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Table of contents :
Proto-State Media Systems
1. The Challenge to State-Based Global Media Systems
2. Proto-State Media Systems: A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS
3. Transhistorical Militancy, Community-Building, and Proto-State Media Systems
4. Transpatial Identity, Community-Building, and Proto-State Media Systems
5. Material Presence, Online Attention, and Proto-State Newsworthiness
6. Audience Resilience Strategies of Proto-State Media Systems
7. An Analytical Approach for Understanding Proto-State Media Systems
Proto-State Media Systems
CAUSES AND CONSEQUENCES OF TERRORISM SERIES Series Editors: Gary LaFree Gary A. Ackerman Anthony Lemieux Books in the Series: From Freedom Fighters to Jihadists: Human Resources of Non State Armed Groups Vera Mironova ISIS Propaganda: A Full-Spectrum Extremist Message Edited by Stephane J. Baele, Katharine A. Boyd, and Travis G. Coan Extremist Islam: Recognition and Response in Southeast Asia Kumar Ramakrishna Insurgent Terrorism: Intergroup Relationships and the Killing of Civilians Victor Asal, Brian J. Phillips, and R. Karl Rethemeyer Proto-State Media Systems: The Digital Rise of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Carol K. Winkler and Kareen El Damanhoury
Proto-State Media Systems The Digital Rise of Al-Qaeda and ISIS CAROL K. WINKLER KA R E E M E L DA M A N HOU RY
3 Oxford University Press is a department of the University of Oxford. It furthers the University’s objective of excellence in research, scholarship, and education by publishing worldwide. Oxford is a registered trade mark of Oxford University Press in the UK and certain other countries. Published in the United States of America by Oxford University Press 198 Madison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, United States of America. © University of Maryland National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) 2022 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form or by any means, without the prior permission in writing of Oxford University Press, or as expressly permitted by law, by license, or under terms agreed with the appropriate reproduction rights organization. Inquiries concerning reproduction outside the scope of the above should be sent to the Rights Department, Oxford University Press, at the address above. You must not circulate this work in any other form and you must impose this same condition on any acquirer. Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Names: Winkler, Carol K., author. | El Damanhoury, Kareem, author. Title: Proto-state media systems : the digital rise of Al-Qaeda and ISIS / Carol K. Winkler, Kareem El Damanhoury. Description: New York, NY : Oxford University Press,  | Includes bibliographical references and index. Identifiers: LCCN 2021043187 (print) | LCCN 2021043188 (ebook) | ISBN 9780197568026 (hardback) | ISBN 9780197568033 (paperback) | ISBN 9780197568057 (epub) | ISBN 9780197568064 Subjects: LCSH: IS (Organization) | Qaida (Organization) | Digital media—Political aspects—Middle East. | Terrorism and mass media—Middle East. | Mass media policy—Middle East. Classification: LCC HV6433.I722 W555 2022 (print) | LCC HV6433.I722 (ebook) | DDC 363.325—dc23/eng/20211115 LC record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2021043187 LC ebook record available at https://lccn.loc.gov/2021043188 DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780197568026.001.0001 1 3 5 7 9 8 6 4 2 Paperback printed by LSC Communications, United States of America Hardback printed by Bridgeport National Bindery, Inc., United States of America
To those who strive for peace, justice, and equality
1. The Challenge to State-Based Global Media Systems
2. Proto-State Media Systems: A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS
3. Transhistorical Militancy, Community-Building, and Proto-State Media Systems
4. Transpatial Identity, Community-Building, and Proto-State Media Systems
5. Material Presence, Online Attention, and Proto-State Newsworthiness
6. Audience Resilience Strategies of Proto-State Media Systems
7. An Analytical Approach for Understanding Proto-State Media Systems
Afterword Glossary Appendix Bibliography Index
201 203 209 215 251
Acknowledgments We would never have been able to complete this book without the generosity of our many supporters. The Air Force Office of Scientific Research’s Minerva Research Initiative (#FA9550-15-1-0373; PI Anthony Lemieux) provided needed resources for online data collection under the direction of Jarret Brachman and the necessary time to conduct research for Nellie Lahoud, Akil Awan, Jonathan Pieslak, Ben Miller, Amanda Rogers, Humera Khan, and the first author. The views presented here, however, are those of the coauthors alone and do not represent those of the funding source or our colleagues. Georgia State University and the University of Denver also added substantial assistance. We would particularly like to thank Georgia State’s Provost Wendy Hensel, GSU’s Office of Sponsored Projects and Awards, GSU former Arts and Sciences Deans William Long and Sara Rosen, GSU Department of Communication Chair Greg Lisby, and Denver’s Media, Film & Journalism Studies Department Chair Lynn Schofield Clark for supporting the creation of this manuscript. We owe a debt of gratitude to the Presidential Fellows of GSU’s interdisciplinary Transcultural Conflict and Violence Initiative who provided essential research support, as well as cultural and language expertise. They include Houda Abadi, Aaron Dicker, Nagham El Karhili, John Hendry, Wojciech Kaczkowski, Ayse Lokmanoglu, and Kayla McMinimy. We would also like to thank our friends and colleagues who took the time to review and provide useful insights toward the book’s development. In particular, we want to acknowledge the contributions of Gary Ackerman, David Cheshier, Gary LeFree, Anthony F. Lemieux, Louis A. Ruprecht, William Newnam, and Areeb Al-bayaydah. We would also like to thank Aaron Zelin, Amanda Rogers, Charlie Winter, Cori Dauber, Marwan Kraidy, Mia Bloom, Shawn Powers, Weeda Mehran, and Yannick Veilleux-Lepage who helped stimulate our thinking in the formative stages of the book. Abby Gross of Oxford University Press is nothing short of the ideal that writers hope they are lucky enough to have taking the lead on the publication of their manuscripts. After Abby’s internal promotion, we were fortunate that Nadina Persuad, Katie Pratt, and Sujitha Logaganesan more than ably stepped in to continue
x Acknowledgments the professional, timely, and highly valued oversight needed to bring this book to publication. Research coordinators Yennhi Luu, Monerah Almahmoud, and Zainab Saleh, as well as Presidential Fellow Ayse Lokmanoglu, assisted us in essential ways by formatting references, endnotes, and images; overseeing data management; conducting statistical analyses; and managing the content analysis process. We admire their attention to detail and their cheerful dispositions, and we feel blessed to have them as colleagues. Finally, we want to acknowledge the patience and support we received from our beloved parents, siblings, spouses, and children, who too often listened patiently as we worked out our ideas, too often tolerated our absences, and always provided us with a reason to do what we could to make the world a less violent place.
1 The Challenge to State-Based Global Media Systems US-Syrian dual citizen Ahmad Abousamra and two of his companions (including one previously jailed for participating in al-Qaeda training camps in Somalia) allegedly went to Pakistan in 2002 to receive militant training. The three men had previously bonded while watching militant videos showing the suffering of Chechnyan and Palestinian Muslims and the militant battlefield victories over enemy forces. Between 2004 and 2009, Abousamra left his home in Massachusetts and traveled to Yemen, Iraq, and Syria. By October 2009, US authorities indicted him for providing material support to al-Qaeda, and in 2013, the FBI placed him on their Most Wanted list. After slipping away from US authorities and fighting for the militant group Jabhat al-Nusra in Aleppo, Syria, the University of Massachusetts at Boston computer science graduate joined ISIS. Abousamra would go on to translate, write copy, and serve as chief editor for Dabiq, the group’s English language magazine. He would also lead the effort to consolidate ISIS’s multilanguage magazines into one publication—Rumiyah. Abousamra died in a missile attack in al-Tabqa while fighting against the Syrian Democratic Forces.1 After his death in January 2017, ISIS eulogized him under his alias—Shaykh Abu Sulayman ash-Shami—and placed his image on the cover of the eighth issue of Rumiyah that he had helped produce. Meanwhile, Samir Khan was an American Pakistani born in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and raised in New York City. Khan’s father revealed that his son initially became involved in Islam as a way to “stay away from the peer pressure of his teenage days.”2 Khan’s parents, fearing that their son was becoming increasingly radicalized, encouraged his interactions with imams at their mosque to help temper his views. Lacking confidence that their intervention was successful, the family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina, where, from 1 Adaki, “AQAP Publishes Biography.” 2 As quoted in Brown and Severson, “2nd American in Strike,” para. 12. Proto-State Media Systems. Carol K. Winkler and Kareem El Damanhoury, Oxford University Press. © University of Maryland National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) 2022. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780197568026.003.0001
2 Proto-State Media Systems the basement of his new home, Khan started his blog “Inshallah Shaheed” (A Martyr God Willing)3 and created an English language magazine titled Jihad Recollections. In 2009, he relocated to Sanaa, Yemen, where he founded Inspire, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s (AQAP) English language magazine. He wrote numerous articles, including “How to Build a Bomb in Your Kitchen,” which purportedly inspired the Tsarnaev brothers to bomb the 2013 Boston Marathon, as well as published instructions on how to use remote-controlled IEDs that the 2015 San Bernardino shooters had planned to use in their attack.4 A US drone strike killed Khan and his mentor and AQAP’s operational commander Anwar al-Awlaki on September 30, 2011.5 The lives of Abousamra and Khan illustrate a rising challenge now facing nations in an increasingly globalized world. Both men consumed online media by radical, militant groups. Both eventually abandoned their national identities to join extremist groups. Both rose to become media leaders who widened the spread of militant online messaging. Finally, both emerged as integral figures who encouraged individuals worldwide to join their militant groups and perpetrate attacks against those considered enemies of Islam in their homelands. The cases of Abousamra and Khan reveal that threats from violent extremists can emerge from anywhere, that the ease of accessing global communications can encourage participation in militant, non-state groups, and that the transferrable skill sets of defectors from existing states can serve as force multipliers for such groups with devastating consequences for the international community. In this volume, we explore how militant proto-state groups develop media systems to define and sustain their envisioned collectives. The growth of online media use by such groups in recent years has expanded in unprecedented ways. In the late 1990s, fewer than half of the US State Department’s list of foreign terrorist organizations (FTOs) had a website; by the 2003–2005 period, more than forty terrorist groups had more than 4,300 websites to serve their supporters.6 Today, militant groups have their own publishing houses, radio networks, media companies, private online chat rooms, and social media brigades. The groups’ global media production houses and
3 Kareem El Damanhoury, Monerah Ahmalmoud, and Ayse Lokmanoglu provided Arabic translations that appear throughout the book. They have provided English translations of all Arabic video titles appearing in the endnotes and references. 4 Office of Public Affairs, “California Man Charged”; Counter Extremism Project, “Samir Khan.” 5 Adaki, “AQAP Publishes Biography.” 6 Weimann, Terror on the Internet.
Challenge to State-Based Global Media Systems 3 distribution centers, coupled with the nature of those who control such assets, warrant a rethinking of conventional understandings of media systems.
Media Systems: A Brief Retrospective For several decades, scholars have examined how media systems operate around the globe. Media systems comprise an aggregate of media “organized or operating within a given social and political system.”7 At the macro level, media systems are distinguishable from media sectors (e.g., radio stations, newspapers, etc.) or individual media channels and outlets.8 Since communication scholar Daniel Hallin and media professional Paolo Mancini published a groundbreaking, comparative study of media systems based on the experience of eighteen North American and Western European nations,9 several thousand books and more than a thousand articles have addressed the topic. The focus on such institutions is unsurprising. Systems-based scholarship illuminates key media systems’ concepts, evaluates conceptual relationships, identifies representative cases of global system types, enables global comparisons of media systems, explains the relationships between media systems and other key variables, and assesses impactful changes in the systems over time.10 To date, classical understandings of media systems have shaped the bulk of related research. Communication researchers Fred Siebert, Theodore Peterson, and Wilbur Schramm, for example, originally derive their theories of the press from media systems operating in Britain, the United States, and the Soviet Union in the aftermath of World War II,11 and yet their taxonomy has subsequently functioned as “the Bible of comparative media studies.”12 Their four media systems include the following: (1) the authoritarian system, where the main duty of the media is to avoid interference with the state objectives through monopolies, censorship, subsidies, electromagnetic waves controls, and so on; (2) the Soviet communist system, where the media facilitate state objectives by exercising a monopoly over all media; (3) the libertarian system, where the media remain committed to the free exchange
7 Hardy, Western Media Systems, 5. 8 McQuail, Media Performance.
9 Hallin and Mancini, Comparing Media Systems.
10 Hallin and Mancini, “Ten Years After Comparing.”
11 Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm, Four Theories of the Press. 12 Curran, Media and Democracy, 28.
4 Proto-State Media Systems of ideas and their role as a watchdog over the government; and (4) the social responsibility system, where the media assume responsibility to control themselves to avoid the degradation of culture and society.13 Drawing on the experience of the European social welfare media model, media and economic specialist Robert Picard adds a fifth type—the democratic socialist system—where the media upholds democracy and media competition through minimal state intervention.14 Collectively, these five categories encompass the standard ongoing relationships that exist between stable nations and their respective media system apparatuses. Other types of media systems operate in contexts where the governing entities of the states are less stable. Media systems in these challenged states often involve revolutionary actors, but they can also encompass struggling conventional entities during transitional periods. The revolutionary press model describes media systems that function to help topple an existing government. The development press model depicts systems operating in countries transitioning from colonialism, underdevelopment, and/or a lack of media resources to independence.15 The military dictatorship model applies to systems that rely upon nationalistic appeals and suppression of oppositional views to depoliticize the population. The communist one-party rule model portrays systems where the state controls all media outlets in furtherance of a utopian project, legitimizes a regime, and disseminates a socialist ideology. The state one-party rule model comprises systems that embrace media oligopolies, a mixture of coercion and incentives to avoid competition, and the propagation of state-sponsored modernization projects. Finally, the weak state systems model includes systems that personalize one-party rule by directly controlling and subsidizing media to bolster political grips on nation-states.16 Initially, scholars focusing on Arab world media followed the lead of their US, European, and Soviet counterparts by examining how media systems work within the context of established states. Former US Foreign Service officer William Rugh’s Arab press model from four decades ago, for example, incorporates the nation-state as a central feature of his three-part typology: a mobilization press that mainly supports the official position of the state by suppressing opposition to the state’s control (e.g., Egypt, Syria, and Iraq), a
13 Siebert, Peterson, and Schramm, Four Theories of the Press. 14 Picard, Press and the Decline of Democracy. 15 Hachten and Scotton, World News Prisms.
16 Voltmer, The Media in Transitional Democracies.
Challenge to State-Based Global Media Systems 5 loyalist press that supports the regime and exhibits no editorial diversity (e.g., Saudi Arabia, Qatar, UAE, and Jordan), and a diverse press that exhibits more variety in its content and editorial policies (e.g., Lebanon, Morocco, and Kuwait).17 Likewise, media scholar and former advisor to the UAE National Media Council Muhammad Ayish builds his media system analysis of television broadcasting in the 1990s using approaches that reproduce state- based models. His taxonomy identifies traditional government-controlled television that coincide with the classical Western view of an authoritarian media system (e.g., the Syrian Satellite Channel), reformist government-controlled television that allows for a degree of media freedom albeit with rigid guidelines (e.g., the Abu Dhabi Satellite Channel), and liberal commercial television (e.g., Al Jazeera).18 In a more recent edited volume Arab Media Systems, international communication professor Carola Richter and multimedia journalism professor Claudia Kozman likewise focus on the nation- state, as their collection examines eighteen Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries to assess how Arab media systems interface with their political, economic, technological, and cultural contexts.19 Over time, theories of Arab media systems have gradually evolved away from a focus on the nation-state. By 2004, Rugh revisits his typology and introduces a pan-Arab media model that encompassed outlets that target transnational audiences, such as Al Jazeera, al-Arabiya, and MBC, as well as offshore Arabic newsletters such as al-Hayat and al-Sharq al-Awsat.20 Going further, communication scholar Marwan Kraidy breaks away from the nation-focused approach altogether, arguing that a transnational perspective can be “more heuristic than a traditional comparative approach using the nation-state as a unit of analysis.”21 He uses the Saudi-Lebanese media connection to illustrate how two Arab national media systems coordinate with one another to form a transnational media system that operates at the regional level. Kraidy’s focus highlights the rise of transnationalism, as does his more recent analysis of the pan-Arab satellite industry and other challenges to national media systems with social scientist Toby Miller,22 but both leave unaddressed the emergent phenomenon of the media systems of proto-state groups.
17 Rugh, Arab Press.
18 Ayish, “Political Communication on Arab World Television.” 19 Richter and Kosman (eds.), Arab Media Systems. 20 Rugh, Arab Mass Media.
21 Kraidy, “Rise of Transnational Media Systems,” 198. 22 Miller and Kraidy, Global Media Studies.
6 Proto-State Media Systems
Militant Proto-States: A Definition A key, present-day challenge to the dominant state-based assumptions of media systems theory is the rise of proto-states and their respective media operations. Although no consensus exists on the elements that define a proto- state, most scholars agree that the term denotes early, aspiring, would-be states that fall outside of the internationally recognized system of sovereign states and surpass the vast majority of competing non-state actors in their end-goal ambitions.23 The conceptual definition of the proto-state, however, remains amorphous due to its previous wide-ranging applications to a diverse set of entities, including historical societies and kingdoms,24 anti-colonial revolutionaries,25 secessionist movements,26 annexed, occupied, and/or colonized territories,27 autonomous regions,28 Soviet Republics,29 newly independent states,30 and militant groups.31 Two strands of thought have emerged to resolve the terminological confusion. The first defines proto-states essentially through negation, using commonly accepted international criteria for statehood as a discernible reference point. Often, such efforts rely on the statehood qualifications established at the 1933 Seventh International Conference of American States in Montevideo, Uruguay. The elevated standing of the Montevideo criteria results from their use as the foundation of contemporary international law. Montevideo’s four criteria for statehood outlined in its Convention on Rights and Duties of States include “a permanent population, a defined territory, government, and capacity to enter into relations with other states.”32 Political scientist Ryan Griffiths’s expansive study of 638 proto-states from the early nineteenth century to 2011 serves as an illustration of this approach.33 Without explicitly referring to the Montevideo convention, he 23 For examples of previous scholarship addressing the concept of a proto-state, see Diamond, “Dahomey: Development of a Proto-State”; Reed, “Performative State-Formation”; and Szekely, “Proto-State Realignment.” 24 Porčić, “Evaluating Social Complexity”; Rosenberg, “Basic Problems”; Tagliacozzo, “Smuggling in Southeast Asia”; Santos Velasco, “City and State in Pre-Roman Spain.” 25 Panzer, “Pedagogy of Revolution”; Panzer, “Building a Revolutionary Constituency.” 26 Mitra, “Kosal Movement.” 27 Abourahme, “Bantustan Sublime”; Erman, “Citizens of Empire”; Marten, “Reformed or Deformed?” 28 Leonard and Samantar, “What Does the Somali Experience Teach Us?” 29 Hahn, Russia’s Revolution from Above. 30 Motyl, Revolutions, Nations, Empires; Reed, “Performative State-Formation.” 31 Gaub, “Cult of ISIS”; Hough, “Disarticulations and Commodity Chains”; Lia, “Jihādī Movement and Rebel Governance”; Maurer, “ISIS’s Warfare Functions.” 32 Convention on Rights and Duties of States, Article 1, 1933. 33 Griffiths, Age of Secession.
Challenge to State-Based Global Media Systems 7 nonetheless defines characteristics of a proto-state that relate to each of its four statehood criteria. Echoing the convention’s standard of a permanent population and a defined territory, for example, Griffiths insists that a proto- state must have a “minimum population of 1000 people and a minimum size of 1000 square kilometers.”34 Evoking the criterion of participation in governance, he defines the proto-state as “a particular type of political unit, one that is organized administratively, given some degree of autonomy, and is typically (though not always) constructed around a local ethnic group.”35 Griffiths, however, rejects the fourth Montevideo criterion altogether. He withholds the capacity of proto-states to enter into relations with other states, arguing that proto-states have no control over their external affairs. For him, proto-states can only control their internal affairs either through “complete internal dependence” or when their surrounding states grant them “specific rights in accordance with a unit-wide ethnic group or nation, or they are the result of a territorial transfer, or they are separated from the metropole by at least 100 miles.”36 Griffiths’s approach, while valuable for understanding secessionist movements over time, lacks full explanatory power for proto-states operating in the current era. The recent spread of global communications blurs the distinction between internal and external affairs, leaving contemporary proto-states well positioned to engage in transnational relations with both recognized states (often noncontiguous) and other proto-states. Further, Griffiths’s definitional framework explicitly excludes unrecognized and contested de facto state-like entities from proto-state consideration. For example, the Taliban government of Afghanistan, which emerged in the aftermath of the 1996 fall of Kabul, does not appear on his list of proto-states, despite its recognition as a state by Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and the United Arab Emirates in the period leading up to 2001. Hence, the recent rise of violent groups that increasingly contest internationally recognized boundaries of Westphalian sovereignty problematizes Griffiths’s conceptual parameters of proto-states. A competing perspective for resolving the definitional confusion surrounding proto-states operationalizes such entities by subgroup, each with its own unique criteria for inclusion. Norwegian historian Brynjar
34 Griffiths, Age of Secession, 219.
35 Convention on Rights and Duties of States, Article 1, 1933. 36 Convention on Rights and Duties of States, Article 1, 1933.
8 Proto-State Media Systems Lia, for example, asserts that “jihadi proto-states” over the past three decades have four defining characteristics: they represent ideological, internationalist projects that adopt aggression and share a “commitment to effective governance.”37 Lia identifies nineteen groups that have, at some point, either controlled territory and established civilian institutions (e.g., the Taliban, ISIS, and al-Qaeda branches in Yemen, Somalia, and northern Mali) or have served as fictional proto-states that do not provide services to populations under their control and/or capture and hold territory, but nevertheless insist publicly that they plan to do so in the future (e.g., Jund Ansar Allah). Lia’s framework rightly moves toward the inclusion of militant groups that contest modern state boundaries, but it still relies on a limited scope of groups that can qualify for proto-statehood.38 His explication of “jihadi” as “the ideology of al-Qaeda and other militant Islamist groups who refer to themselves as jihadis”39 overlooks long-standing debates over the meaning of jihad and excludes other militant proto-states that operate within the Islamist camp, such as Hamas and Hezbollah. His narrow focus also risks overlooking the useful insights minable from comparably aggressive groups committed to governance with end goals of accomplishing their ideological objectives within and across state boundaries (e.g., FARC, PIRA, etc.). Here, we will draw insights from both Griffiths’s and Lia’s definitions to conceptualize our meaning of militant proto-states. Seeking to encompass a broader array of violent groups now operating as proto-states in the global arena while retaining the Montevideo conventions as a useful starting point of comparison, we present six characteristics that define militant proto- states. They are (1) the presence of an ideological project (e.g., Islamist, far right, far left, etc.); (2) a pattern of committing acts of violence against local, regional, national, and/or international governments; (3) temporary control over territory of at least 100 square kilometers; (4) temporary authority over a population of at least one thousand people; (5) at least a temporary alternative governance system; and (6) the capacity to enter into relations with state and other proto-state actors.
37 Lia, “Understanding Jihadi Proto-States,” 36; see also Lia, “Jihādī Movement and Rebel.” 38 Lia, “Understanding Jihadi Proto-States.” 39 Lia, “Understanding Jihadi Proto-States,” 32. Also, see Bonner, Jihad in Islamic History; El-Fadl, Rebellion and Violence; Sachedina, “Development of Jihad.”
Challenge to State-Based Global Media Systems 9
Proto-State Media Systems While the assumption that previously understood media system theory can readily adapt to the proto-state context may be tempting, such operations are, in fact, quite distinct.40 Yet no systematic effort has explored the capacity of existing approaches to productively describe and evaluate the emergent phenomena of the proto-state. As the following will demonstrate, even a cursory comparison of states and proto-states suggests that each faces a unique set of challenges in the creation, development, and maintenance of their own media systems. One key difference between states and proto- states is the extent to which their media systems must define and constitute audiences targeted for media circulation. In the case of state-based media systems, the potential consumers of the media products embody a relatively stable, collective identity steeped in a national imaginary.41 While collectives are never static or fully constituted, discourse can, at times, become so normalized that constituents no longer consciously register the narrative force exerted upon them.42 Individuals will certainly disagree regarding the past, present, and future directions of their respective nation-states, but they will typically align their own identities with those of existing states due to their routine and proximate exposure to state-based societal narratives and ideological perspectives. Proto-states, by contrast, do not rely on national imaginaries to define their target audiences. Instead, such groups critique (and even vilify) nation-states while building their own collectives. They also seek to delegitimize existing nation-states and fracture preexisting identity formations to recruit members for their new collectives. Another key distinction between proto-state and states is the nature and function of their media system’s journalistic corps. As a general matter, state- based systems distinguish between working journalist professionals and individuals operating outside of standard media enterprises, such as citizen journalists, online bloggers, suppliers of other user-generated content, and media consumers at large. Further, their journalistic corps generally adheres to an established set of norms for how to operate in their role as public information providers. In the case of proto-states, however, the line between
40 El Damanhoury, “Toward a Protostate.” 41 Anderson, Imagined Communities.
42 Sweet and McCue-Enser, “Constituting ‘the People’ ”; Billig, Banal Nationalism.
10 Proto-State Media Systems journalistic professionals and media audiences becomes more blurred. At times, consumers not only function as producers but also can ascend to leadership positions in a proto-state media system, as the cases of Abousamra and Khan illustrate. These consumers/producers play key roles in furthering the proto-state’s efforts. Previous studies document that online media products of proto-state actors provide critical opportunities for strengthening extremist beliefs and connecting with like-minded individuals,43 for learning attack methods,44 and for inspiring lone actors to carry out attacks against hard targets.45 Proto-states and states also differ in their media system–state relationships. State-based media systems rely on nations to supply infrastructural and monetary resources, regulatory frameworks, and even messaging guidance or control. Even revolutionary media systems do not attempt to overthrow the existence of the state itself; they, instead, simply seek to change the political actors that control such entities. By contrast, the media systems of proto- state groups seek to supplant one or more existing states. While, at times, proto-states capitalize on existing media systems to amplify content for their own ends, their efforts primarily focus on the development and maintenance of proprietary online and offline media systems that are distinguishable from (and not accountable to) existing states. Proto-states also often seek to repurpose existing material resources (i.e., land, natural resources, media infrastructure, etc.) of existing nation-states to establish their own homelands. Media system circulation patterns of proto-states and states are distinct as well. Systems with complementary, coordinated relationships with respective states rely exclusively on overt circulation of their online and offline media products to develop loyal audiences that are often located within spatial proximity to the established system. Proto-states conversely face uncertainty regarding their ability to acquire and sustain territorial control. As a result, their systems, by necessity, often rely on more covert, encrypted circulation practices and a greater dependence on the Internet to communicate. The online environment is fiercely competitive, even within the parameters of militant groups alone. Sixty- eight different militant groups appear on the US State Department’s 2019 annual list of FTOs, with the vast majority of those groups having actively produced online video messaging for 43 Von Behr et al., Radicalisation in the Digital Era; Capellan, “Lone Wolf Terrorist”; Gill and Corner, “Lone-Actor Terrorist.” 44 Gill et al., “Terrorist Use of the Internet.” 45 Gill, Horgan, and Deckert, “Bombing Alone.”
Challenge to State-Based Global Media Systems 11 the last decade.46 Beyond the challenge of competing against other groups with closely aligned missions, proto-states must also contend with established state-based media systems and personal social media networks. The resulting ideational marketplace in the transnational sphere is so crowded that radicalized groups face great challenges for how to attract and build the online loyalties of their viewing populations.47 Finally, states and proto-states differ on the relative levels of stability and sustainability of their media systems. State-based media systems typically maintain an ongoing, regular presence with only occasional fluctuations due to technological advancements, changes in political leaders, market variations, and the like. Proto-state media systems, by contrast, remain in constant flux due to efforts by existing states and other competing groups to offset their media systems. Methods vary, but include blocking website access, suspending online accounts, capturing media labs and unused source material, killing media and political leaders, retaking control of proto-state media system base operations, and encouraging defections. The case of ISIS exemplifies the existential challenge facing proto-states as they gain power and influence. Twitter suspended more than 40,000 accounts that were affiliated with the group;48 Telegram, working with the European Union Internal Referral Unit and Europol, eliminated hundreds of ISIS-related channels housed on its platform;49 US forces confiscated 23 terabytes of unposted video source materials from the media labs of al-Qaeda in Iraq (ISIS’s predecessor) in the aftermath of their military operations in Iraq in 2003;50 coalition forces’ airstrikes, drones, and military operations killed dozens of ISIS’s leaders between 2016 and 2018;51 and the group lost control over more than 99 percent of its occupied territory in Iraq and Syria from 2016 to 2018.52 Yet, despite these setbacks, ISIS’s media system continues to rebound as the group adapts to the challenging online and ground conditions. In short, the need for proto- states to reconceptualize their media audiences, journalistic corps, circulation patterns, media system– state relationships, and sustainability practices provides a clear impetus for reconsidering elements of existing system models. Media systems theory
46 Salem, Reid, and Chen, “Multimedia Content Coding.”
47 Powers and Armstrong, “Conceptualizing Radicalization”; Price, “Market for Loyalties.” 48 Berger, “Tailored Online Interventions.”
49 Winter and Amarasingam, “The Decimation of ISIS on Telegram.” 50 Dauber, YouTube War.
51 Glenn et al., “Timeline: The Rise.”
52 Callimachi and Schmitt, “Splitting with Trump over Syria,” para. 11.
12 Proto-State Media Systems should adapt to account for the unique challenges facing proto-states. It should also recognize that proto-states must simultaneously develop and sustain their communities as well as institutionalize the media systems that serve them.
Expanding Media System Theories to Accommodate Militant Proto-States Theories of constitutive rhetoric, assemblages, and actor networks (hereafter shorthanded as constitutive theories) offer a range of insights useful for understanding how media systems theory should navigate their unique set of proto-state circumstances.53 As constitutive theories inform conceptualizations of connectivity, identity, and relationships during the initial and ongoing stages of group formation, such theories have the potential to bolster analytical approaches for understanding the complicated relationships among proto-state media systems, competing states, and affiliated non-state actors. As a starting point, each constitutive- based theoretical framework deemphasizes persuasion as its core concern. Rather than consider audiences as preexisting entities that await appeals to influence their beliefs, attitudes, and behaviors, constitutive theories emphasize the need to first consider the logically prior operation of identification.54 From this perspective, effective persuasion occurs only after audiences come together as affiliated groups and consciously or unconsciously open themselves to such appeals.55 While communicative acts can ultimately serve both constitutive and persuasive ends,56 a firm grasp on how groups initially come into formation serves as a necessary starting point for understanding how new collectives eventually accomplish their persuasive ends. Constitutive theories also highlight discourse as a fundamental, core element. For our purposes, discourse includes the produced and distributed 53 For foundational work in these theories, see Charland, “Constitutive Rhetoric”; Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus; Latour, Reassembling the Social. Previous applications of constitutive theories related to the case studies in this volume include Bean and Buikema, “Deconstituting al-Qa’ida”; Bruscella and Bisell, “Four Flows Theory and Materiality”; Schoeneborn and Scherer, “Clandestine Organizations, Al Qaeda, and the Paradox of (In)visibility”; Stohl and Stohl, “Secret Agencies”; Winkler, “Challenging Communities.” 54 Charland, “Constitutive Rhetoric.” 55 For example, see Braddock, Weaponized Words. 56 Leff and Utley, “Instrumental and Constitutive Rhetoric.”
Challenge to State-Based Global Media Systems 13 media content of proto- state media systems. Communication scholar Maurice Charland identifies three ideological effects of discourse that operate when disparate individuals emerge as a group coming into being: (1) the “constitution of the collective subject,” or the naming and describing of a set of people to bring them into being; (2) portrayals of “transhistorical subjects” to create a timeless subjectivity for the newly constituted or reconstituted group; and (3) the “illusion of freedom” that prescribes how the hailed individuals should think and behave through the use of narratives and aesthetics.57 Discourse can also describe “matters of concern” in ways that unite dispersed individuals based on shared grievances.58 When individuals agree upon matters of concern, an enemy often emerges that “provides a sharp boundary rhetorically insulating the ‘people’s’ identity, but . . . is a rhetorical purifier, a scapegoat for societal ills.”59 Thus, a key purpose of the constitutive discourse is to draw sharp dividing lines between ingroup and outgroup members of the envisioned collective. Beyond serving as a means to assess the logics of discourse designed to reconstitute a community, constitutive theorists recognize and take seriously the emotional components of such appeals. Communication scholar Celeste Condit in her study of angry public rhetorics, for example, recognizes the strong impulse of “ ‘being angry together’ as a pervasive social phenomenon.”60 She insists that emotions can be individual, social, or collective, with the discourse offering “functions, appraisal cues, and action tendencies” for eliminating a threat from the other.61 Constitutive theories also highlight the relationships between constituted groups, their media systems, and surrounding material circumstances. Assemblages grounded or territorialized in one context can move and reproduce themselves in other contexts through processes of deterritorialization or reterritorialization.62 The transformation involves both individuals who conceptualize and determine the scope of the envisioned assemblage and the formulated networks needed to deliver those ideas to the collective.63 Reassociation or reassembling can occur across time and space, with 57 Charland, “Constitutive Rhetoric,” 139–41. 58 Latour, Reassembling the Social, 87. 59 Lee, “Populist Chameleon,” 359. 60 Condit, Angry Public Rhetorics, 2. 61 Condit, Angry Public Rhetorics, 2. Condit’s book is unique in that it provides a methodological approach for examining emotions that breaks down long-standing dualisms between cultural and biological studies of the concept. 62 Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus. 63 Latour, Reassembling the Social.
