The dreadful burning alive of the captive Jordanian pilot by the Islamic State and its video broadcast by Al-Furqan Media Foundation, as well as the reactions it succeeded in eliciting, such as Jordan’s retaliations (e.g. ISIS Study Group, 3 Feb 2015; BBC News, 6 February 2015), show once more the crucial importance to fully consider the Islamic State psyops as they are completely part of the war it wages and of the order it thus aims at establishing.
These psyops, beyond the influence they aim at generating (see “A Framework“), offer us a way inside the Islamic State and its Khilafah’s worldview. Understanding the latter is crucial is we want to fight the Islamic State victoriously, because its belief system and induced actions impact all other actors, be they Jihadis or not, affiliated to the Islamic State or not. This is thus the second part of our analysis of the Islamic State’s worldview and of its impact (part 1 “Worlds War“).
We shall first show that the Islamic State’s belief-system deeply questions and changes the perception of what is domestic and what is foreign, then that it destroys the very notion of civilians and non-combatants. We shall then draw conclusions regarding the type of war that is emerging as a result of the Islamic State’s Weltanschauung (German philosophical concept referring to the deep underlying conception of the world held by one or many actors) – with potential tremendous impact for us in terms of vision, strategy and warfare – knowing that those findings will need to be refined and eventually revised as the war unfolds and as actors evolve and change.
Previously, we started by focusing on the Islamic State and its Khilafah and their perception of the political order and of the related entities they are creating. The worldview thus brought to light, notably through its a-geographical component, not only questions our very ability to understand the situation, but also means that the very foundations of our international order and of our societies are at stake. We shall now turn to the impact upon how we conceive what is foreign and what is domestic.
What is foreign and what is domestic?
From our territorially bound, modern perception, grounded and organised upon the principles of the sovereign, territorial and independent state, what is domestic and what is foreign differ according to borders as well as mutual recognition of these differences, as we saw previously (“Monitoring the War against the Islamic State or against a Terrorist Group? “).
Accordingly, a domestic jurisdiction is where “a state rules supreme within its own territorial frontiers” (Evans & Newham, The Dictionary of World Politics, 1992). This principle is not applied absolutely but relatively, is discussed and changes, as shown for example by the relatively new and still debated “responsibility to protect” (Wikipedia), and give rises to many disputes. It nevertheless remains a fundamental organising principle of our current system. This explains, for example, why intervention abroad is considered as legal (internationally) only if there is a demand from the state where the intervention takes place or/and if it is authorized by the UN security council. This also explains why the dispute around Crimea is also cast, from both sides, in these terms (e.g. “Conflict in Ukraine – Setting the Stage“).
Whatever the disagreements and the tensions regarding this fundamental principle, we remain within the same system. What is foreign is what happens outside the borders of a state, and obeys to the laws and rules of other states, according to their frontiers. Obedience by all states to similar norms such as enshrined in the Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States (1933) makes that a whole range of relationships between states, from peace to war, are possible. Indeed, if respect of the (domestic) sovereignty of other states did not exist, then we would be in a constant state of war.
From the point of view of the Islamic State, there is not anymore such similar distinction between what is foreign and what is domestic. Indeed, the very notion, with what it implies for us of respect of others, disappears. As the Islamic State and its Khilafah only recognise one polity, the Islamic State, which is obliged to declare the Khilafah over the whole earth, itself belonging to the Muslims – or rather those among the Muslims who behave according to the Islamic State’s Salafi worldview (see “The Islamic State Pysops – Worlds War“; see below for takfir), then the existence of something that would be foreign, and something that would be domestic, as well as of other polities with which relationships might take place disappears de facto. There is only “oneness”, which corresponds to the constant emphasis on tawhid [the oneness of God].
Furthermore, because of the a-territorial or a-geographical and shifting notion of ribat as frontier, there could not be any easy recognition of what would be under the jurisdiction of other polities and what would be under the jurisdiction of the Islamic State. Territories become blurred. The ribat may be very close, indeed inside what we (the “non-Islamic State” world) would consider as the territory of the Islamic State and domestic, or very far away, on what we would consider as foreign, indeed part of the domestic territory of another state, according to our normative system.
