As the Islamic State loses ground in Mesopotamia, in the west in Syria with the defeat in Palmyra (e.g. Adam Withnall The Independent, 27 March 2016), in the north with an increasingly large territory recaptured by the Kurds (e.g. Avi Asher-Schapiro, Vice News, 22 Dec 2015) and in the east in Iraq, first with the battle of Ramadi (“Battle of Ramadi (2015–16)“, Wikipedia) and now with the start of Iraqi “Operation Conquest” to free Mosul (Paul D. Shinkman, US News, 24 March 2016), it could be tempting to discard the Islamic State and its Khilafah as a bygone threat and a now inconsequential enemy .
If this string of victories against the Islamic State is definitely important and crucial in the war against the Khilafah, uncertainties nonetheless remain. First, even in Mesopotamia, the Islamic State has not given up, but may be, for example, trying to open a southern front, as well shown by Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi (“The Fitna in Deraa and the Islamic State Angle“, Jihadology, 26 March 2016). Then, the Islamic State will most probably attempt to consolidate, develop as well as open new fronts, as underlined previously in “At War against the Islamic State – A Global Theatre of War“. The increasing use of terrorist attacks on various “ribat“* is likely to be part of their defensive strategy, as expected (see An Updated Guide to the Islamic State Psyops, 14 March 2016) and as indeed unfortunately shown by the latest attacks in Istanbul and Brussels (“March 2016 Istanbul bombing” and “2016 Brussels bombings“, Wikipedia).
In the light of this potentially rising number of terrorist attacks, it is thus crucial to understand the perspective and position of the Islamic State as far as these attacks are concerned. That will contribute to define the framework for the Islamic State’s – and its members’ – intentions, as well as to identify sensitive points in terms of legitimacy. From there, we may notably deduce a number of elements and factors that could be useful, in particular to intelligence services and political authorities, to screen and prioritize entities that could be, or not, possible targets, and to identify potential new threats. Conjointly, sensitive points, and discrepancies in messages, may also be used, as we shall point out at the end of the second part and in the third part below, to craft counter-psyops, counter-radicalisation and even psyops messages.
We shall here analyse the long article, “Attentats sur la voie prophétique” (“Attack on the prophetic path” – 32 pages, pp.7-38) devoted to the Islamic State’s justification for the 13 November attacks in Paris, published in Dar al Islam #8 (Al-Hayat Media Center, 6 Feb 2016), the magazine of the Islamic State in French. The very length of the article – one of the longest published in both Dabiq and Dar-al-Islam since their creation – is in itself an indication of the importance of this document for the Islamic State, and thus warrants our attention. This is all the truer that this article is only the first part of two. A second part, meant to be a “case study of the 13 November attacks” (p.38), should be published in the next Dar-al-Islam, assuming the military pressure in Mesopotamia does not disrupt or cancel publication.
We shall use this article as indicating points that are particularly important to the Islamic State. We shall focus first on the Islamic State’s defence of their Islamic status. We shall then turn to they way they seek to establish it is lawful to kill civilians, with a particular attention given to women and children, meanwhile understanding better how the Khilafah categorizes the world, identifying a possible new threat as well as important themes in terms of (counter-)psyops. Finally, we shall look at the Islamic State’s position regarding self-defence and defensive or attacking jihad, and outline possible disagreements thus weakness to exploit in the Islamic State’s discourse.
We shall not, of course, take position on Islamic doctrine and argument, best left to Muslim religious scholars and their authoritative assembly (ulema).
Islamic or not
The first major point the article “Attentats sur la voie prophétique” underlines is that the Islamic State, its Khilafah and its members are indeed Islamic and not anything else. They thus seek to answer all arguments trying to assert and prove that they are not, meanwhile fully dismissing those made by people who are not Muslims, the latter being only able to utter “elucubrations” (p.7).
The author needs to establish this point first, as it is the foundation for the remaining part of its arguments, which are couched according to Islamic texts and doctrine. Furthermore, it is the basis for the legitimacy of the overall endeavour of the Islamic State and its Khilafah, including mobilisation, recruitment, war, state-building etc. Meanwhile, using Islamic texts also further grounds the Islamic State into the Islamic world, thus practically denying their “non-Islamism” .
In a debate that is meant to take place among learned scholars, the intellectual and religious authority of the Islamic State is sought to be underlain by the style of the article, and the status of the writer as it appears through the language used. The author of the text, considering the type of French language used, the absence of spelling and grammatical mistakes and the use of sophisticated words is highly educated, most probably at university level. The structure of the text, with a proper introduction and outline – in the typical two parts legalist French way, i.e. thesis and anti-thesis, thus not considering the Hegelian synthesis – similarly shows university education. Meanwhile, one may note the references to current French TV emissions, journalists, debates and attempts at counter-radicalisation, which also show the close attention paid by Islamic State’s members to what happens in their psyops’ target countries.