14 Proto-State Media Systems the described underlying phenomenon remaining essentially unchanged, or what French philosopher Bruno Latour dubbed the “immutable mobile.”64 The resiliency of identities regardless of changes in situational circumstances offers opportunities for media systems to recall, re-form, and sustain their respective groups’ collectives. Media systems, in particular, play critical roles in both the creation and provisional assemblage of constituted publics because they serve as a central network of production and distribution for constitutive discourse. Both the media systems’ circulation practices and their created content—cascades of inscriptions, narratives, metaphors, music, images, performances, and other aesthetic forms—serve as illuminating pathways that can trace the agents engaged in reassembling the collective.65
Two Case Studies of Proto-State Media Systems To examine how conceptions of constitutive theories help explain how proto- state media systems come into being, support the formation of their emergent communities, and differ from their state-based counterparts, this book will examine two case studies. At first glance, a number of militant groups emerge as worthy candidates for gaining insights into proto-state media systems. The Basque Fatherland and Liberty used violent tactics for forty years to establish a homeland for its Christian group in the mountains of France and Spain. The Liberation Tigers of Tamil Ealam fought until 2009 to carve out a homeland for the Tamil-speaking minority community in Sri Lanka. In Mexico, the Zapatista National Liberation Army initially seized Chiapas towns, which prompted the indigenous people to stand and fight collectively for their land rights before they settled toward more political solutions. In Colombia, the FARC-EP fought for more than fifty years to promote the interests of anti-imperialism and agrarianism and engaged in information and technological exchanges with the Provisional Irish Republican Army.66 The list could go on and on, but while these groups might have a website or other nascent sets of media operations, their ability to create and sustain a mature media system remains, as of yet, unproven. 64 Latour, Reassembling the Social, 223. 65 Charland, “Constitutive Rhetoric”; Edwards and Winkler, “Representative Form”; Irvine and Kirkpatrick, “Musical Form in Rhetorical Exchange”; Gonzalez and Makay, “Rhetorical Ascription”; Latour, Reassembling the Social; Sellnow and Sellnow, “Illusion of Life”; Zhang, “Corporate Identity Metaphor.” 66 Cragin et al., Sharing the Dragon’s Teeth.
Challenge to State-Based Global Media Systems 15 Here, we focus on the proto-state media systems of militant groups located in and around the MENA region. The main reason for this focus is that, in relation to their extremist counterparts around the globe, “[t]he Middle Eastern extremist organizations are the most active exploiters of the Internet. They demonstrate the highest level of technical sophistication and provide the richest multimedia content in their websites.”67 For the past several decades, groups in the MENA region have established evident patterns of militancy, a well-documented desire to disrupt the existing international order, an intention to constitute and sustain their own collectives, an ability to temporarily control populations and territory, and a capacity to enter into relations with other states and proto-states. Further, interviews with six thousand individuals in six Arab countries suggest that their approach is working at least to a certain extent, as ISIS supporters are more willing to follow online news and more willingly engage in online discussions than individuals who follow traditional media formats.68 Thus, we will examine and compare the media systems of al-Qaeda and ISIS in the MENA region—the first with a demonstrable sustained history of media operations and the latter having achieved the broadest reach and impact of any similar group to date.
Al-Qaeda The media system of al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups exemplifies a long- standing set of operations functionally committed to reconstituting state- based communities. Since 1988, al-Qaeda’s collective has built adherents based on a Sunni Islamist ideology with a long-term goal of establishing a global Muslim caliphate. The group has also relied upon an aggressive posture to achieve its objective, as shown in its historic track record of high- profile attacks. Examples of violent attacks that the group or its inspired adherents have carried out include the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center, the 1993 Mogadishu attack on US special operations forces, the 1998 embassy bombings in Kenya and Tanzania, the 2000 attack on the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen, the 2002 Bali resort bombing, the 2004 train bombings in Madrid, the 2005 bombings of the London public transportation system, the 2008 truck bombings of the Islamabad, Pakistan’s Marriot Hotel, the
67 Qin, Zhou, and Chen, “Multi-Region-Empirical Study,” 87. 68 Piazza and Guler, “Online Caliphate.”
16 Proto-State Media Systems 2013 attacks at the Boston Marathon finish line, and the 2013 attack on the Westgate shopping mall in Nairobi. Al-Qaeda’s most notable act of violence occurred on September 11, 2001 in its notorious attack on the homeland of the United States. The resulting 2,996 deaths from the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the hijacked Flight 93 surpassed those of any other attack on US soil.69 The attacks utilized only four aircraft—a remarkably small number in contrast to the 351 fighters, bombers, and torpedo planes that the Japanese used during their 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor that, by comparison, resulted in 593 fewer deaths.70 Al-Qaeda and its affiliates have also positioned themselves to govern the territory and populations under their control. AQAP, for example, announced the existence of its own emirate in 2011, provided social services and salaries in exchange for loyalty pledges from local tribes, created functioning shari’a courts in some areas, exercised territorial control in the Shabwa Province, and established an operational presence in twelve of Yemen’s twenty-one provinces.71 After losing control over its previously held territory in Yemen after US forces intervened in 2012, the group resurrected its proto-state project in 2015–2016 in eastern Yemen.72 Another affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), exerted control over a thousand citizens in Algeria and others in the Sahel (Mauritania, Niger, and Mali). It also seized territorial control of northern Mali, implemented its own harsh version of shari’a law, and has coordinated with other groups, including AQAP, Boko Haram, and al-Shabaab.73 Finally, al-Shabaab, a pledged affiliate of al-Qaeda in 2012, has a membership of more than five thousand fighters, enforces its own interpretation of shari’a law within its constituted community, and controls territory in southern and central Somalia at the time of this writing.74 Designated as an FTO by the US State Department in 1999, al-Qaeda initially resided in Afghanistan and later expanded to cells spanning more than seventy countries worldwide.75 Al-Qaeda Central now serves as a base for connecting offshoot proto-state actors with FTO designations, including AQIM in North Africa (2002), al-Shabaab in Somalia (2008), AQAP in
69 Here, we limit our discussion of attacks to aggressive actions by militant groups. 70 Mueller, “Pearl Harbor.”
71 Swift, “Arc of Convergence.”
72 McCants, ISIS Apocalypse; Kendall, “Contemporary Jihadi Militancy.” 73 Laub and Masters, “Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb.” 74 Felter, Masters, and Sergie, “Al-Shabab.” 75 Rollins et al., Al Qaeda and Affiliates.
Challenge to State-Based Global Media Systems 17 Yemen (2010), and al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) spanning India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, and Bangladesh (2016). The leadership of al-Qaeda has long considered its media system vital for achieving its group’s goals. Osama bin Laden, the leader of al-Qaeda from its inception until his death on May 2, 2011, highlighted the critical role of the media for notifying Muslims worldwide about efforts to secure the expansive oil reserves in the Arabian Peninsula and about the group’s actions to strengthen the faith through implementation of shari’a law. He assessed that his group’s media operations “may reach 90% of the total preparation for the battles.”76 His successor, Ayman al-Zawahiri, revealed a similar sentiment when he wrote to al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. The letter came in response to al-Zarqawi’s failure to consider public backlash when he posted the videotaped beheading of American citizen Nicholas Berg online. Al-Zawahiri wrote, “More than half the battle is taking place in the battlefield of the media. . . . The Muslim populace who love and support you will never find palatable . . . the scenes of slaughtering the hostages.”77 Anwar al-Awlaki, a key leader of AQAP in 2010 until his death in late September 2011, likewise noted, “The internet has become a great medium for spreading the call of Jihad and following the news of the mujahideen.”78 With transitory control over territory, al-Qaeda leaders have long emphasized the essential role their media campaigns play in the ongoing viability of their collectives.79 Over time, al-Qaeda and its affiliates built an established media system. From the early days of its formation, the group gained a global viewership by producing and distributing its videos via Al Jazeera. Initial media forays by the group included various affiliates publishing newsletters and magazines, such as Sawt al-Jihad in Saudi Arabia from 2004 to 2007, al-Yaqeen Media Center’s Qaddaya Jihadiyh (Jihadi Issues), and AQAP’s Sada al-Malahem (Echo of the Battles). The group’s media arm, as-Sahab, began to produce videos, CDs, and audiovisual tapes that featured insurgent operations, acts of terrorism, and ideological pronouncements that appeared both online and offline.80 To promote the group’s English-language content, al-Fursan Media produced the magazine Jihad Recollections in 2009 and al-Malahem
76 Bin Laden, “Letter to Mullah Muhammed ‘Umar.”
77 Zawahiri, “Letter from al-Zawahiri,” para. 69 of 88. 78 Awlaki, 44 Ways, 15.
79 McCabe, “Strategic Failures of al Qaeda.”
80 Aly et al., “Introduction to the Special Issue.”
18 Proto-State Media Systems
Figure 1.1 Al-Qaeda media operatives distribute their group’s newsletter al-Masra in Taiz, Yemen. Source: AQAP, “An Image and a Comment,” al-Masra, Issue 48, 8.
Media produced Inspire from 2010 to 2017. Al-Masra, an Arabic-language newsletter that at its peak was published three times per month, remains an AQAP publication covering al-Qaeda-related content reported beyond Yemen’s borders (see Figure 1.1). Al-Qaeda and its affiliates also use radio, satellite television channels, social media campaigns, and numerous websites to disseminate their content.81 Al-Qaeda’s media efforts appear to play an inspirational role for the group’s would-be attackers. In the decade following the attacks of September 11, 2001, for example, half of all individuals prosecuted for terrorism in the United States had the proto-state’s videos in their possession at the time of arrest.82 Recent drone attacks and airstrikes, however, have disrupted much of al-Qaeda’s media processes,83 but the media system continues to produce and distribute media products on behalf of the group.
81 Zawahiri, “Letter from al-Zawahiri”; Kinney, Davis, and Zhang, “Theming for Terror”; Torres- Soriano, “The Caliphate Is Not a Tweet Away.” 82 Winkler, “Challenging Communities.” 83 Joscelyn, “AQAP Propaganda Official.”
Challenge to State-Based Global Media Systems 19
ISIS ISIS is our second case study of a proto-state with a media system. The collective began operating under the moniker al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2004. It subsequently changed its name to ad-Dawla al-Islamiyah fi al-Iraq (Islamic State of Iraq) in 2006 and then again to ad-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wal- Sham in 2013. This latter iteration produced multiple translations, including the Islamic State in Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS) and the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL). After declaring itself a caliphate in 2014, the group began calling itself the Islamic State (IS).84 In 2014, ISIS emerged as a proto-state. The group announced itself as a caliphate with the goal of uniting Muslims around the globe into a community governed by shari’a law. ISIS controlled and governed territory in Iraq and Syria from 2014 to 2017 that housed more than 10 million individuals at its peak.85 Based on the group’s repeated acts of aggressive violence, the US Secretary of State designated the core Sunni militant group an FTO in 2004. Subsequently, the US government listed multiple ISIS provinces with the FTO designation, including ISIS-Sinai (2014), ISIS-Khorasan (2016), ISIS-Libya (2016), ISIS-Bangladesh (2018), ISIS-Philippines (2018), ISIS- West Africa (2018), ISIS-Greater Sahara (2018), ISIS-DRC (2021), and ISIS- Mozambique (2021) . Since its inception, ISIS’s notoriety derived from the frequency, spread, and spectacle of its aggressive attacks. The National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism’s (START) Global Terrorism Database documents more than 6,451 attacks carried out or inspired by the group through 2018. Of those, hundreds occurred in twenty-nine countries falling outside of the territorial boundaries of Iraq and Syria.86 Examples of deadly attacks that ISIS either carried out or inspired include the 2014 shootings at a Jewish Museum in Brussels; the 2015 suicide bombing at the al- Sadiq Mosque in Kuwait; the 2015 shootings of San Bernardino, California, workers; the 2015 plane bombing in the Sinai Peninsula; the series of 2015 attacks with rifles and explosives in Paris; the 2015 suicide bombing at the Imam Ali Mosque in Saudi Arabia; the 2015 shootings at a Sousse hotel in Tunisia; the 2016 shootings of customers at the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando,
84 Throughout this analysis, we will refer to ISIS as the name for the group. 85 BBC, “Islamic State and the Crisis.” 86 Lister et al., “ISIS Goes Global.”
20 Proto-State Media Systems
Figure 1.2 ISIS media operatives engaging in video production and postproduction. Source: Salahuddin Provincial Media, Flare of the Raids, 20:28 and 20:37.
Florida; the 2016 bombings in the Brussels airport and subway station; the 2016 suicide bombings in the Turkish Ataturk airport; the 2016 truck deaths of civilians in Nice; the 2017 Palm Sunday attacks in Egypt; and the 2019 Easter bombings in Sri Lanka. Like al-Qaeda, ISIS has a developed media system. Even before it emerged as a proto-state, the group had taken initial steps toward building its media operations in the early 2000s. A few examples of the group’s media products over time, while far from exhaustive, illustrate the breadth of ISIS’s operation (see Figure 1.2). The group has distributed publications in multiple languages (e.g., Dabiq in English, Konstantiniyye in Turkish, Dar al-Islam in French, Istok in Russian, al-Naba’ in Arabic, and Rumiyah in ten different languages). It also put out al-Bayan radio programming, leaflets, coloring books, photo reports, books, and sermons. Prior to its territorial losses in Syria and Iraq, al-Furqan Media Foundation, Amaq News agency, al-Hayat Media Center, al-I’tisam Media Foundation, and the group’s provincial media offices produced, on average, between two hundred and seven hundred media products each month.87 Ajnad Foundation for Audio Production added dozens of original nashids (Muslim hymns and chants)88 and multiple Surah (Qur’anic chapter) recitations. At various points in time, ISIS had tens of thousands of active Twitter accounts in support of its organization, an extensive presence
87 Milton, Communication Breakdown. 88 Nashids has multiple spellings in the English language, including nasheed or nashid (singular) and nasheeds, anashid, anasheed, and nashids (plural). Throughout this volume, we will use nashid (singular) and nashids (plural).
Challenge to State-Based Global Media Systems 21 on YouTube, and multiple encrypted channels on Telegram, TamTam, BCM, Rocket Chat, and Hoop messaging applications.89
Plan for the Book To explain how a fusion of constitutive theories and media systems theory can productively work to illuminate the contemporary environment of militant proto-states, Chapter 2 provides a structural overview of the development of the media systems of al-Qaeda and ISIS, and explores needed revisions to standard frameworks for evaluating the proto-state context. Chapter 3 examines transhistorical militancy, demonstrating how references to venerated, historical fighters and battles can serve both as lenses for assessing strategies of community-building and for evaluating contemporary proto-state media systems. Chapter 4 explores the recurrence of transpatial identity formulations throughout proto-state narratives and examines how those discourse constructions have implications for evaluating the groups’ media systems. Chapter 5 theorizes how material realities linked to the definitional components of a proto-state function as attention-gaining devices for al-Qaeda and ISIS. Chapter 6 reveals the groups’ media product strategies for sustaining their media systems. Chapter 7 theorizes media systems in the proto-state context, builds constitutive theory based on the case study lessons of al-Qaeda and ISIS, and describes implications for responses to proto-states.
89 Berger, “Tailored Online Intervention”; Bloom, Tiflati, and Horgan, “Navigating ISIS’s Preferred Platform”; Klausen et al., “YouTube Jihadists.”
2 Proto-State Media Systems A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS
Al-Qaeda and ISIS’s media operations have endured over the years despite many setbacks. Yet longevity alone does not signal the presence of a media system. Both proto-states successfully built their systems by expanding operations beyond isolated media sectors or individual channels. Both have also utilized designated leaders to organize and oversee their media processes and procedures. In this chapter, we will describe the development of the media operations of both proto-states, analyze their systems’ operational fit (or lack thereof) within conventional media system models, and suggest needed revisions to media systems theory for accommodating for the growth of militant proto-states.
A Structural History of Al-Qaeda’s Media The origins of al-Qaeda’s proto-state media system date back to the 1979– 1989 Soviet occupation of Afghanistan. In October 1984, Palestinian professor and bin Laden mentor Abdullah Azzam established Maktab al- Khadamat (the Services Bureau). The Bureau’s media council located in Peshawar Pakistan was the first to operate in support of the Afghan mujahideen in their clash with the Soviets.1 Azzam began by distributing monthly issues of the bin Laden-funded al-Jihad magazine, which he quickly supplemented with the release of the weekly newsletter Laheeb al-Maaraka (Flames of the Battle) and his wife’s women’s magazine Dhat al-Nitakayn (The One with the Two Waistbands).2 He also audiotaped and videotaped his own sermons and treatises that called on Muslims to join in the fight for Afghanistan. The Afghan mujahideen provided camcorder footage of their 1 Farrall, “Revisiting Al-Qaida’s Foundation.” 2 Hegghammer, The Caravan. Proto-State Media Systems. Carol K. Winkler and Kareem El Damanhoury, Oxford University Press. © University of Maryland National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) 2022. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780197568026.003.0002
24 Proto-State Media Systems military operations in the field that functioned as backdrops and illustrations for Azzam’s orations. In 1988, bin Laden withdrew from the Services Bureau to start al-Qaeda. He rapidly followed Azzam’s lead by setting up media operations for his new group. Abu Musab Reuters served as head of the small al-Qaeda media agency in Afghanistan that began issuing its own magazine before the end of 1988.3 In an interview with al-Arabiya TV, Abu Musab admitted that the reason for his nickname “Reuters” arose from his previous experience running a news agency that reported the daily content of “the BBC and about 20 Arab networks” to bin Laden.4 To supplement the group’s media efforts in this early period, bin Laden invited outside mainstream journalists to document battles that had, for the most part, remained beyond the reach of conventional media outlets previously.5 In 1994, during his residence in Sudan, he set up a media office in London that publicized and circulated his statements until its shutdown in 1998. Despite bin Laden’s media-related efforts in the 1990s, the qualitative leap in al-Qaeda’s operations did not come until after the turn of the century. As al-Qaeda became the most lethal militant group on the world stage in the early 2000s, it also distinguished itself in the media realm. Joining other Islamist groups who had experimented with online presences in the 1990s, al- Qaeda launched its first website— Maalemaljihad.com— in February 2000.6 The website featured theological treatises, statements by bin Laden and Ayman al-Zawahiri, and publications of the Afghan mujahideen.7 When the website crashed a year later, al-Qaeda launched Al.neda.com in March 2001. During the early 2000s, the group owned several domains and generally had directional control over the production and distribution of its online content.8 The material posted on the website focused on religious edicts, jihad, information technology, women’s roles, and online military training. In June 2001, al-Qaeda’s production company as-Sahab Media made a two-hour video production Destroying the American Destroyer Cole, which recounted al-Qaeda’s October 2000 bombing of the U.S.S. Cole in Yemen. It soon became the signature production house of al-Qaeda Central (AQC) in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region as well as a “state-of-the-art exemplar” for
3 Hamid and Farrall, The Arabs at War.
4 MEMRI TV, “Former Bin Laden Media Advisor.” 5 Rogan, From ’Abû Reuter.
6 Zelin, The State of the Global Jihad. 7 Atwan, The Secret History.
8 Zelin, The State of the Global Jihad.
A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media 25 militant visual media production around the globe.9 With as-Sahab Media in place, the group moved a step closer toward developing a media system, but more was still needed. Al-Qaeda’s communication efforts morphed into a media system complete with various distribution channels in the aftermath of its 9/11 attacks on the twin towers in New York City and the Pentagon in Washington, DC. By 2001, as-Sahab Media resembled conventional media studios in that it planned annual product releases, produced different genres (e.g., statements, documentaries, and attack videos), and tracked audience responses.10 As- Sahab Media distributed forty-five videos between 2002 and 2005, fifty-eight in 2006, and ninety-seven in 2007.11 Al-Qaeda’s regional branch affiliates augmented the effort by setting up their own media committees, creating websites, and producing various forms of distributed content. In 2004, for example, AQAP launched its first magazine Voice of Jihad, followed soon thereafter by a publication and website titled al-Battar (The Sword).12 Al-Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) media committee produced and distributed the Dhurwat al-Sinam (The Hump Height) magazine and online videos documenting the group’s attacks and executions. Other branches, such as al-Shabaab in Somalia and AQIM in North Africa, similarly added their own media operations after pledging allegiance to the leader of AQC. Supplemental media entities helped circulate the releases that al-Qaeda’s regional branches produced. Since 2004, for example, the Global Islamic Media Front (GIMF) has translated and repackaged the media content of al- Qaeda and its affiliated militant groups,13 while al-Fajr Media Center served as a media distributor for the same groups. Both GIMF and al-Fajr provided statements and videos to web forums for administrators to subsequently upload for users to access and circulate online.14 With its media system now strengthened and diversified, al- Qaeda maintained an active media presence even when affiliate output overshadowed AQC’s production and distribution of online media content. By the second half of 2007, for example, the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI) 9 Seib and Janbek, Global Terrorism and New Media, 42. 10 Kimmage, Al-Qaeda Central. 11 Conway, “From Al-Zarqawi to Al-Awlaki.” 12 Kovács, “The ‘New Jihadists.’ ” 13 Reid, “Analysis of Jihadi Extremist Groups’ Videos.” 14 For example, see Global Islamic Media Front, Announcement on the Publishing of al-I’tiṣām Media Foundation.
26 Proto-State Media Systems and AQIM exceeded AQC in media product output.15 By 2009, the regional branches continued to expand their communicative operations while AQC’s media operations degraded further.16 Regional production and distributional centers emerged, such as ISI’s al-Furqan Media Foundation, al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)’s al-Malahem Media, AQIM’s al-Andalus Media, and al-Shabaab’s al-Kata’ib Media Foundation. The expanding nature of these affiliate entities rendered media system of al-Qaeda a “decentralized web of connections.”17 Bin Laden, however, still wanted further development of al-Qaeda’s overall media system. He pushed for al-Qaeda content to reach selected traditional media outlets. In 2010, he wrote a letter to then-senior al-Qaeda leader Attiyatullah al-Libi asking him to send an enclosed video statement to Al Jazeera and CBS for airing on October 29 just prior to the US Congressional elections.18 In the same letter, he suggested that as-Sahab Media reach out to journalists Robert Fisk and Abdelbary Atwan to offer them footage and information needed for a documentary film celebrating the tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. Other journalists received al-Qaeda’s detailed documentary outlines to guide them through how to develop their own stories commemorating the 9/11 attacks.19 Bin Laden also called for greater centralization of al-Qaeda’s media system. He set up an advisory board tasked with developing an overall media policy for al-Qaeda and its affiliates.20 He assigned a general manager for each regional branch to oversee output. By 2012, al-Qaeda’s media system peaked despite persistent challenges to the centralization of its media operations and competition from the group’s regional branches.21 Figure 2.1 provides a visual summary of al-Qaeda’s 2012 media structure as of 2012. Al-Qaeda’s media system continued to evolve in tandem with the emergence of newly accessible communication technologies. For over a decade, password- protected Web forums served as virtual headquarters where al-Qaeda’s organization could meet “its grass-roots supporters in a relatively safe and exclusive environment.”22 Yet, rather than depend solely on
15 Kimmage, Al-Qaeda Media Nexus.
16 Kimmage, “Al-Qaeda Central and the Internet.” 17 Kimmage, Al-Qaeda Media Nexus, 17.
18 Bin Laden, “Letter from UBL to ‘Atiyatulla Al-Libi 3.” 19 Fouda, In the Way of Harm.
20 Bin Laden, “Letter from UBL to ‘Atiyatullah Al-Libi 4.” 21 Torres-Soriano, “The Caliphate Is Not a Tweet Away.” 22 Zelin, The State of the Global Jihad.
Media Advisory Board ISI
Regional Media Committee
Regional Media Committee
Global Islamic Media Front
Figure 2.1 Al-Qaeda’s media system by 2012.
Regional Media Committee
Regional Media Committee
Al-Fajr Media Center
28 Proto-State Media Systems forums as initial points of dissemination, social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube became attractive sites for al-Qaeda and its affiliates to upload, share, and publicize content more widely. Additionally, encrypted messaging applications like Telegram and Rocket Chat provided hubs for media postings that helped evade state-based or company crackdowns on the group’s distribution of media products. Expanded alliances also influenced the evolving structure of al-Qaeda’s media system. At the time of this writing, as-Sahab Foundation for Islamic Media Production remains a mouthpiece for AQC under the leadership of al-Zawahiri, but the same production house has also represented the newly declared affiliate, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS), since its establishment in 2014. When Jabhat al-Nusra of Syria pledged allegiance to al- Zawahiri in 2013, its al-Baseera Media Foundation and al-Manara al-Baydaa Media Foundation became part of al-Qaeda’s media system. In 2017, the announcement of Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin (JNIM) as an al- Qaeda affiliate in West Africa also signaled the addition of al-Zallaqa Media to al-Qaeda’s media system. Divisions within al-Qaeda also led to further changes in al-Qaeda’s media system. In early 2014, al-Qaeda disavowed ties with its branch in Iraq after the group expanded into Syria and declared itself the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). The move marked the beginning of ISIS’s independent media operations from al-Qaeda’s media system to the present day. In 2017, al-Nusra’s subsequent merger with other militant groups to form Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham (HTS) divided al-Qaeda’s media system away from multiple news outlets, including Amjad Productions and Ebaa News Agency, as well as from public websites such as Ebaa.news and Amjad.media.23 The divisions rendered al-Qaeda in a weakened position relative to competing groups in the region.
A Structural History of ISIS’s Media Before AQI broke away from al-Qaeda, the affiliate group had already begun to differentiate its media approach from its central hub. AQI’s leader al- Zarqawi intentionally shifted away from AQC’s strategy of coopting mainstream media. Instead, he strived to reach a broader Muslim audience
23 BBC Monitoring, “Syria Group Hayat Tahrir al-Sham and al-Qaeda Legacy.”
A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media 29 through a heavier reliance on the Internet, a greater exploitation of the online environment, and the specific targeting of AQI’s committed members and supporters.24 By 2004, AQI was disseminating, on average, nine media releases per day and documented almost all of its militant operations online.25 The group’s eventual supremacy among proto-state groups in the online media environment transformed al-Zarqawi into a celebrity figure for militant circles to such a degree that, for many, he eventually eclipsed the celebrity status of his leader bin Laden.26 AQI gradually assumed more autonomy over its own media enterprise. Despite pledging allegiance to al-Qaeda in late 2004, AQI did not establish strong, open lines of communication with the leadership of al-Qaeda in the Afghanistan/Pakistan region the following year.27 Instead, the group omitted al-Qaeda from its name entirely as it declared itself the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), set up al-Furqan as its official mouthpiece, and branded its own media products with a uniquely designed black flag. By 2007, ISI (the next iteration of AQI) had created a set of active central and provincial media offices that operated throughout Iraq and announced a Ministry of Information to oversee regional operations.28 The new configuration strengthened the resilience of the group’s media system. In July 2007, for example, ISI was able to disseminate 201 media releases despite ongoing military pressure exerted against its group; AQC and AQIM combined, by contrast, only distributed fifteen products in the same month.29 During this stage of its media system’s evolution, ISI was gradually gaining leverage over both AQC and its regional branches through a calculated plan of media restructuring. Initially, ISI publicly operated under the umbrella banner of al-Qaeda as it sought to consolidate its emerging provincial media network. The group’s Ministry of Information assigned a media director for each ISI province: Salahuddin, Baghdad, Diyala, al-Anbar, Ninawa, al-Janub, al-Fallujah, al-Shamal, and Kirkuk.30 The directors at the provincial level appointed media officials to oversee communication efforts for each geographic sector.31 These dispersed media centers housed departments responsible for
24 Lynch, “Al-Qaeda’s Media Strategies.” 25 Atwan, The Secret History.
26 Conway, “From Al-Zarqawi to Al-Awlaki.”
27 Abu Anas Al-Libi, “Atiyah’s Letter to Zarqawi.” 28
Al-Furqan Media, Announcement of Ministry Formation; Whiteside, “Lighting the Path.”
Al-Furqan Media, Two Years of the Islamic State, Five Years of the Islamic State.
29 Kimmage, The Al-Qaeda Media Nexus.
31 ISI, “Orientation for Media Officials and Representatives.”
30 Proto-State Media Systems the production, photography, design elements, archiving, distribution, communications, and circulation of local releases.32 Although every sector was able to publish its own material, ISI controlled the funds for the provincial media operations by way of its Ministry of Information. The same organizational structure required monthly reporting of total output from the provincial media directors and encouraged efforts to further centralize the media operations of the group.33 Figure 2.2 visually diagrams the publicly known components to ISI’s structure when the group worked within al-Qaeda’s media system. ISI’s media strategy changed in April 2013 when the group took on its new moniker of ISIS as it announced expansion plans into Syria. That year, Wael al-Rawi (a.k.a., Abu Muhammad al-Furqan) became the leader of the group’s media department and joined an oversight council to develop guidelines for media content creation.34 Notable shifts took place under his leadership that led to a clear refinement of ISIS’s media infrastructure. Al-Itisam Media Foundation assumed responsibility “for internal media dissemination in the provinces” and reported to the Ministry of Information.35 The Ajnad Foundation emerged to oversee the distribution of audio productions within the same hierarchical media organization. ISIS introduced new designs and formats, posted content directly on social media sites rather than Web forums, disseminated its al-Himma Library pamphlets and booklets online, and broadened its target audiences to reach beyond al-Zarqawi’s earlier strategy of focusing only on those committed to the group.36 By early 2014, ISIS possessed a sophisticated media system encompassing a diverse set of central media hubs and provincial media offices. Weeks before proclaiming itself an Islamic caliphate at the end of June 2014, ISIS established al-Hayat Media to produce online magazines, videos, and nashids in foreign languages for Western audiences. The group also expanded the mission of al-Himma Library from simply serving as a book producer as it had in previous years to functioning as a producer of posters, leaflets, pamphlets, and books by July 2014. Additionally, ISIS founded Amaq News Agency around August or September 2014 to act as an independent news outlet reporting from the field, al-Bayan Radio in April 2015 to broadcast 32 ISI, “Two Charts Displaying the Administrative Structure.” 33 ISI, Minister of Information, “Work Consolidation Directive.” 34 Whiteside, “Lighting the Path.” 35 Global Islamic Media Front, Announcement on the Publishing of al-I’tiṣām Media Foundation, para. 1. 36 Whiteside, “Lighting the Path”; Al-Tamimi, “The Archivist: ‘Until Our Hearts Submit.’ ”
Ministry of Information
Global Islamic Media Front
Al-Fajr Media Center
Figure 2.2 ISI’s media infrastructure operating under al-Qaeda up to 2012.
