Daesh: Islamic Millenarians or Just Propaganda?
A Cosmic War
A recent article in The Atlantic has staked the claim that daesh is a millenarian cult bent on bringing the apocalypse upon the world. The article uses recent materials from Dabiq (the daesh propaganda magazine) and cites interviews with the likes of Anjem Choudary to back it’s case that not only is the group Muslim (well that is a given right?) but also that they are battling to re-create the Caliphate to bring the end times upon us all. A great battle with Shaytan (شيطان,) and even Jesus will ensue and in the end the Caliphate will win and all kufr will be destroyed.
After reading the article in it’s entirety I just had to sit back and wonder at the over simplification that just had been perpetrated on us all by this reporter. I think he frankly went to the George Bush school of Islamic Comprehension but I had to go back and read through all the issues of Dabiq to confirm or deny what the author was saying. Five issues of Dabiq later, I am still of the opinion that the article is off the mark where this is all concerned. I also believe that once again it is another classic case of a reporter writing about things without deep knowledge of them but yet speaking on them as if he were. Here are some salient facts that the Atlantic failed to talk about in this article;
- Hadiths Versus Qu’ran: Much of what daesh uses as exhortations and rationalizations for their actions come from the Hadiths (prophetic traditions) which basically are a grouping of sayings written long after the prophet was gone. So much of what is there is subject to doubt because this is based on memory or just made up whole cloth to be companion pieces and re-enforce certain ideals. This of course is also coming from religion and all religions have their books which were written a long time after the people involved had passed on. So the use of these even further separated texts from their original oral traditions that finally got written down is reason enough to doubt their validity.
- The Caliphate and Millenarian Prophecy: daesh seems to be only recently really interested in the millenarian slant on their battle with the kufr of the world and apostasy in general. In looking at their propaganda over the arc of their arrival and dominance it can be seen that this is a new feature. Specifically you can see this arc over the 5 issues of Dabiq magazine. This rhetoric over a cosmic war and the use of the eschatology concerning Rome, the Crusades, and the great battle with Shaytan (إبليس) frankly is only being leveraged now to give their base a boost as well as is a well thought out propaganda tool. The daesh want to recruit and they, unlike AQ/AQAP and Inspire found the right mix that has seemed to, in tandem with their actual taking of lands and creating a so called “caliphate” made all the difference in getting recruits to come to the new Afghanistan. This melange of things, rhetoric, tales of epic battles, use of ultra violent means, and the propganda generated from it is what daesh is about and using it, not necessarily I think do the core believe all that they are putting out there. I have yet to see Al Baghdadi speak on these things at all.
- The Language of Crusades and Rome: Another bone to pick here that I have is that the claptrap of using Rome and the Crusades is that they post date the prophet by quite a long time. You can see that daesh is carefully cultivating a look and feel using key words and ideals that resonate with people concerning the wound that is the Crusades. Honestly, this is just a hot button use of terminology and imagery that Bush only exacerbated when he said “This crusade, this war on terrorism is going to take a while. ” I remember face-palming when he said this on live air. Now the daesh and their acolytes use this all the time as a rallying call evincing images of Salahuddin but removing any of his more temperate decisions or commands concerning the greater war on the lands of the ummah.
- Propaganda Wars and Recruitment: The article fails to take into account that nothing daesh says should be taken at face value. The reporter goes on to talk to a few true believers (aka the deluded) in Britain and elsewhere but, as you can see, they are not in Syria are they? They are propaganda mouth pieces only and the fact of the matter is that all of what we have seen has been carefully created propaganda by the media wing Al Hayat. When reporters talk about daesh and all of what has been going on of late they always remark on the professional quality of the videos and other media being put out. Well, there you have it, it is propaganda and if you just believe that this is all that daesh is about, well, you have been fooled. This is all a means to an end to intimidate as well as recruit.
- Politics, Power, and Money: No matter how much the daesh clothe their movement in the millenarian trappings that you see in Dabiq, this is not just about a cosmic war. This is about power and politics as well as money. The daesh are now trying to mint coins as well as raking in huge amounts from the oil fields that they have taken in Iraq. No doubt if the caliphate ever really normalizes you will see Baghdadi and his core living well somewhere, not in fact frugally with the people.
- The Apostasy of daesh and Islamism: Finally, the daesh are the most apocryphal and apostatic group out there today. The use of the hadiths to rationalize their brutality is just a means to an end for control over the people. Fear of violence clothed in snippets of hadiths is apostasy in itself. They have carried out atrocities that Salahuddin would be shamed by never mind the prophet and if they TRULY believed in the teachings of the various books, then they would not be doing these things. So when the arguments start over Islamism/Jihadism and their book being the source of all the ills of the world much of it can be blamed on this one dimensional reporting in the Atlantic.
Once You Name A Thing You Have Power Over It
I guess in the end this Atlantic article serves the purpose of the US and others who don’t have the wherewithal to take the time to understand Islam, the region, and its history to give them an understandable bogey man. After all, in looking at the US governments answers to daesh thus far I for one can see this simplification to be of use to them. It has been hard to troll the daesh as we have seen with the “Think again turn away” program by (@CEP) and a nuanced approach is, well, nuanced. Don’t get me wrong, this whole thing is as complex as it gets but if daesh wants to simplify it all to gather recruits with their cosmic war propaganda well then turn about is fair play right? So go ahead CEP, use this and troll the living daylights out of it.
Sadly though, I fear they won’t do this..
However, everyone should know that this is not just some epic battle of good and evil. Satan and Jesus. This is not a millenarian cult in the least bit at its core and to think so is just stupid. I hope at least that this article does not cause even more troubles with Islamophobia amongst the uninitiated and stir more hate. Frankly, as I have said on Twitter recently; “If you want to paint daesh as an apocalyptic cult you may as well also paint Christianity as well. I mean, they are the ones who wrote revelation right?” It’s not the book but those who use the book for their own agenda. In the case of daesh, they aren’t even using the book, they are just winging it.