The idea of ribat carries also within it another notion that implies that what is “foreign”, is what is enemy. This is very explicitly stated in Dabiq #6: 11 in the section “Advice for the soldiers of the Islamic State”:
“ Ribat, ribat! Meaning, dedicate yourself to jihad in the path of Allah, to guarding the frontlines, increasing the numbers of the mujahidin, and terrorizing the enemy, even if you have to remain there for a lengthy period of time. And if you’re in a place where the enemy fears you and you fear the enemy, then that is ribat.”
Thus, relationship with what is “foreign”, if it must, may only be about war.
However, we also find the mention of a possible temporary truce with some enemies, “to fight a common enemy” (Dabiq #4: 34, 35, 37, 39). Those with whom a truce could be signed are “Rome” (in the parable of “The Final Crusade”, section “The prophecies regarding the Roman crusaders” pp. 34, 35, 37) or “The West” (section “The Crusade Serving Iran and Russia”: 39). The truce would imply “the halt of all attacks against the Muslims” (Ibid.:39). The truce would then end because of the Roman treachery (p.35) and the normal state of war would then come back. We may speculate about who would be the common enemy, but according to the title of the last section of “The Final Crusade”, “The Crusade Serving Iran and Russia”, it might be the Shia powers and their allies. Incidentally, we may also wonder if, indirectly, the Islamic State did not make, then, i.e. October 2014 as Dabiq #4 was published on 12 October 2014 (see worldanalysis,net), an offer of a sort to the U.S. and “the West”, thus trying to take advantage of the tension with Russia, notably over Ukraine, this idea being however made absurd – or disguised? – by the call to kill crusaders everywhere found in other parts of the same issue of Dabiq (e.g. pp.7, 9).
This state of quasi-permanent war is also most likely to impact what we would define as the domestic territory of the Islamic State, as ribat may happen anywhere. Although this would necessitate further specific research in this direction, we could thus find a situation that is quite similar to the characteristics found in genocidal states, of permanent hyper vigilance, very high tension and feeling of rising threat (Lavoix, 2005; Mandani, 2001; Shaw, 2003), when enemies may be anywhere and appear anytime. If not controlled, such features would ultimately lead to the end of the Islamic State, but after how long and at which price in human lives and havoc.
This perception of disappearance between the domestic and the foreign and of equating foreign with enemy also, most evidently, impacts us because war, indeed the front line, can appear anywhere, including on what we see as our domestic territory, but what the Islamic State perceives as another point of ribat. It is thus also our very perception of battlefields and front lines which are impacted: battlefields and front lines are or can be anywhere and can start anytime to then recede at this very place and move elsewhere. This is most likely to conflict with the heaviness of current usual administrative structures, as well as with current military doctrines, created to deal with wars defined according to geography and modernity.
For example, currently, “theater of war” and “theater of operations” are defined in geographical terms and thus will be affected by the Islamic State’s worldview (see definitions in “Portal to the Islamic State War“). As a result of the Islamic State worldview, operations in one theater may directly and extremely rapidly impact another theater, or, worse, an area that is not yet defined as a theater of operations. If operations in Iraq (and Syria, although those do not involve the same coalition considering international legitimacy issues), right now under “command and control” of the U.S. CentCom (e.g. Dutch military contribution, Ministry of Defense), impact European land, should the latter be under the responsibility of a U.S. military Commander? Would this be compatible with European countries’ sovereignty and independence? The complexity grows as our systems are (relatively) neatly organised – as far as the means of violence are concerned – between police forces (domestic) and military (foreign). How are we to organise them at best to face a war that the enemy carries out without considering those very categories?
The novelty and supremacy of the Islamic State’s worldview should, however, not be overstated and they do not imply the disappearance of more traditional and classical geographical ideas, but both must be thought together. This is indeed confirmed by the latest “call to battle” of the Islamic State’s spokesman, which can be seen as an answer to the defeat in Kobane on 26 January 2015 (RUDAW, 26 January 2015; Richard Spencer, The Telegraph, 2 Feb 2015), as shown by the following statement on the day of the defeat:
“Likewise, we renew our call to the muwahhidin in Europe and the disbelieving West and everywhere else, to target the crusaders in their own lands and wherever they are found. We will argue, before Allah, against any Muslim who has the ability to shed a single drop of crusader blood but does not do so, whether with an explosive device, a bullet, a knife, a car, a rock, or even a boot or a fist.” (Audio Statement by IS Spokesman Abu Muhammad al-‘Adnani as-Shami ~ Say, “Die in your Rage”; Pietervanostayen, 26 January 2015).