32 Proto-State Media Systems audio programming and news bulletins online, and al-Furat Media in June 2015 to repackage the mostly non-Arabic-language content that distant fighters and affiliates had generated. The group revamped its lengthy al- Naba’ Arabic chronicle into an official newsletter that has continued almost weekly reporting since late 2015. For each of its thirty-five provincial media offices spanning Iraq, Syria, Libya, Yemen, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Algeria, West Africa, the Caucasus, and the Khurasan (Afghanistan/Pakistan) region, ISIS claimed to have set up a media emir, an administrator, a media monitoring committee, a production team, and an internal distribution team.37 The large number of media personnel associated with these distributed operations allowed ISIS’s media system to reach its peak media product output levels between 2014 and 2017. Having apparently learned from AQC’s failure to control the media output emanating from its regional branches, ISIS exerted more centralized monitoring of its provincial media operations. As a self-proclaimed caliphate, ISIS banned rank-and-file members from using social media and postings on behalf of the group.38 It also prohibited its provincial media offices from uploading content online. Despite these restrictions ISIS did permit the provinces to document activities on the ground, follow centralized aesthetic and security guidelines for production, incorporate official colors and templates into media releases, distribute central media output on the ground to militants and the Muslim public, and provide content to the group’s centralized media entities such as the Amaq News Agency, al-Naba’ newsletters, and al-Bayan Radio.39 Moreover, the Central Media Diwan, which served as the group’s Ministry of Information, used its Monitoring Committee to screen, supervise, and revise all provincial media products before posting them online.40 The Diwan provided design, editing, and audio mixing services for provinces that lacked such resources on their own.41 Working under the Monitoring Committee’s oversight, the Media Security Office and the Information Bank played significant roles in the daily media operations of the proto-state. The former
37 Al-Furqan Media, Sarh Al-Khilafa. 38 Price and Al-’Ubaydi, “The Islamic State’s Internal Rifts.” 39 Islamic State Central Media Diwan, “Organizational Structure of the Media Office,” “Summary Advice for Media Mujahid,” “Essential Duties of the Media Mujahid.” 40 Islamic State Central Media Diwan, “Summary Advice for Media Mujahid.” 41 Islamic State Central Media Diwan; Media Monitoring Committee, “Essential Duties of the Media Mujahid”; Media Monitoring Committee, “Essential Duties.”
A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media 33 14000 12000 10000 8000 6000 4000 2000 0
Figure 2.3 ISIS’s official media posts on Telegram from January 2016 to December 2020.
ensured secure data sharing while the latter validated, edited raw footage, and archived media products from the provincial media offices.42 In short, ISIS’s Central Media Diwan aimed for the appearance of a synergistic voice in the proto-state’s online communications by establishing firm control of both the content and format of the group’s provincial media products. As ISIS lost control of almost all its territory in Iraq, Syria, and Libya by late 2017, many of its centralized media operations remained functional. Apart from al-Itisam Media, which stopped content production in 2015, as well as the complete cessation of Dabiq, Rumiyah, and other magazines in languages besides Arabic, the group continued to produce various types of multimodal content and still posted its weekly newsletter in Arabic. ISIS has, however, experience sharp declines in its distribution of its online media products and online accounts after concerted efforts by Europe, the United States, and their allies to challenge the group both online and offline. Figure 2.3, for example, illustrates the decline of ISIS’s online media posts to its official Nashir and Amaq news agencies after the group lost control of its previously held territory in 2017.43
42 Almohammad and Winter, “From Battlefront to Cyberspace.” 43 The counts of the 2016 Telegram posts in Figure 2.3 include those released from Amaq News Agency from May 20 to December 31. Subsequent years include all posts released by Nashir and Amaq.
Central Media Diwan Media Monitoring Committee
Media Security Office
Active Provincial Media
Central Media Arms
Figure 2.4 ISIS’s media system as of 2020.
External Media (Online)
Internal Media (Offline)
A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media 35 ISIS’s provincial media network, in particular, underwent significant changes amid the group’s territorial losses. In the second half of 2018, ISIS relabeled its numerous provinces under broad national or regional titles, such as Iraq, Syria, Yemen, and Libya. It also added provincial labels to media releases produced in Somalia and East Asia, two regions that had previously omitted brand affiliation with the group’s provincial network. ISIS later declared additional provincial media offices in Pakistan, Turkey, and India to foster the optic of an expanding media system. Yet its Turkey and India provinces rarely provided audiovisual media products. Down from more than thirty provincial media offices in 2016, ISIS seemed to operate with only eleven active provincial media operations by 2020—Iraq, Levant, Libya, Yemen, Sinai, Khurasan, Pakistan, Central Africa, West Africa, Somalia, and East Asia. Further, media output from the proto-states’ previously claimed provinces in Najd, al-Hijaz, Algeria, and Caucasus became virtually nonexistent. Despite ISIS’s loss of territory and disrupted communication efforts, the group’s media infrastructure managed to survive. For example, in ISIS’s Khorasan Province, the group published ninety-six claims of responsibility for attacks, one video, and ten photo reports in the first nine months of 2020.44 Figure 2.4 summarizes the remnants of ISIS’s media system as of 2020.
Media Systems Theory and Militant Proto-States Given the rise and subsequent resiliency of al-Qaeda and ISIS’s media systems, the need for media systems theory to properly account for the rapidly evolving, proto-state media context takes on a heightened importance. Hallin and Mancini’s four dimensions of media system differentiation derived from their analyses in Western Europe and North America serve as a useful starting point for determining the fit and adaptability of conventional models.45 Their four criteria for comparing media systems include the structure of media markets, political parallelism, journalistic professionalism, and the role of the state. Theorists often rely on these four factors as key points of
44 Winter and Alrhmoun, Mapping the Extremist Narrative Landscape in Afghanistan. 45 Hallin and Mancini, Comparing Media Systems.
36 Proto-State Media Systems Table 2.1 Comparison of Media Systems Based on Hallin and Mancini’s Framework Media System Type
Journalistic Role of Professionalism the State
Liberal Democratic corporatist Polarize pluralist
Source: Adapted from Hallin and Mancini, Comparing Media Systems.
comparison between systems,46 but their applicability outside the context of Western countries has recently emerged as a point of controversy.47 Hallin and Mancini define each of their four central elements. For them, the structure of the media market refers to how systems generate mass circulation, including through newspaper reach, gender differences in audience share, levels of television viewership, relative levels of sensationalist and elite media, and the balance of local, regional, and national distribution outlets. Political parallelism connotes the strength of connections between the media and political actors as typically reflected in media content, organizational associations, media personnel’s political activity, audience partisanship, journalistic roles, pluralism levels, and broadcast governance. Journalistic professionalism involves the journalist corps’ level of autonomy, the presence of shared work norms, and the level of public service orientation. Finally, the role of the state involves the available means that the state uses to shape a media system through public service broadcasting, press subsidies, and regulation.48 Table 2.1 illustrates how the four dimensions help distinguish the operations of various types of global media systems.
Structure of the Media Market Proto- states, like their state- based counterparts, seek to achieve widespread circulation of their media products. Yet proto-state media systems 46 For example, Brüggemann et al., “Hallin and Mancini Revisited.” 47 Peri, “The Impact of National Security”; Zhao, “Understanding China’s Media System”; De Albuquerque, “On Models and Margins”; Hadland, “Africanizing Three Models”; Vartanova, “The Russian Media Model”; Balčytienė, “Culture as a Guide.” 48 Hallin and Mancini, Comparing Media Systems.
A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media 37 are characteristically not-for-profit, which fundamentally changes the underlying economic calculus of most media produced and distributed in the United States and Western Europe. Rather than base circulation decisions on those willing to pay for access to media products, the proto-states focus more on media consumers who have a disproportionate capacity to carry out the goals of a militant proto-state. This primary target audience is what senior research fellow Haroro Ingram dubbed “decisive minorities.”49 For the most part, young Muslim males willing to emigrate to proto-state controlled territory, join the ranks of a militant group, and fight the group’s enemies (or members of the same demographic group willing to conduct deadly attacks abroad) make up the key decisive minority for ISIS and al-Qaeda. In recent years, ISIS has arguably experienced the most demonstrable success in media system-based recruitment, as tens of thousands of males emigrated to fight for the group.50 While the primary target of the militant proto-states is male, females also constitute a targeted demographic group. “The Granddaughters of Um Omara” section in al-Qaeda’s Sada al-Malahem publication, the “Our Sisters” portion of ISIS’s Dabiq magazine, and al-Qaeda women’s magazine al-Shamikha each provide opportunities for inspired women to address other females and encourage them to join the cause. Gender-restricted online chat rooms also facilitate women interacting with their proto-state peers. Examples of women who have moved from simply participating in online communication to actions offline on behalf of the proto-states are plentiful. For example, American convert Colleen LaRose helped fundraise for al-Qaeda and plan the attempted murder of Swedish cartoonist Lars Vilks in 2009. British convert Roshonara Chaudary stabbed a British member of Parliament in 2010 on behalf of al-Qaeda. Pakistani-born Tashfeen Malik helped carry out the ISIS-inspired 2015 San Bernardino attack on a place of business. In all, more than four thousand female foreign fighters have traveled from their homeland to join ISIS.51 Interviews with females formerly involved with militant proto-states indicate that many join in an effort to maintain their ongoing relationships with male recruits. Other reasons that women cite for joining such groups include redemption, respect, political
49 Ingram, “How ISIS Survives Defeat,” 1.
50 Danner, “Report: ISIS Has Recruited”; Schmid, “Challenging the Narrative.” 51 Cook and Vale, From Daesh to “Diaspora.”
38 Proto-State Media Systems outrage, revenge, coercion, escape from personal or emotional problems, or a yearning for a pure Islamic community.52 Beyond targeting audiences holding similar views, al-Qaeda and ISIS also circulate their media products to the citizens of states that the proto- states consider apostates or infidels. Circulating media content featuring proto-state attacks can foster public outrage and demands for government leaders to implement more effective responses. Resulting governmental overreactions can then in turn undermine personal freedoms in ways that, over time, can harm the public standing of national leaders. Hundreds of thousands of clicks, tweets, and downloads of proto-states media products on attackers’ personal devices suggest that al-Qaeda and ISIS have succeeded in reaching many members of their target audiences, both sympathetic and not, around the globe.53 Al-Qaeda and ISIS target local, national, and international audiences through the use of multilanguage media products. Over the course of last two decades, al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups have distributed publications in English (e.g., Jihadi Recollections, Inspire, al-Risalah, and Resurgence), Arabic (e.g., Dhurwat al-Sinam, Sada al-Malahem, and al-Masra), and Swahili (e.g., Gaidi Mtaani). ISIS’s targeted populations have been even more expansive, with the group producing hundreds of publication issues in Arabic (al-Naba’), English (Dabiq), Turkish (Konstanstiniyye), French (Dar al-Islam), Russian (Istok), and other languages (translated copies of Rumiyah in at least ten languages). Avoiding the mainstream radio and television operations of their state-based counterparts, al-Qaeda and ISIS have, on their own, produced and distributed thousands of multilingual, audiovisual media products that include videos, photo reports, audio programming, leaders’ statements, and nashids. Clear delineations among local, regional, and international proto-state media products blur, given the fact that the vast majority of al-Qaeda and ISIS’s media circulate online. AQAP’s magazine Inspire, for example, reached Yemeni or Saudi supporters located throughout the Arabian Peninsula, as well as English-speaking Muslims in the West, like the Tsarnaev brothers who followed the publication’s steps for making pressure cooker bombs 52 Bloom, Bombshell: Women and Terrorism; Speckhard, Shajkovci, and Yayla, “Following a Military Defeat.” 53 Chavez and Levenson, “Terror Suspect Wanted”; Frampton, with Fisher and Prucha, The New Netwar; Stern and Berger, ISIS: The State of Terror; Torres-Soriano, “The Caliphate Is Not a Tweet Away”; Winkler, “Challenging Communities.” See Chapter 5 for more detailed information supporting the ability of proto-states to reach their target audiences around the globe.
A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media 39 to attack the Boston Marathon in 2013.54 By the same token, the reach of ISIS’s West Africa provincial media office videos expands beyond Nigeria to ingroup members residing elsewhere within the self-proclaimed caliphate. Recognizing the widespread reach of their media products, al-Qaeda and ISIS’s proto-state media systems do not clearly differentiate sensational and elite media products in ways similar to earlier media systems functioning in the West. Instead, they often weave various types of sensational content throughout informational products in their broader media campaigns. For example, the two groups rely on the celebrity status of spokespersons to attract audiences for their programming. Al-Qaeda took advantage of bin Laden’s high profile for years in the wake of the 9/11 attacks and purposefully utilized American converts as spokespersons to broaden their message reach. ISIS also recognized the value of celebrities for the spread of its media, but it tended to place less emphasis on the status of its own leaders. Instead, it featured Western hostages (e.g., British journalist John Cantlie) and foreign fighters from around the globe (e.g., British-Kuwaiti Mohammed Emwazi, a.k.a. Jihadi John) to name, critique, and provoke world leaders such as Barack Obama, Donald Trump, and Prince Harry.55 Al-Qaeda and ISIS, however, have disagreed on the use of particularly graphic content for the purpose of sensationalizing their messaging. In 2004, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s group in Iraq put out a gruesome online video showing the beheading of American hostage Nicolas Berg. Viewers downloaded the video a half a million times within twenty-four hours of its release.56 The video received 15 million views before its eventual online removal.57 In the aftermath of that incident, AQC leader al-Zawahiri’s letter to AQI leader al-Zarqawi highlighted the divergence in perspectives between the media strategies of the two groups.58 Al-Zawahari warned against distributing slaughter scenes because of the risk that such footage might drive away Muslim support. Ignoring al-Zawahiri’s advice as the two groups split, ISIS published a string of beheading videos of Western hostages in 2014, followed by the display of the immolation of a Jordanian pilot as well as the mass beheadings of Egyptian Coptic Christians in early 2015. Each of these incidents captured on video delivered ISIS’s message to millions of people 54 O’Neill, “The 13th Juror.” 55 Al-Hayat Media, Inside the Caliphate # 4, Inside the Caliphate # 6; Williams, “British Journalist John Cantlie.” 56 Seib, “Al-Qaeda Media Machine.” 57 Talbot, “Terror’s Server.” 58 Zawahiri, “Letter from al-Zawahiri to al-Zarqawi.”
40 Proto-State Media Systems worldwide and subsequently impacted the foreign policy choices of established states.59 AQC, in sharp contrast, has generally resisted the explicit use of graphic violence, despite some deviations from its affiliated groups. Throughout the history of its group, al-Qaeda has, instead, relied on frequent mentions of highly symbolic attacks, such as the attacks on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and the Boston Marathon. Such remembrances invite viewers to reimagine (rather than witness up close repeatedly) the horror of the group’s violent attacks. When possible during periods of proto-state territorial control, offline circulation practices facilitate the ability of al-Qaeda and ISIS to reach local and regional markets. As far back as 2008, AQI videos have documented civilians inside of Iraq receiving the group’s offline media products.60 Eight years later, AQAP’s al-Masra newsletter depicted the distribution of its media products to civilians on the ground in Yemen and Syria.61 After declaring itself a caliphate, ISIS-controlled territories in Iraq and Syria opened a network of media kiosks where locals could watch new video releases and read the group’s publications. Figure 2.5 depicts a media kiosk in an ISIS-controlled territory where public screenings of ISIS videos and distribution of other offline content occurred. A heavy reliance on online media distribution expands the two proto- states’ ability to reach national and international audiences. Ongoing counterterrorism efforts by existing states, however, render online circulation of proto-state media products more fluid than those of conventional media systems. Since the development of its media system years ago, al-Qaeda’s content, for example, has appeared in top-down websites, Web forums, file-sharing Web pages, and social media platforms. The group has further called on followers to use the Asrar al-Mujahidin encryption software to secure personal communications and retain access to information.62 In 2015, thousands of ISIS followers migrated from Twitter, after the company’s decision to shut down its online accounts, to the encrypted, group-messaging app Telegram. Four years later, many ISIS followers expanded to other apps, including Hoop and TamTam, following the crackdown by Telegram and Europol’s European Union Internet Referral Unit to remove the group’s 59 Friis, “ ‘Beyond Anything We Have Ever Seen’ ”; Redmond et al., “Who Watches an ISIS Beheading.” 60 Al-Furqan Media, Two Years of the Islamic State. 61 See, for example, al-Masra, Issues 7 and 48. 62 “How to Use Asrar al-Mujahideen,” Inspire, Issue 1.
A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media 41
Figure 2.5 A media kiosk where those living in ISIS-controlled territories could access proto-state media products. Source: “Media Points: The Internal Window on the Islamic State’s Media,” Al-Naba’, Issue 21, 12.
presence on its online platform. ISIS has also evaded content takedowns and disruptions by adopting a swarming technique, whereby large distribution networks simultaneously circulate media content across various platforms.63 Throughout their relocations online, the militant proto-states have strived to provide ongoing privacy and security for those utilizing their media systems. On the whole, previously understood notions of media market circulation require adaptation to appropriately fit the emergence of militant proto-states. Rather than rely on free market economic assumptions, proto-state media analysts should examine the attention and loyalties of target audiences that could further the goals of the collective. Analysts should also track if and how proto-state media products reach targeted local, national, regional, or global audiences. Further, the fluid nature of the militant proto-state media systems creates the need for additional criteria to evaluate the ongoing strength and resiliency of online platforms. The capacity to attract viewer attention
63 Fisher, “Swarmcast: How Jihadist Networks Maintain.”
42 Proto-State Media Systems to online sites, the ability to sustain media content production and distribution under external pressures, and the retention of viewers over time as platform and content shifts occur all serve as needed supplements to conventional evaluative rubrics. Finally, the militant proto-states’ decision to blend sensational and elite content into the same media products suggests the need to reconsider comparing the two only when they appear in isolated product lines. Instead, tracking the relative overall levels of sensational and elite content for production and distribution across media products would likely yield more productive insights. In short, the need for different thinking about the circulation patterns, platform usage, and product selection should govern contemporary comparative analyses of media structures in the context of militant proto-states.
Political Parallelism Put simply, the central premise of political parallelism in national media systems does not apply in the context of militant proto-states. Conventional media systems theory assumes the co-functioning of political parties and media officials within the accepted boundaries of a nation-state. Hallin and Mancini, for example, originally describe party-press parallelism as the mirroring of long-established party structures alongside similar components operating within media systems.64 They later update their conception to an assessment of connections between the two entities, such as the proximity of media and political actors working in the contemporary environment.65 Al-Qaeda and ISIS, however, lack political parties and rely on physically dispersed media producers and distributors. As a result their approach characteristically exhibits more group-enforced, rather than party-press, parallelism. The ideological foundations of the media products of al-Qaeda and ISIS function as one indicator of the groups’ use of group-enforced parallelism. Since al-Qaeda’s media surge in the early 2000s, the two groups’ media products have clearly demarcated Muslims from Western forces, Israel, and/ or regional and local enemies. As far back as 2001, bin Laden touts such a message:
64 Hallin and Mancini, Comparing Media Systems; “Ten Years after Comparing Media Systems.” 65 Hallin and Mancini, “Ten Years After Comparing Media Systems.”
A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media 43 Don’t people see that the countries are occupied under American and Zionist authority? Indeed, the land of the revelation, and the home of the grandsons of Muhammad (peace be upon him) and the noble companions, is under the control of the Romans and Jews. Certainly, the jihad against the Americans is from the core of belief and monotheism.66
In an ISIS video eighteen years later, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi reiterates the same theme when he mentions, “the battle of Islam and its people against the Cross and its people is a long one. The battle of al-Baghouz shows the barbarity and savagery of the nation of the Cross against the Muslim nation.”67 Deeply steeped in religious history, the core message demarcates who qualifies as a member of the envisioned collective and who stands in opposition to it. With the ingroup clearly established, the militant proto-states rely on enforced modes of parallelism to maintain the coherence of the messaging strategy. The organizational structures of al-Qaeda and ISIS’s proto-state media systems help sustain group-enforced parallelism. The two militant, non- state actors have central media committees that oversee media operations and control the appointment of media leaders,68 with the result that senior media leaders often play other key roles in proto-state organizational hierarchies. Al-Qaeda’s current leader al-Zawahiri, for example, headed the group’s media committee at one point in his ascendancy through the ranks.69 Al-Qaeda’s chief of external special operations and the mastermind of the 9/11 attacks—Khaled Sheikh Muhammad—was once the media operations director for as-Sahab Media.70 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, ISIS’s self-declared caliph, was reportedly involved in the group’s media department,71 while the same group’s former media spokesperson, Abu Muhammad al-Adnani, emerged from among the group’s top leaders overseeing military and external operations. In this media context, al-Qaeda and ISIS’s media personnel break away from Hallin and Mancini’s characteristic journalistic roles of providers of neutral information or publicists for their organizations.72 66 As-Sahab Media, State of the Ummah Part I, 32:07–32:42. 67 Al-Furqan Media, New Video Message from the Islamic State’s Shaykh Abu Bakr, 0:44–1:12. 68 Bin Laden, “Letter from UBL to ‘Atiyatullah Al-Libi 4”; Islamic State Central Media Diwan, “Organizational Structure.” 69 Gunaratna and Oreg, “Al Qaeda’s Organizational Structure.” 70 American Civil Liberties Union, “Khaled Sheikh Muhammad CSRT Transcript.” 71 Whiteside, “Lighting the Path.” 72 Hallin and Mancini, Comparing Media Systems.
44 Proto-State Media Systems Instead, the militant proto-states’ media systems weaponize the militant “journalist” as an operative, who in the words of ISIS “is like a gang member; he has to master all the arts that would help achieve [the group’s] mission.”73 Parallelism certainly remains a chief aim of such groups, but its impetus does not lie in party affiliation. Although both al-Qaeda and ISIS’s proto-state media systems lack widespread expression of pluralistic views, the level of enforcement associated with their central directives varies between the two groups. At the peak of ISIS’s control of territory and populations, the group’s central media organization strongly monitored media content and compliance with the central organization’s aims. It designed templates, oversaw provincial media, and controlled online content dissemination.74 In contrast, al-Qaeda’s proto- state media system has generally operated with less rigid controls over the media of its regional branches. Despite the more laissez-faire approach, AQC has not, in all cases, fully agreed with the content generated from its affiliates. Take, for example, AQAP’s release of a video shortly after the 2010 Gaza flotilla raid calling on followers to attack Westerners, Saudi royals, and security personnel in response to the kidnapping of Muslim women in Saudi Arabia. Bin Laden, apparently unhappy with AQAP’s break from the core directive of the broader organization, quickly sent out a reminder for affiliates to frame media messages in accordance to al-Qaeda’s general policy of fighting the West and Israel to liberate Palestine and other Muslim countries.75 The militant proto-states’ lack of territorial stability creates a condition ripe for group-enforced parallelism. Such groups are unlikely to prefer, or even tolerate, organized threats from parties within their own ranks as they face ongoing, external threats from nation-states that seek to demolish the very existence of their collectives. The groups instead rely on an enforced set of core themes for defining who belongs and who stands in opposition to the group. These themes, grounded in the groups’ interpretations of Islamic history, provide at least the appearance of a lasting, identifiable identity for the collective. Accordingly, additional criteria for comparative studies of proto- state media systems should involve the level of group-enforced message consistency, as well as the frequency of historical allusions, the repetition of
73 Islamic State Central Media Diwan, “Summary Advice for Media Mujahid,” 2. 74 Islamic State Central Media Diwan, “Clarification Regarding the Media.” 75 Bin Laden, “Letter from UBL to ‘Atiyatullah Al-Libi 4.”
A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media 45 specific historical touch points, and the implications of those past events for the operations of the current collectives.
Journalistic Professionalism The media systems of al-Qaeda and ISIS also do not adhere to standard notions of journalistic professionalism. Hallin and Mancini elaborate on conventional approaches by distinguishing between instrumentalization and professionalism as antithetical constructs of journalistic profession. In their view, instrumentalization is a sign of a weaker system as it sacrifices professionalism by stripping away a journalist’s autonomy, displacing journalistic norms, and invoking political or commercial goals over public interests.76 Journalists working within al-Qaeda and ISIS, however, embrace instrumentalization as a necessary effort to reinforce the unified identity of their groups. The two proto-states embrace the instrumental goal by focusing on the concept of jihad, which involves struggle and sacrifice along the pathway to God. In his booklet, 44 Ways to Support Jihad, for example, al-Qaeda’s America’s cleric Anwar al-Awlaki calls on Muslims to become “internet mujahidin,”77 while ISIS similarly equates media operations to fights on the battlefield by describing media as “jihad in the path of Allah . . . [that] makes you a Mujahid.”78 Like their state-based counterparts, al-Qaeda and ISIS promote an ethic of service, but not to the public at large. Instead, the service is for the religion of Islam and the Muslim Ummah that must fight back against the West’s “media bombardment” of Muslim and Arab culture.79 Differing interpretations of theological issues may cause rifts within the ranks of their journalistic corps at times, although public disagreements remain rare.80 For the most part, the media producers and distributors operating inside the proto-state media systems of al-Qaeda and ISIS lack autonomy. The underlying message of service to God creates the conditions for expectations 76 Hallin and Mancini, Comparing Media Systems. 77 Awlaki, 44 Ways to Support Jihad. 78 Al-Himma Library, “Oh You Media Operative,” 9. See also Islamic State Central Media Diwan, “The Essential Duties of the Media Mujahid.” 79 Bin Laden, “Letter from UBL to ‘Atiyatullah Al-Libi 4,” 25. See also Islamic State Central Media Diwan, “The Essential Duties of the Media Mujahid.” 80 For example, Tamimi, “Internal Conflict in the Islamic State’s Media Department,” “The Archivist: Media Fitna.”
46 Proto-State Media Systems of abeyance to leaders, because failure to do so would equate with sinning and displeasing God.81 Centralized media guidelines, enforced through appointed media emirs to varying degrees, govern the content and form of media output. Outside the scope of the two groups’ official media operations, however, supporters and “fanboys” operate with much more autonomy, as they produce and disseminate auxiliary content online that includes videos, magazines, and infographics. Proto-state media systems also fail to adhere to standard media system’s priority of separating news content from advertising or editorial opinion pieces. While ISIS and al-Qaeda both advertise their own media products, the two proto-states blur distinctions between editorial and news content. At the peak of ISIS’s media output, for example, the group ranked its provincial video products to present followers with a list of top productions on a biweekly or monthly basis. The “Selected 10” feature appeared both in al- Hayat’s compilation of video fragments and as a one-page poster of video screen grabs in several issues of Dabiq and Rumiyah. Al-Masra similarly advertised al-Qaeda’s forthcoming videos and interviews with the inclusion of glossy posters. Neither proto-state, however, identifies the advertised products as news or editorial content, because often a single media product combines the two. Further, Hallin and Mancini’s framework does not account for narrative, aesthetic, and technical norms of the media production process when it articulates the parameters for comparing relative levels of journalistic professionalism.82 Whereas mastery of such skillsets is standard for most entry-level journalists in state-based media systems, some media operatives in militant, non-state groups lack useful knowledge of such foundational production processes. Al-Qaeda videos, particularly those released recently from AQC, for example, often rely on “talking head” footage of al-Zawahiri as he remembers martyrs, justifies militancy, or recalls transgressions against Muslim populations. These videos either show a still image of the leader or footage of him speaking directly to the camera while an audio track relays his words. Occasional cuts to short action sequences appear, but the format fails to capture the full range of multimodal messaging techniques available for attracting attention, enhancing recall, or heightening emotional responses from viewers.
81 Al-Himma Library, “Media Operative, You Are a Mujahid.” 82 Hallin and Mancini, Comparing Media Systems.
A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media 47 ISIS holds a substantial media advantage over al-Qaeda and other militant media operations due to its high professionalism standards and “systemic standardization” of associated criteria.83 As the ISIS’s self-proclaimed caliphate unfolded, the benchmarks behind the group’s rankings of its top productions, however, remained unclear until the US military captured some of the group’s internal documents. Although the documents did not offer detailed explanations of ISIS’s criteria, they identified three overarching categories that the Media Monitoring Committee considered when evaluating provincially produced content. Scenario, idea, and narration accounted for 30 percent of the evaluation; production components such as professional filming and the quality of raw footage was responsible for another 30 percent; and postproduction elements such as editing, graphics, special effects, cuts, and shot selection accounted for the remaining 40 percent of the final score.84 More insight into how ISIS implements the evaluative criteria in relation to its media content emerged from another captured document from coalition forces. The memorandum listed the names of the videos produced by ISIS’s provincial offices around mid-2016 along with their respective video rankings on the three previously mentioned categories related to storytelling, production, and postproduction.85 By reverse-engineering the ranked scoring of the videos enumerated in that document, insights into ISIS’s application of its evaluative criteria for journalistic professionalism become apparent. The quality of storytelling, for example, served as the dominant determinant of professionalism in ISIS’s media system (at least as portrayed in the available small sample from the captured document). All four video productions receiving a full grade in storytelling appeared in the rankings of the top five videos overall. The main story ideas in the top-ranked videos were the success of ISIS’s proselytizing campaigns in remote villages, the inability of spies to survive within the “caliphate,” and the solidarity among cross-provincial fighters needed to repel the “crusader” media operations. The Raqqa provincial video Destroy the Satellite Dishes,86 for example, begins by emphasizing the moral dangers to Muslim communities from satellite
83 For example, Almohammad and Winter, “From Battlefront to Cyberspace,” 24. 84 Media Monitoring Committee, “The Table to Evaluate Video Releases.” 85 Media Monitoring Committee, “A Table of the Statistics.” 86 Raqqa Provincial Media, Destroy the Satellite Dishes.
48 Proto-State Media Systems television infiltration by the West and its allies. It ends by identifying ISIS’s seizures and destruction of satellite receivers as the optimal solution. Additionally, the top five videos in storytelling each included plotlines that revealed a coherent set of sequentially connected and well-defined events. For example, in the Aleppo provincial video Conquering the Villages to Spread Guidance, the narrator begins, “Generally in the past and specifically in recent months, we’ve noticed a surge in the number of ISIS enlisted members in rural Aleppo. We wanted to prepare a media report detailing those numbers and the reasons behind that increase.”87 After an official in the recruitment office mentions da’wah (preaching/proselytizing) as the main cause for the surge, the same video then features preparations of da’wah teams to educate locals about Islam, provide children’s workshops, institute home visits for the elderly and disabled, construct mosques, and facilitate large pledges of allegiance to al-Baghdadi. The video ends with the narrator stressing the failure of attempts by local enemy forces to “destroy this da’wah . . . and return several villages in the northern part of rural Aleppo back to their previous state of oppression and ignorance.”88 In sharp contrast, the poorly ranked al- Jazira provincial video Part of the Ongoing Battles in the Shandukha Village89 centers on the single act of an attack on the Peshmerga (Kurdish fighters in Iraq). The four-minute video features continuous scenes of militants using rocket-propelled grenades, rifles, and heavy weaponry against the Kurdish forces located around the Iraqi village of Shandukha with no audio narration or any clear, evolving plotline. The four videos with failing grades in storytelling were all in the five lowest scoring videos overall, providing further evidence of the criterion’s dominance within ISIS’s media evaluation framework. Each failing video lacked a broad topical idea. Instead, each focused on a single attack or a battle, with one simply tallying the total number of operations that had occurred in one province. The Kirkuk provincial video The Attack on the Barracks of the Rafidi Hashd near Ogail Farm,90 for example, only highlights intense overnight fighting to destroy an enemy barrack. On the whole, the preferred ISIS narratives were ones that avoided an exclusive focus on combat in favor of a more overarching plotline encompassing the group’s efforts to implement their interpretation of an Islamic society and protect it from outside enemies.
87 Aleppo Provincial Media, Conquering the Villages to Spread Guidance, 1:11–1:35.
88 Aleppo Provincial Media, Conquering the Villages to Spread Guidance, 23:34–23:50. 89 Al-Jazirah Provincial Media, Part of the Ongoing Battles in the Shandukha Village. 90 Kirkuk Provincial Media, The Attack on the Barracks of the Rafidi Hashd.
A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media 49 Production quality of ISIS video products appeared less impactful than storytelling for achieving ISIS highest overall ratings. Only two of the five top videos received a full production grade. One of the two, the Fallujah provincial video Where to Flee91 features fifteen minutes of high-quality footage that details the interrogation and execution of several “spies.” The video incorporates various shot types (e.g., long, medium, close-up, and extreme close-up), different camera angles (e.g., high, low, and eye level), and multiple camera positions to film the same action. The footage is level and stationary, suggesting the use of a tripod in filming. One of its standard interrogation scenes preceding an execution shows a shackled hostage in an orange jumpsuit sitting against a black background. Three cameras shoot the scene, two of which position the hostage slightly to the right and the left of the center in accordance with the framing rule of thirds.92 Each of the two cameras’ perspectives depicts the hostage from different sides at a medium close distance. The third camera shoots cutaways during the interrogation, such as an extreme close-up of the hostage’s eyes as he emphatically notes, “I advise anyone against taking my route,”93 and another extreme close-up of his mouth when he states the words, “The end of this route is death.”94 The interrogation also contains a reconstructed scene of the same hostage in civilian clothing standing inside a building. The video displays him taking b- roll (stock footage) of doctors for use as a reinforcing scenic backdrop for his on-camera confession of espionage at the Fallujah General Hospital. Based on the examples available from 2016, ISIS’s definition of production professionalism appears to align with aesthetic norms of documentary filmmaking and broadcast journalism. The videos scoring in the bottom five overall revealed some production strategies the Monitoring Committee viewed less favorably. The al-Janub provincial video The Monthly Statistics of Military Operations in Rajab 1437,95 for example, received a score of zero in production apparently for not incorporating any videotaped footage showing action in progress. The two- minute video, instead, displays an infographic that lists the number of ISIS attacks, enemy casualties, and destroyed artillery. The Damascus provincial
91 Fallujah Provincial Media, Where to Flee. 92 The rule of thirds is a widely known filming guideline on where best to frame the interview subject in the visual image. 93 Fallujah Provincial Media, Where to Flee, 5:09–5:12. 94 Fallujah Provincial Media, Where to Flee, 5:13–5:14. 95 Al-Janub Provincial Media, The Monthly Statistics of Military Operations in Rajab 1437.
