Several days ago, a brutal execution video was put out by Da’esh. Or the “Islamic State” as we’re so urgently reminded by media outlets (as if there’s anything Islamic about their behaviour). Many of their videos have been depraved, but this level of depravity seems to be the apex.
It shows 16 men in Nineveh, Iraq, being slaughtered in horrendous ways. Five are shackled and drowned in a large cage, underwater cameras were used to document their demise. Four were locked in a car, after which a terrorist fired a rocket propelled grenade (used for blowing up tanks) into the vehicle. Then the rest of the prisoners were tied up and their heads were blown off with explosives.
Each man was made to publicly admit to ‘spying’ and thus justify their punishment. This disgusting murder ritual was done, as it always is, in HD; “Hollywood”-style slick production values & ominous soundtracks are a trademark of this terrorist cult.
Da’esh deliberately discarded any lingering facade that they were a group with Islamic values. They intentionally went out of their way in order to offend their (western) audience in any way possible, to induce horror and disgust, to create repulsion and sensationalism, to spread their message. Why? Because they learned that this method means guarantees attention.
It isn’t hard to see how this happened; media outlets across the world have a history of deliberately sensationalising “Islamic” terrorists and their actions since 9/11, either in order to ratchet up their viewers or to induce plain-old Islamophobia.
On September 11th 2001, the whole world was watching non-stop of the unfolding disaster. That itself is understandable given the monumental nature of the events, but the unfolding coverage given to Bin Laden (with al-Jazeera immediately airing his messages directly onto the television stations of several million people across the Middle East and elsewhere) only served to get his message across to a worldwide audience. Al-Qaeda got the hint; atrocities are an easy way to the airwaves.
Al-Qaeda’s awareness that publicity gained attention became bloodier. During the Iraq insurgency versus the American occupation forces (I am not taking the side of the genocidal occupation here) commander Abu Musab al-Zarqawi allegedly dedicated two whole videos to his killings of two American civilian workers, Nick Berg and Eugene Armstrong. They were directly uploaded onto the internet to cause revulsion; one entitled “Abu Musab al-Zarqawi slaughters an American”. Although it’s unclear if he is actually the killer.
At this point the link to the very public atrocities of Da’esh is clear; the organisation was born out of Zarqawi’s publicity-reliant Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Zarqawi had always had trouble deferring to authority; a Jordanian, he had left his home in order to fight the Afghan jihad against the Soviets. He met Al-Qaeda leader Bin Laden and the result was “loathing at first sight”, Zarqawi’s overbearing attitude and swagger being unappealing to him. He refused to pledge allegiance to Bin Laden at least five times.
In 1999 he formed Jama’at al-Tawhid wal Jihad, a group separate from al-Qaeda. Prior to the 2003 Iraq war, he inserted himself into the country and spent 2003-2004 attacking coalition forces and the interim government. Bin Laden, worried about being eclipsed by him, urgently needed a branch of al-Qaeda established in Iraq. After much wrangling, Zarqawi finally pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda in October 2004. It had taken eight months of furious negotiations.
Zarqawi’s acceptance was seemingly conditional upon being named as the “Emir of al-Qaeda’s Operations in the Land of Mesopotamia”. But from the start the alliance frayed; Zarqawi killed over 60 civilians in hotel bombings in Amman (Jordan) which reportedly infuriated Bin Laden. His tactic of bloodily slaughtering Shiites and butchering captives seemingly caused Bin Laden’s deputy Ayman al-Zawahiri to rebuke him in a private letter about his tactics, which had started to give al-Qaeda a bad name.
Eventually, Zarqawi was killed in June 2006. But the publicity-craving, defiantly independent organisation he had created was unchanged. The Mujahideen Shura (consultation) Council abolished al-Qaeda in Iraq in October 2006, forming the Islamic State of Iraq. Abu Omar al-Baghdadi became the self-declared emir of the group. The announcement was followed by very public parades of militants in the Sunni province of Anbar. Again, to garner attention.
