Jihad, as physical warfare, features prominently in the earliest Islamic writings. This term is universally understood as war on behalf of Islam against all infidels, and the merits of engaging in such jihad are described plentifully in the most-respected Islamic religious works.
Western and Arabic dictionaries stress that Jihad means a holy war. Bernard Lewis finds that “the overwhelming majority of classical theologians, jurists and traditionalists…understood the obligation of Jihad in a military sense.” S.K. Malik, in his The Qur`anic Concept of War, points out that the Qur’anic injunctions cover the causes and the object of war; its nature and characteristics, its limits and extents, dimensions and restraints. The Qur’an even goes into strategy and tactical matters. Therefore, the elevation of Allah’s word cannot be achieved without Jihad.
It is declared that Muslims have recognized two kinds of Jihad: the small Jihad (al-Jihād al-Saghīr) and the greater Jihad (al-Jihād al-Akbar). This differentiation is mostly used by contemporary Muslim propagators as if Jihad is only spiritual, the devotion of the Muslim believer to Allah and his worship. But a subtle analysis of the Scriptures and most respected exegetes clearly reveal that al-Jihād al-Saghīr is the holy war of Islam against the infidels, and only when infidelity disappears from the world and Islam controls the entire world, the Muslims will turn to al-Jihād al-Akbar as the spiritual elevation of Allah.
Islamic jurisprudence has also distinguished four different ways in which the believer may fulfill Jihad obligations: a) by his heart (faith: combating evil and the temptation of sin and abiding by the true religion); b) by his tongue (preaching for Allah’s religion, bringing it to the attention of all human beings, and convincing to join Allah’s way); c) by his hands (good deeds: supporting the right and fighting the wrong); and d) by the sword (fighting the infidels, the enemies of Allah).
In practice, the first three are part of the Da’wah, the propagation to Islam, and should be considered as assisting the wars of Jihad against the infidels. This means that Da’wah has become the right-hand instrument, the chief organ for executing and promoting Jihad. The Islamic incitement by the religious leaders; the cry-out of Muslim leaders to be good Muslim by fixing new criteria how to achieve this goal – these are an integral part of the Jihad campaign to occupy the world.
As a doctrine, Jihad is aimed at establishing Allah’s rule on earth through military efforts against all non-Muslims – until either they embrace Islam (as a result of Da’wah), or agree to pay the tax poll (Jizyah), or they end up being killed on the battleground (as a result of Jihad war). This was applied by Muhammad, and constituted one of the main ideological bases of the caliphate dynasties. This is the reason why some Muslim scholars regard Jihad as the sixth pillar of Islam, like the Shī’ah. Muhammad Abd al-Salam Faraj call it “the neglected duty”,’ and important contemporary exegetes, like Abu al-A’la al-Mawdudi, Hasan al-Banna and Sayyid Qutb and have dealt with it very thoroughly.
Jihad against Polytheism (Shirq), Hypocrisy (Nifāq) and Apostasy (Irtidād)
The Muslim legal theory states that Islam cannot exist together with idolatry, asserted by almost all Islamic jurists, since the first article of the faith is the denial of associationism: la ilah illa-llah (there is no god but Allah). This is Shirq or Ishrāq, meaning association other gods and idols with Allah, which is the worst form of infidelity. The Mushrikûn are Kuffār and must be eliminated, since they commit the worst and gravest sin possible. The world would be reserved only for the Muslim believers (Wayakûn al-Dīn li-llāh), by the power of Jihad.
Muslims are under the obligation to slay the idolaters, until sedition and opposition come to an end, and the religion of Allah prevails and be the only legitimate (Sûrat al-Baqarah, 2:193; Sûrat al-Anfāl, 8:39; Sûrat al-Hajj, 22:39). This is a war against evil, and the infidels will be burned in the fire of hell: infidels will be
“fitted out with garments of flames. Boiling waters will be poured down over their heads, which will dissolve everything within their bellies and their skins…as often as they try to escape from its anguish, they will be put back into the fire and taste the torment of burning” (Sûrat al-Hajj, 22:19-22).