50 Proto-State Media Systems video Sinai the Land of Sacrifice and Epic Battles96 scored only a five out of a possible thirty points in production. The five-minute video predominantly features archived images borrowed from mainstream media sources and from the Sinai provincial media office. The Damascus provincial media team relies on only one medium close-up shot of a masked militant talking to the camera, while a second camera records the same speech from another angle. For ISIS, a province’s overreliance on nonoriginal and “talking heads” footage appears to qualify as aesthetically unprofessional. Despite the fact that the quality of postproduction constituted 40 percent of the overall video score, it served as the weakest predictor of whether an ISIS video product qualified for distribution in May 2016. Out of all thirty- four videos evaluated that month, ten received a failing grade in postproduction, while eight others barely achieved a passing grade. No video received the maximum possible score available for postproduction. The two videos with the highest scores in postproduction, however, were among the overall top five releases. One of those, the Salahuddin provincial video The Attackers,97 utilizes graphics to mark targets and identify ingroup members, employs flash transitions and sound effects to enliven the combat scenes, uses dissolve and fade transitions to imply passage of time on the battleground, and carefully syncs hymns and visuals to create compelling multimodal messaging. At one point, the same video introduces a Turkish suicide bomber as one of the delivering his farewell message. After about eleven minutes of marching and combat footage, a low-beat chant delivered in Turkish begins. The video transitions to slow-moving, close-up shots of the individual smiling behind an overlaid graphic designating him “a martyr brother.”98 Chants accompany the scenes of the militant as he emotionally calls on other Turkish Muslims to follow in his lead. He then drives a car bomb toward an enemy barrack with a shot of his smiling face superimposed on the screen. He eventually carries out the suicide bombing. A subsequent segment uses graphic overlays to present a Palestinian suicide bomber talking to the camera before the screen fades to black and he rides away in a car bomb. Another fade-to-black transition indicates the passage of time before the video shows a moving vehicle in the distance as it heads toward the target. The audio track during this segment includes an Arabic-language chant: “Advance to death then break-in
96 Al-Janub Provincial Media, The Monthly Statistics of Military Operations in Rajab 1437. 97 Salahuddin Provincial Media, The Attackers.
98 Salahuddin Provincial Media, The Attackers, 14:47–14:53.
A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media 51 and with the enemies clash.”99 From these examples, ISIS appears to deem videos that strategically incorporate audiovisual effects and transitions as illustrative of advanced postproduction techniques. A similar rationale explains why four of the bottom five videos in the overall ranking received a failing postproduction grade. The four-minute Baghdad provincial video And They Kill and Then Get Killed,100 for example, uses amateur graphics, poor transitions, and, at times, insufficient volume on the audio track. As the voice of al-Zarqawi mourns the Iranian control of Baghdad, still images of past and contemporary leaders that the group considers apostates appear on the screen shot against a low-quality, blazing fire in the background. The video shows each photo for only one second, making it difficult for viewers to process what they are seeing. Additionally, the video incorporates unwarranted dissolve transitions between the sound bites of the militant photo subject and uses generic b-roll of Baghdad streets with no ambient, natural sound. ISIS’s more demanding, meticulous evaluation of the technical aspects of the videos strongly suggests its intention to eliminate amateur, postproduction efforts from its media corpus. In sum, the standards of journalistic professionalism of militant proto- states diverge from those of standard state-based media systems. Militant proto-states repeatedly rely on instrumentalization over professionalism to meet the needs of forming and sustaining their collectives. To achieve such end goals, al-Qaeda and ISIS both restrict journalistic autonomy in many ways, while ISIS takes the lead in advancing professional norms. Accordingly, a more apt rubric for comparing militant proto-state media systems might consider both the consistency and coherence of the proto-states’ foundational messaging and a tracking of their skills related to storytelling, production and postproduction.
Role of the State Unlike conventional media systems that have some ongoing relationship with states for resources and content guidance, militant proto-states generally oppose affiliations with such entities. The need for proto-states to eventually secure a homeland for their envisioned collectives renders the oppositional
Salahuddin Provincial Media, The Attackers, 16:15–16:18. Baghdad Provincial Media, And They Kill and Then Get Killed.
52 Proto-State Media Systems relationship between states and proto-states an inherent element of the clash. Al-Qaeda and ISIS generally tend to use their own devices to fund their media operations, with the notable exception of funds derived from unofficial, user-generated content generated from outside, supportive online communities. Al-Qaeda has often engaged in fundraising online to help sustain the group’s media operations.101 ISIS has relied on captured resources from within its controlled territories, ransom payments for hostages’ release, zakat (charity payments) from citizens living within its controlled territories, and donations from supporters to fund its media operations. A single ISIS province, for example, spent 155,000 dollars on its media office in one month in early 2015.102 Nonetheless, militant proto-state media systems still capitalize on state-based media systems when possible to attract attention and recirculate their messaging to broader global audiences. Militant proto-states also adopt alternative frameworks for regulating their media output in ways that distinguish their operations from those of state-based media systems. Libel, defamation, and hate speech laws are not pertinent regulations for proto-state media. Historically, al-Qaeda and ISIS have instead created their own media publishing guidelines, workflow expectations, and standards related to prohibited scenes and narratives. Al-Qaeda’s top leadership has provided instructions and content to the central media department and coordinated the media strategies of its regional branches.103 At one point, bin Laden reduced the media appearances of AQAP’s leader and began personally reviewing online content prior to publication.104 Similarly, ISIS’s central media organization has overseen the implementation of criteria for the provincial media offices regarding acceptable photo reports, video productions, flag depictions, and punishment scenes. For example, it cautioned all media workers: “no report is accepted with a different flag such as a white flag or any other flag other than the Islamic State flag.”105 In short, al- Qaeda and ISIS, rather than any affiliated state entities, shape the structure, hierarchy, and content of their proto-state media systems. Militant proto- states also alter standard media system theory’s assumptions regarding the state’s role as a potentially voluntary benefactor or imposed legal regulator. Instead, the proto-states treat existing states as
Martin, “The Information Battlefield.” Tamimi, “The Archivist: Unseen Islamic State Financial Accounts.” 103 Bin Laden, “Letter from UBL to ‘Atiyatullah Al-Libi 3.” 104 Bin Laden, “Letter from UBL to ‘Atiyatullah Al-Libi.” 105 Islamic State Central Media Diwan, “General Guidance and Instructions,” 6. 102
A History of Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media 53 enemies that deny the existence of the militant proto-state, involuntary and forced resource bases available for the taking, and/or potential targets of the militant proto-state’s power. For the most part, the media systems of militant proto-states operate independently of the state and on behalf of their new collectives. Thus, comparative studies of media systems that involve militant proto-states should seek to understand the level of proto-state reliance on current nation-state media systems in relation to the funding of the media operations, content regulations, and legal frameworks.
Summary and Conclusion Standard frameworks for comparing media systems fail to provide for a full accounting of key variables of militant proto-state media systems. Despite continued reliance on media structures that target audiences with specific types of content, the proto-state context challenges assumptions regarding the economics of media circulation, the primary platforms for content distribution, and divisions in content types necessary to reach target audiences. Proto-states also accept the value of parallelism to strengthen their proto- state media system, but shift their focus toward more of a group-based model to unite and define the collective. The journalistic norms of the proto-states abandon notions of reporter autonomy and other democratic press norms in favor of conformity to consistent messaging standards and, in the case of some proto-states, expectations regarding media quality. Finally, proto- state opposition to the state and its attendant apparatuses changes funding models, regulatory schemes, and missions of the media systems. To expand upon previous criteria of media system evaluation, the next four chapters will explore proto-state usage of identity constructions across time and space, material conditions linked to strategies of attention and newsworthiness, and messaging approaches for enhancing audience resilience.
3 Transhistorical Militancy, Community-Building, and Proto-State Media Systems References to history serve as critical foundations for newly reconstituted communities in the modern period. Connections to the past can help transform individuals generally unaware of—or unmotivated by—their existing identity formations into members of a newly unified collective.1 “Publics are not born, nor do they die; their fate lies in the redistribution of their name across a network of signifiers.”2 By recalling the memorable origins of the community’s affiliations, transhistorical references highlight the timeless nature of the group’s identity, while rendering present-day challenges to the collective as nothing more than temporary setbacks.3 Battles and individual fighters function together as one of, if not the chief, category of historical allusions that proto-states utilize to craft their group’s transhistorical subjectivities. Because internationally recognized states divide the totality of global lands among themselves, militant proto-states typically resort to force to acquire and maintain physical lands for their own use. Such entities initially conduct offensive operations to procure their homelands followed by defensive campaigns to sustain the physical presence of their collectives. For example, in the 1775 Battle of Bunker Hill in the American Revolutionary War, Americans and the British fought for control over a tactical military promontory in Boston Harbor. Just as Americans remember the Battle of Bunker Hill to reinforce that dedication to a nation can overcome the military superiority of imperial opposing forces, the roles of historic battles and fighters throughout Muslim history serve as models of expectations, beliefs, and behaviors for the publics of al-Qaeda and ISIS.4 1 Charland, “Constitutive Rhetoric.” 2 Myres, “Five Formations of Publicity,” 202. 3 Charland, “Constitutive Rhetoric.” 4 Eliade, The Sacred and Profane; Perry and Long, “Why Would Anyone;” Winkler, “Challenging Communities.” Proto-State Media Systems. Carol K. Winkler and Kareem El Damanhoury, Oxford University Press. © University of Maryland National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) 2022. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780197568026.003.0003
56 Proto-State Media Systems Equally important, allusions to transhistorical warriors, enemies, and battles each hold insights for understanding and evaluating proto-state media systems. When proto-state leadership stress that media systems perform critical battlefield roles,5 they make transparent that militant contests and media operations function as complementary prongs in the proto-states’ contemporary war- fighting efforts. Accordingly, transhistorical references to battles and fighters do not only reveal identity formulations and behavioral expectations for members who the proto-state needs to protect or enemies that it must fight against; they also model desired rubrics for evaluating the performance of the proto-state media systems.
On the Epochal Timeline The ideological enemies of al-Qaeda and ISIS trace back to jahiliyyah, or the period of ignorance that existed in the Arabian Peninsula prior to the emergence of Islam. Since the 1960s, Egyptian author Sayyid Qutb has played an instrumental role in popularizing the notion of a modern-day jahiliyyah.6 For Qutb, the term describes societies that do not properly uphold God’s rule, such as those grounded in secularism, nationalism, democracy, and tribalism. Al-Qaeda and ISIS align themselves with Qutb’s sentiments, with both portraying America’s vision of a New World Order as the driving force of modern jahiliyyah.7 Additionally, the two proto-states have engaged in ongoing feuds with each other and accused one another of contributing to jahiliyyah, with ISIS calling out al-Qaeda’s willingness to welcome relations with existing state governments and al-Qaeda insistence that ISIS has engaged in tribal warfare.8 Transhistorical battles and fighters mentioned in the contemporary media products of al-Qaeda and ISIS occurred during key moments of what various hadiths9 identify as a subsequent timeline of preordained eras.10 As Figure 3.1 illustrates,11 the timeline recalls a life cycle of Muslim rule, 5 For an example, see Zawahiri, “Letter from al-Zawahiri,” para. 69. For other examples, see Chapter 1. 6 For his writings, see Qutb, In the Shade of the Qur’an (Fi zilal al-Qur’an). 7 For an example, see “And When the Believers Saw the Confederates,” Rumiyah, Issue 3. 8 “Interview with Adam Gadahn,” Resurgence, Issue 2; Abu Maysarah ash-Shāmī, “The Qā’idah of Adh-Dhawāhirī.” 9 Hadiths are transcribed collections of the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings that guide Muslim belief and behavior today. 10 For references to the relevant hadiths, see Abu Iyaad, “The Khilaafah Lasted.” 11 Various hadiths recognize the five stages and explain how, after the Prophet’s passing, the prophetic Caliphate will last for thirty years before kingship begins. For some readers trained in religious
Transhistorical Militancy 57 Prophethood 610–632 CE
Caliphate on Prophetic Methodology
Harsh Kingship Begins 661 CE
Caliphate on Prophetic Methodology 632–661 CE
Figure 3.1 The hadiths’ prophetic timeline of Muslim rule.
beginning at the end of jahiliyyah with the emergence of Muhammad the prophet. Following his death in 632 CE, the timeline then predicts that a Caliphate on the prophetic model would arise and last for thirty years. This period includes what most Sunni Muslims refer to as the rightly guided Caliphates of Abu Bakr al-Siddiq (two years), Umar ibn al-Khattab (ten years), Uthman ibn Affan (twelve years), and Ali ibn Abi Talib (six years). Subsequently, a period of harsh and forceful kingdoms emerges until another Caliphate on the prophetic model would eventually appear. The premise of the prophetic model dates back to the life of Muhammad, but it also represents a prophetic line tracing back to the Hebrew Prophets, Moses and Jesus. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS share the goal of ending the harsh and forceful kingdom phases and reviving the prophetic Caliphate in the modern period.12
Transhistorical Battles Al-Qaeda and ISIS rely extensively on references to five battles in Islamic history that occur within the traditions expressed in the hadiths: two in the prophethood phase, two in the Caliphate on the prophetic methodology phase, and one in the harsh and forceful kingdom phase. Each of these five battles illustrates the dual purpose that transhistorical subjectivities serve
history, the proto-state’s phrasing of the various stages may appear nonstandard. For example, the use of the term “prophethood” rather than “prophetic” may appear unusual. We will report the phrasing that al-Qaeda and ISIS use in our efforts to best convey their meanings. 12 For an example, see Awlaki, To Make It Clear To People and Not Hide It; Shadoukhi, “Why We Fight”; “From Hijrah to Khalifah,” Dabiq, Issue 1; “Jihadisphere,” Inspire, Issue 8.
58 Proto-State Media Systems for constituting proto-state identity formulations and establishing standards for evaluating media systems. Some details of the battles remain matters of historical debate, leaving open an opportunity for proto-states to selectively interpret and cite historic texts in support of their perspectives on those battles.13 Nevertheless, much agreement exists as to the core narratives emergent from each of the battlefield experiences.
The Battle of Badr Badr (trans.: full moon; a.k.a. Battle of al-Furqan) was the first and most prominent battle victory for early Muslims as they fought against the polytheistic, mercantile Quraysh tribe during the lifetime of the Prophet Muhammad. The battle occurred in 2 Hijri/624 CE, roughly fifteen years after the first revelatory event of the Archangel Gabriel to the Prophet Muhammad. The involved early Muslims, despite being outnumbered more than three to one, defeated the Quraysh tribe after Allah sent thousands of angels to assist them in battle.14 Underscoring the valor of those who fought in Badr, a hadith narrated by al-Bukhari notes that the Prophet Muhammad told the Archangel Gabriel that the fighters were “the best of Muslims [and the] same was the case with the angels who were at Badr.”15 Al-Qaeda and ISIS reappropriate the battle of Badr to call on male Muslim youth to serve as core members of their constituted groups. As far back as 1996, bin Laden claims issuance of a fatwa (a decree handed down by a religious figure) evoking the memories of Badr. He encourages young Muslim men to strike out against enemies, so that Muslims could assume their role as “the successor[s]of the early ones,”16 and he insists that, like the Badr battle predecessors, contemporary male youth believe in the eventual victory of the Islamic cause and have important “knowledge and experience about the enemy’s most vulnerable spots.”17 ISIS likewise utilizes the battle of Badr to 13 Halverson, Goodall, and Corman, Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism; Bin Ahmad, “The Misinterpretation of Hadith Texts.” 14 Qur’an, 3: 124–125. 15 Riyad as-Salihin, 18: 22. The historical accounts offered by Abd al-Razzaq, Ibn Abi Shayba, and al-Bukhari offer slightly different accounts of the Badr battle. Bukhari’s interpretation, which both proto-states repeatedly reiterate, places the highest degree of emphasis on the “religious merit that participation in the battle of Badr assured to the [Prophet’s] companions” (Zaman, “Maghazi and the Muhaddithun,” 5). 16 Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Compilation of Usama Bin Laden, 24. 17 Foreign Broadcast Information Service, Compilation of Usama Bin Laden, 25.
Transhistorical Militancy 59 summon Muslim male youth, but it goes much further by hailing young children to serve as fighters for its cause. In the eighth issue of Dabiq, for example, ISIS displays two full-page images of young boys holding pistols over the executed bodies of ISIS hostages. The accompanying text draws parallels between the battle of Badr and today: It was two young boys from the Ansār (Supporters from Medina) who struck down Abū Jahl in the battle of Badr. And just as the children of the Sahābah (the Prophet’s companions) stained their swords with the blood of yesterday’s tāghūt (tyrant), the Fir’awn (Pharaoh) of the Ummah, so too will the children of the Khilāfah stain their bullets.18
ISIS’s decision to call forth young children to augment its recruiting base of older members strives to expand both the relative size and longevity of the proto-state’s defensive forces. Besides defining who qualifies as an ingroup member of the constituted group, references to Badr also help to delineate the identity of the enemies of the proto-state. Those who fail to consistently believe and act upon their commitment to Islam emerge as unworthy. In Issue 5 of Inspire, for example, al-Qaeda recalls the historical example of the Prophet Muhammad’s uncle, al-Abbas, who was imprisoned after the battle of Badr for joining the Quraysh army and fighting against his nephew. Later, al-Abbas converted to Islam and remained faithful, but al-Qaeda remembers the incident to threaten immediate, unforgiving consequences for those who fall short of a consistent commitment to the faith: “if the individual has apostatized publicly, and his apostasy is clear, then this person’s blood and wealth is not protected from the Muslims due to the hadith narrated by al-Bukhari, ‘Whoever changed his Islamic religion, then kill him.’ ”19 In the sixty-fourth issue of al-Naba’, ISIS likewise reminds its audience that the early monotheistic Muslims in the Prophethood era not only disavowed their relatives who were part of the Quraysh tribe, but they also fought against them at Badr. The group emphasizes how some even “witnessed the killing of their fathers and brothers, and others killed their relatives with their own hands.”20 The fatal outcomes that nonfollowers experienced at Badr underscore the looming
18 “The Lion Cubs of the Khilafah,” Dabiq, Issue 8, 21. 19 “Inspire Responses,” Inspire, Issue 5, 11.
20 “From the Biography,” Al-Naba’, Issue 64, 9.
60 Proto-State Media Systems consequences that await those who fail to demonstrate ongoing loyalty to contemporary proto-states. Al-Qaeda and ISIS finally utilize Badr to highlight incentives for joining and remaining loyal to their proto-system’s fighting force. For contemporary fighters, the battle of Badr promises victory on earth and heavenly rewards to those who take pride in their early Muslim predecessors, join the ranks of the divinely victorious Badr army, and disavow those opposed to the Prophet and his message. In the sixth issue of Sada al-Malahem, for example, al-Qaeda deploys the alternative moniker of Badr, “the Furqan raid,” when it describes the 2008 deadly attack on the American embassy in Saana, Yemen.21 In the accompanying text, al-Qaeda military leader Abu Hurayra al-Sana’ani emphasizes various shared elements between the Furqan raid and the embassy attack, namely that both occurred in the location of the Arabian Peninsula, both occurred on the seventeenth day of Ramadan, and both were a contest between Muslims and nonbelievers.22 The parallels between the two events imply that if contemporary fighters follow the lead of their predecessors, they can anticipate similar rewards both on earth and in the afterlife. Applied in the context of media systems, the battle of Badr helps define Muslim male youth as a key market constituency for al-Qaeda and ISIS media products. To evaluate the success of proto-states’ ability to reach their chief target audiences, media systems analysts should identify appeals to male Muslim youth (e.g., power, dominance, faith, belongingness, respect), preferred presentational forms of message content (e.g., nashids, ultraviolent visual imagery, etc.), the frequency of such favored approaches by the target audience in the distributed proto-state media products, and the number of target group emigrants coming to the proto-state battlefield or caliphate. A second targeted demographic group highlighted in references to the battle of Badr is young children. While children have little choice in the decision to join the proto-state, the subsequent development of their belief systems as they mature should be tracked to identify future fighters and leaders of the proto-states.23 Media systems analysts should identify coloring books, textbooks, and other products targeting younger audience members. They should assess the coherence and consistency of the messaging, the range of products available, and the languages used to target different age groups.
21 Misk, “From Here We Begin,” 38.
22 Abu Hurayra al-Sana’ani, “Implications of the Embassy.” 23 Bloom, Small Arms.
Transhistorical Militancy 61 References to the battle of Badr also emphasize loyalty to the proto-state as a standard of professionalism for the journalistic corps. From the proto-state perspective, loyalty should occur even at the expense of their biological relations if blood relatives disbelieve or otherwise forestall the accomplishment of collective’s objectives. To assess loyalty to the new collective, media system analysts might track defections from within the journalistic corps and the consistency of media product production output and distribution standards over time.
The Battle of Al-Ahzab Al-Ahzab (trans.: the Confederates; a.k.a. the Battle of the Trench) took place in 5 Hijri/627 CE when the Jews of the Arabian Peninsula, the powerful Quraysh tribe, and other Arab tribes formed a joint “confederate” army and marched to Medina by the thousands to destroy the nascent Islamic state. After the allied forces arrived, they found that the Prophet Muhammad and his companions had dug a trench around Medina and, despite implementing a thirty-day siege, the alliance failed to breach Medina’s defenses.24 Instead, a strong storm with high winds ensued which destroyed the confederates’ tents and forced the enemies of Islam to retreat.25 In the modern day, al-Qaeda and ISIS reappropriate the Battle of al-Ahzab to highlight the aggregated nature of their contemporary enemies and their resemblance to those populating the Prophethood period.26 Proclaiming that al-Ahzab shows “how similar is yesterday with today,” al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)’s former leader Nasser al-Wuhayshi, for example, emphasizes the joint goal of France, England, Saudi Arabia, Yemen, and other foreigners “to establish the so-called Jewish state from the river to the sea, destroy Jerusalem, defeat the resistant heroes in Gaza, and fully control the Peninsula of Islam.”27 Similarly, two months before the onset of the Mosul operation, ISIS Ninawa Province’s The Men of the Trenches remembers 24 Khalid, Men Around the Messenger. 25 Ibn Kathir, Al-Bidaya wa Al-Nihaya. 26 Explicit references to the battle of al-Ahzab are rare in al-Qaeda’s English publications, perhaps in an effort to avoid an inadvertent rallying of a unified enemy force against the proto-state. They do, however, appear frequently in the same group’s Arabic publications, particularly Sada al-Malahem and al-Masrā. See, for example, “A Call from the Barracks,” Al-Masra, Issue 5; Adnani, “They Are Content”; Falastini, “A Word about the Jurisprudence”; Muhaysini, “The Battle of Fate”; al-Shami, “Excerpts.” 27 Wuhayshi, “And They Plot,” 5.
62 Proto-State Media Systems
Figure 3.2 ISIS video aggregates enemies past and present. Source: Ninawa Provincial Media, The Men of the Trenches: 1:07 and 1:24.
al-Ahzab to emphasize the confederation of enemies amassing against its group. The video begins with an animation recalling the battle of al-Ahzab and continues with visual depictions of a contemporary NATO meeting replete with scenes of Western military aircraft and artillery. The accompanying soundtrack employs a narrator who labels the NATO alliance “the confederates of today” as shown in Figure 3.2.28 The groups’ references to current aggregated enemy forces highlight both the overwhelming force that proto-state enemies deem necessary to achieve victory and offer reassurance that the divine will intercede, if necessary, to ensure an eventual triumph by the militant forces. The battle of al-Ahzab also symbolizes that the Prophet Muhammad and his followers did not leave everything to God; they also engaged in strategic thinking, suggesting that contemporary fighters should align their practice of jihad with the expectations of the divine. References to the trench in the battle of al-Ahzab metaphorically separate all Muslims loyal to the proto-state from their enemy competitors. The 2017 as-Sahab video Candles of Light: Necessity of Trenches,29 for example, demonstrates Muslim unity in the face of a united enemy. It features an unidentified, middle-aged man digging a trench to a chant—“My trench is my grave and my grave is my trench”—playing on a soundtrack.30 As the video progresses, a male teenager enters with a shovel to aid the older man. The shot slowly widens to reveal the older man’s identity as al-Qaeda leader Abu Yahya al-Libi. Al-Libi, however, asks the teenager to rest, and as Figure 3.3 illustrates, takes his shovel, and continues to dig the trench. Having symbolically united Muslim leaders with members of the group’s rank and file,
28 Ninawa Provincial Media, The Men of the Trenches, 1:20–1:22. 29 30
As-Sahab Media, Candles of Light #1. As-Sahab Media, Candles of Light #1, 1:55–1:59.
Transhistorical Militancy 63
Figure 3.3 Al-Libi reenacts the trench digging in the al-Ahzab battle. Source: As-Sahab Media, Candles of Light #1, 3:00 and 3:18.
al-Libi stresses the connection between the Muslims facing al-Ahzab in the Prophethood era and modern-day followers of the proto-state: One recalls how the Prophet (peace be upon him), who is the most honorable of the creation whom Allah protected, participated with the companions (may Allah be pleased with them) in digging the trench and carried the soil on his shoulders until the dust covered his chest [. . . .] We should follow the example of the Prophet (peace be upon him) by making use of the means available to us generally and specifically with regards to the digging of trenches.31
While digging, al-Libi points out the benefits of trenches for protecting Muslims in the wake of modern-day airstrikes. Similarly, ISIS recalls the battle of al-Ahzab to metaphorically label Islam’s enemy fighters as a unified collective. In ISIS’s Men of the Trenches video, the narrator praises the proto-state’s pictured militants for following the example of the Prophet and his companions by digging trenches. The narrator emphasizes “it’s the same methodology and the same enemy.”32 The reenactment of trench digging from al-Ahzab suggests that Muslims will be safe under the protection of the divine, if they remain separate from nonbelievers and united. Al-Qaeda also evokes al-Ahzab to encourage the steadfast adherence of its fighters as they face aggregated, enemy forces. In a 2017 audio speech delivered in Urdu, for example, al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent (AQIS) leader Asim Umar remembers the early Muslims struggling during the
As-Sahab Media, Candles of Light #1, 3:30–4:12.
32 Ninawa Provincial Media, The Men of the Trenches, 1:52–1:55.
64 Proto-State Media Systems battle of al-Ahzab and explains why contemporary Muslims should heed the call for unwavering adherence. He asks: “[I]s it only us who are facing such circumstances? Or is Allah bringing those circumstances to Muslims to delineate between the bad and the good and test the truthful ones and the liars.”33 References to al-Ahzab memorialize Muslim endurance during times of great challenge, provide solace to current fighters by including them in transhistorical moments of affliction, and promise eventual triumph over the confederated enemy. Likewise, ISIS’s central media recalls al-Ahzab to urge faith in its fighters’ ability to succeed in their mission in spite of seemingly insurmountable obstacles. One month into the Mosul operation in November 2016, for example, al-Baghdadi issued an audio statement entitled “This Is What Allah and His Messenger Had Promised Us.”34 Here, ISIS appropriates the title from the al-Ahzab chapter of the Qur’anic verse that describes what believers said when they saw the confederates and how it boosted their faith and submission to Allah. Al-Baghdadi reiterates the message, saying the aggregation of enemies against the group “does not increase us, God willing, except in strong faith and firm conviction that all this is but a precursor to the solid victory and a sign of the clear conquest that Allah has promised His servants.”35 Following ISIS’s defeat in the eastern part of Mosul, the group’s photographs in Rumiyah reiterate the importance of courage and fortitude against the modern-day “confederates” by superimposing the same verse from the al- Ahzab chapter in over ten languages over full-page posters of a militant turned to face an incoming barrage of enemy aircraft. As ISIS eventually lost control over west Mosul and struggled in Raqqa in the summer of 2017, repeated transhistorical references to al-Ahzab reemerge in the group’s media campaign. ISIS spokesperson Abu al- Hassan al-Muhajir’s audio statement, “And When the Believers Saw the Confederates,” assures followers that “these trials which the Islamic State is passing through today—of the gathering of the paths of kufr (disbelief) and the factions against it—are but an affirmation of that promise.”36 After losing territorial control over Mosul, ISIS refocused its attention on Raqqa as the key stronghold under siege by those the group considers as the confederates. Figure 3.4, for example, shows a production of al-Hayat Media that begins by
As-Sahab Media, Behold! The Support of God Is Near, 6:30–6:40.
34 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, “This Is What Allah and His Messenger Promised Us.”
35 Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, “This Is What Allah and His Messenger Promised Us,” 4. 36
Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir, And When the Believers Saw the Confederates, 3:24–3:35.
Transhistorical Militancy 65
Figure 3.4 ISIS encourages viewers to interpret the battle for Raqqa as a contemporary version of the al-Ahzab battle. Source: Al-Hayat Media Center, Inside the Caliphate #2: 0:12.
showing a borderless map with a pin on Raqqa. The video’s accompanying text refers to the relocated fighting as “the battle of al-Ahzab.”37 An Australian militant in Syria then appears sitting on the rubble in full military fatigues as he reads the Qur’an. He calls on Muslims to either engage in the al-Ahzab battle in Raqqa or “make the lands of the crusaders your battlefield.”38 In the context of media systems theory, trenches of al-Ahzab battle highlight the value to proto-states of having their media products and distributional outlets compartmentalized from state-based systems. The memory of the battle metaphorically implies that the media systems of enemies will eventually align themselves against the proto-state. Examples of analytical categories that could track indicators of separation include the system’s degree of reliance on encrypted material and platforms, the level of on-the- ground networks and distribution practices used to sidestep opposing online surveillance operations, and speed of proto-state movement between platforms to facilitate ongoing separation when breaches occur. Another form of separation available to proto-state media systems involves the individual journalistic corps members themselves. Proto-state media
37 Al-Hayat Media Center, Inside the Caliphate #2, 0:08–0:16. 38 Al-Hayat Media Center, Inside the Caliphate #2, 3:37–3:40.
66 Proto-State Media Systems personnel can maintain their operations without disruption if they maintain distance from the enemies of their collectives. Potential rubrics useful for tracking the separation of the journalistic corps might include the frequency of aliases used for hiding the identity of the journalists, the ability to successfully hide the location of proto-state media production and distribution centers, and the care with which the locations captured in photographs and videotaped footage appearing in proto-state media products remain unknowable. Al-Ahzab also sets up patient resiliency as an important standard for assessing the strength of a proto-state journalistic corps. Just as the fighters in al-Ahzab chose to wait out oppositional forces in the thirty-day siege, media producers and distributers within the proto-state need to demonstrate resiliency of their media operations when their groups are about to face overwhelming oppositional forces. Accordingly, analysts of proto-state media systems should not limit their tracking of media product output only to periods of high activity; they should also examine continuity of media products in periods of stress on the proto-state. A broader view encompassing both high and low levels of media productivity enables more realistic assessments of whether the journalistic corps is simply waiting to reemerge after aggregated oppositional forces have dispersed.
The Battle of Al-Yamama The Battle of al-Yamama took place on 11 Hijri/632 CE following the death of the Prophet and at the onset of the Caliphate on the prophetic methodology phase. The conflict emerged in response to the rebellion of Arab tribes, including some groups who refused to pay zakat (taxes) to the first Caliph Abu Bakr al-Siddiq in Medina. As before, the followers of the Prophet Muhammad found themselves highly outnumbered by opposing apostate forces. Al-Siddiq’s army of 13,000 fighters (led by Khalid ibn al-Waleed) fought against the army of 40,000 fighters (led by Musaylimah the Liar).39 Both sides refused to retreat and held steadfast for days as they engaged in close, hand-to-hand combat. Al-Siddiq’s army eventually prevailed, but only after his forces slayed Musaylimah. The Battle of al-Yamama was the deadliest 39 The Prophet Mohammad dubbed Musaylima “the liar” after the false prophet attempted to negotiate with Muhammad to divide the land, giving half to himself and half to Muslims. (Akram, The Sword of Allah).