In this audio message, al-Adnani calls to the emergence of multiple attacks on the Islamic State’s enemies territories, thus also defined according to geographical notions and current norms, despite the Islamic State’s worldview. Yet, if we add to it the idea of ribat, we see that this call is not anymore only classical revenge, display of power, and effort at mobilization in the wake of a defeat, but also the opening of new front lines to show that one defeat in one battle, of a more traditional type, does not mean general defeat. The risk here is not only to see successful attacks – as probably for example, so far, the attack in Nice on 3 February 2015 by Moussa Coulibaly, although we would need evidence that he heard al-Adanani’s call (e.g. John Lichfield, The Independent) – but also to see the Islamic State taking there a strategic advantage, until our systems adapt not only to respond but to retake the advantage.
The language used by al-Adnani also points towards another feature of this war to which we shall now turn, the blurring of the division between who is a combatant and who is a civilian.
The disappearance of the idea of civilian and non-combatant
The message sent by Al-Adnani, relayed and repeated by similar psyops products sent from the Islamic State Wilayat [administrative division] (e.g. “Wilayat al-Fallujah ~ Rasa’il min al-Murabitin (III)“, Pietervanostaeyen, Feb 7 2015), emphasises the blurring of the division between the status of combatant and of non-combatant, including civilians, if not its disappearance. Indeed, in the radio message, Al-Adnini does not call to the mujahidin, i.e. “one who engages in jihad” or “one who struggles on behalf of Islam”, but to all muwahhidin, i.e the monotheists, how the “Wahhabis” call themselves (Oxford Reference; Trevor Stanley, “Understanding the Origins of Wahhabism and Salafism“, Islam Daily, 2005; TRADOC G2 TRISA Threat, “Introduction to Islam“: 55, 64). He then specifies that it is indeed any Muslim that must pay heed to his call.
With this call, thus, muwahhidin, Muslims and mujahidin become similar. Here Muslims must be understood as “proper” Muslims as defined by the Salafi Islam of the Islamic State: indeed the Islamic State pronounces takfir, a takfir being a “pronouncement that someone is an unbeliever (kafir) and no longer Muslim”, hence the reference, for example, in the Islamic State texts, to apostate (murtaddin) regimes (e.g. Oxford Islamic Studies Online; Aaron Y. Zelin, “Al-Qaeda Disaffiliates with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham“, The Washington Institute, 2014) .
The law of war and its texts, for most of the countries and states forming the international society, define what is a combatant, a non-combatant and a civilian. The corresponding various conventions were rewritten in 1949 as the Geneva Conventions and, notably as far as combatants, civilians, and non combatants are concerned, further protocols were added in 1977 (I – international conflicts – and II – non international conflicts).
However, a convention can be enforced upon a party only if it is signed then ratified by it (or if a party accesses it, see ICRC). Thus, it is not applicable to the Islamic State, as it neither signed, even less ratified the Geneva Conventions (note that the United States have only signed but not ratified Protocol I and II, ICRC; for a list of countries having ratified or accessed the Protocols, see here). Furthermore, by its actions and behaviour, the Islamic State shows it does not have the smallest interest in those conventions, which is, once more, an indication of its aim to create an altogether different order. We can nevertheless use the Geneva Conventions and their Protocols at least to have an idea of the differences brought about by the Islamic State.
Combatants, in international conflicts, are defined according to article 43, Protocol I, 8 June 1977 as:
“The armed forces of a Party to a conflict consist of all organized armed forces, groups and units which are under a command responsible to that Party for the conduct of its subordinates, even if that Party is represented by a government or an authority not recognized by an adverse Party. Such armed forces shall be subject to an internal disciplinary system which, ‘ inter alia ‘, shall enforce compliance with the rules of international law applicable in armed conflict.” (art 43).
Combatants in non-international wars are defined by art. 3 of the 1949 conventions and Protocol II (by deduction) as:
“persons taking an active part in hostilities”.
Thus, it is not so much that there is no distinction anymore between combatants and non-combatants for the Islamic State, but that everyone takes part in hostilities, thus that all are combatants, be it from the point of view of international or non-international conflicts. The Islamic State is thus made of warriors or combatants, not of civilians ruled a political authority, which has a monopoly over the legitimate means of violence (more or less the “combatants”) as understood for a modern state (bibliography on state, notably Weber and Ertman). Of course, this does not imply that there is no political authority in the Islamic State, as there is (indeed Dabiq often refers to it, to obedience, etc.). This point advances our understanding of the new form of polity that the Islamic State is bringing about and that we started investigating previously in “Monitoring the War” (Ibid.).