…the infidels (Alladhī Kafarû) subsist like beasts, and hell will be their residence (Sûrat Muhammad, 47:12).
Surely the infidels (Kāfirûn) among the people of the book and the idolaters will abide in the fire of hell.
Jihad is a means of establishing the religion of Allah. Believers should kill the idolaters even if they are their nearest relatives. This is Muhammad’s way to eradicate blood and social ties to be replaced by religious ties of the Ummah:
O you, who believe, do not hold your father and brothers as friends if they hold disbelief dearer than faith; and those of you who do so are iniquitous (Sûrat al-Baqarah, 9:23).
You will not find those who believe in Allah and the Day of Resurrection, loving those who oppose Allah and his Messenger, even though they be their father, sons or brothers or their kin… (Sûrat al-Mujādilah, 58:22).
Yet, the old Arabian kinship ties did not die out, since they are deeply rooted in the Arabian traditions, and even survived in the community of believers with great vigor and gave rise to the science of genealogy.
Apostasy, Irtidād, refers to the forsaking or turning away from Islam by expressing infidelity, or by refusing to accept the articles of Islamic faith, even without joining Dār al-Harb, or rejection of Islam either by action or by word. Islam tolerates absolutely no secession from it, for there is no freedom of religion in Islam or rejection in conscience in the faith. Such an act is a grave sin and deserves death. This punishment has been also unanimously agreed upon by all four schools of Islamic jurisprudence.
How can Allah show the way to those who, having come to the faith, turned away, even though they had borne witness that the Messenger was true…for such the requital is the curse of Allah and the angels and of men (Sûrat al-‘Imrān, 3:86-7).
The same is with the hypocrites (Munāfiqûn). They are viewed as apostates, since they are clearly dissenters from the Ummah. Along with the idolaters (Kuffār), they will never be forgiven and will be punished by eternal hell-fire. Since hypocrisy is viewed as equivalent to blasphemy and treason, Jihad is to be waged against hypocrites. They are vehemently condemned in the Qur’an and Hadīth, because they proclaim that they are believers and arein fact with the devil. They are like the infidels. This is the reason why the believers are commanded to seize them whenever they are found and to do away with them. They will abide in the fire of hell forever.
Khadduri states that “in early Meccan revelations the emphasis was on persuasion (Da’wah), but in the Medinan revelations, Jihad is expressed in terms of strife and there is no doubt that in certain verses the conceptions of Jihad is synonymous with war and fighting.” As regard to Medinan period, the words are considered to have an entirely new meaning, a religious war of aggression against the infidels wherever they are.
Sanctioning Jihad and Its Rewards
The reward of Jihād fī-sabīlīllāh, by sacrificing in wealth and soul is the salvation of the believers and a direct way to paradise without any further reckoning of their doings in their worldly life and it wipes out all their sins. They are the best beings ever created, and deserve by their sacrifice to obtain all the pleasures of paradise. The supreme achievement of Jihad has been mentioned to include the spiritually and the material: the gardens of eternity in Eden with the close presence of Allah:
Believe in Allah and his messenger and fight (wa-Tujāhidun) in the cause of Allah, wealth and soul…he will forgive your sins and place you in paradise…paradise of Eden (Sûrat al-Saff, 61:11-13).
Allah has promised men and women who believe gardens with streams of running waters, where they will abide forever…and the blessings of Allah above all (Sûrat al-Taubah, 9:72).
…he will not allow the deeds of those who are killed in the way of Allah to go waste. He will show them the way…and will admit them into gardens…the semblance of paradise promised pious and devout…and rivers of milk…and rivers of wine…streams of purified honey, and fruits of every kind and forgiveness of Allah (Sûrat Muhammad, 47:4-6, 15).
Who fought and were killed (Qatalû wa-Qutilû) I shall blot out their sins and admit them into gardens with rippling streams, a recompense from almighty Allah (Sûrat al-‘Imrān, 3:195).