Transhistorical Militancy 67 battle in early Islamic history, killing 21,000 Arabs and 1,200 Muslims.40 Concluding more than two years of fighting in the Apostasy Wars, the Battle of al-Yamama culminated in the first Caliph securing control over the entire Arabian Peninsula.41 Both al-Qaeda and ISIS strategically time the use of al-Yamama as a transhistorical reference point in their newsletters and magazines. During periods of relative peace, both proto-states mostly avoid mentioning al-Yamama despite the victory over Musaylimah the Liar’s apostate forces. In the fifteen issues of Dabiq released between July 2014 and July 2016, for example, ISIS makes no reference to the battle of al-Yamama. Similarly, al-Yamama only appears in one issue of al-Naba’ before September 2016, and even then, it appears as simply one among many referenced battles from Muslim history without any further detail. Similarly, al-Qaeda rarely mentions the battle in its English-language publications Inspire and Jihad Recollections. The high rates of fatalities that both sides suffered in al-Yamama may be the reason for the avoidance as proto-states seeking to expand their recruiting base may not wish to recall a period of Muslim discord and substantial sacrifice. During times of sustained, intensified battlefield pressures from coalition enemy forces, however, ISIS does reference the battle of al-Yamama. Approximately two weeks after Iraqi forces initiated their battle to regain control of East Mosul, for example, ISIS recalls the battle of al-Yamama as an iconic victory that emphasizes the need for steadfast adherence to the Islamic cause. The group’s Arabic newsletter remembers al-Yamama to stress that “Muslims faced different types of hardships as the apostates were about to defeat them [ . . . ] and then they reorganized their ranks, and the companions and the people of Qur’an in particular started calling on people for martyrdom.”42 A week later, ISIS praises the numerous, pious Muslims who sacrificed their lives in the battle of al-Yamama.43 In the context of intensified battlefield operations, historical allusions to al-Yamama seemingly function as a call for bravery against insurmountable odds, unwavering allegiance to the cause of the proto-state, and reassurance that with such bravery, Muslims would eventually achieve great successes. In contrast, al-Qaeda uses the battle of al-Yamama to inspire Arab Muslims to participation in future fights. In the sixth issue of Sada al-Malahem, a
40 Akram, The Sword of Allah.
41 Khalid, Men Around the Messenger.
42 “Al-Adha Feast Is a Ritual,” Al-Naba’, 2016, 14.
43 Abu Mus’ab az-Zarqawi, “And Likewise the Messengers.”
68 Proto-State Media Systems poem titled “We Are Your Soldiers Oh Ossama” praises bin Laden and assures him that an army of followers will fight for the Ummah in the same way that “blood was mixed with dust in Badr . . . and al-Yamama.”44 Al- Qaeda also presents a feature essay on the iconic companions of the Prophet, including Thabit ibn Qays who fought tirelessly against Musaylimah’s army in al-Yamama until he was martyred.45 On the whole, al-Qaeda relies less on allusions to the apostate battle of al-Yamama than ISIS does, perhaps because ISIS’s declaration of itself as a so-called caliphate more closely mimics Caliphates of the past. In the context of the proto-state media system evaluation, transhistorical references to the battle of al-Yamama underscore the need to reexamine the nature and function of journalistic corps. As the deadliest battle in early Islamic history, al-Yamama uniquely highlights the need to track the output levels of the journalist corps in the face of existential threats to the groups and their media campaigns. Associated rubrics might include the ability of the proto-states’ journalism corps to rebound after large-scale shutdowns of the groups’ online accounts and archives, the proto-states’ reactions to state laws banning viewership or the downloading of the group’s media products, the recovery of their media operations after substantial territorial setbacks, and similar tracking regimes after the loss of the proto-states media leaders. In addition to cataloguing levels of media output as a whole, tracking the rise and fall of particular media product types (e.g., photo reports, videos, infographics, magazines, etc.) might also yield insights into the resiliency of the journalistic corps, as different format types require differential skill sets and time requirements in the production and postproduction process. Finally, tracking shifts in messaging strategy during times when proto-states undergo substantial stress could be revealing about indicators of weakening media systems more generally.
The Battle of Al-Qadissiyah The battle of al-Qadissiyah occurred in 15 Hijri/636 CE under the leadership of the second rightly guided Caliph, Umar ibn al-Khattab. The early Islamic State, after gaining control over the Arabian Peninsula, sent armies to fight
44 Abu Hajar Al-Maaribi, “Beautiful Pulpit,” 30.
45 Hamoudi, “The Generation of the Caliphate.”
Transhistorical Militancy 69 the Persians in modern-day Iraq. After the prebattle period of diplomatic entreaties failed to produce a Persian surrender, Umar ibn al-Khattab’s army of 30,000 soldiers defeated a Persian army of the Sassanid Empire, despite being outnumbered by somewhere between 60,000 and 100,000 soldiers.46 The victory was notable not only because al-Khattab’s army defeated a much larger Persian army, but also because the Persian army was qualitatively superior in many ways: it included a strong mix of infantrymen, cavalry, and elephants. The eventual defeat of the Persians at al-Qadissiyah emerged as a decisive moment that led to Islamic control of Iraq and laid the groundwork for the seizure of the Persian throne. It also provided the Arabs with a template, along with the example set by the Byzantine imperial administration, that the proto-state could oversee its own empire. When al-Qaeda and ISIS face opposing forces that do not imminently threaten their territorial existence, the two communities only occasionally invoke the name of al-Qadissiyah as a point of inspiration for contemporary Muslim fighters.47 At those times, al-Qadissiyah simply serves as a reminder to the groups’ militant fighters that size, military power, and money will not save opposing forces from defeat. In the eighth issue of Sada al-Malahem, for example, the Emir of AQAP calls on Muslims to relive the legacy of al-Qadissiyah by waging jihad to liberate the Arabian Peninsula and Jerusalem.48 Al-Qaeda also specifically refers to a cell of fighters in Yemen as the “al-Qadissiyah youth cell” for their planning in the attacks on the American embassy and a political prison.49 The intermittent invocation of the battle’s name reminds followers that the future proto-state fighters should not fear the technological superiority of their enemy forces, as their commitment and faith alone will continue the tradition of Muslim past victories. When ISIS faces existential threats to its territorial control, however, references to al-Qadissiyah become more frequent and elaborate. After the onset of the battle for Mosul in late 2016, articles in both al-Naba’ and Rumiyah highlight the details of al-Qadissiyah to remind adherents of the eventual, forthcoming victory despite the apparent superiority of opposing forces: The Muslims who attended the battle of Qadissiyah were some thirty odd thousand in number, and this was after the Muslims’ numbers
46 Akram, The Sword of Allah; Khalid, Men Around the Messenger. 47 For example, see “Al-Zulaqa Battle,” Al-Naba’, Issue 18. 48 Wuhayshi, “And They Plot and Allah Plots.” 49 Misk, “From Here We Begin,” 28.
70 Proto-State Media Systems had been completed and their reinforcements had arrived. As for the numbers of the Persians, they exceeded 200,000 fighters supplied with elephants.50
The same Rumiyah article then recalls how, despite the odds, Muslim forces prevailed. A similar article in al-Naba’ recounts that for three days, “the Muslims fought here and there, blocked the elephants in steadfastness and patience in anticipation of Allah’s promise of victory and empowerment” and on the fourth day defeated the Persians.51 ISIS also highlights the heroic, patient actions by both male and female figures in the al-Qadissiyah battle, perhaps in an effort to encourage both genders to support the fight. Similar to other battle references from the early Muslim period, those recalling the battle of al-Qadissiyah have potential applications for understanding contemporary proto- state media systems. Al- Qadissiyah demonstrates that a full assessment of a proto-state media system involves consideration of how a group’s system intersects with state-based systems. The experience of al-Qadissiyah makes clear that examinations of the structural considerations should take into account a comparative assessment of the quantity and quality of media production and distribution practices of both sides in the conflict. In terms of quantity, the number of media products that the proto-state produces and distributes should be evaluated in relation to those produced and distributed by oppositional forces. In terms of quality, analysts should also strive to identify qualitative advantages displayed by one side or the other in the conflict (e.g., source credibility, production or postproduction values, etc.) that might prompt heightened and sustained consumption patterns.
The Battle of Ain Jalut In 1260 CE during the kingdom era, the battle of Ain Jalut (trans.: Goliath’s Spring) was fought between the Mongols and the Egyptian Mamluks in Palestine. After the Mongols destroyed Baghdad and ended the Abbasid Caliphate in 1258, they sought further expansion of their “Grand Mongol
50 “Towards the Major Malhamah of Dabiq,” Rumiyah, Issue 3, 29. 51 “Al-Adha Feast Is a Ritual,” Al-Naba’, 2016, 14.
Transhistorical Militancy 71 Empire” into the region by moving westward to defeat the Egyptian Mamluk Sultanate.52 However, Sultan Qutuz, marching with his Mamluk army from Egypt to Ain Jalut, defeated the Mongul forces.53 Despite persistent efforts by the Monguls for half of a century to reverse the outcome, Ain Jalut remains a decisive victory that contained Mongol expansionist hopes in the region.54 ISIS and al-Qaeda utilize Ain Jalut as a transhistorical reference to reassure followers of the ultimate failure of contemporary infidels who seek expanded control over Muslim lands. In the case of ISIS, the group alludes to Ain Jalut during coalition force operations in Iraq. Prior to the Battle of Mosul, ISIS did not reference Ain Jalut in Dabiq or al-Naba. Yet, after the onset of the military operations, the fifty-third issue of al-Naba’ includes Ain Jalut in its list of key victories in Islamic history. It also alludes to the comforting outcome of the historic battle: The Mongols wanted to enter Egypt after they had defeated all the other countries, but the Muslims were steadfast and had patience, so Allah made them victorious and destroyed their enemy. Then they marched to the Levant to evict the Mongols from there and Allah aided them.55
In Rumiyah, ISIS associates the Mongol invaders in Ain Jalut with contemporary invaders of Muslim lands and promises the same outcome for those who keep their faith in Allah.56 Al-Qaeda, by contrast, uses Ain Jalut sparingly. Perhaps because the Mongols did destroy the Caliphate in Baghdad prior to their further efforts at expansion, al-Qaeda includes the conflict only within lists of key historic battles to inspire their followers. The Emir of al-Qaeda in Yemen, for example, tells the al-Shabaab militant group in Somalia that they are now the carriers of the Islamic banner that was held in Ain Jalut against the Mongols, the al-Qadissiyah before the Persians, and Hattin in the fight to liberate Jerusalem from the Crusaders.57 Al-Qaeda calls on Muslim youth in general to “set out for jihad in the path of Allah and bring back to the Ummah the
52 Halperin, “The Kipchak Connection,” 231. 53 Bonner, Jihad in Islamic History.
54 Halperin, “The Kipchak Connection.”
55 “From History: Stories of Victory,” Al-Naba’, Issue 53, 14. 56 “Stories of Victory After Patience,” Al-Naba’, Issue 53.
57 Wuhayshi, “To the People of Empowerment in Somalia.”
72 Proto-State Media Systems memories of Badr, Hunayn, the conquests of Persia and the Roman empire, Hattin, and Ain Jalut.”58 Applied in the context of proto-state media systems, Ain Jalut helps define the role of the state. Proto-state media systems do not consider the state a conduit for public service broadcasting, a source of subsidies, or a regulatory agent. Drawing on parallels with Ain Jalut, state-based media systems constitute structures of empire that pose a dangerous, infiltration threat to proto-state media systems. As a result, identifying and tracking changes in proto-state security protocols, cyber-warfare capabilities, and shifts in offline and online distribution practices over time all serve as indicators of the proto-states’ media systems ability to avoid infiltration by state-based actors.
Transhistorical Fighters While notable battles from Islamic history guide the group-based identities and media apparatuses of proto-states, individual transhistorical fighters are also instructive for understanding needed criteria for evaluating the contemporary media systems of the proto-states. Al-Qaeda and ISIS both deploy transhistorical individual references to highlight notable ingroup and outgroup beliefs and behaviors in relation to their collectives. While the list of historic individuals here is far from exhaustive either from the perspective of history or from the mentions within the large corpus of ISIS and al-Qaeda media products, each is nevertheless noteworthy as a recurrent reference point in the two groups’ contemporary media campaigns.
Hamza ibn Abdul Mutalib The first figure, Hamza ibn Abdul Mutalib, serves as a transhistorical inspiration for able-bodied Muslims to fight courageously on behalf of the proto- state. Hamza was one of the Prophet Muhammad’s uncles who, early on, converted to Islam. He fought with the Prophet’s other companions and killed many enemy fighters in the battles of Uhud and Badr. In the Battle of Badr, Hamza killed the father of Hind bint Utba, the wife of the Quraysh leader Abu Sufyan. She vowed revenge and promised her slave, Wahshi ibn Harb,
58 “Foreword,” Sada Al-Malahem, Issue 4, 3.
Transhistorical Militancy 73 his freedom if he killed Hamza. In the battle of Uhud, Wahshi succeeded by throwing a javelin that delivered a fatal blow to Hamza. Once the battle concluded, Hind bint Utba ventured onto the battlefield, found Hamza’s body, mutilated it, and ate a piece of his liver. Despite her personal animosity and desire for revenge, the Prophet Muhammad deemed him the best of martyrs and dubbed him the “Lion of Allah and of His Prophet” for his persistence faithful service to Islam.59 Both al-Qaeda and ISIS use Hamza to inspire those who would join their proto-states and fight for their respective causes. Calling Hamza the “leader of martyrs,”60 ISIS uses a coded reference to him in its nashid “The Lions of Allah,” which associates the group’s full corps of fighters with the historic martyr.61 The group also rewards its next leader to succeed Zarqawi— Egyptian Abdel Mon’im Ezz al-Din Ali al-Badawi—with the alias Abu Hamza al-Muhajir. Al-Qaeda uses Hamza’s divine nickname to depict lone actors fighting for its cause around the globe and to associate bin Laden with the martyr.62 Al-Qaeda also quotes bin Laden as he invokes the name of Hamza to recruit fighters to help liberate Palestine: “I repeat the oath: by Allah, we shall help you even if we have to crawl on our knees, until we taste what Hamza bin Abd al-Muttalib tasted.”63 Collectively, al-Qaeda and ISIS recall Hamza to inspire all Muslims, regardless of location or status, to fight bravely for the proto-states’ cause. As a source of evaluative criteria for proto-state media systems, the memory of Hamza underscores the value of a sustainable media force. Journalistic corps working for al-Qaeda and ISIS face numerous, hard-hitting operations by state actors designed to disrupt their modes of media production and distribution. Proto-states need their adherents to follow Hamza’s lead and continue their work in the face of extreme challenges—even if those actions result in the loss of media leaders, producers, or distributors. Rubrics designed to evaluate journalistic corps resiliency might include the continued operation of serial media products after state-based attacks on their operations and the ability of the journalistic corps to maintain professional standards after the loss of high-ranking media leaders.
59 Waqidi as cited in Akram, The Sword of Allah, 32. 60 Adh-Dwahwahiri, “A Feeble Plea,” 18. 61 “Lion Cubs of the Khilafah,” Dabiq, Issue 8. 62 For example, see “Excerpts from Al-Malahem’s Q&A,” Inspire, Issue 13, 9; “We Answer You Ossama,” Sada al-Malahem, Issue 13. 63 Bin Laden, “Until We Taste,” 10.
74 Proto-State Media Systems
Abu Baseer and Abu Jandal Abu Baseer and Abu Jandal, two other male companions of the Prophet, serve as transhistorical figures due to their involvement with a pact often dubbed the “Al-Hudaybiyya Treaty.” The Quraysh tribe and the Prophet Muhammad reached an agreement in 629 CE in which the former turned away all Muslims who attempted to perform pilgrimages to Mecca from Medina that year. In exchange for allowing the eventual entry of those denied into Mecca the following year, the Prophet agreed to return any member of the Quraysh tribe that had converted to Islam and fled to Medina. The Prophet also agreed to allow any of his companions who joined the ranks of the Quraysh tribe to remain without any commensurate plan of return. Thereafter, Islamic convert Abu Baseer arrived in Medina and the Prophet returned him to the Quraysh tribe in compliance with the pact. However, Abu Baseer on his return journey to the Quraysh tribe killed one of the Quraysh guards that accompanied him and overwhelmed the other before he ran back to Medina. The Prophet stood firm in his initial judgment and once again returned Abu Baseer to Quraysh. A disappointed Abu Baseer took to the desert and, with the assistance of other Muslim converts from Quraysh (including Abu Jandal), he continued attacking Quraysh trade caravans. Eventually, the enemy issued a request for the Prophet Muhammad to take back the Muslim converts to stop the attack operations.64 In their media products, Al-Qaeda and ISIS recall the experiences of Abu Baseer and Abu Jandal to inspire followers located outside of the proto-states’ controlled territories. ISIS insists, “It is incumbent upon Muslims in the West today to seek to free themselves from the disbelievers’ shackles like their role model Abu Baseer freed himself with his own hands.”65 ISIS uses historical allusions to Abu Baseer to defend their conceived obligation to respond to global acts of disrespect concerning Islam, as “Abū Basīr would become very sad whenever he saw the religion of Islam or the Muslims violated. He wanted to change this evil.”66 Both groups appropriate Abu Baseer and Abu Jandal to authorize the killing and the taking of wealth from citizens residing in countries fighting against the proto-state.67 64 Sahih al-Bukhari, Issue 3, 891. 65 “Group of Abu Baseer,” Al-Naba’, Issue 40. 66 “Good Example of Abū Basīr,” Dabiq, Issue 7, 71. 67 For example, see “The Ruling on Ghanimah, Fay, and Ihtitab,” Rumiyah, Issue 11; Banna, “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow.”
Transhistorical Militancy 75 In addition, both proto-states reward followers who demonstrate exceptional loyalty by associating them directly with Abu Baseer and Abu Jandal. ISIS recalls Abu Baseer’s memory by assigning the alias “Abu Basir al-Ifriqi” to Amedy Coulibaly, one of the group’s gunmen who killed four hostages in a Paris kosher supermarket before he was shot dead on January 9, 2015.68 The group also remembers Abu Jandal by assigning the alias “Abu Jandal al-Bangali” to a killed Bengali ISIS fighter in Syria who had overcome numerous obstacles in his efforts to fight on behalf of the caliphate. ISIS used the Bengali fighter’s alias when highlighting the persistent determination he had demonstrated in his fight for the proto-state cause: Abū Jandal faced many obstacles on his path for hijrah. His plan was to feign travel to an engineering conference in the Middle East as a cover for his hijrah. He would need a reference letter from his college confirming his claim that he was traveling for the purpose of attending the conference, but the problem was that he had already stopped attending classes at the college due to the sinful environment that existed there. Furthermore, as a young, unemployed student he didn’t have the financial means to pay for his flight nor the conference fees. Despite his situation, he maintained firm conviction in the promise of Allah. . . . Placing his trust in Allah alone, Abū Jandal was able to forge a reference letter from his college, and Allah blinded the eyes of the murtaddīn.69
Al-Qaeda similarly remembers Abu Basser, the transhistorical figure that was responsible for the formation of “the first guerilla group in Islam,”70 when the group celebrated the April 15, 2013, Boston Marathon bombing by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsaranev.71 The memories of Abu Baseer and Abu Jandal highlight that even if one does not reside inside the proto-state, they can still faithfully fight for the cause of the proto-state. The combined experiences of Abu Baseer and Abu Jandal also highlight possible avenues for updating conventional approaches for evaluating the structure of the media markets in the proto-state media system context. Related evaluative criteria should focus on a consideration of the presence and level of supportive official and unofficial media operations outside the
68 “Good Example of Abū Basīr,” Dabiq, Issue 7, 68.
69 “Among the Believers Are Men: Abū Jandal,” Dabiq, Issue 14, 50. 70 Abu Mus’ab al-Suri, “The Jihadi Experience,” 19. 71 Banna, “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow.”
76 Proto-State Media Systems territorial boundaries of the proto-state. To assess such endeavors, analysts might identify active central nodes of online activity that circulate proto- state content, evaluate the spread of proto-state media products emanating from those nodes to assess circulation patterns, and ascertain whether the locations of online followers correspond to areas of successful recruitment or other assumed goals of the proto-state.
Umm Amarah and Al-Khansa Al-Qaeda and ISIS recall the histories of two female figures—Umm Amarah and al-Khansa—who participated in battles during the prophethood and the rightly guided Caliphate periods. After pledging allegiance to the Prophet, Umm Amara (a.k.a. Nusayba bint Kaab) fought and sacrificed in many ways on behalf of her cause. She fought in the battles of Uhud, Hunayn, and al- Yamama. She defended the Prophet against those trying to kill him in the battle of Uhud and was badly injured in the process. She gave birth to two sons who also fought alongside the Prophet.72 Al-Khansa, by contrast, was a seventh-century Bedouin who rose to be one of the most prominent pre- Islamic female poets in Arab history. She wrote mourning poems calling for the avengement of the deaths of her two brothers that had occurred in the jahiliyyah period.73 Al-Khansa converted to Islam, became a companion of the Prophet, and eventually took part in the battle against the Persians at al- Qadissiya during Umar ibn al-Khattab’s Caliphate. When all four of her sons died in the same battle, she remained steadfast in her faith and thanked Allah for the honor. ISIS and al-Qaeda remember Umm Amarah and al-Khansa to call on Muslim women to engage in jihad on behalf of their respective proto-states. Both groups repeatedly label women who exhibit courage, bravery, and a willingness to sacrifice themselves and their families for their causes as the granddaughters of Umm Amara and al-Khansa.74 In Sada al-Malahem, for example, al-Qaeda staff writers dedicate the recurring section “The Granddaughters of Umm Amarah” to messages targeting Muslim women. Meanwhile, ISIS named its female moral police force on the ground in Raqqa 72 Ghadanfar, The Great Women of Islam. 73 Cooke and Seymour-Jorn, “Gender in Arabic Literature.” 74 For example, Tamimi, “The Archivist: Stories of the Mujahideen”; “I Shall Die” (Al-Naba’ 2016); Abu Baseer, “The Granddaughters of Umm Amara.”
Transhistorical Militancy 77 the “al-Khansa battalion.”75 ISIS further awards these aliases in instances where women demonstrate particular valor that echo that of the two historic female stalwarts. ISIS, for example, refers to a Moroccan woman who had immigrated to the caliphate and lost her husband, three daughters, and four sons while fighting for ISIS as “Umm Khalid Khansa.”76 Transhistorical references to Umm Amarah and al-Khansa reinforce the ongoing need to examine gender differences in analyses of proto-state media systems. Like their notable forbearers, contemporary female members of the proto-states can and do participate as active writers in the journalistic corps. Focused attention on their authored media products opens possibilities for understanding how women writers call forth both their male and female counterparts to participate in the collective. Beyond serving as media producers and distributors, the two transhistorical figures also demonstrate that individual females can function as an important target audience for media products because of their established roles in facilitating familial patterns of sacrifice on behalf of the proto-states. Accordingly, media analysts should track the identity and numbers of females functioning as part of the journalistic corps, as well as media products produced for and by women.
The Pharaoh In Islam, the Egyptian Pharaoh from ancient times functions as the archetypal oppressive tyrant due to his handling of the Israelites and the subsequent divine intervention in response to his actions recounted in revered religious texts. In those accounts, God told Moses that the Pharaoh should repent his tyrannous ways and release the Israelites from their ongoing state of persecution, but the Pharaoh did not yield. Many Egyptians living at the time similarly disbelieved the authenticity of God’s message. God sent a number of plagues to punish the Pharaoh and the other disbelievers, after which Moses and his followers fled on God’s command. The Pharaoh then led his army to retrieve the Israelites, but Moses parted the Red Sea with his staff and allowed the Israelites to escape. The trailing Pharaoh army drowned at sea.77
75 Faraj, “Al-Khansaa Battalion,” 1.
76 Tamimi, “The Archivist: Stories of the Mujahideen,” para. 7. 77 Blankinship, “Pharaoh.”
78 Proto-State Media Systems While both ISIS and al-Qaeda make repeated references to the Pharaoh in their media campaigns, the two proto-states remember his transhistorical subjectivity in different ways. ISIS recalls the memory of the Pharaoh when denouncing the tyranny of Arab state leaders. Writers in Dabiq, for example, refer to the Egyptian leader Abdel Fattal el-Sisi as the “new Pharaoh.”78 Similarly, a 2016 Ninawa Province video release titled O Sinai Patience . . . Allah’s Victory Is Near denounces the Saud family for supporting “Egypt’s Pharaoh in his war against the Mujahidin”79 and shows a picture of el-Sisi shaking hands with Egyptian soldiers as the soundtrack recounts the story of the Pharaoh from ancient times. Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, ISI’s leader between 2006 and 2010, also remembers the Pharaoh in an audiotape speech where he warns against the Shiite Iraqi leadership after the fall of Saddam Hussein: “The Magos Rafidi Pharaoh today practices the same trick of Moses’ Pharaoh.”80 By recalling the Pharaoh, ISIS warns of fateful consequences in the future should existing Arab state leaders remain in control over Muslim lands. Al-Qaeda, by contrast, reaches back to the story of the Pharaoh to characterize the leaders of the United States. In a video titled To Make It Clear to People and Not Hide It, al-Awlaki explicitly refers to the existential battle that Muslims face today with America as “the battle of Moses and the Pharaoh.”81 Abu Hurairah, a military commander of AQAP, draws an explicit parallel to Barack Obama, noting that he “resembles the Pharaoh in many respects,”82 including his ability to corrupt the Muslim faith. A statement by AQIS draws parallels between the Pharaoh’s actions and how America convinced national armies in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region to form alliances in opposition to true Islam: “[Just as yesterday’s Pharaoh used magic,] today’s Pharaoh has conscripted the media to play that role, to present its falsehood as truth, its injustice as justice.”83 Bin Laden justifies the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon by claiming that they were a response to “the killing of children in Palestine that is a modern version of the Pharaoh’s killing of Jewish children in Egypt.”84 In al-Qaeda’s media campaign, the
78 Abu Maysarah ash-Shāmī, “The Qā’idah of Adh-Dhawāhirī,” 20.
79 Ninawa Provincial Media, O Sinai Patience . . . Allah’s Victory’s Is Near, 7:30–7:33. 80 Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, “The Religious and Political Crime,” 3.
81 Awlaki, To Make It Clear to People and Not Hide It, 21:44–21:46. 82 “An Interview with Abu Hurairah,” Inspire, Issue 5, 26.
83 Al-Qaeda in the Indian Subcontinent, “Stand Up to Today’s Pharaoh America,” 3. 84 Bin Laden, Messages to the World, 145.
Transhistorical Militancy 79 leaders of the United States serve as modern-day tyrants commensurate with the Pharaoh in both word and deed. In the context of proto-state media systems, historical allusions to the Pharaoh have implications for analyzing the role of the state. Contemporary applications of the tyranny of the Pharaoh highlight that proto-states cannot trust state leaders whether nearby or far away, nor any collaborative opportunities that their media operations might have to offer. As such, analyses need to track all relationships that a proto-state media system develops with other state-based media operations or state governments located anywhere around the globe. Possible items indicative of such relationships might include the use of state-based production or distribution apparatuses, levels of state funding of proto-state operations, joint regulatory frameworks for content distribution, or the level of dependence proto-states display for state- based media content integration into their own products. Relative levels of dependence on state apparatuses could signify weakness in the proto-states’ own media system, because as the Pharaoh’s story foretells, the tyrannical nature of such actors will eventually emerge.
Abdullah ibn Ubai ibn Salul and Al-Aswad Al-Ansi The contemporary campaigns of ISIS and al-Qaeda focus on Abdullah ibn Ubai ibn Salul and al-Aswad al-Ansi to illustrate the role of hypocrites in relation to the Islamic faith. Ibn Salul, whose planned ascendency to rule Medina faltered due to Islam’s dominant spread over other religions in the city, eventually converted to Islam. Nevertheless, he became known as the leader of the hypocrites in Medina because he often made fun of the Prophet and other Muslims, he unexpectedly withdrew around one-third of the army immediately before the Battle of Uhud, and he sought discord among Muslims.85 But, even so, the Prophet attended ibn Salul’s funeral and led his funeral prayer. In contrast, al-Ansi, born into the Ans tribe in Yemen, falsely claimed that he was a prophet and assembled an army that claimed control over several former Islamic areas of Yemen such as Sanaa and Najran. The Prophet Muhammad, only days before his own death, anticipated al-Ansi’s imminent death. The Prophet’s companion Fayruz fulfilled the prophecy by
85 Akhlaq, “The Source of the Problem.”
80 Proto-State Media Systems assassinating al-Ansi after breaking into his room while the hypocrite was sleeping. ISIS uses the names of Salul and Ansi to establish the actors, acts, and consequences of apostasy. Most often, ISIS associates ibn Salul with the contemporary Saud regime of Saudi Arabia by frequently labeling them the family of Salul. In a 2015 video produced by ISIS’s al-Janub province, Salul Family: No Loyalty and No Disavowal, for example, the proto-state highlights what it considers the obvious contradiction between the Saud regime’s claim to the monotheism of Islam and entanglements with infidel nations.86 Examples of past Saud transgressions include the regime’s decision to send fatal rockets into parts of Yemen inhabited by Muslims and the decision to protect other religious faiths that were building within the borders of Saudi Arabia. ISIS also associates the apostasy of Salul and Ansi with decisions by contemporary Muslims to delay waging jihad,87 to secularize Muslim lands and its citizens by toppling emblems of shari’a,88 and to follow false prophets.89 The same group specifies excommunication as the appropriate consequence for such deviant acts of apostasy.90 Al-Qaeda uses historical allusions to ibn Salul and al-Ansi to underscore its ability to effectively counter the apostasy of both the Saud and Yemeni regimes. As the proto-state explains, “In this era, we see that the U.S. lifted the banner of the Cross to fight Islam and the Muslims in the lands of Afghanistan, Palestine, and Iraq and occupied the land of the Arabian Peninsula through its agents in the region like Salul family and al-Aswad al- Ansi.”91 Al-Qaeda celebrates those who have both endured and escaped the prisons of Salul family (a.k.a. the Saud family) and al-Aswad al-Ansi (a.k.a. the former Yemeni President Ali Saleh),92 as well as those who have made the ultimate sacrifice in battles with “the army of al-Aswad al-Ansi.”93 The proto- state remembers the man who assassinated al-Ansi for his contribution to the consolidation of Islam in Yemen,94 and it insists that the contemporary proto-state has thousands more like him willing to root out modern-day apostates.95
86 Janub Provincial Media, Al-Salul Family: No Loyalty. 87 “Indeed Allah Has Blessed Me,” Rumiyah, Issue 4. 88 Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, “This Is What Allah.” 89 Abu-Bakr Al-Baghdadi, “As for the Foam.” 90 Adnani, “And I Advise You.”
91 Abdullah, “Can Someone Who Say No God,” 16. 92 Abu Basser, “And the Sheik Has Walked Away.”
93 “Shuhada: Arabian Peninsula,” Inspire, Issue 8, 17. 94 Banna, “Between Yesterday and Tomorrow.”
95 Abu Hurayra al-Sana’ani, “What Bothered Ali Saleh.”
Transhistorical Militancy 81 Applied in the context of media systems, the experiences of ibn Salul and al-Ansi emphasize the need to revise conceptions of the role of the state. More specifically, references to the two individuals stress the need to place a particular focus on those the proto-state considers to be apostate regimes, as the media systems of such existing states can interface with both states and proto-states in ways that render them untrustworthy partners. Accordingly, analyses of proto-state media systems should assess the degree of separation between the systems of those the proto-states label apostate and the systems of the proto-state systems in terms of infrastructure, content creation, funding dependence, and regulatory authority.