In a first part, the author tackles, one after the other, French Muslim actors and the arguments made by them to prove the ‘un-Islamic-ness’ of the 13 November Paris attacks. In a second part, the major points used against the Islamic State and its terrorist attacks are recalled and then countered. By, according to the Islamic State’s view of Islam, proving the Islamic incorrectness of the French Muslim actors, not only does the Dar al Islam‘s author attempts to prove the Islamic State’s religious affiliation but he also denies any religious authority to other actors. The dialectic is similar to the one used against Al-Qaeda.
Interestingly, for most of the points and arguments made to disprove those of the other Muslim actors, the author does not only quote Muslim texts, as done usually in other articles of Dabiq or Dar al Islam, but here, minutely, also categorises his references according to each major Sunni school of thought or jurisprudence, i.e. Hanbali, Hanafi, Maliki, and Shafei (Cherif Bassiouni, “Schools of Thought in Islam“, Middle East Institute, Jan 24, 2012). As a result, the Islamic State’s perspective and actions are positioned as being legitimated by all Sunni Islamic Schools, while the Islamic State’s view implicitly unifies all Sunni trends, nonetheless considering them. With this device, the religious legitimacy of the Islamic State and its Khilafah is sought to be enhanced, which obviously aims at lending even more weight, then, to the more specific points regarding terrorist attacks, to which we shall now turn.
Murdering unharmed civilians versus the lawful killing of “harbî”
According to the Dar al Islam article, one of the major points the Islamic State needs to establish is that murdering innocent civilians, as happens obviously during terrorist attacks, is fine from the point of view of Islam, as seen through the Islamic State’s eyes.
The importance of proving this point is quantitatively shown by the number of pages dedicated to it, i.e 22 pages, out of which 8 pages address the issue of defence and jihad we shall see in the next part, and the last 6.5 pages the case of killing women and children. The latter being positioned at the end of article, we may surmise that this is the most important part, the part that most dangerously threatens the legitimacy of the Khilafah by undermining all its claims, and thus its capacity to recruit and mobilise as well as to act. This is a crucial element to know in terms of counter-propaganda and “counter-radicalisation”.
Under the heading “the sacredness of blood and goods” (pp. 15-31), the article explains that the categories of the current international order, making a difference between civilians or non-combattants and combattants are irrelevant to the Islamic order. This confirms what we had identified earlier through other Islamic State’s psyops products and which informs their worldview (see “The disappearance of the idea of civilian and non-combatant” in H. Lavoix, “The Islamic State Psyops – Ultimate War“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 9 Feb 2015).
The article thus further details the categories of actors as perceived by the Islamic State. In that worldview, the world is populated on the one hand by the Muslims, whose blood and goods are sacred (with restrictions according to criminal offense), and, on the other, by the “kafir“, i.e. infidel or unbeliever. The latter is itself subdivided in two: the mu’âhad (when there is covenant between unbelievers and the Islamic State, i.e. the dhimmî, who lives on Islamic land, obeys the shari’ah and pays the jizyah (tax); the muhâdan, who lives on “infidel land” but benefits of an agreement by which there is a “temporary suspension of hostilities”; the musta`man, who “is given a pledge of security by Muslims”, either because he or Muslims asked for it, and as a result may enter unharmed temporarily “the land of Islam”), and the harbî, i.e. all other people.
The remaining part focuses on the harbî and explains that not only neither his or her blood nor his or her goods are sacred, but that it is lawful to kill him (the case of women is addressed later).
The article, using scholars of the Hanbali school, goes even as far as to level harbî with swines or dogs (p.21). Here, with the use of dehumanization, we find again the genocidal tendency identified previously notably in Dabiq #13 (see “At War against a Global Islamic State – The Fall into Extreme Sunni-Shi’ite Tensions“, The Red (Team) Analysis Society, 1 February 2016, including for references on genocide and genocidal trend). Then, in the same part, the author chooses to refer to a scholar stating that, “would a Muslim find himself without food and without the possibility to obtain some, … if he were to find a human being whose blood is lawful, he could kill him and eat him, because his execution is lawful” (p.21). We thus find a rather shocking legitimation of “survival cannibalism” (Laurence Goldman, ed. The Anthropology of Cannibalism, 1999:14), notably because coldly envisioned outside the state of emergency and duress that is meant to surround this instance of anthropophagy.