The best proof and reward to encourage the believers to fight the infidels with Allah’s way, to join and act in Jihad war, to become Mujāhidīn, Muhammad promised them the black-eyed virgins in paradise, as the total reward, being Shûhadā’:
In the Gardens of Paradise… And with them will be chaste females, restraining their glances, with wide and beautiful eyes (Sûrat al-Sāffāt, 37:40-4).
…a place of peace and security, in the midst of gardens and springs… we shall pair them with virgins with large black eyes (Sûrat al-Dukhkhān, 44:51-54).
Those who fear Allah and follow the straight path will surely be in gardens and in bliss, rejoicing at what Allah has given them…with virgins bright of eyes (Sûrat al-Tûr, 52:17-20).
There will be two gardens…with two springs of water flowing…every kind of fruits in pairs…in them maidens with averted glances…houries cloistered in pavilions… (Sûrat al-Rahmān, 55:47, 50, 52, 56, 70, 72)
…and virgins with big beautiful eyes, like pearls within their shell, as a recompense for all they had done (Sûrat al-Hadīd, 56:22-24).
…We created the houris and made them virgins, loving companions for those on the right hand… (Sûrat al-Hadīd, 56:37-40).
As for the righteous, they shall surely triumph… gardens and vineyards, and high-bosomed virgins for companions (Sûrat al-Nabā, 78:31-34).
There are also young boys in Paradise, to serve the Shûhadā’ and all their needs”
And there will go round boy-servants of theirs, to serve them as if they were preserved pearls (Sûrat al-Tûr, 52:24).
They will be served by immortal young boys (Sûrat al-Hadīd, 56:17).
And round about them will serve boys of everlasting youth. If you see them, you would think them scattered pearls (Sûrat al-Dahr, 76:19).
The Muslims should not fear any loss, for those who had been killed in the way of Allah, are not dead. They are living with Allah. This is the most important issue to understand for Western policymakers and public opinion; the homicide bombers do not see themselves as dead. They are transported into a parallel and a perfect world, living with Allah, seeing and feeling everything on earth. The Mujāhidīn not only rejoice at the bliss they have themselves attained. Their families and the dear ones they left behind are in their thoughts. It is part of their glory that they have saved them from fear, sorrow, humiliation and grief, even before they come to share in the glories of paradise. The last important note is that they are the symbol, the torch that leads the way, the model for imitation for all the others who will follow their act of Jihad.
Do not think that those who are killed in the way of Allah are dead, for indeed they are alive (Ahyā’), even though you are not aware (Sûrat al-Baqarah, 2:154).
Never think that those who are killed (Qutilu) in the way of Allah are dead. They are alive (Ahyā’) with Allah…rejoicing at what Allah has given them of his grace, and happy for those who are trying to overtake them. (Sûrat al-‘Imrān, 3:169).
If you are killed in the cause of Allah or you die, the forgiveness and mercy of Allah are better than all that you amass. And if you die or are killed, even so, it is to Allah that you will return (Sûrat al-‘Imrān, 157-8).
There they will not know any death, apart from the first death, and will be kept safe from the torment of hell (Sûrat al-Dukhkhān, 44:56).
It is Jihad that divides the world into two irreconcilable groups: the Dār al-Islām region, subject to Islamic law, and Dār al-Harb region, destined to come under Islamic rule and jurisdiction, as a universal mission. Jihad is the link between the two, the Islamic permanent state of war instrument: Every community has its form of monasticism, and the monasticism of the Islamic community is jihad in the way of Allah.
Jihad in the Hadīth
The Hadīth collections, the second important source of the Sharī’ah after the Qur’an, devote considerable material to Jihad. Bernard Lewis put it loud and clear, in the Hadīth, Jihad is used to mean armed military action against the infidels, and most Islamic theologians and jurists understood and practiced this obligation to be in a military sense. Bukhari’s nine volume collection is the most respected of all collections of Hadīth, and it has been unanimously agreed that his work is the most authentic in Hadīth literature. In almost one-third of his fourth volume, Bukhari focuses on Jihad as physical holy war against the infidels. It is a genre known in the Hadīth to be “the merits of the holy war” (Fadā’il al-Jihād), which serve a diversity of political, social, and ideological goals.