Modern-Day Transhistorical Referents Proto-states do not limit their transhistorical subjectivities to notable figures and battles from the distant past. ISIS and al-Qaeda also render individuals from the modern period transhistorical figures that aid current followers in navigating appropriate beliefs and behaviors of the collective. The proto- states’ media products award martyrdom status to contemporary fighters who have given their lives for the promise of eventual rewards both on the battlefield and in the hereafter. More specifically, the proto-states emphasize three types of individual fighters for martyrdom: the shaheed, or a martyr who dies in battle; the istishhadi, or a person carrying out a martyrdom operation (e.g., suicide vests and truck bombs); and the inghimasi, or a person who immerses himself behind enemy lines until he dies. Appearances in the proto-states’ published eulogies or the martyrdom videos work to transform such individuals into transhistorical figures who will serve as models for both the collective as a whole and its media system. Published eulogies and martyrdom videos play a key role in reuniting communities after fatal losses. As a generic form of public address, eulogies perform three purposes: they acknowledge the grief that members of a community experience from the loss; they highlight traits, beliefs, or behaviors of the departed that are worthy of commemoration; and they encourage the community to reunite in the furtherance of the deceased’s notable traits, beliefs, or behaviors.96 When distributed broadly throughout members and supporters of the proto-states, the import of the featured ideals reaches
96 Ware and Linkugel, “They Spoke in Defense.”
82 Proto-State Media Systems beyond the close associates of the deceased to serve as standards for community norms. In the context of Sunni militant proto-states like ISIS and al-Qaeda, ideals embodied in the published eulogies and martyrdom videos take on a magnified value due to their perceived implications for the afterlife. The eulogies and martyrdom videos reinforce that individuals can maximize their chances of enjoying Allah’s welcome into the afterworld at the highest levels of heaven and reduce the chances that they will suffer the punishments of the tomb associated with their earthly sins.97 Proto-states like ISIS and al-Qaeda capitalize on the promotional value of such commemorations through a strategic use of repetition. Featured beliefs and patterns of desired conduct serve as mainstays of their mediated memorials, regardless of the identity of the deceased. The selected, recurrent elements in the published eulogies and martyrdom videos, however, are not random. Instead, they comport with arguments associated with the irreparable, or what communication scholar Professor Robert Cox describes as an argumentative form that serves as “a forewarning, an opportunity to act in appropriate ways before it is too late.”98 The irreparable “calls attention to the unique and precarious nature of some object or state of affairs, and stresses the timeliness of our relationship to it.”99 Cox identifies four strategic implications of the irreparable: “(1) an expansion of the time frame when choices are considered, (2) heightened information-seeking, (3) invocation of the minimum condition rule [whereby future choice is preserved], and (4) the warranting of extraordinary measures.”100 Each strategic implication of the irreparable corresponds to recurrent elements in the proto-states’ published eulogies and martyrdom videos. In accordance with expanding the time frame for making choices, for example, both the published eulogies and martyrdom videos highlight the quality of patience that martyrs demonstrate throughout their lives, especially during the time surrounding their fateful decision to make the ultimate sacrifice for Allah.101 Consistent with the irreparable’s call for heightened information seeking, the eulogies and videos feature their martyrs’ lasting curiosity about the Qur’an, hadiths, and the development of skill sets that are essential for an effective defense of the proto-state (e.g., sharpshooting and knowledge 97 Rustomji, The Garden and the Fire. 98 Cox, “The Die Is Cast,” 232. 99 Cox, “The Die Is Cast,” 229. 100 Cox, “The Die Is Cast,” 234. 101 See, for example, Abu Ziyah al-Muhajir, “The Inevitable;” Aleppo Provincial Media, My Son Hath Proceeded Me.
Transhistorical Militancy 83
Figure 3.5 Al-Qaeda presents the heavenly afterlife as promising for bin Laden. Source: Al-Qaeda, Carrying the Weapon of the Martyr, Episode 4: 0:16.
of weapon repair).102 To maintain the minimum condition rule, the eulogies and martyrdom videos praise the individual’s repeated decision to fight proto-state labeled infidels and apostates without argument or debate with superiors in the proto-states hierarchies.103 Finally, the commemorations highlight an ample reason for fighters to adopt extraordinary measures through repeated descriptions and display of the blissful state that martyrs assume as they move on to the afterlife.104 For an example of how al-Qaeda visualized the promise of the afterlife for bin Laden after his death, see Figure 3.5. The irreparable and its attendant strategic implications also serve as a useful lens for understanding and evaluating proto-state media systems. The quality of patience, for example, emerges as a criterion for assessing the journalistic corps. ISIS demonstrates the patient quality of those who join the fight as illustrated in the published eulogy for Abu Dujanah al-Khurasani. ISIS recalls that he “lived a number of years of his life searching for a path to jihad, until the enemies of Islam themselves—by Allah’s grace placed him 102 See, for example, Banna, “The Martyrdom of Commander Abu Ayman,” Salahuddin Provincial Media, Healing the Wounds of Their Nation #7. 103 See, for example, Barqa Provincial Media, Patience Oh You Land of the Revelation. 104 See, for example, Sinai Provincial Media, The Scent of Life; Kirkuk Provincial Media, The Raid of Abu Suhayb al Iraqi.
84 Proto-State Media Systems upon the path.”105 Al-Qaeda goes further, conditioning leadership in its organization on an adherent’s ability to demonstrate patience. A eulogy for bin Laden highlights that “leadership in religion is not gained except by patience and certainty.”106 The repeated theme of patience in the published eulogies and martyrdom videos encourages current and potential members of the journalistic corps to carefully deliberate before seeking the most high-profile (and more risky) positions in the media hierarchy to ensure that, once achieved, the individual would maintain a steadfast, unyielding commitment to the high honor. Tracking the average time of media leader ascendancy within a proto-state thus emerges as one illuminating indicator of the strength of the journalistic corps.107 The desire to seek knowledge, particularly in relation to the Qur’an, hadiths, and needed skill sets, also helps define the relative strength of the journalistic corps. ISIS and al-Qaeda make extensive use of references to the Qur’an and hadiths to bolster the credibility of the messaging.108 The proto- states also value media production and postproduction knowledge and skills, as discussed in Chapter 2. To assess knowledge levels related to religious texts, media system analysts might check the amount of religious messaging within and across the system’s media products, as well as the correspondence between the original context of quotations from the Qur’an, the hadiths, and scholars’ interpretations of them with proto-state interpretations. To assess knowledge about media production and postproduction, systems analysts could examine the level of consistent application of production and postproduction standards within and across media products, as well as the level of correspondence between proto-state media to global or regional contemporary professional media standards. A third potential evaluative standard for a proto-state’s journalistic corps consistent with the irreparable is the ongoing ability to abide by the directives from the centralized media operations without dissent. A captured document from ISIS released by the Countering Terrorism Center at West Point makes explicit the standards for those producing and distributing media content. The document guides the journalistic corps to suspend personal operations
105 “Part 3: Inspirational Words,” Dabiq, Issue 3, 28. 106 “Martyrdom of Shaykh Usama,” Inspire, Issue 6, 7. 107 For a sample media system hierarchy, see ISI, Minister of Information, “An Interior Media Leaflet Organizational Structure of Media Office.” 108 For example, see Winkler et al., “Validating Extremism.”
Transhistorical Militancy 85 and wait for centralized approval of their messaging before posting it on behalf of the proto-state: We advise you, may God grant you success, to commit the media brothers to follow the policy set by the Diwan of Media, and not to endeavor to publish any article from within the authority of the caliphate without consulting with the Media Monitoring Committee [. . . .] We want you to order all media personnel not to open any accounts, websites, channels, or institutions and have them serve as exclusive publishing platforms for what they document, and to close all the channels, accounts, and institutions that they have opened for that purpose.109
Thus, tracking relative levels of personal media accounts, websites, or media products misaligned with the proto-state standards should function as a useful indicator of a journalist corps’ relative willingness to comply with centralized proto-state guidelines without public indicators of dissent.
Summary and Conclusions The existential need for proto-states to procure and maintain territorial control, coupled with the characteristic patterns of committing aggressive acts of violence against local, regional, national, and/or international governments, elevates transhistorical militancy into a central feature of such groups’ media systems. At times, transhistorical subjectivities take the form of references to historic battles or fighters from the past that call forth and guide the beliefs and behaviors of the contemporary collective. At other times, the subjectivities emerge from patterned traits appearing in published eulogies and martyrdom videos of modern-day fighters who, having made the ultimate sacrifice, help define the community’s appropriate conduct and beliefs moving into the future. While the function of transhistorical militancy contributes to identity formulations of the newly interpolated community, it also sets forth the proto-states’ expectations for a properly functioning media system. As a result, analysts of proto-state media systems should identify and assess the implications of historical allusions in both the ancient and recent past to inform the development of criteria for media system evaluations.
Islamic State Central Media Diwan, “Clarification Regarding the Media.”
4 Transpatial Identity, Community-Building, and Proto-State Media Systems Conceptions of space and claims to sovereignty have a long-standing, interconnected relationship. Spaces work to define and control publics,1 as locational mapping normalizes and legitimizes power relations by empowering those who regulate and control populations contained within their territories.2 Spaces often produce, organize, and distribute cultural power as well,3 because they serve as “physical representations of relationships and ideas.”4 Perhaps as a result, collectives often rely upon spatially infused discourse to help create and sustain their reconstituted imaginaries. Communication scholar Rob Mills poignantly explains how space functions within constitutive discourse in his study of America’s legal and political documents of the early nineteenth century.5 He notes that these early pirates functioned as pseudo-sovereigns, because their captains were often in possession of legal charters granting them rights to govern the conduct of those aboard their ships. As a result, the space of the ships served as “islands of anti-sovereignty floating throughout the non-territory of the ocean, poised to ‘liberate’ ships, their passengers, and their cargoes from the sovereign threads linking them back to the landed territories of a nation-state.”6 For Mills, the conception of piracy works as the antithesis of the sovereign state, emerging as a defining element (by negation) of the American republic and other nation-states. In some ways, the challenges facing proto-states today hearken back to the spatial trials that confronted the pirates of the nineteenth century. Like 1 For example, Wood, Rethinking the Power of Maps; Boyd, “Selling Home: Corporate Stadium.” 2 Crampton, “Maps as Social Constructions”; Harley, “Deconstructing the Map”; Kitchin and Dodge, “Rethinking Maps.” 3 Shome, “Space Matters: The Power.” 4 Marback, “The Rhetorical Space,” 7. 5 Mills, “The Pirate and the Sovereign.” 6 Mills, “The Pirate and the Sovereign,” 128. Proto-State Media Systems. Carol K. Winkler and Kareem El Damanhoury, Oxford University Press. © University of Maryland National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) 2022. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780197568026.003.0004
88 Proto-State Media Systems the pirates before them, al-Qaeda and ISIS have not yet discovered a sustainable way to maintain ongoing operational security and governmental control over captured territories. Both have also failed to convince the global community to accept their sovereign control over lands previously allocated to existing states. Yet the challenges facing proto-states today are even greater than those of their piratical predecessors. While al-Qaeda and ISIS claim to serve “the Ummah” (a transhistorical referent for the entirety of the Muslim community), both groups lack a shipping fleet sufficiently robust to sail the entirety of their envisioned group out to sea. Nevertheless, proto-states, like their other constitutive counterparts, feel “a right to their own state because members of their community have discovered, claimed, and occupied the land.”7 As a result, they must simultaneously negate existing spatial orders while affirming alternatives for their constituted groups. The online environment creates new opportunities for those rethinking current space-based imaginaries. As geographers James Ash, Rob Kitchin, and Agnieszka Leszczynski observe, “geographies are now produced through, produced by, and of the digital.”8 The Internet, with its inextricable linkages to both the material and virtual worlds, opens new opportunities for constituting publics and redefining power relationships.9 Expansive access to the online environment gives voice to collectives once lacking in control and raises the possibility that those hampered by previous spatial constraints can enhance their visibility as collectives on the international stage. The ease of accessing the online environment also gives rise to notable changes in standard understandings of media systems. Online platforms can now operate as technological and ideological sites that help form and mediate connectivity.10 They also function as distribution centers that enable an extensive and targeted reach to unique media markets. They can encourage individuals to join their journalistic corps, function as part of a targeted market(s), or become members of their collectives. Finally, when proto-states lose on-the-ground territorial control, their presence online helps sustain community engagement and involvement of their members and followers as the entities regroup. This chapter explores how the use of spatial discourse helps al-Qaeda and ISIS navigate the current challenges of the global communicative context. It
7 Charland, “Constitutive Rhetoric,” 140.
8 Ash, Kitchin, and Leszczynski, “Digital Turn, Digital Geographies,” 27. 9 Graham, “The Virtual Dimension.”
10 Van Dijck, The Culture of Connectivity.
Transpatial Identities 89 begins by analyzing how the two groups utilize scenic depictions of transpatial patterns to negate national identities and affirm new imaginaries. It then reveals how the groups infuse the characters of their narratives with transpatial meanings in ways that resolve ongoing, space-related controversies. It subsequently assesses how al-Qaeda and ISIS develop the theme of spatial control to legitimize their group as the appropriate alternative to lead the envisioned collective. As in the case of transhistorical references, the transpatial references have implications both for group formation and the analysis of media systems.
Transpatial Scenes Constitutive theorists have long recognized the potential role of space as a narrative site of connection and critique for individuals sympathetic to the ideological perspectives of imagined collectives.11 The messaging of al-Qaeda and ISIS’s media campaigns relies heavily on transpatial configurations, as each group discusses shared matters of concern for Muslims located both in the region and around the globe.12 Such grievances can resonate with those living under oppression,13 as targeted individuals who join militant groups often feel they have suffered ethnic group or economic discrimination.14 The bulk of lone actors also reportedly harbor “some personal grievance or vendetta, triggered by a perceived injustice.”15 Al-Qaeda and ISIS highlight the shared physical, sociopolitical, and economic hardships of Muslims who lack control over the lands they populate. Both groups, for example, criticize contemporary states for failing to physically protect their Muslim citizens. Al-Qaeda videos in the possession of 11 Charland, “Constitutive Rhetoric”; Leff and Utley, “Instrumental and Constitutive Rhetoric.” 12 Abadi, “Daesh Media Strategies”; Braniff and Moghadam, “Towards Global Jihadism”; Campana and Ducol, “Voices of the ‘Caucasus Emirate;’ ” Holt et al., “Political Radicalization on the Internet”; Lemieux and Asal, “Grievance, Social Dominance Orientation”; Menkhaus, “Al-Shabaab and Social Media”; Barzegar, Powers, and El-Karhili, Civil Approaches to Confronting; Rogan, From ’Abû Reuter to ’Irhâbî 007; Thurston, “ ‘The Disease Is Unbelief ’ ”; Winter, “The Virtual ‘Caliphate: Understanding’ ”; Wright et al., The Jihadi Threat. 13 Hafez, “Martyrdom Mythology in Iraq.” 14 Crenshaw, “The Causes of Terrorism”; Buendia, “The State-Moro Armed Conflict”; Ergil, “The Kurdish Question”; Gates and Podder, “Social Media, Recruitment”; Ghatak and Prins, “The Homegrown Threat”; Ogharanduku, “Violent Extremism”; Piazza, “Poverty, Minority Economic Discrimination,” “Types of Minority Discrimination”; Ragab, “The Gulf Cooperation Council”; Revkin, The Legal Foundations; Turcan and McCauley, “Boomerang: Opinion vs. Action”; Whittaker, The Terrorism Reader. 15 Pathé et al., “Establishing a Joint Agency,” 39. See also Gill, Horgan, and Deckert, “Bombing Alone: Tracing.”
90 Proto-State Media Systems those arrested and prosecuted for terrorism in the United States in the ten years following the 9/11 attacks on the World Trade Center and Pentagon, for example, recount Western military forces’ physical assaults against individual Muslims living in Bosnia, Afghanistan, Tajikistan, Chechnya, Kashmir, Palestine, Iraq, Lebanon, the Philippines, Somalia, and Indonesia. ISIS likewise documents assaults on Muslim bodies by showing the devastating aftermath of coalition force military operations on men, women, and children living in Syria and Iraq. The lengthy list of Muslim-dominated areas in the two groups’ media products confirms the transnational character of the physical offenses against the Ummah and suggests that regardless of location, Muslims need to come together to physically protect members of their own faith. Beyond recounting physical risks to members of the faith, al-Qaeda and ISIS emphasize shared sociopolitical injustices that cross national boundaries to unite the Ummah. As Figure 4.1 illustrates, the Global Islamic Media Front released a 2008 al-Qaeda video The Mujahidin World Cup to highlight how individual members of the Islamic faith around the globe face societal
Figure 4.1 Al-Qaeda uses the World Cup experience to denounce Western cultural infiltration into Muslim societies. Source: Global Islamic Media Front, The Mujahidin World Cup: 0:48.
Transpatial Identities 91
Figure 4.2 Abu Umar al-Najdi enumerates social grievances facing Muslims in Saudi Arabia. Source: Aleppo Provincial Media, The End of the Association: 4.24.
risks and pressures.16 The video displays Arabic teletype denouncing the Arab media for transmitting “the smallest detail of the World Cup”17 to intentionally “distract our Muslim youth . . . [and] spread vice.”18 The video segment concludes that the goal is to “push young Muslims away from their religion and turn them into an animal ride for the Crusader West to control however they wish.”19 Whether by simple distraction or through the growth of liberalized challenges to religious orthodoxy, al-Qaeda insists that the influence and assimilation of norms from competing cultures pose a threat to the Ummah that members of the faith must resist. In a similar vein, ISIS’s Aleppo province released a 2016 video titled The End of the Association and the Expansion of Hisba20 to emphasize the sociopolitical grievances emanating from Saudi Arabia’s project to dismantle the Promotion of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice Association. The video opens with a Saudi militant with the alias Abu Umar al-Najdi shown against a pristine green field with a flowing water stream to his left. Figure 4.2 displays al-Najdi as he recounts several social grievances facing Muslims that include
16 Global Islamic Media Front, The Mujahidin World Cup.
17 Global Islamic Media Front, The Mujahidin World Cup, 1:40–1:45. 18 Global Islamic Media Front, The Mujahidin World Cup, 1:45–1:50. 19 Global Islamic Media Front, The Mujahidin World Cup, 1:52–1:57. 20 Aleppo Provincial Media, The End of the Association.
92 Proto-State Media Systems the implementation of a French legal system to organize the workforce, the airing of corrupt TV series on Saudi channels, the organizing of interfaith dialogues, and the spread of books of atheism through book fairs. The video reaches its climax when a member of the Promotion of Virtue and Prohibition of Vice Association in Saudi Arabia finds himself arrested by force as he seeks to stop people from dancing in public. The accompanying soundtrack intones, “Oh my Ummah, sadness is filling me, why do we bow? Why is your trip ending and why are you taking off the cloth of dignity?”21 By recalling perceived cultural assaults on the beliefs of those who follow the Islamic faith, al-Qaeda and ISIS position the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region’s national actors and their allies in binary opposition to rank-and-file Muslims worldwide. Al-Qaeda and ISIS also highlight economic grievances to help unite their collectives. Al-Qaeda, for example, blames Gulf nations on the Arabian Peninsula for the economic woes of Muslims. A 2009 article in the Arabic- language online magazine Sada al-Malahem illustrates the approach.22 It estimates Persian Gulf oil production at 15 million barrels per day, blames Saudi Arabian collusion with the United States for the artificially low 40- dollar per barrel price, and insists that, even with such undervalued prices, every Muslim should receive 65 cents each day based on an equitable distribution of the proceeds. Throughout Inspire, Sada al-Malahem, and al-Masra publications, al-Qaeda defines the scope of the Gulf ’s corrupt economic practices as reaching across Iraq, the Levant, other Arab countries, Africa, Central Asia, Philippines, Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan. ISIS further localizes the economic consequences for Muslims through a focus on provinces and states. The group, for example, released a 2017 video titled And Fight Against the Polytheists Collectively23 to shed light on how Christians in Egypt control 40 percent of the country’s economy despite making up only about 4 percent of the population. The video showcases three prominent Christian millionaires who appear on the list of wealthiest Egyptians and displays the five logos of large, Christian-owned corporations in construction, steel, automobiles, and telecommunication, as pictured in Figure 4.3. Stories of religious minorities acquiring and hoarding wealth in lands where Muslim-dominant populations reside underscore the lack of economic equality in the region.
21 Aleppo Provincial Media, The End of the Association, 9:59–10:14. 22 Wuhayshi, “And They Plot and Allah Plots.”
23 Egypt Media, And Fight Against the Polytheists.
Transpatial Identities 93
Figure 4.3 ISIS criticizes the accumulation of wealth by five Christian- owned companies in Egypt. Source: Egypt Media, And Fight the Polytheists Collectively: 4:57.
Beyond using space as the scene of past grievances, both groups encourage viewers to think about scenic spaces in futuristic terms. More specifically, the apocalypse, rooted in the Islamic tradition and replete with spatial signifiers, foregrounds events promised to occur before the end of times. Prophecies appearing in various hadiths recording the Prophet Muhammad’s traditions, sayings, and actions see the apocalypse as a series of epic battles (or al- Malahem in Arabic) that will end in sweeping victories for Muslims against the enemies of Islam. Certain specified spaces mentioned in relation to the prophecies of the apocalypse carry key strategic importance for the militant proto-states. As Figure 4.4 displays, al-Qaeda, for example, uses the word al-Malahem itself as a name for one of its main media foundations and as part of the name of al- Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP)’s previous Arabic-language publication Sada al-Malahem (Echo of the Epic Battles). The group perceives the 9/11 attacks on America as the beginning of the Malahem, the battles in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia, and the Arabian Peninsula as ones that prepare adherents for the final outcome,24 and a major battle yet to come as
24 Sufian, “Martydom or the Caliphate.”
94 Proto-State Media Systems
Figure 4.4 The name of al-Qaeda’s media wing spreads an apocalyptic message. Source: “O Aqsa, We Are Coming,” Inspire, Issue 17, 98.
the one that will occur before judgment day.25 Aden Abyan in Yemen, in particular, emerges as a fundamental apocalyptic-spatial reference point due to the Prophet Muhammad’s alleged prediction that a Muslim army of 12,000 soldiers would come out of Aden Abyan and support Allah and His Messenger. Al-Qaeda’s ideologue Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi argues that the hadith could mean Aden Abyan will be the headquarters of the caliphate or, at the very least, will assist the caliphate in repelling its enemies.26 In accord, al-Qaeda uses this hadith to call on Muslims to join the fight against “the Crusader Zionist campaign” in Yemen.27 Citing another hadith that prophesizes Muslims will be victorious in the Arabian Peninsula and against Persia, Rome, and the Dajjal (Anti-Christ), al-Qaeda Central also considers the fight in Yemen as a precursor to more victories in other
25 Ibrahim, “Letter from Editor.”
26 Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi, “A Reply to a Question.”
27 “The Ummah’s Wise Sheikh,” Sada Al-Malahem, Issue 6, 24.
Transpatial Identities 95
Figure 4.5 ISIS emphasizes the Levant as a site of the apocalyptic battles to come. Source: “Part 3: Sham Is the Land of Malahim,” Dabiq, Issue 3, 9.
places building up to the eventual defeat of the Dajjal, the most dangerous enemy of Islam.28 ISIS deploys apocalyptic spatial references more frequently than al- Qaeda and shifts the scene of the final battle to the Levant. As Figure 4.5
28 Baseer, “The Glad Tidings of Victory.”
96 Proto-State Media Systems illustrates, the group labels the Levant “the land of Malahem.”29 According to Islamic tradition, the Levant region is where Jesus will descend, kill the Dajjal, break the cross, and kill the swine. Afterward, justice will prevail across the Earth until Allah sends a breeze that takes the soul of every faithful person.30 ISIS cites a hadith that allegedly says Muslims will defeat the Romans first in Dabiq or in Amaq (both sites in the Levant), then in Constantinople, and finally in Rome. Over time, ISIS has reminded its audiences of the prophecies by using related Arabic terms to name its flagship English-language magazine Dabiq, its news agency Amaq, its Turkish magazine Konstantiniyye, and is multilanguage publication Rumiyah. Further, for its first two years, each Dabiq issue begins by quoting Abu Musab al-Z arqawi stating that Iraq was only a spark that would eventually burn the crusaders in Dabiq. When the Turkish-backed Syrian rebels took control of Dabiq in October 2016, ISIS recast its apocalyptic portrayal by specifying that Dabiq was only a minor battle, while the “Great Malhama of Dabiq” was still yet to come.31 Unlike al-Qaeda, ISIS does not use Aden Abyan as an apocalyptic field, but rather focuses on sites encompassed by its former geographic center of power (the Levant) and its expansionist goals (Europe) to reiterate the future victories that Muslims will achieve. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS repeatedly share Jerusalem as a key site of future conquest. The space has a long-standing history for Islam that raises its value for proto-state followers. Long after the Roman-held city of Jerusalem surrendered to the Arab Muslim army in 637 CE, the Crusader army recaptured the city and committed atrocities against its residents in 1099.32 Less than a hundred years later, the Ayyubid Sultanate army’s decisive victory over the crusaders in Hattin, Palestine in 1187 laid the groundwork for the liberation of Jerusalem in the same year.33 With the declaration of Israel centuries later in 1948, Jerusalem emerged again as an alarming issue of concern for many Muslims around the world. US President Donald Trump’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as a capital for Israel in late 2017, as well as the opening of the US embassy in the city in May 2018, renewed calls for the liberation of Jerusalem in line with Islamic traditions.
29 “Part 3: Sham Is the Land of Malahim,” Dabiq, Issue 3, 9. 30 “Jihad Is Mercy,” Al-Naba, Issue 16.
31 “Towards the Major Malhamah of Dabiq,” Rumiyah, Issue 3, 26. 32 Halverson et al., Mastering Narratives of Islamist Extremism. 33 Man, Saladin: The Sultan.
Transpatial Identities 97 In sum, the use of transpatial references as scenic elements in the media campaigns of al-Qaeda and ISIS works to define the past, present, and future for those willing to identify with the Ummah. The spatial references broaden the scope of Muslim grievances from matters of national or local concern to ones that both explain past and current grievances that impact all members of the faith, no matter where they reside around the globe. Neither group, however, relies upon an open-ended recounting of space-based grievances. Instead, they focus on injustices and inequities that result from the agency (or lack thereof) of existing states to provide for the safety, economic well- being, and sociopolitical development of Islamic citizens. The invocation of the apocalyptic battle sites, by contrast, memorializes and portends predetermined, future victories for the Ummah. Whether in Aden Abyan, Dabiq, Amaq, Rumiyah, or Constantinople, the apocalyptic battlefields serve as sites of future glories for the militant proto-states, while also sending a warning to the groups’ enemies about the upcoming defeats that await them. The militant proto-states’ material presence in and around the battlefields serves as a symbolic reinforcement that the groups respectively qualify as the appropriate, anointed defenders of the faith. The strategic selection of the battlefields for repeated mention in the media campaigns simultaneously legitimizes the proto-states’ militant presence and bolsters the call for members of the Ummah to take part in the achievement of the long- awaited victories before the end of time. The proto-states’ featured transpatial settings also help define appropriate criteria for evaluating media systems. Analysts should track and assess the frequency of recurrent grievances expressed in media products, particularly in instances where those concerns recur in multiple state-based locations. Such patterns may signal likely proto-state expansion plans, locational targets for like-minded emigrants, or emergent recruitment markets. System evaluators should also track the frequency of references to apocalyptic sites over time and the media products named for such sites, as both relate directly to group-based parallelism.
Transpatial Characters The constitutive strategies of al-Qaeda and ISIS, however, extend far beyond the use of space as a potent narrative scenic element warranting viewer action. The two groups also utilize their media campaigns to strategically
98 Proto-State Media Systems infuse transpatial meaning into the identity formations of both individual members and the entire group-based collective. Proto-state use of transpatial character references is far from innocuous. The references serve as defining elements in ways that position individuals and collectives to negate the old spatial order and launch in the new.
Transpatial Identities of Individuals Al-Qaeda and ISIS utilize transpatial discourse in their media campaign to encourage individuals to join the Ummah. The groups repeatedly invoke a path metaphor to call on followers to emigrate and join a fighting force capable of defending the envisioned collective. The path references call on Muslims to leave their previous homelands to join the Ummah as a critical step along their spiritual journeys to Allah. Al-Qaeda’s named martyr Abu Dujanah al-Khurasani, for example, writes before his suicide attack on a CIA base in Afghanistan: “This is a brief letter of motivation to Jihad in Allah’s path which I leave in the mailbox of a Muslim who is wavering between the honor of going forth and the humiliation of staying behind.”34 Supplementing the previously mentioned scenic connections to apocryphal battlefields, ISIS situates itself along the path for individual Muslims, asserting that its newly declared collective “opens the path for the complete unification of all Muslim peoples and lands under the Khalifah.”35 ISIS videos frequently use visual imagery to reinforce opportunities for loyal adherents to proceed along the path. Footage of lengthy lines of recruits walking in single file to reach militant training camps or to march off to battle after the completion of their training recur often in the group’s videos.36 To emphasize the future that awaits those who have already chosen the path to join the Ummah, the two group’s media campaigns repeatedly utilize aliases with built-in spatial references to name those who have emigrated. National birthplace identifiers replace last names, as the following list illustrates: Abu Umar al-Baghdadi (Baghdad), Abu Yahya al-Libi (Libya), Abu Yazeed al-Qatari (Qatar), Muhammad al Sanaani (Sanaa, Yemen), and Abu Zakaria al-Eritri (Eritrea). Not all individuals associated with the 34 Abu Dujanah al-Khurasani, “O Hesitant One,” 65. 35 “From Hijrah to Khilafah,” Dabiq Issue 1, 40. 36 For example, see Al-Jazirah Media, Abo Isa Training Camp; Aleppo Provincial Media, To the Light; Kirkuk Provincial Media, The Raid of Abu Suhayb al Iraqi.
Transpatial Identities 99 two groups have accompanying aliases, but featured leaders, martyrs, and fighters in the materials of the groups’ media campaigns often assume new, space-based identities. The spatial aliases reconfigure conventional national monikers into imagined personal identities that can migrate transnationally on behalf of the Ummah. Through repetition of such place-based identities across the proto-states’ media products, the aliases deconstruct notions of stable populations within current national boundaries, replace them with a newly constituted, international community, and mark spaces for future proto-state victories. Space also works as a motivating factor for those willing to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of the Ummah to reclaim territory. The Aleppo province’s video My Son Has Preceded Me,37 for example, displays a young ISIS suicide truck bomber acting on impulse to secure Muslim control over the faith’s sacred lands. The video methodically relates the deliberate, decision-making process involved in carrying out such an operation. As the boy makes the difficult decision, he teaches his brothers the Qur’an, plays with them, arm-wrestles his father, kisses his father’s hand, watches ISIS videos, learns how to drive the car equipped with a bomb, and so on. Interspersed between these isolated activity segments, however, are repeated moments of personal reflection where the boy stands alone gazing out over the surrounding lands. Repeated visual presentations of the pristine territory of Dabiq suggest the possibility of a future time when Muslims—not current states—control the lands of those having the courage and commitment to fight for their faith. ISIS and al-Qaeda also utilize transpatial identity constructions to characterize the martyrs for the Ummah who benefit in the afterlife. In virtually all of the martyrs’ published eulogies, the two groups name the birthplace, emigration destination, and death site of the individual. In Inspire, for example, al-Qaeda remembers Abu Ali al-Harithi, a suspect in the bombing of the U.S.S. Cole, by noting that he came from the Shabwa Mountains; faced imprisonment, torture, and beatings in a Yemeni jail; experienced an American drone attack in Yemen; traveled to Afghanistan to fight; and died as a result of an American drone strike in Zinjibar.38 ISIS likewise commemorates Abu Abdullah al-Britani, a group member involved in the recruitment of British citizens, by pointing out that he was born in Britain and emigrated
37 Aleppo Provincial Media, My Son Has Preceded Me. 38 Muhannah, “Abu Ali Al-Harithi.”
100 Proto-State Media Systems to fight in the northern Aleppo countryside of Syria. After noting that al- Britani wanted to carry out an istishhadi (martyrdom) operation in Aleppo, the memorial notes that an American drone killed him while he was fighting in Raqqa instead.39 For the martyrs of the future, such space-based life accounts reinforce both transnational grievances facing Muslims around the globe and the plethora of active battlefields that await them. When aggregated, such eulogized accounts of individual martyrs recognize and replace space-bound notions of stable, national citizenship with venerated records of transpatial fluidity. Al-Qaeda and ISIS hold out the ultimate spatial reward of a place in the upper regions of heaven for individuals who fight and die in defense of the Ummah. Citing a Prophetic hadith narrated by al-Bukhari, al-Qaeda offers that “[t]here are a hundred levels in Paradise specially prepared by Allah for the mujahideen in His cause. Between each level and the next is the difference between the heaven and earth.”40 The official ISIS spokesperson Abu Hassan al-Muhajir adds his reassurance that all committed individuals can achieve the promise of Allah by “conforming to His command, avoiding what He prohibited, and fighting against His enemies in every arena until the religion is entirely for Allah and the entire earth is ruled by the shari’a of Allah.”41 ISIS insists that fighting in the militia alone qualifies as a critical factor for determinations in the afterlife. In Rumiyah, the group cites the words of Sahl ibn Saad al-Saadi, noting that the venerated Imam Malik reported them to him: “There are two hours for which the doors of the heavens are opened, and in which scarcely a supplicant’s du’a goes unanswered: when the call to prayer is given and when the rows are formed [while fighting] for Allah’s cause.”42 ISIS supplements the divine aspect of the call through its creation of a visual imaginary of promised afterlife rewards. The group repeatedly superimposes floating headshots of former militia fighters and martyrs who have given their lives in battle over photographs of clouds in the sky. Al-Qaeda also clarifies that actual emigration is not a necessary precondition for successful adherence to the path of Allah. An article in al-Qaeda’s Inspire titled “Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom,” for example, explains that ultimate rewards will follow those who carry out suicide bombings around the globe. Relying on a hadith that reminds the media
39 “Among the Believers Are Men: Abu ‘Abdillah al-Britani,” Rumiyah, Issue 3. 40 Abu Sideeq, “Imbeciles Who Justify Sitting,” 53.