Then, the last part of the article, titled “the infidel harbî who may be killed and those who ought not to be”, addresses the status of women, children (less than 15 years old or pre-pubescent) and other protected people such as monks, elderly, blind people etc. It stresses that there are debates among learned Islamic scholars on their status. The logic seems to be that if any individual among these “protected” categories may be perceived as being a combatant, “by deeds or words” (p.32.), directly or indirectly, then it becomes lawful to kill them, even if initially they were adamantly protected.
The indirect quality of the reasoning is exemplified, for instance, by the category “servants” (which include according to the quoted text “workers and farmers”). According to the Islamic State, the latter may be killed because they support those who fight, and, as a result, become combatants (p. 32).
If, as soon as an individual enters into any professional – or even social – activity, they may be killed, then as a result of those rather elastic categories the entire population of countries, which are not part of the Khilafah, can legitimately be killed, from the point of view of the Islamic State.
If we were using the Islamic State’s own professed obedience to its understanding of Islam, then young children would appear as the only ones who might hope escape the Islamic State’s terrorist attacks. Similarly, the use of weapons of massive destruction, including the sabotage of nuclear plants (as feared notably following the attacks in Brussels, e.g. Alissa J. Rubin and Milan Schreuer, “Belgium Fears Nuclear Plants Are Vulnerable”, The New York Times, 25 March 2016), should they impact young children, might be seen as less likely. Yet, and as we shall further detail below, those carrying out the terrorist attacks seem not to be fully aware of the Islamic State’s doctrine. Indeed, targeting public places such as streets, markets, airports etc. does not particularly protect children. Furthermore, Islamic State’s members even directly threaten “schools where children study” as in the psyops video “And Cast Terror Into Their Hearts – Wilāyat al-Raqqah” (26 March 2016, see on Jihadology – WARNING: the video shows extremely violent scenes).
Second, in one of his reasoning, the author of “Attentats sur la voie prophétique” stresses that “children are not – in general – combatants” (p.22). Thus, with this sentence, he implicitly means that they can become combatants, which is most probably necessary in the light of the Islamic State’s boasting about its training of extremely young children as “fighters of the Khilafah” (e.g. Dabiq #11, pp. 40-45; Dabiq #12, pp. 33-35; video 21 November 2014 – “Race Towards Good”; RFERL, “Islamic State’s Propaganda Magazine Justifies Use Of Child Executioners“, 31 March 2015). This possibility is indeed explicitly asserted p.32. As a result, children may not be seen as safe from Islamic State’s attacks, but we may note a religious inconsistency and emphasise it in (couter-)psyops messages.
The reason for any potential “leniency” of the Islamic State regarding children – and women – is that they have “the quality of goods for Muslims” (p. 32). This is detailed, from the point of view of the Hanbalite school: “The child becomes a slave from the start of its captivity, thus the fact to kill him is a destruction of goods, and if he is captured alone he becomes Muslim, thus to kill him is to kill one who could become Muslim…” This raises the spectre of a new threat, the kidnapping of children – and women – as happened in Nigeria (AFP, “The mass Boko Haram kidnapping Nigeria covered up“, The Telegraph, 31 March 2016), or to the Yazidis in Iraq (e.g. Caroline Mortimer, “Isis has abducted up to 400 Yazidi children and could be using them as suicide bombers“, The Independent, 14 January 2016).
Jihad and self-defence
Finally, the Dar al Islam article also addresses the problem of the potential need for the Islamic State to invoke self-defence to justify terrorist attacks, on the one hand, and, on the other, of the “fable that would like jihad to be only defensive” to use the Islamic state’s author words (p. 31).
From the point of view of the Islamic State, there is absolutely no need to even mention self-defence because, as far as harbî are concerned, it is even a duty to fight and kill them (e.g. pp. 18-19, 21, 25-26, 29-31.).
Indeed, for the Islamic State’s members, the harbî are the “people of the war (ahl harb)” (p.23), who live in “Dar al Harb” (which means territory of war see Oxford Islamic Studies Online). As a result, all harbî are considered as being intrinsically aggressors and combatants, by the sole fact they are not Muslims (pp.22.-24). There is thus no need to raise self-defence to authorise killing unbelievers, as self-defence is automatically proven because infidels are infidels.