The main motif of Jihad in the Hadīth is death on the battleground in the way of Allah, which leads to paradise, and intends to cause a “sacred wedding” to black-eyed virgins (Huris al-‘Ayn) as heavenly reward for the believer upon his heroic death. From among 262 traditions that are mentioned in Ibn al-Mubarak’s book, 13 share a common motive, that of paradise virgins as heavenly reward for the Shuhadā’.
The Shahīd is one who is killed and achieved martyrdom in the battle in Jihad. This is very different from the Jewish and Christian notion of martyrs, as those who voluntarily endure torture and death rather than renounce their belief. According to Islamic exegetes, the Shahīd is granted seven gifts: a) he is forgiven at the first drop of his blood; b) he is dressed in the clothes of an Imām and sees his status in paradise; c) he is protected from the punishment of the grave; d) he will be safe from the great fear of the Day of Judgment; e) a crown of glory will be placed on his head; f) he will intercede on behalf of 70 members of his family; g) he will be married to 72 houris.
Those who have fallen in the battle (Shuhadā’ al-Ma’rakah) have special burial rites. They should not be washed and they are left with their blood-stained clothes as a proof of their status on the Day of Judgment. The spirits of the Shuhadā’ reside in the claws of green birds near Allah’s throne, and during the resurrection they will be returned to the earthly bodies of the Shuhadā’.
Bukhari brings a Hadith that there are one hundred stages in paradise for those who fight for in the way of Allah. Only those who participate in Jihad deserve paradise without any checks and reservations. Taking part in Jihad with body and soul is recommended as the utmost action for the Muslim believer. The Mujāhid’s best prize is paradise, a supreme reward:
Muhammad said: Nobody who dies and finds good from Allah would wish to come back to this world even if he were given the whole world and whatever is in it, except the Shahīd who, on seeing the superiority of Jihad, would like to come back to the world and get killed again.
Mohammad said: Nobody who enters paradise likes to go back to the world even if he got everything on the earth, except the Mujāhid who wishes to return to the world so that he may be martyred ten times because of the dignity he receives of his actions.
Muhammad said: No doubt I wish I could fight in the way of Allah and be a Shahīd and come to life again to be Shahīd and come to life once more.
Jihad is the best option for the believer. Whenever they are called upon, they must be ready to wage a Jihad war at any time. They must prepare to fight against the enemies of Islam with all their force and means. Whatever they spend in their commitment to Allah, will be paid back fully. Jihad is the monasticism of Islam and an act of pure devotion.
Apostasy is considered as much abhorred and loathed and is as deserving of annihilation as infidelity (Kufr). There is a saying related to Muhammad, that he said to kill he who changes his religion. Muslim jurists in all four schools of Jurisdiction have agreed that the apostate (Murtadd) was given three days to repent, and if he did not, he was to be killed by a Jihad war.
Muslims are also commanded to kill anyone who leaves Islam. Whoever leaves the Islamic religion must be killed. Their punishment is execution, or crucifixion, or cutting off of hands and feet from the opposite sides, or exile from the land. Muhammad also burned out eyes with hot irons, and deprived people of water until they died.
Narrated Ikrima: ‘The statement of Allah’s messenger: ‘whoever changes his Islamic religion, then kill him.’
Narrated Abu Musa: ‘A man embraced Islam and then reverted back to Judaism. Mu`azz said: ‘I will not sit down unless you kill him, as the verdict of Allah and his messenger.’
Narrated Ali: ‘I heard the Prophet saying… whenever you find the Murtaddûn, kill them, for there will be a reward on the Day of Resurrection.”
Narrated Anas bin Malik: ‘The Prophet ordered (the Murtaddûn) to have their hands and feet cut off. Then he ordered nails, which were heated and passed over their eyes, and they were left in the rocky land in Medina, till they died.’
