In a research under the title “The Qur’an and War: Observations on Islamic Just War,” from 2012, Dr. Joel Hayward says that his purpose is to analyze the holy text which underpins Islam and articulates its mandatory codes of conduct in order to determine what that text, the Qur’an, actually requires or permits Muslims to do in terms of military violence….
This article is intended to be useful — sufficient to dispel any assumptions that the Qur’an advocates the punishment, subjugation or even killing of “infidels” as well as to reveal its key concepts governing justice during wartime…
Even a cursory reading of the Qur’an will draw the reader’s eyes to hundreds of scriptures extolling tolerance, conciliation, inclusiveness and peace, but also to a few scriptures that seem to be more aggressive…
“my conclusion (and that of every authoritative Islamic scholar) that the Qur’an is unambiguous: Muslims are prohibited from aggressive violence and are compelled, should war prove unavoidable, always to act within a code of ethical behavior that is closely akin to, and compatible with, the western warrior code embedded within Just War.
Hayward chooses to confirm his above-written assertions by trying to analyze verses that are used as warmongering by the “enemies of Islam.” He claims that “many critics assert that verses 9:29 and 2:190-194 directs Muslims to wage war against any and all disbelievers anywhere who refuse to embrace Islam or at least to submit to Islamic rule.” However, he says “they do not mandate Muslims to wage aggressive war or to inflict disproportionate or indiscriminate brutality.”
Then surprisingly he turns to analyze the abrogation doctrine. He claims that “The Qur’an itself states in several Surah that Allâh’s words constitute a universally applicable message sent down for ‘all of mankind’ and that it was a ‘reminder’ (with both ‘glad tidings and warnings’) to ‘all’ of humanity (Surah 34:28, Surah 39:41 and Surah 81:27). But what is the connection between abrogation and Islamic just war?
Hayward tries to prove the abrogation doctrine is non-existent. How he does so? Very simple: he just dismisses all Islamic classical exegetes and totally relies on the fresh new Islamic propagators in the West. Here is the main problem: the disqualification of Islamic classic and most important exegetes. In his words: “certainly most Islamic authorities on the Qur’an and Muhammad today, as opposed to scholars from, say, the more ambiguous medieval period (author’s emphasis), are firm in their judgement that the most warlike verses in the Qur’an, even those revealed very late in Muhammad’s mission, do not cancel out the overwhelming number of verses (author’s emphasis) that extol tolerance, reconciliation, inclusiveness and peace.
Who are the exegetes that cancel these most important doctrine? Well, the oracles of Hayward are three, in fact four:
The British scholar Dr Zakaria Bashier (War and Peace), who claims that “all the beautiful verses throughout the Qur’an which instruct Muslims to be peaceful, tolerant and non-aggressive are No reason exists at all to think that they have been overruled.”
The “Prolific British scholar Louay Fatoohi (Jihad in the Qur’an: The Truth from the Source), arguing that “overwhelming number’ of Muslim scholars reject the abrogation thesis regarding war (author’s emphasis). Fatoohi highlights the fact that throughout history the Islamic world has never acted in accordance with this extreme view, that Muslims have co-existed very well with other faith communities and that the 1600 million peaceable Muslims in the world today clearly do not accept the view otherwise, if they did, they would be at war as we speak.”
Muhammad Abu Zahra (Concept of War in Islam), an important and influential Egyptian intellectual and expert on Islamic law, summed up the mainstream Islamic view by rejecting any abrogation thesis pertaining to conflict and stating that “War is not justified… to impose Islam as a religion on unbelievers or to support a particular social regime. The prophet Muhammad fought only to repulse aggression.”
Sohaib Nazeer Sultan (The Koran for Dummies) makes the same point that the martial verse and the sword and those like it do not abrogate the more numerous peaceful, tolerant and inclusive verses.
However, not only we do not have any corroboration for these claims, we just have to believe they know better than Ibn Salama, al-Nasikh wal-Mansukh; al-Nahhas, al-Nasikh Wal-Mansukh; al-Baydawi, Anwar at-Tanzil wa-Asrar at-Ta’wil; al-Zarkasi, al-Burhan fi ‘Ulum al-Qur’an; al-Suyuti, al-Itqan fi ‘Ulum al-Qur’an; and Lubab an-Nuqul fi Asbab an-Nuzul; Fakhr al-Din al-Razi, al-Tafsir al-Kabir; Ibn Hazm, al-Nasikh wal-Mansukh; al-Zamakhshari, al-Kashshaf; al-Tabari, Tafsir; al-Wahidi, Kitab Asbab Nuzul al-Qur’an; Ibn Kathir, Tafsir.