Consequently, the “jihad of attack” is not only lawful but also an obligation (pp. 30-32). The argument is summarised as a main point in Dar al Islam #8 as:
“The Jihad of attack, which requires to invade the lands of the infidels [harbî] so that they embrace Islam or subject themselves to the law of Allah is not only legitimate but also an obligation as is endorsed by the consensus of the scholars of Islam” (p. 32)
Interestingly, we see disagreements emerging among the Islamic State psyops products, and even within the very issue of Dar al Islam where “Attentats sur la voie prophétique” is published.
For example, the video psyops products (see references below for a list), which boast about the 22 March Brussels attacks – thus after publication of Dar al Islam #8 – stress a “right to defend itself” that the Islamic State and its Khilafah would have, considering the attacks on their land by the US-led coalition and Russia. This message may be seen as a major theme around which their psyops products are constructed. Yet, in the light of what is above, there is no need for such emphasis as it is an obligation to kill harbî.
Notably, the video “An Eye For An Eye – Wilāyat al-Furāt”, 27 March 2016 refers to lex talionis, as underlined by Zelin in a short introduction to the video (Jihadology). Yet, the Dar al Islam article specifically stresses that there is no need to use this law for harbî with a reference to the Malekite school : “The infidel harbî is not killed by retaliation (tué par talion), but his blood is spilled because it is not sacred. … his word ‘the infidel harbî is not killed by retaliation (tué par talion) means: as a result of that he does not comply with the laws of Islam…” (p.20).
We already noted the use of threat against children in “And Cast Terror Into Their Hearts – Wilāyat al-Raqqah”, although apparently strictly forbidden even in the Islamic State’s perception of Islam, as explained above.
In Dar al Islam #8 “The Islamic State in the Words of an Enemy” (pp. 88-99), reproducing a French web article “La Menace Terroriste en France en 2016” (Cédric Mas, KURULTAY.fr, 14 January 2016), and criticising it**, the comment p. 99 (footnote 2. NDLR) stresses the importance to stop shelling the Khilafah among other policies that Western States would need to endeavour should they want to see the end of terrorism. Here again, we see self-defence upheld as explaining and even causing terrorist attacks. Again, this is made unnecessary by the very religious vision of the Islamic State, as explained in the article “Attentats sur la voie prophétique”. If we follow the Islamic State’s religious doctrine, what explains and causes the terrorist attacks is the simple fact not to be Muslim, or rather a true Muslim according to the Islamic State.
The reason for these disagreements may stem from various causes (not mutually exclusive). We may have a conscious and engineered decision to promote a specific theme in psyops, because it resonates more easily among new recruits and potentially mobilised and radicalised individuals. We may face a lack of Islamic doctrinal knowledge among those who create the Islamic State psyops videos and products. Finally, we may have here indications of ideological disagreements within the ranks of the Islamic State. In any case, these contradictions may be used as weaknesses within the ideological apparatus of the Islamic State. Should such an approach be chosen, it will need to be done very carefully to make sure it does not backfire.
*Ribat: the a-geographical potentially shifting “borders” of the Khilafah, or where it is carrying the fight, in various, more or less intense ways as seen when studying its worldview in “Worlds War” and “Ultimate War“, building notably on Magnus Ranstorp‘s explanation: ribat means “placing oneself at the frontlines where Islam was [is] under siege” (Statement 31 December 2003, using Bin-laden’s mentor Azzam book Caravan of Martyrs).
**Note that a recent New York Times article (Rukmini Callimachi “How ISIS Built the Machinery of Terror Under Europe’s Gaze” 29 March 2016), as a result, misattributed the understanding of the Islamic State’s types of terrorist attacks developed by Cédric Mas, French writer and Jurist to the Islamic State (!) – see NYT paragraph starting with “In a recent issue of its online magazine in French” and following two paragraphs. Yet Dar al Islam had given the proper references.
About the author: Helene Lavoix, PhD Lond (International Relations), is the Director of The Red (Team) Analysis Society. She is specialised in strategic foresight and warning for national and international security issues.
Featured image: Still from the psyops video “And Cast Terror Into Their Hearts – Wilāyat al-Raqqah”, 26 March 2016.
WARNING – These videos show extremely harsh and violent images.
“They [Are] Suffering As You Are Suffering – Wilāyat al-Khayr” 25 March 2016.
“An Appropriate Recompense – Wilāyat Nīnawā”, 25 March 2016.
“And Cast Terror Into Their Hearts – Wilāyat al-Raqqah”, 26 March 2016.
“And What Is To Come Will Be More Devastating and Bitter – Wilāyat Ṭarābulus”, 26 March 2016.
“An Eye For An Eye – Wilāyat al-Furāt”, 27 March 2016.