These quotations from the Qur’an and Hadīth are only a small portion of the huge amount of references concerning the issue of Jihad and the motivation to fight the infidels with all sorts of violence and terrorism. Indeed, Jihad as a holy war against the infidels and as one of three arms to occupy the world and to subdue humanity, together with Da’wah and Hijrah, constitutes the Islamic grand strategy.
How 4chan Radicalizes Youth and Grooms Them Towards Terrorism
The image board was started in 2003 to discuss anime and various other topics but festered into a safe space for hateful rhetoric soon after. In the aftermath of yet another racially motivated mass shooting by a frequent user, its dangers have finally reached the mainstream.
4chan is an extremely unique website. It has been running since 2003, and over the course of almost 20 years, has influenced many internet memes and phenomena. However, in the wake of the European Migrant Crisis in 2015 and the 2016 Presidential Election, it became associated with white supremacy, especially on its /pol/ board. This hateful rhetoric festered, worsening in 2020 during the COVID pandemic and George Floyd protests. 4chan was sprung into the spotlight once again on May 14th, 2022, when a white supremacists livestreamed his massacre of a supermarket.
This attack, fresh in American’s minds, led many to question why 4chan is still allowed to exist. This comes after 4chan’s rhetoric inspired a 2015 mass shooting in Oregon and its users aided in the organization in the Unite The Right Rally and the January 6th Riots. Clearly 4chan is a hotbed for far-right terrorism. But why is this image board the way it is? The answer lies in its lax moderation of content.
Upon looking at 4chan, you will find it is mostly made up of pornography. However, if you go on the site’s /pol/ board, it does not take long to find the kind of rhetoric that radicalized the Buffalo shooter. One particular post I found featured a racist joke at the expense of Black people. Another was praising fighters in the Ukrainian Azov battalion while joking about killing trans people. Yet another post complained about an “influx of tourists” due to the Buffalo shooter, who they insulted with an anti-gay slur. These memes and jokes seem to appeal to a younger, perhaps teenaged audience. It is clear that they are still trying to recruit youth into their ranks even after the tragedy in Buffalo.
The content is, to say the least, vile. The fact that this stuff is permitted and encouraged by not just the userbase (which numbers in the millions) but also many moderators tells us that there is something fundamentally wrong with 4chan. In fact, copies of the livestreamed Buffalo massacre were spread widely on 4chan to the amusement of its userbase.
Many of the users on 4chan are social rejects who feel as if they have nothing to lose. They feel unaccepted and alienated from society, so they turn to 4chan. Many harmful ideologies, such as White supremacy and incel ideologies, seem extremely validating for these dejected youth. Young, socially alienated men, who make up the majority of 4chan’s userbase, are also among the most vulnerable demographics for radicalization.
What can we do to prevent further radicalization of youth and deradicalize those already affected by harmful rhetoric? First of all, we need to either heavily regulate 4chan or have it shut down. There is no space on the internet for this kind of hatred or incitement to commit horrific acts like what happened in Buffalo. For those already radicalized, we need to perform a campaign of deradicalization among those affected by this rhetoric. But how can this be done?
4chan prides itself on anonymity, so it is difficult to figure out who uses it. Thus, education on radicalization and identification of propaganda is vital. This education should focus on adolescents mostly due to their predisposition towards radicalization when exposed to hateful rhetoric. While White supremacy must be emphasized, other forms of radicalization should be mentioned as well such as Jihadism and other forms of ethnic supremacy. Finally, tolerance must be fostered among all people, not just those at risk of becoming groomed into terrorism.
The age of 4chan has spawned many humorous memes, but it has since become a hotbed for hatred and terrorism. Since memes are able to convey dangerous ideas, websites like Reddit and Facebook need to be heavily regulated to prevent the dissemination of dangerous misinformation. It is unlikely that 4chan will ever moderate itself, as lack of strict moderation is its defining feature. Thus, it has overstayed its welcome and no longer has a place in today’s information-driven society.
New ISIS Strategy and the Resurgence of Islamic State Khorasan
Unlike Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurayshi, the second late leader of ISIS, who was derided as a “secluded paper caliph” and “an unknown nobody” for his relative anonymity and non-publicity, the new caliph of the Islamic State, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, has apparently launched a new strategy to strengthen linkages to regional wilayahs (provinces) and boost the group’s global presence.