41 Abu al-Hassan al-Muhajir, “And When the Believers,” 28.
42 Abu Hamzah al-Muhajir, “Paths to Victory: Part 4,” 31–32.
Transpatial Identities 101 audience that Allah has historically put followers he loves through trials, the article provides a compelling cost-benefit argument for those deciding to die for the cause: “The result of these trials would be the highest levels of Paradise, the pleasure of Allah, heavens in the hearts in this world, and external pleasure in the Afterlife.”43 Achieving the ultimate spatial reward of heaven for martyrs and other fighters of the Ummah functions constitutively in several ways. The insistence that acts of self-sacrifice uniquely position individuals for acceptance into heaven moves beyond the well-established view that constitutive discourse simply establishes boundaries between ingroup and outgroup members. The use of heaven as a transpatial strategy creates a hierarchy of preferred actors within the global collective whose beliefs and behaviors help shape the individual identity within the group. The approach also assures individuals deciding whether to join the group that sufficient space exists in Paradise for all who fight for the cause. Both groups remind their followers of the oft- quoted verse of the Al Imran Qur’anic chapter that presents Paradise that has a width “equivalent to the width of the heavens and the earth, prepared for the pious.”44 Finally, the conception of the heavenly reward transcends the secular-drawn boundaries of current nation-states in ways that offer eternal rewards for those choosing membership in the new collective. In sum, al-Qaeda and ISIS rhetorically construct individual members of the Ummah as transpatial vessels that simultaneously challenge existing state structures while reaffirming a new assemblage. The proto-states’ multimodal invocation of the path metaphor functions as a patterned model for leaving behind of the scenic disappointments of the past with a seamless movement toward a more promising future. The repeated transpatial form of the aliases and martyr eulogies memorializes former nation-based identities with personal reminders of Muslim life under the proto-state alternative. Through repetition and aggregation, the same transpatial forms reinforce the global makeup of the Ummah whose members can achieve rewards in the eternal afterlife. Individually based transpatial references also have implications for proto-state media system analysis. Media analysts should recognize that key members of the journalistic corps may emerge from any place around the globe and can change their locations at any time. Nevertheless, attention to
43 AQ Chef, “Make a Bomb,” 33.
44 Umm Sumayyah al-Muhājirah, “They Are Not Lawful Spouses,” 46.
102 Proto-State Media Systems the space-based monikers of proto-state media operatives can yield insights into target markets and areas of recruitment for future members of the journalistic corps. Finally, and perhaps most importantly, the online locations of individual media operatives (whether official or “fanboys”) need tracking and evaluation for their demonstrated capacity to produce and distribute media content.
Transpatial Identity of Groups Beyond individual iterations of space-based identities, the names of the proto-states themselves position transpatial identity formulations at the core of the newly constituted communities. Al-Qaeda’s name translates to the “base” or “foundation,” implying the group functions as a foundational building block of a larger structure. Each time the moniker appears, it reinforces the group’s identity as the base of operations and as the center of the group’s centralized, military command and control. While the concept of a base or foundation highlights notions of stability, neither translation rules out movement and expansion as necessary to house the group and to sustain it in the face of challenges from traditional nation-states. By contrast, the first three iterations of ISIS’s name—al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), and Dawlat al-Islam fi al-Iraq wal-Sham (Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant)—explicitly present a fixed spatial identity tied to an existing nation-state. The Islamic State moniker, adopted after the group declared itself a caliphate in June 2014, drops the geographical confines of the group’s earlier names and renders the area of the group’s territorial control ambiguous and flexible. Such positioning challenges current nation-state configurations by not specifying targeted locations for their self- proclaimed caliphate. Al-Qaeda and ISIS reinforce their desired spatial postures toward existing nation-state boundaries through discourse focusing on the group’s allies. Both groups celebrate when other groups and tribes pledge lifelong allegiance, or bay’ah, to the leaders of their respective groups. The repeated process buttresses the Ummah’s ongoing constitutive force. ISIS’s depictions of these allegiance celebrations often define the participating groups through references to their national or regional origins. Examples include Sinai, Libya, Yemen, Algeria, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria, West Africa, Somalia, and the Arabian Peninsula. The approach of repeatedly naming the existing states
Transpatial Identities 103 where the group resides underscores the failures of conventional nation- states to retain the loyalties of their own populations. In contrast, ISIS offers itself as an effective counterpoint by highlighting its successes in obtaining pledges from Muslim “tribes within its borders.”45 The group reinforces the spatial identity of its new collective by repeatedly displaying mosques, Islamic centers, military battlefields, and other crowded rooms as the places where allegiance pledges occur. Such settings shun federal courts, embassies, or other recognizable state-based apparatuses that signify alliance formation and related activities. Elevating its alliances further, ISIS’s alliances prioritize lifelong pledges to its leader over the temporary national affiliations associated with existing internationally recognized states. Al-Qaeda, by contrast, uses spatial ambiguity to depict new pledges of allegiance to its leader. The group encourages Muslim groups to pledge bay’ah, but generally avoids mentioning either their location of origin or the locations where the allegiance ceremonies take place. Eschewing ISIS’s strategy of explicitly emphasizing the failure of nation-states in the region to maintain the loyalty of their populations, al-Qaeda keeps the location of its affiliate groups nebulous. The proto-state further blurs the location-based identities of its affiliated groups by labeling those who pledge in transpatial terms. AQAP operates out of Yemen and Saudi Arabia. Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM) covers followers in Algeria, Morocco, and Mali. Al-Shabaab particularly focuses on East African territories in Somalia. Each of the affiliate’s names focuses on areas unconfined by the existing boundaries of current nation-states. The locational ambiguity of the group and its allies renders al-Qaeda an expansive, but unspecified, threat to sovereign nations around the globe. Moreover, the two groups define the identity of their adversaries in spatial terms. As ISIS identifies its enemies, the group distinguishes between “infidels” and “apostates.” The so-called infidels include citizens of non- Muslim-dominated countries at war with the Ummah, such as America and its Western allies. Apostates, by contrast, encompass those from Muslim-dominated countries generally located in the region that have turned their backs on Islam by aiding the infidels. At times, ISIS labels regional places such as West Africa, the Gulf, and the Arabian Peninsula as sites of apostasy, but more typically the group identifies them as states that house Muslim-dominant populations. Table 4.1 lists the countries where
45 “Halab Tribal Assemblies,” Dabiq, Issue 1, 12.
104 Proto-State Media Systems Table 4.1 State Regimes That ISIS Identifies as Apostates Afghanistan Armenia Bengal Chechnya Egypt Iran Iraq
Jordan Libya Nigeria Pakistan Philippines Qatar Saudi Arabia
Somalia Syria Tajikistan Turkey Turkmenistan Uzbekistan
ISIS has named governments, militaries, and/or police forces as apostate in its media products. Creating such an extensive list of apostate states for potential regime change reserves significant expansion opportunities for ISIS throughout the MENA region and beyond. Al- Qaeda similarly utilizes state- based spatial references to define Muslim entities qualifying for outgroup status for its proto-state. Like ISIS, the group refers to America and its Western allies as “infidels,” indicating that its adherents must remove their presence from Muslim lands and punish them if they refuse to go. Al-Qaeda also identifies Muslim states and their governing apparatuses as “apostates,” but the group names far fewer apostate locations than its ISIS counterpart. In Inspire, for example, al- Qaeda writers only mention Afghanistan, Pakistan, Chechnya, Egypt, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Tunisia, and Yemen as under the control of apostate regimes. While al-Qaeda’s identification of apostate regimes is less expansive, the labeling strategy nevertheless functions to mark certain states as vulnerable to future attacks. The decision by al-Qaeda and ISIS to infuse transpatial identities into their groups, individual members, allies, and enemies renders each set of actors with agency for choosing whether an established state or the Ummah is an appropriate entity to control territory across the Muslim world. The labeling strategies work together to destabilize current understandings of state control over territory, as all four transpatial character types reinforce the notion that existing states alone do not (and should not) warrant group allegiance and loyalty in the contemporary environment. At the same time, the weakened character of the groups’ enemies marks future spaces to house the Ummah. Both proto-states, along their allies, promise a better future for members of the Muslim faith.
Transpatial Identities 105 In addition to providing an impetus for reconstituted community- building, group-based spatial references are also revealing about the development of evaluative criteria for proto-state media systems. Instead of focusing on market divisions by whether they exist at the local, regional, or national level, analysts tracking markets should consider whether the online followers reside within the controlled territories of the proto-states, their allies, or their enemies. In the case of al-Qaeda and ISIS, those distinctions emerge from the language of the publication, online tracking of online followers’ locations, stories and images related to state leaders, and so on.
Transpatial Themes Besides functioning as a scenic and character element, concepts of space function as a recurrent narrative theme in the media campaigns of both al- Qaeda and ISIS. More than a decade ago, bin Laden warned of the consequential future that awaited Muslims who failed to come together as a unified collective in a recognizable place: It is incumbent on the Muslims, especially those in leadership positions from among the faithful soldiers, honest businessmen, and heads of the tribes to migrate for the cause of Allah, and find a place where they can raise the banner of Jihad, and revitalize the Ummah to safeguard their religion and life; otherwise, they will lose everything.46
Leaders of al-Qaeda insist that “those who speak out and act on Islam have no boundaries”47 and should commit to a “borderless loyalty.”48 ISIS similarly denounces state borders that divide Muslim lands as artificial.49 Further, the group characterizes all attempts to rely on Arab nationalism as misguided,50 and repeatedly defines the boundaries of its Ummah as remaining and expanding.51 The groups’ thematic portrayal of a borderless existence
As-Sahab Media, State of Ummah Part 1, 48:34–49:01.
47 Abu Yahya al-Libi, “The Middle Path,” 13.
48 Sana’ani, “Roshanara and Taimour: Followers,” 24.
49 “The Murtadd Taliban Movement,” Rumiyah, Issue 10, 42. 50 “A Message from East Africa,” Rumiyah, Issue 2, 3. 51 “Remaining and Expanding,” Dabiq, Issue 5.
106 Proto-State Media Systems eschews the existing world order while advocating for the collective, unified potential of the planet’s 1.8 billion Muslims moving forward. Both al- Qaeda and ISIS emphasize spatial control in their media campaigns through a focus on the actions of their fighters. ISIS uses multiple forms of repetition to establish acquisition and defense of space for the caliphate as one of its central themes. Since late 2015, for example, ISIS has distributed weekly installments of infographics documenting the group’s accumulated victories across a myriad of locations. Examples include West Africa, Ramadi, Sinai, Diyala, Mahin, Falujah, Hamah, Darnah, Anbar, Salahuddin, al-Baraka, Aleppo, Raqqa, Dijla, al-Jazirah, Kirkuk, Ninawa, Palmyra, al-Janub, Tarablus, Baghdad, Dawwa, Khurasan, Aden Abyan, East Asia, Marawi, and Damascus, to name but a few. Even after ISIS loses 84,000 square miles of Iraqi and Syrian territory in battles with coalition forces, al-Naba’ infographics continue the group’s regular—almost weekly— installments of successful military operations.52 Since the fall of Mosul in the summer of 2017, the group’s infographics showcase military victories in Iraq, Sirte, Levant, Khurasan, Mosul, Raqqa, Sinai, Turkey, Palmyra, Aden Abyan, al-Baraka, al-Bab, East Asia, al-Janub, Salahhudin, al-Tabaka, Aleppo, Marawi, Diyala, Tehran, Baghdad, Spain, al-Khayr, Sinai, Las Vegas, Australia, and Kirkuk, to name but a few. ISIS’s regularized accounting and outcome reporting of such localized confrontations establish a pattern of behavior that suggests that, even in the face of overwhelming challenges, the group will continue to fight to secure needed territory for the Ummah. Rather than endeavor to secure needed land holdings to house the Ummah immediately, al-Qaeda, instead, defines spatial control for its group by promulgating successful attacks against highly symbolic spaces. AQAP leader Anwar al-Awlaki recommends attacks against high-value, economic targets, such as “government owned property, banks, global corporations, and wealth belonging to the disbelievers with known animosity towards Muslims.”53 Prominent venues, such as the Twin Towers, Time Square, and a Saudi royal castle, carry particular symbolic value in al-Qaeda’s media campaign. Upon the announcement that an article in Inspire had motivated the Tsarnaev brothers, Abu Ziyad al-Muhajir, an influential theological scholar for al-Qaeda, explains the symbolism of their site:
Lead Inspector General for Overseas Contingency Operations, “Operations Freedom’s Sentinel.”
53 Awlaki, “The Ruling on Dispossessing,” 59.
Transpatial Identities 107 Boston is also some hours away from Washington DC, this makes an attack on its soil a menace to the American capital and its residents. The [Tsarnaev brothers] hit Copley Square the substantial heart of Boston center, whereby many hotels are around. MIT is in the neighborhood, Fenway Park the home ballpark of the Boston Red Sox baseball club is not far, also Boston university and Boston college are located near the blasts [sic].54
The wide range of vulnerable sites near the bombsite suggests that al-Qaeda can exert spatial control in the lands of even the most powerful existing states. When al-Qaeda fighters or those abroad inspired by its media campaign succeed in attacking the enemy, the proto-state messages underscore the vulnerability of their enemies’ internationally recognized spaces. Al-Muhajir, for example, insists that the Boston marathon attack serves as proof that al-Qaeda attacks have pierced the aura of American control: “These heroic bombings have exposed many hidden shortcomings of the American security and intelligence system. They have also proved that the legendary acclaimed power of the enemy’s intelligence is nothing but a big lie indeed.”55 Likewise, al-Qaeda commander Qassim al-Reimy maintains in his “Message to the American Nation” that the success of the bombing attack, coupled with road accidents and poisoned letters, exposes that “the control of [America’s] security has broken away and operations against you has taken a path which can be controlled not.”56 Such descriptions explicitly challenge standard calculations of spatial control by existing state structures. Al-Qaeda and ISIS mark their new sovereign control over territorial spaces both online and offline with standard emblems of national identity. The most recognizable emblem is the black flag, often embossed with Arabic lettering in white (in the case of ISIS) and yellow or white (in the case of al- Qaeda), that typically reads: “There is no God but Allah. Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah.” The Qur’an does not mention the black flag, but several hadiths describe the Prophet carrying a black flag into battle to identify the troops loyal to Islam.57 ISIS displays the flag in 12 percent of all of the images in Dabiq, 9.2 percent of all images in the first three years of the al- Naba’ newsletter,58 and the vast majority of videos posted officially online.
54 Winter and Saud, “The Obscure Theologian,” 21. 55 Abu Ziyad al-Muhajir, “The Inevitable,” 20.
56 Reimy, “Message to the American Nation,” 9. 57 Bahari and Hassan, “The Black Flag Myth.”
58 Issues from 10 to 179 of al-Naba’ used for this calculation.
108 Proto-State Media Systems While al-Qaeda does not rely on such consistency in its use of the emblem strategy, it does still include its flag in 6 percent of the images in the seventeen issues of Inspire and in 8 percent of the images in the first fifty-seven issues of al-Masra. By having movable, recognizable flags to mark captured territories and demarcate the groups’ authentic brand in the online environment, al-Qaeda and ISIS communicate the existence of established Ummah spaces that can readily shift, when necessary. Both ISIS and al-Qaeda translate their Ummah imaginaries into socially constructed, material presences to emphasize their themes of spatial control. ISIS, for example, demarcates the spatial parameters of the Ummah through the creation and distribution of maps of its controlled territory. The maps that ISIS produces do not represent static incarnations; they have fluid boundaries that change over time.59 In 2013, for example, the group disseminated a map imagining the Ummah’s future that included much of central Asia, Africa, and southern Europe. By 2014, the same group distributed another map showing its control over sixteen provincial areas covering large parts of Iraq and Syria, a configuration that would function as the group’s defined territory in many Western media reports circulating at the time. By the summer of 2016, ISIS’s map included over thirty provincial areas. Even after the proto-states lost territory after battles with coalition forces for control of Mosul and Raqqa, the group consolidated some of its provinces under broader headings such as the Iraq Province, the Levant Province, and the Yemen Province. By disrupting the standard state boundaries of regional maps and by simply redefining the area into redrawn provincial boundaries, ISIS openly defies the borders established in the Sykes-Picot Agreement and positions spatial reallocation as a necessary step toward establishing and sustaining the Ummah’s sovereignty. Al-Qaeda also includes maps in their media campaigns, but its approach defines the entire globe as the appropriate venue for future Muslim control. Al-Qaeda insists that all Muslims regardless of where they reside have a responsibility to fight on behalf of the Ummah, given the triple threat from the “Crusaders,” “the Jews,” and “apostates.” From the first issue of the group’s Inspire magazine, al-Qaeda praises its distant members and prays “to grant victory to the righteous servants, the mujāhidīn everywhere.”60 With the location of the control ambiguous but far-reaching, al-Qaeda creates expansive
59 Offenhuber, “Maps of Daesh.”
60 “Operation of ‘Umar Al-Faruq Al-Nigiri,’ ” Inspire, Issue 1, 5.
Transpatial Identities 109 possibilities for which current states are at risk and the eventual location of the Ummah. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS also establish spatial locations for their groups within the online environment. Early on, al-Qaeda encouraged the set- up of independent e-mail accounts for each communication, the use of pseudonyms to conceal personal information, and the use of online public spaces to send messages.61 The group identified six relatively open-source spaces online, including email addresses with hotmail.com, gmail.com, fastmall.net, and yahoo.com where interested writers, editors, designers, or advisors could contact them. Al-Qaeda also specified the encrypted software Asrar al-Mujahidin to facilitate communication in the online environment.62 Since March 2014, however, the group has suspended its public e-mail addresses and ceased to promote them in their publications “for readers’ security reasons.” The proto-state instead moved the bulk of its communications to encrypted sites.63 ISIS imitates many of al-Qaeda strategies for establishing spatial control in the online environment, but maintains a more active presence in the online media space. Like al-Qaeda, ISIS began by posting email addresses to receive opinions, suggestions, questions, or contributions to its online magazine.64 The group’s generic “#IslamicState” hashtag harbors the group’s recent news and Twitter storms (coordinated online campaigns), while space-specific hashtags like #ParisOnFire coalesce reactions to incidents like the 2015 Paris attacks.65 ISIS’s various media organizations also have their own logos to establish brand identity in the online space, as do specific space-based distributers within its online provincial media offices spanning Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Libya, Yemen, Algeria, Saudi Arabia, Russia, Afghanistan, and Pakistan.66 ISIS responded to early attempts to close down its online space platforms by creating new hashtags for the group and shifting to new encrypted platforms on Telegram for enhanced privacy and user security. More recent account takedowns have led to the group shifting to anonymous sharing portals like Justpast.it, Dump.to, sendvid.com, TamTam, and Hoop Messenger.
61 “How to Contact Us,” Sada Al-Malahem, Issue 7.
62 “How to Use Asrar al-Muhajideen,” Inspire, Issue 1. 63 “Table of Contents,” Inspire, Issue 12, 2.
64 See Al-Hayat Media Center, Dabiq, Issue 3. 65 Melki and El-Masri, “The Paris Attacks.”
66 Abu Bakr al-Husayni al-Baghdadi, “This Is What Allah.”
110 Proto-State Media Systems In sum, the theme of spatial control in the media campaigns of al-Qaeda and ISIS simultaneously reinforces the vulnerability of current states and the strength of ISIS and al-Qaeda to (re)claim locations for their collectives. The precise parameters of what spaces the groups will control remain fluid. Such flexibility allows the two proto-states to sustain territorial setbacks without losing an imagined future sense of their collectives. Thus, while the lands are unstable, the media campaign’s insistence regarding the ongoing capacity of ISIS and al-Qaeda to remain in control of an offline or online space continues. Thematic space formulations in the proto-states’ media products also have implications for assessing media systems. Analysts should track the use (or lack thereof) of consistent branding strategies within a proto-state to discern online product movement and overall output levels. Evaluators should also identify which online platforms house the proto-state media products, the locational changes in those platforms over time, the reasons for the related shifts, and resulting gains or losses in market share.
Summary and Conclusion The essential need for al-Qaeda and ISIS to secure land to accommodate their newly constituted communities creates two competing and ongoing rhetorical exigencies for their media campaigns. Facing the simultaneous challenge of defining state sovereignty by negation and affirmation, the groups must delegitimatize current sovereign alliances and legitimize themselves as appropriate overseers of the Ummah moving forward. Accordingly, the groups respond by utilizing space as a dominant, recurrent element of their multimodal narratives—one that infuses their narrative scenes, characters, and themes. The resulting space-based discourse functions both as a vehicle of community-building and a lens for understanding appropriate evaluation rubrics for assessing proto-state media systems. Al-Qaeda and ISIS share many strategies for using space in their media campaigns. Both groups utilize spatial references as sites of modern-day Muslim grievances and as the faith-based, apocalyptic battlefields that hold the promise of redemption. Their space-based monikers identify who qualifies as an infidel or apostate not aligned with the Islamic cause, who can effectively combat existing state structures, and who qualifies to assume control on behalf of the Ummah. Both groups agree that, in the short run, the spaces needed to house their members may be transitory and fluid. Both campaigns
Transpatial Identities 111 also depict current states as fake, temporary sites of power, while individuals and groups that make up the global Ummah have real and lasting allegiances to leaders who will succeed in bringing forth the inevitable outcome of stable Muslim-controlled lands. Where the two groups differ is on the location and visibility of their spatial objectives. ISIS focuses on the broader Levant area as the contemporary site of the upcoming epic battle. It publicly renders more existing states as enemies of its group and uses the visibility of its forces to appear victorious against them, whether in the near or far term. Al-Qaeda and its affiliates, by contrast, see securing the Arabian Peninsula as a first step toward its broader goal of liberating Jerusalem and achieving global prominence. The conflagration of al-Qaeda actors worldwide targets highly symbolic sites through stealth attacks toward its long-term end-goal.
5 Material Presence, Online Attention, and Proto-State Newsworthiness With upwards of 4.54 billion global users online,1 the Internet offers proto- states vast opportunities to expand their membership. Yet finding ways to reach potential followers is daunting due to the sheer scale of competing online content. The Internet houses more than 1.8 billion websites,2 4.66 billion individual Web pages,3 500 hours of YouTube videos uploaded every minute,4 15 billion Telegram messages sent daily,5 6,000 tweets sent every second,6 and 2 million emails sent every second.7 Working within such a saturated context, proto-states need effective, attention-gaining strategies to accomplish their desired end goals of amassing and sustaining their collectives. Violent extremist organizations (even those unqualified for proto-state status) have long understood the value of attracting media attention for expanding their audiences beyond those immediately impacted by their activities. As far back as 1994, communication professor Gabriel Weimann and political science scholar Conrad Winn recognized that contemporary terrorist events encompassed what sociologist Johan Galtung and political scientist Mari Holmboe Ruge named the twelve news values that render foreign news stories newsworthy.8 The growth and influence of the online environment, however, motivated a recent updating of Galtung and Ruge’s seminal and widely cited approach.9 Retaining some of the authors’ originally identified news values that have continued salience while adding others to 1 Statista, “Global Digital Population as of July 2020.” 2 Internet live stats, “Total Number of Websites.” 3 Pappas, “How Big Is the Internet.” 4 Clement, “Hours of Video Uploaded.” 5 Iqbal, “Telegram Revenue and Usage.” 6 Pappas, “How Big Is the Internet.” 7 Pappas, “How Big Is the Internet.” 8 Weimann and Winn, The Theatre of Terror; Galtung and Ruge, The Structure of Foreign News. 9 For metareviews of the more than 6,000 citations of The Structure of Foreign News and recent updates on Galtung and Ruge’s framework for the changing global communications environment, see Harcup and O’Neill, “What Is News? Galtung and Ruge Revisited”; Harcup and O’Neill, “What Is News: News Values Revisited (Again).” Proto-State Media Systems. Carol K. Winkler and Kareem El Damanhoury, Oxford University Press. © University of Maryland National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) 2022. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780197568026.003.0005
114 Proto-State Media Systems better capture the current global media landscape, journalism scholars Tony Harcup and Diedre O’Neill enumerate fifteen news values that contribute to newsworthiness in the present day. These include exclusivity, bad news, conflict, surprise stories, audiovisuals, shareability, entertainment, drama, follow-up, the power elite, relevance, magnitude, celebrity, good news, and news organization agenda.10 The insights of constitutive theory complement both the conventional and revised interpretations of newsworthiness. Rather than maintain an exclusive focus on how material events and activities correspond to gatekeeping functions of news story production, they provide additional, needed foci for assessment in the proto-state context. More specifically, such approaches suggest that media systems analysts should examine emergent groups, their media systems, and their proto-state status as newsworthy material circumstances that embody (or, at least, strive to achieve) constitutive force.
Emerging Collectives as Newsworthy Material Circumstances A recognizable group name reinforces the perceived existence of an emergent collective. Regardless of story content, name repetition across multiple news stories or online searches acknowledges and arguably validates the group’s material presence. Recently, both al-Qaeda and ISIS have achieved notable success in rendering their groups newsworthy, as they routinely attract the attention of international media outlets and online publics. Figure 5.1 reveals that between 2001 and 2019, global media outlets distributed over 3 million stories that mentioned al-Qaeda and over 2 million news items that referred to ISIS.11 Figure 5.2 demonstrates that over approximately the same time span, the relative number of online searches for al-Qaeda and ISIS also showed marked increases.12 10 Harcup and O’Neill, “What Is News: News Values Revisited (Again),” 1482. 11 The source of all news item counts in Figure 5.1 is the Nexis-Uni database. For al-Qaeda, the timespan of all collected news items occurs from 1987 to 2020; for ISIS, the news items include those from April 2013 to April 2020. Throughout Chapter 5, the Nexis-Uni database serves as the source of findings related to news item counts. Except when otherwise indicated, the English spellings of the group names—al-Qaeda (also al-Qaida) or ISIS (ISIL, Islamic State, Daesh)—serve as the search terms in the analyses. We exclude ISIS articles in other contexts (e.g., those related to pharma, pharmaceutical, Pharaoh, and Cleopatra) based on their lack of relevance for this study. 12 The source of data for Figure 5.2 and all other individual search data reported in Chapter 5 is the Google Trends Score database. Google Trends analyzes a sample of Google Web searches to determine the number of searches done over a specified period of time, but it excludes frequent searches
Material Presence and Online Attention 115 700000 600000 500000 400000 300000 200000
1987 1988 1989 1990 1991 1992 1993 1994 1995 1996 1997 1998 1999 2000 2001 2002 2003 2004 2005 2006 2007 2008 2009 2010 2011 2012 2013 2014 2015 2016 2017 2018 2019
News Items on Al-Qaeda
News Items on ISIS
Figure 5.1 Number of 1987–2019 global news items mentioning al-Qaeda and ISIS. Source: Nexis-Uni database.
100 80 60 40 20
2004–01 2004–07 2005–01 2005–07 2006–01 2006–07 2007–01 2007–07 2008–01 2008–07 2009–01 2009–07 2010–01 2010–07 2011–01 2011–07 2012–01 2012–07 2013–01 2013–07 2014–01 2014–07 2015–01 2015–07 2016–01 2016–07 2017–01 2017–07 2018–01 2018–07 2019–01 2019–07
Google Searches for Al–Qaeda
Google Searches for ISIS
Figure 5.2 Annual Google Trends scores for online searches related to al-Qaeda (2004–2019) and ISIS (2013–2019). Source: Google Trends.
from individual users that repeat over short periods. Numbers on the graph do not represent absolute search volume numbers; instead, Google normalizes the data and presents it on a scale from 0 to 100. The Google Trend scores appearing throughout Chapter 5 are summaries of relative activity, not totals of individual searches. Thus, a downward trend line means that a search term’s relative popularity in relation to other search terms is decreasing, while the total number of searches for that term may or may not actually be decreasing. Unless otherwise noted, English spellings of the group names—al-Qaeda or ISIS (also ISIL, Islamic State, and Daesh)—serve as the bases of the analysis.
116 Proto-State Media Systems
Media Systems as Newsworthy Material Circumstances The material presence of a functioning media system also helps establish the presence of an emergent group. When international news outlets name an emergent group’s media products or its distributors as the original source of information in their own reporting, they remind audiences that the proto- state media system is already an established, distinct entity. The high frequency of al-Qaeda and ISIS attacks around the globe provides many chances for the two groups to highlight the exclusive news value of their media systems. Frequent mentions of the emergent group’s media systems reinforce their standing as go-to sources for determining responsible perpetrators and for providing detailed information about violent attacks.13 The proto-state media systems’ exclusive information enjoys a heightened newsworthiness when it assumes an audiovisual form. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS have capitalized on the news value of providing engaging, audiovisual material to convey stories about their activities to the world. Once distributed, these materials then subsequently serve as arresting, attention-grabbing backdrops for conventional media news stories. One of the most prominent instances of this approach occurred in 2014 when mainstream, global media outlets repeatedly displayed ISIS’s video screen grabs of Western hostages on their knees before their beheadings. As a matter of routine, ISIS and al-Qaeda alternate the media platforms and products that convey their exclusive information in ways that reinforce the magnitude of their media presence. The lack of a predictable site of information encourages curious news organizations and other interested consumers to canvass a wide range of proto-state audio, video, and social media platforms in search of the most timely information. As a result, each of the groups’ individual media products and platforms attain added newsworthiness as a potential information source. Emergent groups also rely on the standard sourcing practices of conventional news outlets to highlight the established presence of their media systems. Recognizing that mainstream news organizations typically adhere to a recognized system of ethical and legal responsibilities, emergent groups can anticipate that their conventional counterparts will credit all outside source material, including that recycled from proto-state media products. Yet, as the 13 Bolt labels instances where staged attacks function as media events to widen the spread of messaging the “propaganda of the deed” (The Violent Image, 1).
Material Presence and Online Attention 117 mainstream news outlets engage in these conventional practices, they unintentionally promote the presence of the emergent group’s media distribution centers. One example of this phenomenon occurred when numerous global media outlets cited the ISIS-affiliated Amaq News Agency while reporting the group’s claim of responsibility for the 2019 Sri Lanka Easter bombings. Both the media center’s name and logo conveyed transpatial and transhistorical meanings to observant, like-minded followers with the possible result that the mainstream news media outlets may have unwittingly augmented the spread of the group’s agendas and ideologies, along with the constitutive force of the proto-state media system.
Proto-State Status as Newsworthy Material Circumstances The existence of an emergent group and a media system alone, however, is insufficient to fully achieve the constitutive goals of a proto-state. Certain emergent groups experience material realities that align with the six defining characteristics of the proto-state (first described in Chapter 1). In order to achieve proto-state status acceptance by their targeted publics, the groups associate themselves with events and activities that have both high news value and clear connections to the defining elements of the proto-states. While certain material conditions may have possible linkages to more than one of the defining elements of the proto-state, each tends to emphasize one of the six characteristics.
