credulity.
publication aims at suggesting rather than convincing its reader.
And perhaps the strength of al Baghdadi's militias lies in this
mix of religion, fanaticism and suggestion that turns the lack of
alternatives and the fear of death into an unimportant detail.