The world is increasingly racked, and with an ever wider geographical scope, by “Jihadis” attacks of various if not complex origin. To name only some of the most reported and latest cases, we faced attacks in Belgium, Canada, Australia, and lately France – with aftermath in Germany (11 January 2015, The Telegraph). In Lebanon we had an attack in Tripoli (10 January 2015, BBC News) and the north of the country seems to be plunging into war. In Pakistan we remember the 16 December attack on a Peshawar School (BBC News, 13 January 2015), while the overall situation is increasingly unsettled and a former Taliban group, Khorassan Shoura, renewed its allegiance to the Islamic State in January 2015 (The Long War Journal, 13 Jan 2015). In Nigeria, two attacks were carried out by children suicide bombers on 10 and 11 January 2015 (The Guardian, 12 January 2015), and part of the northeast of the country seems to be now lost to Boko Haram, affiliated to the Islamic State, while the conflict spreads to Cameroon (e.g. BBC News, 13 January 2015). In Saudi Arabia, we had an attack on border post on 5 January 2015 (Alessandria Masi, International Business Time). Meanwhile, the war heightens in Libya, which also has its own Islamic States actor (see forthcoming post in our series on Libya), reignites in Yemen (Patrick Cockburn, The Independent, 12 January 2015), and does not relent in Iraq and Syria.
In this light, and beyond the apparent diversity of origin of the attacks, it has become all the more urgent to understand the world as the Islamic State sees it, and in which way that worldview and related psyops and actions impact all other actors, be they Jihadis or not, affiliated to the Islamic State or not. This is crucial if we want to foresee what may happen, warn about it, and fight the war against the Islamic State at best.
The Islamic State psyops provide us with a perfect point of entry into the changes the Islamic State imprints on the world. First, being psyops, they influence actors and their actions (see the first post of the series, “A Framework“). Second, they reveal much on the Islamic State’s beliefs, aims, and strategy, both in general, as pointed out by Gambhir (August 2014: 10-11), and regarding specific moments, i.e. what the Islamic State seeks, when and how it will try to achieve this or that goal, considering ongoing dynamics. The aims of the Islamic State and related processes may be broadly defined along three inter-related dimensions: consolidating and developing the Islamic State and its Khilafah in all its facets, asserting supremacy over actual or potential competing groups and fighting victoriously against attacking foes. We shall further refine this framework throughout this post and the next.
Here, we shall address, first, doubts and denials that were aired following the Paris attack, notably in the media and general public, regarding the reality and nature of the war with the Islamic State. We shall then turn to the Islamic State and its Khilafah to better understand their perception of the political order and of the related entities they are creating, and finally consider a first impact of that vision and related actions, an assault on modernity, and what that means in terms of responses.
War or not War?
Before to start plunging into the Islamic State’s worldview through its psyops products, considering the various debates that followed on the Paris attacks, it seems necessary – and urgent – to first dispel some misunderstandings.
First and foremost, war is here understood following von Clausewitz’s definition:
“War therefore is an act of violence to compel our opponent to fulfill our will.” (Carl von Clausewitz, On War, Chapter 1, 2.- Definition)
It is nothing more and nothing less. The images and representations that many have of certain types of warfare, such as, for example, war following neat declarations of war between states and involving armies with a specific uniform, of a specific colour, fighting each other on a specific battlefield, may, or not, fit the type of warfare linked to the current war. This does not mean that there is not a war going on, it means that the type of war and the way to fight it may be different. We shall come back more in detail to this point with the next article.
Second, facts show that we are at war. The Islamic State is obviously fighting a war in Syria and Iraq, and the level of destructions fulfills the criteria for war as defined by the University of Heidelberg (for applications of the methodology to other cases, see Mitchell, Libya; Lavoix, Ukraine).
When, answering the Iraqi government call for help, the US-led coalition started Operation Inherent Resolve, a “comprehensive strategy to degrade and defeat the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, or ISIL” as a response to the Islamic State war (US Department of Defense), it entered the war. As we saw previously (“The Making of the Crusaders“), it is possible that the Islamic State, to the least, wished for this entrance. We thus have 62 countries and political entities, according to the list of the U.S. Department of State that are at war with the Islamic State. To these must be notably added China, Iran, and Russia, which contribute to the war, but without being part of the coalition.