You see, all these esteemed exegetes, biographers of Muhammad, highly acclaimed interpreters of Qur’an in Islamic religious history are put aside and thrown away by the new scholars of the 21st century, who use Da’wah as a diplomacy of deceit to mislead the infidels. It is as if James Madison and Thomas Jefferson have not written the US constitution, or that Alexander Hamilton, James Madison and John Jay have not written the “Federalist.” Even better say, it is as if these personalities have nothing to do with the US constitutional and political establishment, and they all must be null and void compare to new propagators claiming totally the opposite about the history of the US.
Then, Hayward turns “the so-called ‘verse of the sword of Surah 9:5.” He claims
“Bin Laden certainly did draw upon the verse of the sword and other seemingly militant Qur’anic scriptures in his August 1996 ‘Declaration of War against the Americans occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places’ as well as in his February 1998 fatwâ.”
However, Bin Laden “is not representative of Islamic belief or behaviour.” For Hayward
“It is quite true that, taken in isolation, Surah 9:5 seems an unusually violent pronouncement for a prophet who had for twenty years preached tolerance, peace and reconciliation (my emphasis). Yet it is equally true that, when read in the context of the verses above and below Surah 9:5, and when the circumstances of its pronouncement by Muhammad are considered, it is not difficult for readers without preconceptions and bias to understand it more fully… It is thus not as bloodthirsty as Robert Spencer and his colleagues portray it… it would only nowadays have any relevance and applicability if polytheists and idolaters ever tried to undertake and re-establish pagan practices in the Saudi Arabian cities devoted only to Allâh: Mecca and Medina. In other words, in today’s world it is not relevant or applicable (author’s emphasis and double emphasis).
Moreover, Hayward says Ibn Kathir said no such thing that the verse of the sword abrogates all peaceful verses ever previously uttered by the prophet, as Spencer claim: “Spencer mistakenly extrapolates this to claim, baselessly.”
Well, the reader in Arabic and in English who reads Ibn Kathir classical Tafsir, is sure Ibn Kathir said verse 9:5 abrogates all the so-called peaceful verses. If one wonders how Hayward misunderstands what Ibn Kathir said, well here is Hayward’s interpretation to another warmongering verse (4:89), which clearly claim to “seize and slay the infidels wherever you find them.” This verse, Hayward says,
“is surrounded by so many other explanatory and qualifying verses that its superficially violent meaning is immediately moderated by its context of tolerance and understanding. First, it threatened violence in self defence only … Secondly, it stated that, if those aggressors left the Muslims alone and free to practice their faith, and if they did not attack them, but offered them peaceful co-existence, then Allâh would not allow Muslims to harm them in any way… The verse not only offered peaceful co-existence to those who formally made peace with the Muslims, but also to anyone…”
Well, this is indeed an interesting interpretation, yet it has nothing to do with the reality. What ridicule the situation is Hayward own words: first, there is a war against the infidels, but it is only “self-defense.” Second, “if those aggressors left the Muslims alone and free to practice their faith, and if they did not attack them, but offered them peaceful co-existence, then Allâh would not allow Muslims to harm them in any way” (my emphases). In other words, if those “aggressors” yield to the Muslim demands, than peace prevails according to the Muslims’ terms. This “coexistence” has one meaning: a total defeat and surrender to Islam, as those aggressors must to live under Muslims’ terms. This is not exactly a peaceful coexistence.
Hayward is right when claiming that Surah 22:39 contains that first transformational statement of permission to fight in self-defense. However, he could not avoid using Da’wah, diplomacy of deceit, by claiming “Interestingly, it even extols the defense of houses of worship, including the churches of Christians and the synagogues of Jews.” Where from he has taken this false statement?
Hayward continues by claiming that
“In every Qur’anic example in which warfighting (qital) is encouraged for protection against oppression or violence, verses can be found that stress that, should the wrongdoers cease their hostility, then Muslims must immediately cease their own fighting.”
Well, the root q-t-l (noun Qitāl) means slaying, killing, fighting, slaughtering. It appears 123 times in the Qur’an, of which thirty-four times in the Meccan Sûwar and eighty-nine times in the Medina Sûwar, and it reveals the warlike character of the Arab Islamic political culture. The purpose and rules of Jihād Fī-Sabīlillāh and Qitāl merge together, being an inseparable part of Islamic roles, motivations, and targets. Both have the same objectives to make Islam dominant over all other religions. That is why Jihad is the inspiration, the call to bring Islamic religious and political superiority, while Qitāl is the earthly act of fighting and slaughtering the infidels.