Even women, who should generally be “housewives” should be ready to leave the house and fight, as stated in “Women in the Islamic State: Manifesto and Case Study” published on 23 January 2015 by “the all-female Al-Khanssaa Brigade’s media wing” and most probably aimed at the Gulf countries (Ed Swan, “Quilliam Translation and analysis of Islamic State Manifesto on Jihadist Brides“; and Charlie Winter analysis and translation report – pdf: 6):
“Women may go out to serve the community in a number of situations, the most important being: 1)Jihad (by appointment) – if the enemy is attacking her country and the men are not enough to protect it and the imams give a fatwa for it, as the blessed women of Iraq and Chechnya did, with great sadness, if the men are absent even they are present.” (Manifesto, Ibid: 22).
Children are also being educated as combatants, as shown by the psyops video produced by the Wilāyat al-Raqqah “The Joy of the Muslims With the Burning ” (see video on Jihadology.net, 4 February 2015; and description by John Hall, The Counter-Jihad Report, 4 February 2015).
The advent of a society of combatants is all the more complicated to understand for other countries and societies that the general trend has been towards a professionalization of armies – not to mention their privatization – with its advantages and drawbacks (e.g. series on “The Profession”, The Bridge, editor Nate K. Finney).
The impact both of the a-localization of ribat and of the existence of combatants only are tremendous for the Islamic State’s enemies because it means that war can be waged everywhere and by anyone (as long as s/he is part of the Islamic State).
Similarly, as far as victims (or those that should be protected from war and its damages) are concerned, the call to kill any crusaders, and, as seen previously (Worlds War; al-‘Adnānī’s statement, Dabiq #6: 3) any “disbeliever” citizen, implies that none of them is potentially given any protective status, as defined by the Geneva Conventions. As a result, their treatment is potentially always the treatment reserved to an actively combating person. Thus again, from the point of view of the Islamic State, there is no civilians among their foes, just combatants.
Furthermore, the horrendous burning alive of the Jordanian captive pilot only emphasises too well that the Islamic State does not recognize nor respect any of the existing law of war and that being seen as an enemy combatant by them is no protection (see for a more general analysis of the use of the execution as psyops product, Helene Lavoix, “The Islamic State, Puppet Master of Emotions“, 5 February 2015).
The disappearance, from the victims points of view, of a division between combatants and non combatants, which seems to us so crucial is, however, not so specific to the Islamic State’s worldview. Even though the law of war has evolved since that article was written, it is necessary to recall Lester Nurick’s point, in “The distinction between combatant and non-combatant in the law of war” (The American Journal of International Law, Vol. 39, No. 4 (Oct., 1945), pp. 680-697)
“Both in point of fact and in theory the distinction [between combatant and non-combatant] has been so whittled down by the demands of military necessity that it has become more apparent than real. … The trend in war is to treat combatant and non-combatant alike, if to do so will realize any substantial military gain… To take an extreme case there is no doubt that if an aviator strafed children in a kinder-garten he would be guilty of a war crime. On the other hand, the bombing of a neighboring large munitions factory is unquestionably legal. Where is the line between them?”
The reality of war did not change so much since 1945 and what Nurick pointed out then has been shown as remaining true since, witness, for example, the Vietnam war and the use of agent orange (e.g. Agent Orange Record, a Continuing Legacy of the Vietnam War), the 1991 Gulf war and the use of depleted uranium and multiple impacts on civilians and all combatants (e.g. Rosalie Bertell, “Gulf War Veterans and Depleted Uranium” Canadian Coalition for Nuclear Responsibility; Wikipedia, “Depleted Uranium“), etc.
Not to recognize this terrible side of war, that no one is indeed safe as long as war is waged, is somehow to also play into the hand of the Islamic State psyops, when they seek to show how evil “the crusaders”are when they kill civilians through air strikes, as they again did in the video of the execution of the Jordanian pilot (ISIS Study Group, 3 Feb 2015).
On the contrary, recognising and accepting the reality of war would first deny a theme to the Islamic State psyops, while, also preparing the population to the type of war waged by the Islamic State.