On the ground, the Islamic State remains an expanding adversary. In Syria, it has increased the territory that is more or less under its control since August 2014, as shown by the excellent Wikipedia map maintained over time on the Syrian conflict and by the map lately produced by Coalition for a Democratic Syria (CDS) (e.g. Daily Mail, 17 January). Note, however, the difference between point held and territory controlled, the former being more representative of reality. Meanwhile, in Iraq, if some advances have been stopped, the situation remains difficult, as summarized by Vivian Salama in “A year on, Islamic State group still rules Iraq’s Fallujah” (Associated Press, 18 January 2015).
The attacks in Paris most probably finally convinced governments that we were truly at war, witness the presence of more than 40 heads and representatives of governments and international delegations at the Paris March on 11 January 2015 (e.g. CNN, 11 January 2015). For example, the deployment of up to 10 500 military personnel within France to protect the territory (more personnel being thus deployed inside France than in external operations), as stated by French President Hollande shows, if the word of war still remains rarely heard, that a new level of awareness has been reached (French Presidency, Vœux aux Armées – Toulon (porte-avions Charles de Gaulle), 14 Janvier 2015).
Now, after many discussions, either online or in real life, with various people “in the West”, what seems to emerge behind the difficulty to objectively and calmly consider war, is in fact a belief that war “as during World War I or World War II” or “as in Syria, Iraq or Libya” cannot happen on European or Northern American land. This is a very natural hope. However, hope should never preclude awareness and preparedness. This is all the more important that the Islamic State, for its part, used the attack in Sidney to repeat its enticement according to which “citizens of crusader nations should be targeted wherever they can be found” (e.g. Dabiq #4, “Rush to support your state O Muslim”: 44). Its spokesman’s former call to “strike those waging war against the Islamic State wherever they may be” was again relayed in the foreword to Dabiq #6, published on 30 December 2014 by Al-Hayat Media Center (pdf available through Worldanalysis.net):
“If you can kill a disbelieving American or European – especially the spiteful and filthy French – or an Australian, or a Canadian, or any other disbeliever from the disbelievers waging war, including the citizens of the countries that entered into a coalition against the Islamic State, then rely upon Allah, and kill him in any manner or way however it may be. Do not ask for anyone’s advice and do not seek anyone’s verdict” (Islamic State spokesman, Shaykh Abū Muhammad al-‘Adnānī, Dabiq #6, Al-Hayat Media Center: 3).
As is clear from the statements above, those that are targeted are not only military personnel but all citizens.
More specifically, the fate of women, part of the unbelievers, who would be captive and slave and if, when and how they can be sold, inherited, raped, punished, beaten, has been stipulated in Oct/Nov 2014 by the Research and Fatwa Department of the Islamic State (see for a translation of this frightening text MEMRI, “Islamic State (ISIS) Releases Pamphlet On Female Slaves“, 4 December 2014).
Meanwhile, the attacks in Paris were praised across “Jihadis” actors, and beyond “specific claims”: the attack on Charlie Hebdo was claimed by Al Qaeda in the Arabic Peninsula (as expected from the perpetrators’ declarations, e.g. Marc Daou, France 24, 10 January 2015), while the Montrouge and Porte de Vincennes attacks clearly emerged from the Islamic State (Pietervanostayen, “Video message by Amedy Coulibaly “Soldier of the Caliphate”, 11 January 2015 – for the relativity of the claims, e.g. Charlie Winter, MiddleEast Eye, 15 January 2015). Calls for more and more generalized attacks were again encouraged (e.g. Islamic State: “Meetings on the Blessed French Operations – Wilāyat al-Raqqah”, 14 January 2015, Jihadology.net; AQAP: “Nāsir Bin ‘Alī al-Ānsī ~ Vengeance for the Messenger of God “, 14 January 2015, Pietervanostayen).
We shall come back to the question of the type of war and warfare that is fought and may increasingly emerge in the near future at the end of the next post, once we shall have a better understanding of the Islamic State’s worldview, to which we shall now turn.
The Islamic State and the Khilafah
As we saw previously in “The making of the Crusaders“, the Islamic State’s overarching aim is to establish a Caliphate or Khilafah over the whole Earth.