Indeed, during his short time leading the group (31 October 2019 – 3 February 2022), Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi never publicly addressed his followers, which negatively affected the coordination of the activities of Islamic State-Central (ISC) and its regional branch of the Islamic State Khurasan Province (ISKP). Although his killing during a US counterterrorism raid in northwest Syria in early February was a major blow to the global jihadi organization, the change in leadership nevertheless provided it with new opportunities to update its command-and-control, recruitment and propaganda campaign.
Predictably, Abu al-Hassan al-Hashimi al-Quraishi, the new ISIS overall leader, sees his historical role not only in ensuring the Caliphate’s continuity and avoiding its potential fragmentation but also in establishing a more direct and consistent command line between its core in Iraq and Sham and its Central and South Asian affiliates.
The new strategy of the Islamic Caliphate not only gave a new impetus to its Khorasan offshoot waging a holy jihad in post-American Afghanistan against the Taliban but also opened a new front line against the post-Soviet Central Asian regimes. Indeed, the analysis of ISKP activities revealed that the proclamation of Abu al-Hassan al-Quraishi as the new Caliph and the launch of a new campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” increased the combat capability of IS Uzbek and Tajik fighters, as well as strengthened the coordination of local language and IS-Central propaganda machines.
Notoriously, on April 17, ISIS launched the new campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” to avenge the deaths of the former ISIS leader, Abu Ibrahim al-Qurayshi, and his official spokesperson, Abu Hamza al-Qurashi, who were killed in a US raid in February in the northwest Syrian town of Atmeh. In his recent audio address, Islamic State’s new spokesman Abu-Omar al-Muhajir called on the Caliphate warriors to avenge the deaths of the former ISIS leaders by “painfully striking” the enemies of “al-mujahideen” and saying that if they kill, they should “kill by many.” This call was made to the group’s followers worldwide and asked them to remain patient, but also be ready when the “war” begins. Al-Muhajir called to expand the campaign “Revenge Incursion for the Two Sheikhs” to the territory of US, Europe and Central Asia, urging Muslims living there to follow the lead of past “lone wolves” who conducted operations that “filled with horror.” He asked them to repeat “lone wolf” operations by stabbing, attacking, and ramming, and drawing inspiration from recent attacks in Israel.
ISKP Threat to Central Asia
Among the first to support the Islamic State’s new ‘global offensive’ campaign were ISKP Uzbek and Tajik jihadists challenging the new Taliban government and dreaming of overthrowing the ‘Taghut (idolaters) regimes’ in Central Asia. Thus, inspired by the new Caliph’s new strategy, for the first time in the history of the Islamic State, they managed to conduct a transnational jihadi operation from Afghanistan to the territory of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan.
Initially, on April 18, 2022, the ISKP fired ten rocket salvos into the territory of Uzbekistan, which was successfully exploited by the Uzbek-speaking regional jihadi media and IS-Central’s propaganda resources as evidence of the opening of a “second front” in the Central Asian direction. Expert assessments clearly observed the good coordination between the IS-Central’s media and ISKP’s local jihadi mouthpieces, both in terms of Islamic ideological content and hierarchical sequences.
The Islamic State-Central’s Amaq News Agency reported that “Mujahedeen of the Caliphate have fired 10 Katyusha rockets at a murtad (apostasy) Uzbekistan’s military base in the border town of Termez.” The ISIS central media wing also released a photo and video of the projectiles to back its claims. Another IS-Central’s weekly al-Naba newsletter also widely covered the topic of rocket attacks by detailing how the projectiles were fired from Afghan territory on the Central Asian nation.