As a propagator of Islam, Hayward could not escape praising Muhammad as a pacifist tender person and anti-war hero:
“Muhammad was no warmonger and forgave and pardoned mortal enemies whenever he could. This “reluctant warrior,” to quote one scholar, urged the use of nonviolent means…
Muhammad recognised that wars were so unpalatable to his peace-loving community that, even though the causes of Muslim warfighting were just, he had to go to extra lengths…
However, the truth is unfortunately very different. Hayward have to learn the three best and most acclaimed biographers of Muhammad: Ibn Ishaq, Sīrat Rasûl Allāh; al-Tabari, Ta’rīkh al-Rusûl wal-Mulûk; and al-Waqidi, Kitāb al-Maghāzī, as to really realize the way and the character of the wars conducted by Muhammad and his believers. Even personally, the list of Muhammad’s killing is long.
Hayward states that “the Qur’an repeatedly enjoins Muslims to remember that, whenever possible, they should respond to provocations with patience and efforts to facilitate conciliation.” But he does not mention that this command was true only to the Meccan period, when Muhammad and his community of believers were small, weak and vulnerable, compare to the Meccans. This is something to recall: after 12 years of religious preaching at Mecca there were only 150 believers, including women and children. However, to introduce the war-like character of the Arabs, 10 thousand joined Muhammad’s ranks after his victory in the Badr War, in March 624.
Only at the end of his research, Hayward refers to topic, mainly “Observations on Islamic Just War.” He claims that
“The reasons for going to war expressed within the Qur’an closely match those within jus ad bellum, the Just War criteria which establishes the justice of a decision to undertake combat. The criteria include Just Cause, Proportionality and Last Resort” (my emphasis).
He has done nothing to prove this claim. He claims that
“Muhammad would instruct them to fight honourably, not to hurt women and children, not to harm prisoners, not to mutilate bodies, not to plunder and not to destroy trees or crops.”
However, from reading Muhammad’s biographers and other Islamic reliable sources, the picture is the opposite. I have referred to these, only from Islamic exegesis in the first chapter of my book: Islam and the Infidels.
From reading his research it is doubtful if Hayward knows Arabic well, which a great fault is. However, he is also mistaken by claiming that
“Abu Bakr, the first Caliph, compiled the Qur’an’s and the prophet’s guidance on the conduct of war into a code that has served ever since as the basis of Islamic thinking on the conduct of battle” (my emphasis).
Well, Abu Bakr lived only two years, and only Uthman, the third Caliph, compiled the Qur’an, in 644. To be more accurate, this period of the four first Caliphs, al-Khulafā’ al-Rashidûn, prove the warmongering character of the Arabs: in less than 30 years, there were two civil wars; the great rift separation in Islam, between the Sunnah and the Shī’ah, and three of the four Caliphs were murdered.
Hayward is now back to the issue of Jihad. He claims:
“Interestingly, given that jihad is now associated with extremists who are full of hatred, like Osama bin Laden and other terrorists, the Qur’an does not allow hatred to form the basis of a military or other armed response to perceived injustices” (5:8; 3:134).
Well, he should read the paper published in Modern Diplomacy (January 19 and January 27, 2016), concerning hatred. Yet, he continues by misquoting verses 2:256 and 5:32. These verse were dealt very extensively in my Da’wah papers on Modern Diplomacy (February 22, and March 4, 2016).
Hayward adds insult to injury by claiming that
“Despite rejection by several powerful Jewish tribes, Muhammad remained convinced that the Jewish and Christian faith communities (as opposed to individual tribes which acted treacherously) were eminently acceptable to Allâh.”
Well, the truth is that the three Jewish tribes of Medina were deported and massacred, their women and children were forcefully Islamized, and their belongings were seized and taken. The truth is that in Arabia the Jews were passed through process of genocide and ethnic cleansing, being the “worst enemies of Allah;” “like apes and pigs.”
Again, Hayward makes his work cheap by claiming that
“jihad, far from meaning some type of fanatical holy war against all unbelievers, is the Arabic word for “exertion” or “effort” and it actually describes any Muslim’s struggle against the things that are ungodly within him or her and within the wider world.
Well, this is incorrect. Jihad comes from the third conjugation of the root j.h.d. and it means war. From here comes Mujāhidûn and Jihād. Indeed, it is mentioned (not in the Qur’an and not in an authentic, Sahīh, Hadīth) there is al-Jihād al-Akbar (the spiritual Jihad as compare to al-Jihād al-Saghīr, but it is also clear that al-Jihād al-Akbar will be practiced only after al-Jihād al-Saghīr is finished, meaning there will be infidels and Islam prevails.