A recent Islamic State psyops video product, “A Message from Brother ‘Abd Allah Moldovi”, 6 January 2015, by Al-Hayat media center (Jihadology.net), provides further explanations.
This video was obviously produced to deny any claim to the fact that the Taliban may have established a Khilafah in Afghanistan, which would invalidate the Islamic State’s declaration regarding its own Khilafah, as there can be only one. It is thus part of the current ongoing and heightening struggle existing between the Islamic State on the one hand, Al Qaeda on the other, as is obvious from Dabiq #6 and explained, for example, by Arif Rafiq from the point of view of IS (The National Interest, 5 January 2015), and Anne Stenersen and Philipp Holtmann from Al Qaeda’s (Jihadology.net, 8 January 2015).
According to “A Message from Brother ‘Abd Allah Moldovi”, “The Khilafah is a military and political entity based upon the da’wah [preaching of Islam] to tawhid [the oneness of God].” The da’wah is itself directed at all people. As a result, the Khilafah does not recognize any of the existing current borders between states. “This entity’s [the Khilafah] intent and goal is the safeguarding, protection and spreading of the religion.” Thus, it exists by and through this preaching of Islam (video 4:29 to 5:25). The Khilafah “wages jihad in the path of Allah” (7:08).
Jihad means “striving or effort expended by the individual Muslim to walk in the path of God” (Johnson 19; Feldman 232-233, quoted in Heit, “What is Jihad“) and may be both peaceful and military (e.g. Islamic Supreme Council of America). However, according to Dabiq #1: 35 “Its [the jama’ah – here the very group that would allow for the establishment of the Khilafah by its behaviour] jihad would be based upon hijrah, bay’ah, sam’ (listening), ta’ah (obedience), and i’dad (training), leading to ribat [see below] and qital (fighting), then Khilafah or shahadah [here most probably martyrdom rather than testimony].” There is thus a clear implication for the Islamic State that jihad implies war, even if both are not the same (for the distinction between jihad and qital, and an evolution of the understanding of jihad towards “holy war” in general, e.g. Heit, Ibid.)
Through his declaration and explanation ‘Abd Allah Moldovi reiterates that the Islamic State and its Khilafah aim to rule over the whole world and to achieve this goal through all necessary means.
Furthermore, there are no geographical borders to the Khilafah but rather spiritual as well as temporally and geographically evolving ones: “the borders are defined by the last point of ribat” (video 4:29 to 5:25), knowing that ribat means, for the recent generation of Jihadis, including IS, “placing oneself at the frontlines where Islam was [is] under siege” (Statement of Magnus Ranstorp, 31 December 2003, using Bin-laden’s mentor Azzam book Caravan of Martyrs). As pointed out by Long, understanding the use and idea of “ribat” contributes to explain “why al-Qa’ida had no significant presence in Iraq prior to March 2003 but would soon thereafter.” (Long, “Ribat, al-Qa’ida, and the Challenge for US Foreign Policy”, 2009).
Finally, and this is a crucial point as we shall see below, the Islamic State must necessarily precede the Khilafah as military might and resources are necessary to establish the latter, and once the state has reached a sufficient size and strength, then its obligation is to establish the Khilafah (5:26 – 7:38).
We should note that using ISIS, ISIL, Daesh or any other name for the Islamic State first obscures understanding because the political signification of the very idea of the Islamic State disappears. Second, and in this case we would be in a willed counter-psyops operation, reducing the Islamic State to any other group may be seen as an attempt to influence the very claim it makes. The second approach may be perfect, as long as those promoting it do not intoxicate themselves with it. Here as we seek to understand the Islamic State point of view, then we shall use its own denomination.
The solidity of the Islamic State – which thus, if established, also strengthens its claim, indeed its obligation, to establish the Khilafah – is further emphasized in other Islamic State psyops products, such as “From Inside Mosul”, a 3 January 2015 video where John Cantlie (the British photographer captured with the late James Foley) reports for the Islamic State on life within Mosul (Pietervanostaeyen website), or “Meltdown” (Dabiq #6: 58-62) again by John Cantlie, where he underlines the wisdom of the Islamic State to have announced the minting of its own money, when the rest of the monetary system is bound to collapse.
What are the impacts of this worldview and its actualization?