If we add and combine together all the major features of the Islamic State and its Khilafah worldview – a powerful synthesis of materiality and spirituality (also with its abolition of the fear of death, which we did not detail here), which questions our very world order; a-geographical potentially shifting borders (ribat), which erase the very idea of the domestic and the international, imply that war may surge everywhere and anywhere, and that what is foreign is enemy; the emergence of a polity constituted of permanent combatants without civilians, and the application of this idea to other societies where civilians are not granted existence either – then we are faced with what very much looks like a new type of war.
This war has an absolute character, that is not without recalling the idea of “oneness” so important within the Islamic texts used by the Islamic State psyops, for example through Tawhid. Yet, the consequence of the way this “oneness” is actualized also leads to an extreme dual world – at least as long as “oneness”, from the perspective of the Islamic State, has not been actualised – where there is no place for shading and diversity, as emphasised in Dabiq #4, with the stress on the disappearance of grey zones (The Fading Grey Zones”, pp.43-44. As a result, neutrality is not an option anymore:
“One with sincerity will realize that there is no grayzone in this crusade against the Islamic State, and that the world has split into two encampments, one for the people of faith, the other for the people of kufr, all in preparation for the final malhamah.”
We are neither in Martin van Kreveld’s cases of “guerrilla armies, terrorists and bandits” (On Future War, Brassey’s, 1991), nor exactly in any of those envisioned by the study programme in Oxford, The Changing Character of War, even if some of the features we identified here, for example the evolving status of non-combatants, are discussed (Hew Strachan and Sibylle Scheipers, “The Changing Character of War“, 2011). The reason for this novelty might be that we are, with the Islamic State and its Khilafah, dealing with a type of polity that is different from the modern state and that attempts to bring about a new normative order when both van Kreveld and the Oxford Study Programme still remain, even if they try to put it in perspective, within the framework of the modern state.
We could call the type of war implied by the Islamic State and its Khilafah’s Weltanschauung and related actions “total”, if this adjective had not already been taken, including to characterize World War I (e.g. Roger Chickering & Stig Forster, ed. The Shadows of Total War, 2009). Indeed, the type of war against Russia, which is currently (2014-2015) risked, was aptly labelled as “total” by French President Hollande and does not at all correspond to what we face with the Islamic State (e.g. Colin Freeman et al. “Merkel and Hollande on mission to avert ‘total war’“, The Telegraph, 5 February 2015).
We shall thus settle for “ultimate war”, as covering all the characteristics we identified, as well as the ideas of “most extreme”, and “fundamental”, while also including dynamics, more specifically what happens at the end of a process, as aimed by the Islamic State (Merriam Webster; Oxford Dictionary).
More important than the language chosen are the multiple impacts of the ultimate warfare being waged, as we shall need to respond appropriately, not only with our armies but also with the whole of our societies, indeed our system.
The idea of timeliness, crucial to strategic foresight and warning we previously developed, is also primordial here, because the changed framework for understanding that is brought about by the Islamic State implies that societies and systems will need time to apprehend it and accept its consequences.
Creating the vision that will allow us winning this ultimate war, designing its strategies and then operationalizing them is a huge task that we are only starting to apprehend.
* Ironically the use of pink as colour for girls and more particularly baby girls and used by Al-Khanssaa Brigade for their visual and logo is not only recent (started before WWI and established in the 1940s) but also most probably originated from America., e.g. Natalie Wolchover, “Why Is Pink for Girls and Blue for Boys?“, Live Science, August 01, 2012.
Featured image: Dabiq #6, p.6.
Evans, Graham, & Jeffrey Newham, The Dictionary of World Politics, Harvester Wheatsheaf, 1992 ed.
Mamdani, Mahmood, When victims become killers: Colonialism, Nativism and the genocide in Rwanda (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2001).
Shaw, Martin, War and Genocide, (Cambridge: Polity, 2003).
Stanley, Trevor, “Understanding the Origins of Wahhabism and Salafism”, Islam Daily, 25 October 2005.
Strachan Hew, and Sibylle Scheipers, “The Changing Character of War”, in The Changing Character of War, ed Hew Strachan and Sibylle Scheipers,, Oxford University Press, 2011.
TRADOC G2 TRISA Threat, “Introduction to Islam”, US Army.
Van Kreveld, Martin, On Future War, Brassey’s, 1991.
Zelin, Aaron Y., “Al-Qaeda Disaffiliates with the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham”, The Washington Institute, 4 February 2014.