Following IS-Central official news agencies reports, IS-Khurasan Willayah’s local media outlets, such as Al-Azaim Foundation and Khurasan Radio, the Uzbek-language Xuroson Ovozi (Voice of Khurasan), Tavhid Habar (Tawhid News), Tajik-language Telegram channels Mujahideen of the Caliphate and The Army of the Victorious Nation published a series of audio, video and text messages in Uzbek and Tajik detailing the goals, causes, and consequences of the rocket attack. In particular, Al-Azaim Foundation glorified the rocket attack as “the heroism of the brave lions of Allah Almighty punishing the corrupt army of the murtad Uzbek government.”
The ISKP media outlets were extremely outraged by the Uzbek government’s denial of the rocket attack, claiming that nothing had landed on their territory. In response, pro-ISKP Uzbek, Tajik and Russian Language Telegram channels re-posted IS-Central’s statement, photos, videos of the attacker and a map marked with the possible rocket impact location in Termez.
Central Asian Salafi-Jihadi experts’ attention was drawn to a 24-minute audio address of Khuroson Mujahid, the leader of ISKP Uzbek group, whose speech style and ideological views strongly resembled the late ISIS chief strategist Abu Mohammed al-Adnani. His speech revealed that the ideological vision of ISKP Central Asian jihadists, staunch followers of Takfiri Salafism, is in line with the Islamic State’s global agenda. He considers democracy to be the religion of “murtad states” of Central Asia, the Taliban government and Pakistan. He believes that due to committing shirk (idolatry), deviating Allah and doubting Tawheed (God’s Oneness), the leaders of taghut countries should be killed.
Considering Khuroson’s oratorical skills, Takfiri persuasion and ideological savvy, it is quite possible that the ISKP recruitment and incitement campaign will intensify in Central Asia in the near future. Obviously, the engagement between IS-Central and ISKP in the military, media and ideological directions reached a new level in the more permissive operating environment of post-American Afghanistan.
On May 7, the ISKP carried out a second rocket attack, this time into Tajikistan. According to the Central Media Office (Diwan al-I’lam al-Markazi) of ISIS, “Caliphate’s fighters fired seven rockets from the Khawaja Ghar district of Afghanistan’s Takhar Province towards the Tajik military base near the city of Kulob.” The rocket attacks on the territories of Uzbekistan and Tajikistan for three weeks nevertheless mark a clear escalation by ISKP Central Asian foreign fighters from just hostile anti-five post-Soviet “murtad governments” rhetoric to direct militant action.
Notably, the methods of media coverage of both attacks and the engagement between IS-Central and ISKP’s local media resources were clearly similar. The algorithm of their actions was in line with the new ISIS strategy. Thus, IS-Central posted a brief information about the rocket attacks with video and photos, then the Tajik, Uzbek and Pashto-language local media resources of ISKP glorified the “warriors of Allah”. The Uzbek-language pro-Islamic State Telegram channels Islomiy Maruza Davat Guruh, Khuroson Ovozi, Tawheed news, the Tajik-language Telegram channel of Ulamoi Rabboni (إنَّ اللّٰهَ مَعَنَا) actively propagated ISKR rocket attacks, undermining the image and credibility of the military potential of Tajikistan and the Taliban.
These Central Asian pro-IS media resources, supported by IS-Central propaganda bodies and comprised of a constellation of official branch outlets, regional pro-ISKP groups, and grassroots supporters have become a prominent voice aggressively impugning the Taliban’s reputation in the global jihadi world. Such method makes it possible to preserve the hierarchical structure and maintain a uniform media strategy of the global jihadi group. This reflects that after the fall of the Caliphate and a series of dramatic losses of its leaders, ISIS has learned a bitter lesson and is now moving from centralizing power to strengthening its wilayahs.
Apparently, the ISKP seeks to broaden its appeal in Central Asia both through increasing cross-border attacks against Afghanistan’s neighbors and ramping up the production, translation, and dissemination of propaganda directed at Uzbek, Tajik, and Kyrgyz communities in the region. These rocket attacks and ISKP’s propaganda campaigns targeting Central Asians for recruitment are any indicators, the group has become a serious jihadi power challenging not only the Taliban government, but also the post-Soviet authoritarian regimes. Through its Uzbek, Tajik and Pashto-language Telegram channels, the ISKP is conducted an unprecedented activity to recruit Central Asian jihadi groups affiliated with al Qaeda and the Taliban, as well as new radical Islamists from the Fergana Valley.