An assault on modernity
The Islamic State’s worldview as described in those psyops products, and as notably pointed out by the use of a sacred geography, is first an assault on modernity, notably in the dimension that allows us to represent and comprehend the political and international world. Indeed, modernity taught us progressively how to understand space, geography and the world system notably through latitude, longitude and negotiations between a specific form of polity, modern states (e.g. Winichakul Thongchai, Siam Mapped: A History of the Geo-Body of a Nation – see here Lavoix, “The Power of Maps“, May 2012).
The Islamic State’s model and Weltanschaung makes it thus very difficult for us, individuals, whose cognitive model is modern, to fully grasp what the Islamic State and its Khilafah are. Furthermore, being a refusal of modernity that is active – the Islamic State obliges us to deal with this other worldview, notably through the use of force – and not passive, it is also an attack onto the very norms that define our world. These norms have been historically constructed, and were lately implicitly accepted – whatever the amount of variations brought to them (see notably Hedley Bull and the English School of International Relations theory). It is thus an extremely serious matter as our world, through our worldview, systems, understanding, is grounded upon those norms.
The Islamic State’s paradigm is all the more alien that it is somehow a pre-modern worldview, yet one that uses the means and instruments brought about by modernity and its developments, such as weaponry and armaments, or internet-related capabilities.
It is all the more dangerous that the sacred, pre-modern approach is mixed, as seen, with the existence of the very real, materially and territorially based Islamic State, although one should most probably not over-state its centralization and similarity with the modern nation-state, as we started pointing out in “Monitoring the War against the Islamic State or against a Terrorist Group?“. This materiality and “grounding” of the Islamic State is a fundamental difference with the network based Al-Qaeda approach, and the bitter struggle between the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda over Afghanistan as a Khilafah evidences the importance of the issue (Dabiq 6; “A Message from Brother ‘Abd Allah Moldovi”; Stenersen and Holtmann). This battle is not only ideological (in the realm of ideas) but also very concrete, as, for example, a Pakistani Taliban’s splinter group re-pledged allegiance to the Islamic State and as there are reports of activity by the Islamic State in South Afghanistan, including fighting, even if these reports need to be confirmed (The Long War Journal, 13 January 2015; Wakil Kohsar, CBSNews, 12 January 2015).
If the Islamic State were to lose this struggle, notably ideologically, it would give Al-Qaeda what it currently lacks compared with the Islamic State and its Khilafah. Indeed, the existence of the Islamic State grounds their whole endeavour into the reality and the substance of the world, and gives it the material power and might that are seen as necessary for the advent of a spiritual power. In the Islamic State psyops products, both are conceived together, and thus may be seen as a kind of Hegelian synthesis, thus overtaking a dialectic between materialism on the one hand, idealism on the other.
Should Al-Qaeda win, then the overall situation, in terms of norms and worldview would most probably not change. We would be confronted with a similar synthetic assault on modernity, because grounded in a territorial power. We would then, however have to monitor if Al Qaeda were to follow on a worldwide Khilafah. Through this very struggle between the Islamic State and Al-Qaeda, because of the Islamic State’s approach, it is the very nature of what had been so far perceived as a “global terrorist threat” that has changed, making it much more powerful and dangerous.
One of the more immediate consequence of the battle between the two contending powers is that it may also be translated into competition in the attacks against the common foe, those perceived as “the attacking unbelievers”. That would mean an increased probability to see more attacks as well as more severe ones on the land of their foes, including notably Europe, North-America, and Russia (which has been singled out in a recent Islamic State’s psysops product: “Uncovering An Enemy Within”, Al-Hayat media center, 13 January 2015, Jihadology.net).
Meanwhile, other Jihadi may feel empowered by the overall current dynamics to “bury their differences” and carry on attacks together, as suggested by a source identified and reported by the International Centre for the Study of Radicalisation and Political Violence (ICSR) (Mark Townsend, The Observer, 17 January 2015).
Both behaviour are not mutually exclusive but may, on the contrary, feed into each other. To come back to our first part, again, this shows the necessity to understand what this war is about and to be prepared.
If we (those who do not want to be part of the Islamic State’s Khilafah) want to resist or, better, be victorious, then we need to rise up to the challenge that the Islamic State’s worldview and its actualization generate, and create our own Hegelian synthesis, according to our own terms.
To be followed.
Featured image: From Dabiq #6, Al Hayat Media Center, p. 28.
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