from MEMRI’s Jihad and Terrorism Threat Monitor (JTTM) June 30, 2014:
In April 2013, a rift was created in the global jihadi movement when the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) announced that it was expanding into Syria and that it was changing its name to the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). Following this announcement, another jihadi organization in Syria, Jabhat Al-Nusra (JN), rejected ISIS’s authority, remaining loyal to Al-Qaeda leader Ayman Al-Zawahiri. ISIS even challenged Al-Zawahiri himself, refusing to follow his instructions to restrict itself to operating in Iraq. In early 2014, the rift escalated to violent conflict – ISIS versus JN and other jihadi organizations in bothIraq and Syria.
Having taken control of large areas of Iraq in recent months, ISIS is now enjoying increasing shows of solidarity from the Middle East and from across the Muslim world – and also from Western countries. Several factors contribute to its popularity, among them its jihad against the Americans in Iraq prior to its expansion into Syria, when it was ISI; its current struggle against Iraq’s Shi’ite government and its security forces – perceived as apparatuses for Shi’ite suppression of Sunnis; and its war against the Alawi Assad regime, which is an ally of the Shi’ites. ISIS’s activity on these fronts has helped bolster its image as the spearhead in the war against the enemies of Islam within and without the Muslim world, and raised its stature among supporters of global jihad.
Further adding to its popularity are ISIS’s achievements on the battlefields of Iraq and Syria, and its image as the only organization today that is actualizing authentic Islamic ideals and striving towards establishing the Islamic idea of a greater caliphate. It casts itself, and its propagandists depict it, as a legitimate sovereign body implementing shari’a law in areas under its control, and spreading Islam by means of jihad, thus forming the core of this future caliphate. Recently, ISIS spokesman Abu Muhammad Al-‘Adnani even called on Al-Qaeda to swear fealty to his organization, because the “state” it embodies supersedes any organization.
Sympathy for ISIS extends also to its leader, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, who is seen by the organization’s fans as the legitimate leader of all Muslims. This is because of his religious education, his lineage, and his jihadi past. As a challenger to Al-Zawahiri, he is considered more charismatic and more capable of leading the Muslim ummah towards the longed-for caliphate. Thus, under Al-Baghdadi’s leadership, ISIS is emerging as an alternative to Al-Qaeda, and is seen as working diligently to actualize the Muslims’ goals without Al-Qaeda’s religion-based reservations about, for example, imposing the jizya poll tax on Christians or conducting mass killings of Shi’ites.
The persecution of ISIS, even by Al-Qaeda, adds to its status in many circles as an “underdog” fighting for the goals of Islam and the good of all Muslims. Additionally, its highly efficient propaganda apparatus circulates videos and publications via jihadi forums and social media, praising itself and criticizing its rivals and opponents.
Westerners Joining And Promoting ISIS
The Westerners who are leaving their home countries to join ISIS in its fight in Iraq and Syria also add to the organization’s prestige, both inside and outside the Muslim world. These volunteers are widely covered by the media in their own countries, and each new arrival also receives a fanfare in the organization’s local press outlets and social media; these volunteers themselves are usually very active users of social media, communicating with friends and family back home as well as followers and engaging in their own efforts to promote and recruit for the organization in the West.
Further evidence of its sweeping popularity was the June 19, 2014 “One Billion Muslims Support ISIS” campaign, which urged ISIS sympathizers worldwide to express their support for the organization on Friday, June 20, and even devised a special Twitter hashtag for the purpose. The campaign elicited considerable response from supporters in numerous participants, who posted images and videos expressing their support for ISIS.
This Western support for ISIS is crucial to the group’s propaganda efforts; in addition to swelling the ranks of its fighters and bringing in funds and logistical support, it increases its prestige and deters its rivals.
Elements Used In Expressions Of Support For ISIS
These expressions of solidarity with ISIS on social and other media use common ISIS symbolism. They include posters of support for it and for Al-Baghdadi; the use of the slogan baqiya wa-tatmaddad, “will remain and spread”; the black tawhid flag, widely used by other global jihad elements; and ISIS nasheeds, or Islamic songs.
Other expressions of solidarity include: photos of ISIS posters next to Western landmarks such as the Eiffel Tower in Paris, Big Ben in London, the Atomium building in Brussels, and the Coliseum in Rome; photos of ISIS posters alongside Western passports; and other images shared on social media. All these add to ISIS’s image of an organization on the rise, and may also indicate its expansionist ambitions.
Tawhid banner used by ISIS
A poster supporting the “One Billion Muslims” campaign (Source: Twitter.com/Minbar_s, June 19, 2014)
This report will present examples of support for ISIS from the West. A future report will present similar examples of support from the Middle East and the Muslim world.
At least two contributions to the One Billion Muslims campaign came from the U.S. One was a photo of a drawing of ISIS emblem against the backdrop of the New York City skyline, and the other was a photo of a sign of support for ISIS taken in downtown Chicago.
Source: Twitter.com/truthsMaster, June 20, 2014.
Sign reads: “The soldiers of the #Islamic State in Iraq and Syria will soon pass through here… ” June 20, 2014. Source: Twitter.com/msn291.
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