Future of ISKP Central Asian Jihadists
Obviously, the ISKP is exploiting the US military withdrawal from the region and the Afghan Taliban’s deviation from the hardline jihadi concept by successfully portraying their government as a Pashtun ethno-nationalist organization rather than a bona fide Islamic movement.
In conclusion, it is to be expected that the ISKP will actively capitalize external operations to undermine the legitimacy of the Taliban government, which assured the US and Central Asian neighbors not to allow Afghan soil to be used to attack Afghanistan’s neighbors. Strengthening cross-border rocket attacks has already raised the morale of ISKP fighters and consolidated its support base.
Thus, the new Islamic State’s strategy to strengthen its offshoots in its provinces is quite capable to reestablish its positioning in the broader global jihadi movement, which we see in the example of IS-Khorasan Province.
How Memes Can Spread Dangerous Ideas
Internet memes are an excellent way to send powerful messages to millions of people. But what happens when they are used for malicious purposes?
Memes have been a means of transmitting messages for centuries, proliferating immensely in recent decades due to their mass proliferation through the internet and their ability to broadcast messages to a massive audience. They have quite a bit of cultural significance and can be based on almost anything, provided they achieve viral status. However, memes have been subject to abuse by malicious groups and actors.
From the Blue Whale Challenge, an internet challenge that resulted in multiple suicides worldwide, to terrorist organizations like ISIS, which use internet memes to recruit young people, memes can be used for malicious purposes. Even toxic subcultures like MGTOW serve as a pipeline towards the incel movement. Indeed, such male supremacist organizations are not strangers to using memes and viral media to propagate their ideas and recruit young men and boys to their cause. In fact, one influencer, who goes by Sandman MGTOW, often posts such misogynistic memes and videos on his Twitter and YouTube channel.
These kinds of memes are easily identifiable by their bias towards a specific issue and their often-political message. One great example of a meme that has been subject to abuse by malicious actors is Pepe the frog. Based on a character by Matt Furie, this meme was abused by the alt right, being depicted as controversial figures such as Adolf Hitler and Donald Trump. The meme was so badly abused by these far-right actors that it was listed as a hate symbol by the ADL.
Memes have also influenced major world events like the 2016 election in the United States and the Arab Spring revolutions in the early 2010’s, which garnered immense media attention through the use of internet memes and viral media. This shows that memes can have the power to influence elections (albeit slightly) and topple oppressive regimes. Being a powerful tool for spreading information, there is also the use of memes for spreading misinformation.
The COVID-19 pandemic mediated a sizeable but modest anti-vaccine movement in countries like the United States, Canada, and Germany. These anti-vaxx groups used social media like Facebook and Reddit to spread memes full of misinformation and pseudo-science It can also be argued that memes were effective tools in spreading misinformation around the elections of 2016 and 2020 in the United States. Memes, while powerful, can be used by malicious actors such as far-right groups and anti-vaxx groups to peddle false information. This has contributed to the US having a COVID death toll of over one million, higher than most other countries worldwide.
The world has progressed quite a bit in the information age. People are able to communicate ideas with millions of people worldwide in seconds. The proliferation if information has never been more efficient in history. That is why the threats that arise from the mass proliferation of memes and viral media are so dire. As was seen during the 2016 and 2020 US elections, COVID, and Arab Spring, memes can be spread to convey messages that can change nations, affect millions (perhaps even billions) of people, and topple dictators. It has become possible for people to change the course of history with a single tweet or a single meme on Reddit or Instagram going viral.
What can we do to stem the massive proliferation of memes that serve to recruit people into dangerous organizations and fill their minds with misinformation? The answer lies in how we confront our biases and how we detect misinformation. People need to be informed about how they can detect bias and propaganda, in addition to using independent fact-checking services. By identifying propaganda from malicious actors and misinformation from online groups, we can stop the spread of dangerous memes before they proliferate.
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