Hayward concludes his research by bringing a long statement
This article is not an attempt at religious apologetics. It is written by a scholar of military strategy and ethics for a military audience in an endeavour to demonstrate that the world’s second largest religion (only Christianity has more adherents) includes at its core a set of scriptures that contains a clear and very ethical framework for understanding war and guiding the behaviour of warriors” (Author’s emphasis).
Well, it is the right time to directly refer to the subject matter raised by Hayward, which was unfortunately highly apologetic and misleading.
Just war in Arabic is Sīyār. Reading the Islamic Four School of Jurisprudence (Maliki, Shafi’i, Hanbali and Hanafi), and the Sharī’ah (Ahmed ibn Naqib al Misri, ’Umdat as-Sālik; Ibn Rushd, The Distinguished Jurists Primer; and Abu Zakariya Yahya, Riyad al-Sālihīn), clearly reveal there is no concept of “Just War” in Islam as in Western, Judeo-Christian thinking. From Islamic vantage point, any war which is directed against the infidels is morally justified and religiously legitimized. It comes even from the names: Islamic wars are not Hurûb (plural of Harb), but rather Futûhāt (plural of Fath), which literally means opening the world to the call of Islam.
Muslims wage Jihad in order to occupy the world and bring it under its fold, and/or to disseminate the religion to all humanity. This is why it is a just war to achieve a legitimate and a sacred cause. They wholeheartedly believe that their territorial expansion and their use of force and coercion against the other is not aggression but a fulfillment of the Qur’anic command to spread Islam to all humankind. The distinction is clear: every war activity in Islam is described as totally defensive, and every move of the infidels is defined as totally and undoubtedly aggressive.
The normal and justified relationships between Dār al-Islām, the domain of Islam, and Dār al-Harb, the domain of war, where the infidels reside, is a state of infinite war. The Muslims are totally justified in their state of belligerency against the infidels. Dār al–Islām is conceived as any territory conquered by force in the history of Islam, to become Waqf. By this reasoning, all territories of the infidels in Dār al-Harb, must be subdued or eliminated.
A lasting peace between Dār al-Islām, being a religious and political community, and Dār al-Harb is impossible, until Dār al-Harb no more exist. When the entire world has become Dār al-Islām, submission (Islām) to Allah will become the law of the nations. Until then, war is the normal and lasting state. Dār al-Sulh or Dār al-‘Ahd exist only when Muslim power is weak and they cannot win over the infidels. Arab-Islamic political culture institutionalizes the conflict as the natural state of affairs. The word Salām denotes a state of security within the Muslim community (Ummah) and only those coming under its rule and governance. Everything is temporary and subject to change, in accord with Muslim values and interests.
Majid Khadduri, a world leading authority on Arab definitions of peace and war states clearly: Arabs and Muslims view peace with infidels only as a tactical means for achieving their strategic objective. It is a valid instrument only if it serves the Islamic interests. Peace constitutes a temporary break in the ongoing war against the infidels, and it is clearly seen from the intriguing 1,400 year sequence of wars, terrorism, alliances and violent violation of agreements and treaties between Arabs and Muslims and others. Muslims might come to terms with the enemy, provided that they should resume Jihad after the expiration of the treaty, or according their interests. By their very nature, treaties must be of temporary duration, for the normal relations between Muslim and non-Muslim territories are not peaceful, but warlike.
Islam could not abolish the warlike character of the Arabs who were constantly at war with each other. It indeed reaffirmed the war basis of inter-group relationship by institutionalizing war… transforming inter-Muslim war into a holy war designed to be ceaselessly declared against those who failed to become Muslims (pp. 53-4). This change, as a matter of fact, did not imply abandonment of the Jihad duty; it only meant the entry of the obligation into a period of suspension… There is no permanent compromise with non-believers (pp. 64-5).
This is summarized in a statement by the renowned Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406)
In the Muslim community, Jihad as the holy war is a religious duty, because of the universalism of the Muslim mission and the obligation to convert everybody to Islam either by persuasion or by force. Therefore, caliphate and royal authority are united in Islam, so that the person in charge can devote the available strength to both of them at the same time.
Muhsin Khan, The Translator of Sahīh al-Bukhārī into English states
So, it is incumbent upon Muslims to follow the path which Allah’s Messenger adopted to avoid polytheism and heresy in all its shapes and to take the Qur’an and the Prophet’s traditions as torches in front of us to guide us. We have to teach our brethren and convey the message to non-Muslims all over the world as much as possible in order to save them from the Hell-fire. We have to prepare ourselves to stand in the face of our enemy and to possess the means of power and to participate in the progress of useful industries in order to protect our religion and be powerful enough to face our enemy, as Allah ordered.
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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