As a result of their brutality alienating many Sunni Muslims, and the hiring of the Sunni “awakening” councils to fight them, ISI declined in popularity and size from 2008 onwards. By the American withdrawal in 2011 it was all but defeated.
However, the disenfranchisement of Sunnis in Iraq by Maliki, and the chaos in Syria provided another opportunity to expand. Such was their success in regaining strength that, after pushing out revolutionary fighters from much of the country, they now control some 50% of Syria. In Iraq, the Iraqi army fell to pieces (seemingly sometimes aided by Maliki’s attempts to worsen the crisis in order to get outside backing) and huge areas of territory fell under the control of the ISI, by then-renamed the Islamic State of Iraq and Ash-Sham (ISIS). Then it became simply “IS”, the fake “caliphate”.
This had all gone to plan; Samir Abd Muhammad al-Khlifawi (AKA “Haji Bakr”) a former official in Saddam Hussein’s regime, was the secret director of Da’esh who planned their rapid rise, and had been directing them for many years. When Abu Omar al-Baghdadi was killed in April 2010, he even picked his successor (the current “caliph”, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi) to give the group an Islamic facade.
His tactics were as follows: rely heavily on foreign fighters (as they have fewer ties to local communities and are thus less likely to have inhibitions about using violence), eliminate other revolutionary brigades, marry into prominent families, and use public displays of violence to gain attention, and thus garner support.
All of this has worked spectacularly well today. Not only has the shameless violence been identical throughout the history of JTJ/AQI/Da’esh, as well as the vain and bombastic style of the architects (from “Emir of Al-Qa’eda in the Country of Two Rivers” Zarqawi to “Caliph Ibrahim” Baghdadi), but its very public use.
The more sensationalist attention the Daily Mail, Mirror, Fox News, CNN and other outlets use in response to each act of violence, the worse the violence becomes. Thanks to our politicians and media outlets giving them the attention they crave, they want more and more and more.
First it was shooting dead truck drivers in Iraq on camera. Then it turned into killing Muslim aid workers and journalists from the west on camera. As the government statements condemning their brutality came in, and the live blogs started to go hysterical, we gave them exactly what they wanted. Now it culminates in men having their heads blown off and being drowned in swimming pools to soundtracks.
Today (June 26th) the news broke of a Da’esh suicide bomber blowing himself up in a Kuwaiti mosque and killing several innocent people. A bloodthirsty killer hacked off the head of a businessman in France, and in Tunisia, 37 people were killed on Sousse beach. All these attacks seem to be linked. All are getting frantic amounts of media attention.
Suicide is strictly forbidden in Islam, as is the killing of innocent people. These monsters know this, but they use this appalling brutality because they know it will get our attention; our attention will gain them more fanatical supporters and more notoriety, enabling them to expand. There’s a reason that they’re commonly known as Khawarij. In so many words, foolish extremists.
Our indulgence of their gruesome publicity stunts is literally killing people, each murder more horrific than the next. We need to stop painstakingly documenting their atrocities on live TV, and instead go after them by going after the one who brought their strength into being through secret oil deals, and directly aiding them on the battlefield. Bashar al-Assad and his regime.
Sadly I am well aware of the fact that any number of governments and media outlets have an interest in ensuring that this cult is used as a bogeyman, either to frighten us into fearing and hating Muslims or to justify collaborating with Iran to reshape the region. Therefore my call goes out mainly to those on social media and in press circles who (often with righteous indignation) feel the urge to share news.
I’m not calling for a media blackout; merely for us to cease constantly re-sharing their atrocities in a sensational manner.
Bombing Da’esh and ignoring Assad (as per Obama’s pro-Iran strategy) is only giving him the space he needs to bomb liberated areas with greater impunity and intensity. Both must be silenced to end this bloodshed. The dictator who claims he’s the solution to the extremists, and the extremists who claim they have a monopoly on Islam. In reality, all they do is defame our religion.