By Koen Kluessien -
When attacks by the Islamic State took place in several small villages in the Syrian province of Aleppo, most rebels of the Free Syrian Army were stunned: these villages were of no real strategic importance. However, although the villages had no direct military goal, the jihadists of the Islamic State had a very clear plan when taking over the area close to the Turkish border. One of the villages, Dabiq, is to IS of the utmost importance, not for military but religious reasons. Similar to Christianity and Judaism does Islam anticipate the end of the world combined with a final confrontation between good and evil. According to the Hadith – a collection of sayings and deeds attributed to the Prophet Muhammad – Dabiq is the place where these apocalyptic events will take place. The prophecy is taken very serious by the jihadists as they do not read Muslim literature as mere spiritual guides, but as literal blueprints to follow towards the end of times in order to become true and authentic Muslims. It will therefore come as no surprise that the religiously and historical important village of Dabiq is a constant returning topic in IS propaganda. The Islamic State now even has its own glossy magazine, named after the mysterious village of Dabiq. What role does this magazine play in the violent propaganda of the Islamic State?
Some may know the name of the small village from the almost 16 minute long video Although the Disbelievers Despise It, which was distributed on Twitter and jihadi forums on November 16, 2014. It shows the simultaneous beheading of Syrian pilots, and the severed head of US aid worker Peter Kassig. One of the executors who is often referred to as ‘jihadi John’ – hinting at the British background of the jihadist – addresses Obama and his ‘Crusade’. Later, the British jihadist ends with a warning to Obama and the American troops: ‘Here we are, burning the first American Crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of your armies to arrive.’ The written propaganda is no less violent or megalomaniac.
The magazine gives an insight in the manner in which the Islamic State is framing its political, military, and religious programs. Especially the latter seems to be the core of the slick English-language magazine. According to Colin Clarke, a political scientist at the RAND research organization: ‘What you see with Dabiq is the combination of Islamic theological credentials with battlefield success. ISIS really takes great care to back up everything that it does with religious justification. That’s one area where Al Qaeda got soft over time.’ Indeed, the Islamic State is not the first organization of its kind to have its own magazine. Indeed, as mentioned before in my previous article on IS’ social media campaign, although its strategies are not necessarily new, IS has combined and optimized already existing strategies. Resulting in online jihadist propaganda that is frighteningly professional. The quality of IS’ Dabiq magazine can be illustrated by laying it side-by-side with al-Qaeda’s Inspire magazine which specifically focuses on encouraging Western terrorist individuals to attack Western targets. The magazine is more of a how-to guide for aspiring terrorists, whereas Dabiq focuses on a global reach to recruit immigrants to build its state. Simply informing readers around the world of the military offensives would persuade maybe a few enthusiasts. The way in which IS articulates its vision in a comprehensive way truly shows the strength of its propaganda machine. Although the Islamic State is far from reaching its goal to have wide support of the worldwide Muslim community, it shows that IS is not a vague terrorist cell hiding from the world but a proto-state, finding out the best way to get the attention from both enemies and potential followers.
Moreover, the manner in which the Islamic State is documenting and presenting its massacres to the outside world seems unprecedented in modern history. Even textbook genocidal regimes have not proclaimed their acts of violence so openly and unrestrained. For example, the Radio Télévision Libre des Milles Collines (RTLM) was a radio station that played an important role in the incitement of the Rwandan genocide against the Tutsi in 1994. However, even in this clear case of incitement to genocide would the broadcasters use euphemisms such as ‘go to work’ as a call to kill the Tutsi and those Hutus who opposed the regime. The direct and clear language and images in Dabiq stand in stark contrast with the euphemistic propaganda of other violent perpetrators. The lengths to which the organization will go to achieve its goals is graphically portrayed in the page-long photos of mutilated corpses of ‘infidels’.
The fourth issue of Dabiq includes a five page article on the enslavement of the Yazidis. Last year in August, thousands of Yazidis were trapped on a mountain for days near their settlement of Sinjar. Large groups of the polytheistic people were massacred and many women and children went missing. The article claims to have researched whether or not the Yazidis are ‘mushrikin’ – polytheists, or to the definitions used by IS ‘pagans’ or ‘idolaters’ – and thus can be enslaved, because ‘[…] enslaving the families of the kuffār [disbelievers] and taking their women as concubines is a firmly established aspect of the Sharī’ah that if one were to deny or mock, he would be denying or mocking the verses of the Qur’ān and the narrations of the Prophet and thereby apostatizing from Islam.’ This rhetoric which justifies rape and the enslavement of women through Islamic verses seems to be roughly based on a pamphlet on female captives and slaves, released by ‘The Research and Fatwa Department of the Islamic State’ between October and November 2014. The pamphlet contains answers on very ‘practical’ questions such as ‘Question 13: Is it permissible to have intercourse with a female slave who has not reached puberty?’ Sadly, the answer is yes.
The Dabiq article goes even further in the propagating of violence aimed at the Yazidis when it tells the reader that they are not only allowed to kill the pagan minority, but that it is their duty as true Muslims to ‘question their continual existence to this day [because it] is a matter that Muslims should question as they will be asked about it on Judgment Day’. This questioning of the mere existence of the Yazidis is later manifested in a call to action that is, according to IS’ ‘scholars’, based on Islamic scripture: ‘And when the sacred months have passed, then kill the mushrikīn wherever you find them, and capture them, and besiege them, and sit in (sec) wait for them at every place of ambush.’ Recently, several mass graves of Yazidis have been found in the Sinjar area and in other regions, which proves to show that these are not merely empty words coming from the Islamic State. The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently analyzing the situation after the Kurdish Human Rights Committee appealed to investigate the Kurdish Yazidi and Christian minorities massacres. As Marieke stated in her article on the definition of genocide, it is a rather complicated term as it ‘does not only consist of the killing sites where the murders were carried out. Genocide is not just an event, it is a long enduring process – a continuum of destruction – involving many agencies, actors, and institutions.’ However, the killing of the Yazidis seems to make for a strong case as, according to research fellow at the Hoover Institution Bertrand M. Patenaude, it involved methods of ‘forcible conversion, rape, and then outright killing of people.’ Upon which he concluded: ‘I have no trouble with the use of the word genocide here.’ This does not mean that the ICC will agree or that there will be a case at all as Iraq – the country in which the crimes were committed – is not a member state. However, it is clear that Islamic States’ glossy magazine Dabiq will play a key role in determining the nature of the mass killing as this glorification of mass violence by its perpetrators is direct, openly violent and unprecedented in modern history.