Ideology, Attention, and Newsworthiness Material demonstrations of a proto-state’s ideology correspond to heightened levels of attention by conventional media outlets and online users. Events with transparent ideological meaning tend to have high news value because they support the news organization’s agenda of conveying cultural boundaries to adherents and opponents. Communication scholar Maurice Charland explains why: “Ideology is material, existing not in the realm of ideas, but in the material practices. Ideology is material because subjects enact their ideology and reconstitute their material world in its image.”14
14 Charland, “Constitutive Rhetoric,” 141.
118 Proto-State Media Systems Widely accepted societal narratives that circulate within cultural communities function as the foundation of ideological messaging,15 because their themes, scenes, and characters combine to model appropriate ingroup beliefs and behaviors for the community. Thus, core narrative elements become useful lens for ascertaining material circumstances that garner ideological attention to the proto-state. One oft-repeated, ideological theme in ISIS and al-Qaeda media narratives is that Christians routinely transgress against Muslim populations.16 The theme has news value because it highlights a conflict with relevance to the Muslim community and the West. Two brothers, Cherif and Said Kourachi, highlighted the theme when they began a January 7, 2015, shooting spree to avenge the Charlie Hebdo magazine’s publication of satirical cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad and his followers. Before the French police found and shot the brothers the next day, the Kourachis had killed seventeen people, including twelve journalists. Amedy Coulibaly, who claimed to have coordinated with the Kourachi brothers to redeem the Muslim faith, shot four individuals in a kosher Parisian market the day after the Charlie Hebdo office attacks. The French police, in turn, killed him. The identity of the proto-state that had inspired the attack was unclear. Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) initially claimed responsibility for the magazine’s office attack, while a video released two days after Coulibaly’s death displayed him pledging allegiance to ISIS. Figure 5.3 reveals that news items mentioning both al-Qaeda and ISIS spiked in the days following the Charlie Hebdo attacks. Online searches from individuals located in eighty-five countries also rose from a Google Trends score of 53 the day before the attacks to 86 and 81 on the two days of the attacks. Online searches for al-Qaeda from accounts located in Arab countries, however, rose even more sharply. Their Google Trends scores went from 0 the day before the attacks to 96 on the first date of the attacks.17 15 Charland, “Constitutive Rhetoric”; Lucaites and Condit, “Reconstructing .” 16 Huntington, in The Clash of Civilizations, proffers the existence of an ongoing clash between Christian and Muslim communities. A growing corpus of scholarship debates the validity of the concept and its ongoing relevance (e.g., see Bottici and Challand, The Myth of the Clash; Eide, Kunelius, and Phillips (eds.), Transnational Media Events; Graziano, Holy Wars and Holy Alliance; Litvak, Middle Eastern Societies and the West; Mahdavi and Knight, Towards the Dignity of Difference; Qureshi and Sells, The New Crusades; Stuurman, The Invention of Humanity). The relationship between events linked to the clash for attracting media and public attention to proto-states, however, remains unexplored. 17 For example, the Google score of 53 worldwide means that searches for al-Qaeda were about half their peak popularity in relation to other Google search terms in a short period prior to the Charlie Hebdo attacks, but the searches increased sharply after the attacks. The most dramatic change, however, occurred in searches for al-Qaeda conducted in Arab countries. Prior to the
Material Presence and Online Attention 119 2500 2000 1500 1000 500 0 2 Days Before Attack
Day Before Attack
Day of Attack Al-Qaeda
Day After Attack
2 Days After Attack
Figure 5.3 Number of global news items mentioning al-Qaeda and ISIS occurring around the 2015 Charlie Hebdo/Kosher Market shootings. Source: Nexis-Uni database.
Besides themes, narrative scenes with perceived ideological meanings are also newsworthy. Recent attacks on the Charlie Hebdo offices and the kosher market, for example, demonstrate that a choice of scene can reinforce ideological conflicts.18 In the context of Sunni militant proto-states, the religious locations of competing faiths, media outlets that disrespect Islam, and other locations associated with civilization clashes all have ideological import that corresponds to higher levels of media and public attention on the proto- states. On October 31, 2010, for example, an allegedly Islamist gunman linked to al-Qaeda shot and killed fifty-two individuals at a Catholic Church in Baghdad, Iraq. On the day of the attack, global news items mentioning attacks, individual searches for al-Qaeda were so few that they did not even register for any Google Trend score. Searches for al-Qaeda from individuals in Arab countries came close to their peak on the date of the attacks. 18 Previous scholarship examines the symbolic relationship between space and terrorism (e.g., see Williams, “British Journalist John Cantlie Appears”; Tuman, Communicating Terror: The Rhetorical Dimensions). Spaaij and Hamm, in “Endgame? Sports Events,” shows how the ideological motivations of lone actors differ when the target of the attacks are sports venues. Berrebi and Lakdawalla, in “How Does Terrorism Risk Vary,” note that the risk of an attack increases when the target is a regional capital or other seat of government. Whether connections between ideology and the scene of terrorist attacks correspond to increases in media stories and online searches, however, remains unexplored.
120 Proto-State Media Systems 1400 1200 1000 800 600 400 200 0
2 Days Before Attack
1 Day Before Attack
Day of Attack
1 Day After Attack
2 Days After Attack
Figure 5.4 Number of global news items mentioning al-Qaeda or ISIS occurring around the 2020 Burkina Faso Attack. Source: Nexis-Uni database.
al-Qaeda jumped 77 percent from the previous day, while the Google Trends score for individuals searching for al-Qaeda worldwide rose from 30 to 43. When the group identity of the perpetrators of an attack remains unknowable, an attack scene that emphasizes ideology becomes newsworthy for each of the multiple groups that have possible involvement. On February 17, 2020, for example, armed Islamist gunmen killed twenty-four individuals, including the pastor, at a Protestant Church in Pansi, Burkina Faso, and burned the church to the ground. Neither al-Qaeda-nor ISIS-affiliated groups in the region claimed responsibility for the attack. Yet, as Figure 5.4 documents, the news items mentioning both al-Qaeda and ISIS spiked on the day of the attack. Worldwide online searches for the two groups also rose from a Google Trends score of 57 the day before the shooting to the maximum peak of 100 the day of the attack. In addition to encompassing the location of terrorist attacks, scenes also include the timing of attack operations to reinforce ideological conflicts.19 19 A number of previous studies have examined the relationship between time and terrorism. Zelizer, in “Seeing the Present,” for example, maintains that terrorism relies on memories of the past to form collective memories of success. Rothenberger, in “Terrorist Group’s Strategic Communication,” notes that terrorist groups time their attacks to minimize their opponent’s media response time of their opponents. Adelman, in “Sowing the Seed,” argues that suddenness and speed of terrorist attacks prompt temporal disorientation and the reanimation of past temporal breeches.
Material Presence and Online Attention 121 As far back as 2000, for example, four al-Qaeda-linked individuals planned to detonate a bomb in a market outside a French cathedral in Strasbourg on New Year’s Eve. The timing maximized the chances that many Christmas and New Year’s Eve revelers would pack the space to celebrate the two holidays.20 However, less than a week before the attack, German police raided a Frankfurt apartment, arrested the group, and foiled their Strasbourg plot. Even though the attack never took place, news items mentioning al-Qaeda increased 32 percent on the day in 2003 when a German court convicted four Algerians for their involvement and jumped 82 percent when a French court later convicted ten others who had helped plan the attack. Attacks specifically timed to correspond with religious holidays that highlight a civilization clash between Christians and Muslims spark heightened media and online public attention spikes. On Christmas day in 2009, for example, al-Qaeda attempted to down a Northwest airliner on its way to Detroit, Michigan. Nigerian assailant Umar Farouk carried a group-manufactured bomb with him through the Yemeni, Ethiopian, Ghanaian, Nigerian, and Dutch airports before a technical glitch prevented the bomb’s full detonation in American airspace.21 Four days later on December 29, 2009, al-Qaeda announced its involvement in the planned Christmas attack.22 By the time al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the failed attempt, global media outlets had quadrupled the number of stories featuring al-Qaeda, which constituted the highest number of news items mentioning the group on any single day between 2008 and 2010. The Google Trends score for online searches related to al-Qaeda also soared. The Google Trends score for online searches from individuals in sixteen countries worldwide moved from 21 on Christmas day, to 75 on December 26, to the maximum peak of 100 on the day al-Qaeda claimed responsibility for the planned attack.
Kraidy, in “Terror, Territoriality, Temporality,” insists that other factors are more important than actually controlling territory, such as the speed of occupancy and vacancy, the image of territorial shifts, and the speed of events producing the virtual caliphate. Finally, Stahl, in “A Clockwork War,” argues that media portrayals of terrorist attacks rely on one of three tropes: deadline/countdown, the ticking clock, or the infinite/infinitesimal war. Again, none of these earlier works focus on how ideological timing of terrorist events enhances attention of individuals or traditional media outlets on proto-states. 20 The Guardian, “Four Convicted of Strasbourg Bomb Plot.” 21 Al-Misk, “The Days of Airstrikes.” 22 Al-Qaeda also boasted that the Christmas bombing attempt, designed originally to turn holiday celebrations into grief, received unprecedented media attention worldwide and strengthened al-Qaeda’s brand. “The Umar Al-Farouk Raid,” Sada al-Malahem, Issue 12.
122 Proto-State Media Systems ISIS’s attacks timed to emphasize the clash-of-civilizations narrative were also newsworthy. While facing immense military pressure in its Iraqi and Syrian strongholds by late 2016, for example, ISIS distributed its third issue of Rumiyah. The online publication touted large, load-bearing trucks as ideal weapons to strike “crusaders” in outdoor markets and festivals. A photograph with accompanying instructions on how to appropriately outfit such vehicles to maximize damage displayed a Macy’s holiday parade with the tagline “an excellent target.”23 One month later on December 16, an ISIS-inspired young man, Anis Amri, hijacked a large tractor truck and plowed it into a Berlin Christmas market next to a church, killing twelve and injuring around fifty others. Individual searches for ISIS on the day of the Berlin market attack corresponded with a 30-point increase in the Google Trends score. Four months later, ISIS attacked Egyptian Copts as they celebrated Palm Sunday on April 9, 2017. The group planted an explosive device under a church seat in Tanta after another suicide bomber detonated himself outside a church in Alexandria. The coordinated holiday attacks killed over forty people. Online searches for ISIS on the date of the Egyptian church attacks corresponded with a 20-point rise in the Google Trends score. However, the number of global news items mentioning ISIS at the time of the Berlin and Egyptian attacks remained relatively constant, perhaps because military operations to liberate Mosul and Raqqa had already attracted the attention of news outlets to the group during the same time period. Furthermore, when ISIS lost its last territorial stand at the eastern border of Syria in late March 2019, the proto-state was quick to respond with another attack timed to coincide with a Christian holiday. ISIS suicide bombers killed over 250 people in attacks on three churches and three hotels in Sri Lanka on Easter Sunday. The number of global news items mentioning ISIS spiked, rising 170 percent the day after the Easter attacks and another 66 percent on the day that the Amaq News Agency reported that ISIS had claimed responsibility. Individual online searches for ISIS in relation to other search topics also jumped, rising from a Google Trends score of 41 to 65 on the day of the attack and from 60 to 100 the day that ISIS announced their involvement in the attack. Al-Qaeda and ISIS’s attacks timed to occur on Muslim holidays, by contrast, do not correspond to similar heightened levels of newsworthiness. Scheduled proto-state attacks on Muslim holidays lack the same news value
23 “Just Terror Tactics,” Rumiyah, Issue 3, 12.
Material Presence and Online Attention 123 as attacks on Christian holidays, perhaps because global media outlets and online audiences consider them less relevant concerns. In early March 2004, for example, al-Zarqawi’s Jama’at al-Tawhid wal-Jihad militant group (officially known as al-Qaeda in Iraq several months later) targeted Iraqi Shia Muslims as they commemorated Ashura in the Iraqi cities of Karbala and Baghdad.24 The coordinated bombings killed over 170 people. Global news items referencing al-Qaeda barely topped 2,400 in the week following the Ashura attacks, a number that paled in comparison to the over 10,000 in the seven days following the Madrid bombings. Similarly, the relative level of individual online searches for al-Qaeda increased from a Google Trends score of 0 to 20 the day after the Ashura attacks, as opposed to the scores spiking from 0 to 100 after the coordinated train bombings in Madrid. In the numerous instances when ISIS perpetrated attacks on Muslim holidays, their actions also failed to attract much public or media attention worldwide. On June 26, 2015, for example, ISIS killed twenty-seven people when it targeted a Shia mosque in Kuwait during Friday prayer services in the holy month of Ramadan. On July 3, 2016, during the following Ramadan, ISIS bombings killed at least 340 people in the predominately Shia Karrada district of Baghdad. Finally, the group chose Eid al-Fitr as the symbolic time to attack Muslims it considered apostates.25 On the first day of Eid (June 16, 2018), ISIS militants in Afghanistan killed 25 people in a targeted attack on a gathering of Taliban members, Afghani security forces, and civilians during a ceasefire brokered to celebrate the religious holiday. Like al-Qaeda’s efforts to attack during Muslim holidays, both ISIS-related increases in public and media attention after the Ramadan bombings were much lower than those which occurred after the Paris and Brussels bombings, even though the bombings in the West killed far fewer people four months later. Neither the global news items mentioning the group nor in the relative popularity of online Google searches for ISIS increased on or around the Eid attack. In addition to themes and scenic elements, certain narrative characters with ideological associations correspond to heightened levels of global news stories and online followers. Characters that attract more attention tend to be those that display the news values of charisma and surprise. California native 24 Ashura marks the day Prophet Moses and his followers fled Egypt from the Pharaoh as well as the day that Prophet Muhammed’s grandson Imam Hussain was martyred in Karbala, Iraq. Although both Sunni and Shia Muslims observe Ashura, Shia commemorations are much larger, more distinctive with a focus on Imam Hussain’s martyrdom, and often involve self-flagellation as an expression of mourning. 25 Eid al-Fitr is the Muslim feast that follows the conclusion of the holy month of Ramadan.
124 Proto-State Media Systems Adam Gadahn, for example, emerged as a notable public figure after he surprisingly announced his decision to emigrate to join al-Qaeda and publicly converted from Christianity to Islam. On October 28, 2004, ABC and Fox News showed al-Qaeda video segments featuring a masked Gadahn in black sunglasses. He used the alias Azzam al-Amriki (the American), spoke with an American English accent, and threatened future attacks in the United States.26 Global news coverage of al-Qaeda soared by over 91 percent on the day the video aired. Internet searches related to al-Qaeda also peaked right after Gadahn’s appearance, moving from a Google Trend score of 46 before the video release to 100 after the young man’s appearance. Perhaps realizing the success of the “American Jihadist” trope for highlighting the collective’s ideological project, al-Qaeda continued to use Gadahn as a charismatic spokesperson for the group. The proto-state distributed more videotapes featuring Gadahn to American news networks. On September 12, 2005, ABC aired one timed to mark the fourth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks. The video showed Gadahn, again with his face covered, praising the attacks and threatening more attacks in Los Angeles and Melbourne. This second Gadahn appearance on American television likewise corresponded with heightened attention to al-Qaeda. The proto-state’s Google Trends score rose from 77 on the anniversary of the 9/11 attacks to 100 on the day the Gadahn video aired. Likewise, news items that mentioned al-Qaeda increased 62 percent in the same period. On July 7, 2006, an unmasked Gadahn made a third appearance on network television. This time, he was sitting next to al-Zawahiri in an al-Qaeda video, An Invitation to Islam27 that called for the killing of US Marines. The global news items reporting on al-Qaeda almost doubled that day, which was quickly followed by Gadahn’s indictment as the first American to be charged with treason since 1952.28 A 50-minute video released on January 6, 2008, or four years after Gadahn’s first media appearance, showed him renouncing his US citizenship and tearing up his US passport.29 His act of defiance similarly corresponded to a notable increase in the relative number of online searches for al-Qaeda. The corresponding Google Trends score rose from 41 the day before the video appeared to a maximum score of 100 the day it aired.
26 Fox News, “Officials Believe ‘Azzam’ Is Gadahn.”
27 As referenced in Michael, “Adam Gadahn and Al-Qaeda’s Internet Strategy.” 28 Panzer, “The Pedagogy of Revolution.” 29
As-Sahab Media, An Invitation to Reflection and Repentance.
Material Presence and Online Attention 125 Over time, Adam Gadahn’s celebrity value for al-Qaeda waned. He surfaced as a frequent figure in al-Qaeda’s media products, often appearing in lengthy videos where he would sit facing the camera to lecture for over twenty minutes at a time. When Gadahn appeared in an October 23, 2010, video The Arabs and Muslims30 to urge immigrants in Paris, London, and Detroit to wage attacks against the West, for example, his call did not attract noticeable increases in either media or public attention. In fact, global news items mentioning al-Qaeda dropped by 24 percent on the day that the video aired, which remained roughly at the same lower level the following day. In sum, material events that align with the proto-state defining component of ideology and the news values of conflict, drama, surprise, charisma, and relevance generally correspond to heightened levels of public and media attention. Both completed and planned attacks enhance attention to the group, particularly when narrative themes, scenic timing, scenic placement, and characters emphasize ideological meanings. Attacks aimed at obvious outgroup members correspond with greater spikes in public and media attention than those that punish ingroup members for simply failing to meet the expectations of the collective. Characters who perform switched loyalties from existing states to the proto-state can also add attention-gaining value, particularly when used sparingly.
Aggression, Attention, and Newsworthiness The material conditions most often associated with the definition of a proto- state are aggressive acts of violence targeting civilians.31 Violent attacks have consistent media salience because of the undue emphasis that conventional media sources place on violence, particularly when it challenges existing institutional structures.32 Yet, despite the media’s penchant for covering violence, the vast majority of group attacks carried out or inspired by ISIS and 30 As-Sahab Media, The Arabs and Muslims. 31 An integral relationship exists between violent attacks and media events. For example, Katz and Liebes, in “ ‘No More Peace,’ ” as well as and Cui and Rothenbuhler, in “Communicating Terror: Mediatization and Ritualization,” maintain that media events associated with terrorism are distinct from standard media events because of their culturally interpreted, disruptive nature. Kraidy, in “The Projectilic Image,” labels particularly violent attacks by terrorist groups as hypermedia events due to their networked contentious forms of mediatization. 32 Barranco and Wisler, “Validity and Systematicity of Newspaper Data”; Earl et al., “The Use of Newspaper Data”; McCarthy et al., “Assessing Stability in the Patterns of Selection”; Myers and Caniglia, “All the Rioting That’s Fit.”
126 Proto-State Media Systems al-Qaeda, as well as the hundreds of proto-state executions of Syrian, Iraqi, Libyan, Egyptian, Yemeni, and Afghani nationals, receive comparatively little to no news coverage from mainstream media outlets. When proto-states’ acts of aggression result in large numbers of civilian casualties in the West, however, the acts of aggression do tend to achieve newsworthiness for both the news media and online users.33 Transportation systems that move substantial numbers of civilians from place to place, for example, serve as recurrent proto-state targets, perhaps because they link to the high news values of exclusivity, bad news, conflict, surprise, audiovisuals, shareability, drama, follow-up, the power elite, relevance, magnitude, and the news organization’s agenda. Al-Qaeda, saw an increase its global audience when it bombed and killed 193 people at the Madrid train system on March 11, 2004. News coverage from media outlets around the globe rose 100 percent the day of the attack and another 112 percent the following day. The relative number of online searches for al-Qaeda likewise increased from a Google Trends score of 0 to 100 on the day of the attack. Similarly on July 7, 2015, when al-Qaeda bombed the London subway during the morning rush hour in an attack that killed 52 individuals, the media coverage and Internet searches spiked. News items mentioning al-Qaeda increased 93 percent on the day of the attack, and online searches for the group increased from a Google Trend score of 1 to 100. ISIS also received focused public and media attention on its group when it targeted and killed civilians using transportation systems in the West. On March 22, 2016, ISIS suicide bombers attacked and killed thirty-two people in the Brussels airport and a metro station. News coverage that mentioned ISIS surged by 135 percent on the day of the attack, followed by another 31 percent increase the next day. The relative level of Internet searches for ISIS also rose, with the Google Trends score spiking from 26 the day before the attack to 100 on the day of the suicide bombings. ISIS conducted other deadly attacks on transportation systems outside of the West, but those efforts did not correspond to the same levels of attention as the Brussels attacks. In fact, as Figure 5.5 illustrates, news coverage mentioning the group actually dropped 25 percent on the day of the attack and another five percent the day following ISIS’s October 31, 2015 downing of a 33 Winkler et al., in “Shifts in the Visual Media Campaigns of AQAP and ISIS,” maintains that in ISIS’s visual media campaign, the number of deaths linked to a specific attack corresponds to alterations in the nature of the group’s media content, while the amount of publicity for the attack matters if high death counts occur.
Material Presence and Online Attention 127 1400 1200 1000 800 600 400 200 0 2 Days Before the Attack
Day Before the Attack
Day of the Attack
Day After the Attack
2 Days After the Attack
Figure 5.5 Number of global news items mentioning ISIS occurring around the 2015 Russian airliner downing in Sinai. Source: Nexis-Uni database.
Russian airliner in Sinai, despite the fact that the attack left 224 passengers and crew members dead. The relative number of online searches did rise a bit, as the Google Trend score moved from 70 the day before the attack to 88 the day of the attack. The heightened focus, however, was subdued in comparison to what had previously occurred in the aftermath of similar bad news attacks on the West. ISIS also emphasizes the material presence of its attacks by targeting entertainment sites where large swaths of the public hold planned gatherings. Such events capitalize on the news values of bad news, surprise, and entertainment. One of the deadliest attacks on entertainment venues occurred on November 13–14, 2015 in Paris where coordinated attacks over a two- day period killed 130 people. The series of ISIS attacks included a suicide bombing of France’s national stadium in the northern suburbs of Saint- Denis during a football game, shooters attacking the Bataclan theater with rifles and explosives during an Eagle of Death metal concert, and other shooters and bombers attacking restaurants and cafes. The three-attack series attracted extensive media coverage and corresponding spikes in online searches. As Figure 5.6 documents, news items mentioning ISIS increased during the two days of the attacks and continued upward until the date the French retaliated in response with airstrikes. The relative number of online
128 Proto-State Media Systems 8,000 7,000 6,000 5,000 4,000 3,000 2,000 1,000 0
Two Days One Day 1st Day 2nd Day Before Before of Attacks of Attacks Attacks Attacks
1st Day After Attacks
Date of One Day Two Days French After After Response Response Response
Figure 5.6 Number of global news items mentioning ISIS occurring around the 2015 Paris attacks on entertainment venues. Source: Nexis-Uni database.
searches also increased, shifting from a Google Trend score of 6 the day before the attacks to 98 by the completion of the attacks two day later. The relative number of searches reached their maximum peak of 100 on the day the French responded to the attacks on its cultural institutions. ISIS inspired attacks on civilian workplaces also correspond to heightened levels of attention to the proto-state. For example, on December 2, 2015, Rizwan Farouk and Tashfeen Malik shot fourteen people who were attending a Christmas Party and a training session at the San Bernardino Country Public Health Department in California after the two had reportedly receiving inspiration for their attack from ISIS media. The violent act occurred at Rizwan’s place of employment and was unique from many others in that one of the assailants—Tashfeen Malik—was a female. News items mentioning ISIS spiked 71 percent the day of the attack and another 50 percent the day following the attack. The Google Trends score tracking online searches for ISIS in 284 countries also experienced a surge, from 73 the day before the attack to the peak score of 100 on the day after the incident. In short, the material presence of aggressive actions that correspond to high news values of bad news, magnitude, relevance, conflict, and the power elite tend to heighten public and media attention to proto-states. Based on the experiences of al-Qaeda and ISIS, acts of aggression against large numbers of
Material Presence and Online Attention 129 Western civilians or against economic or cultural institutions in the West are particularly newsworthy. Global news outlets treat ISIS and al-Qaeda’s acts of aggression in the Middle East as having less relevant news value, but individuals online still conduct Google searches for the proto-states at higher levels. Increases in global new items and online searches also occur when previously attacked nations carry out retaliatory responses.
Governance, Attention, and Newsworthiness To establish and sustain newly constituted collectives, proto-states must demonstrate their comparatively beneficial capacity to govern. To do so, such groups work to undermine existing states either by attacking their institutions of government or by raising questions about whether state government responses to proto-state attacks are sufficient and appropriate.34 They also present the governing structures of their own proto-state as the preferred alternative for governance in large part due to their alignment with the beliefs and expectations of the collective. Proto-states attacks highlighting the vulnerability of existing governments and institutions correspond with heightened amounts of global news coverage and public attention. Such attacks often align with a wide array of news values including bad news, conflict, surprise, audiovisuals, shareability, drama, celebrity, follow- up, the power elite, relevance, magnitude, and the news organization’s agenda. Historically, the September 11th attacks by al-Qaeda serve as the clearest illustration of how a proto-state can garner attention by symbolically targeting the governing structures of an internationally recognized state. The planned targets of the operation included the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, the White House, and the US Capitol, representing the economic, military, and political systems of the US
34 Previous studies indicate that terrorist attacks and their associated new coverage initially produce a short-term increase in public trust in institutions that wanes over time (Gross, Aday, and Brewer, “A Panel Study of Media Effects”; Canel and Gurrionero, “Framing Analysis, Dramatism and Terrorism”; Dinesen and Jærger, “The Effect of Terror”). Acts of terrorism can impact electoral participation levels (Balcells and Torrats-Espinosa, “Using a Natural Experiment”), electoral outcomes (Lynch, “Terrorism, the ‘Blowback’ Thesis”), ongoing political debates (Kolås, “How Critical Is the Event?”), and negative perceptions of governmental Institutions (Asongu and Nwachukwu, “The Impact of Terrorism”). Further, media coverage can recontextualize a terrorist act in ways that influence the political impact of the act (Soomro and Rehman, “Reasons to Remedies”; Way and Akan, “Coverage of Bombings”) and heighten public calls for heightened securitization by the nation’s leadership (Norris, Kern, and Just, Framing Terrorism).
130 Proto-State Media Systems 25000
Figure 5.7 Number of global news items mentioning al-Qaeda in the months occurring around the September 11th attacks on the United States. Source: Nexis-Uni database.
government respectively.35 Figure 5.7 documents that in the days after the three planes hit two of the intended targets, global news stories mentioning al-Qaeda soared.36 The 9/11 attacks brought al-Qaeda strong public and media attention from around the globe. Osama bin Laden, the commander-in-chief of the group at the time, functioned as a charismatic focal point of public and media interest. Three weeks after the attack on October 7, 2001, bin Laden appeared in a short video that aired on Al Jazeera where he commented on the 9/11 attacks, but did not claim responsibility for perpetrating them.37 News outlets rushed to report on the videotaped statement, with news items mentioning al- Qaeda jumping by almost 70 percent the day the videotape aired and another 114 percent the following day. Al-Qaeda, perhaps recognizing bin Laden’s news value as a “commander- in-chief ” if not a “caliph-in-waiting,” began capitalizing on his celebrity 35 The National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, 9/11 Commission Report. 36 The absence of data revealing the individual online searches around the 9/11 attacks relates to the fact that Google Trends did not begin reporting figures until 2004. 37 Associated Press, “Bin Laden Claims Airline Bomb Responsibility.”
Material Presence and Online Attention 131 status. The proto-state released more than sixty audio and video speeches that featured him as spokesperson.38 It also publicized some of his statements as messages to the American people or to Western nations, sent tapes to Al Jazeera and other international media outlets, and released subtitled versions of his messages to broaden his appeal to international audiences. Four days before the 2004 US presidential election, for example, Al Jazeera aired a bin Laden message to the American people where, for the first time, the al-Qaeda leader explicitly claimed responsibility for the 9/11 attacks and spoke about his inspiration for targeting the Twin Towers. The number of global news items mentioning al-Qaeda increased by 74 percent on the day the video aired. In addition, the relative level of online searches for al-Qaeda spiked from a Google Trends score of 46 the day before the video aired to 100 on the date of its distribution. On June 3, 2009, Al Jazeera aired an audio statement of bin Laden warning the American people about the dire consequences of Obama’s foreign policy the day before President Barack Obama’s Cairo speech. News items mentioning al-Qaeda jumped 149 percent from the day before the audiotape’s release. The relative level of online searches also rose, with their Google Trends score increasing from 24 the day before the audiotaped message to 53 on its release date. Spikes in public and media attention to the proto-state, however, did not always accompany bin Laden’s media messages. His videotaped statements focusing more on regional issues were less likely to correspond with increases in global news items than those mentioning the West. For example, bin Laden released two audio statements on May 16 and May 18, 2008 that discussed the topic of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. He called on Muslims to support Gaza, stand against Arab nations maintaining relationships with Israel, and fight Israel and the West. Unlike his explicitly targeted messages to the United States, the two statements did not correspond with a notable increase in traditional news coverage or Google Trend scores, perhaps because the stories were not “perceived to be influential with or culturally or historically familiar to the [global] audience.”39 In fact, the media reporting on al-Qaeda actually dropped by 10 percent on the day bin Laden delivered his second statement on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Besides targeting the vulnerability of symbolic institutions associated with the state, proto-states also work to find ways to undermine existing
38 Al-Jazeera, “Timeline: Messages from Bin Laden.”
39 Harcup and O’Neill, “What Is News? News Values Revisted (Again),” 1482.
132 Proto-State Media Systems governments by questioning the wisdom of their policy choices. In 2014, for example, ISIS repurposed its standard hostage-taking practices to engage in a policy debate with the United States and Great Britain. It relied instead on the news value of surprise when it produced and released an anti-war video series featuring John Cantlie, a British photojournalist that the proto-state had captured in Syria in late 2012. Cantlie appeared in the videos wearing an orange jumpsuit reminiscent of the clothing that prisoners wear at the US detention facility in Guantanamo Bay. ISIS distributed six episodes of its Lend Me Your Ears series where Cantlie appeared as a war protester speaking out against the decision for US-led, coalition forces to go to war. ISIS’s Lend Me Your Ears series directly addressed each of the five generic expectations for US presidential war rhetoric.40 To counter the first expectation of war rhetoric (i.e., reserving the decision to enter war only after the completion of a thoughtful, deliberative decision-making process), Cantlie insisted President Obama was “hastily marching towards an all-out war in Iraq and Syria without paying heed to the lessons of the recent past”41 and that Prime Minister David Cameron’s decision “not to enter negotiations with the Islamic State”42 might have freed the hostages and prevented war. He undermined the second generic expectation—the narrative of a threat to the nation and broader civilization—by maintaining that Western leaders would not explain why they were fighting the Islamists.43 Cantlie also characterized ISIS’s violence as simple acts of retaliation for US aggressive airstrikes,44 and maintained that Islamists would not even exist without the “unrelenting US intervention in the Muslim world.”45 He questioned the third expectation—the ability to sustain a unified public commitment for the military engagement—by claiming that “With our economy largely bankrupt, getting sustained public support for yet more war is going to be nay on impossible.”46 He reminded listeners that America had historically not engaged militarily 40 Campbell and Jamieson, Presidents Creating the Presidency, 227–54. Campbell and Jamieson describe the generic elements of US presidential war rhetoric that the public anticipates prior to the decision to go to war. They include reaching the decision only after thoughtful deliberation; a narrative establishing that a threat to the nation and to the broader civilization exists that necessitates a forceful, immediate response; an exhortation to unified action on behalf of the nation and civilization as a whole; the identification of the appropriate time for the nation’s leader to assume commander-in- chief powers; and the use of strategic misrepresentation to help unify support for the war effort. 41 Al-Furqan Media, Lend Me Your Ears, Episode 1, 0:28–0:36. 42 Al-Furqan Media, Lend Me Your Ears, Episode 3, 5:43–5:46. 43 Al-Furqan Media, Lend Me Your Ears, Episode 1. 44 Al-Furquan Media, Lend Me Your Ears, Episode 1. 45 Michael Scherer, as quoted in Al-Furqan, Lend Me Your Ears, Episode 3, 6:38–6:41. 46 Al-Furqan Media, Lend Me Your Ears, Episode 3, 2:38–2:47.
Material Presence and Online Attention 133 in response to the fates of religious minorities in distant lands.47 He interrogated the fourth—the timing of the decision to start military operations—by noting that the public had not yet rallied around Obama as an effective leader in battle,48 and that President Obama’s decision to enter the war only resulted from the politics of the US midterm elections.49 Unlike the first four generic elements of war rhetoric, Cantlie did not attempt to deny the West’s fifth expectation of war rhetoric: the use of strategic misrepresentation to unify the citizenry to back the decision to go to war. Instead, he enumerated instances of the Western leaders misrepresenting the truth. He insisted that US leaders were using deception to cover up the killing of innocents,50 they had enacted feigned surprise in response to the hostages’ deaths,51 they had told falsehoods about their concern for the fate of religious minorities in Muslim lands,52 and they had misled the public about whether the United States would put troops on the ground in Iraq.53 The deceptions complied with the expectation that the US leaders would use strategic misrepresentation to unite the public in support of a war against ISIS, but they also questioned the credibility of the leaders of ISIS’s enemies. Early on, ISIS’s surprising use of Cantlie as a “hostage critic” protesting the West’s decision to go to war corresponded to heightened levels of public and media attention directed at the group. The introduction and the first two episodes of the video series related to spikes in the global news items mentioning ISIS. The release of the introduction corresponded to an 11 percent increase in global news items mentioning the group, the release of the first episode to an 82 percent increase, and the second episode to a 40 percent increase. The Google Trends score for online searches related to ISIS also spiked on the release dates of the Lend Me Your Ears Introduction (+17) and Episode 1 (+42). Once the novelty of the series dissipated, the newsworthiness of the subsequent releases in the Lend Me Your Ears series waned. The release of the subsequent episodes of the series corresponded with drops in news items, as well as no increases in Google Trends scores. After the Lend Me Your Ears series no longer garnered the same level of public and media attention, ISIS released subsequent videos of Cantlie
47 48 49 50 51 52 53
Al-Furqan Media, Lend Me Your Ears, Episode 4. Al-Furqan Media, Lend Me Your Ears, Episode 2. Al-Furqan Media, Lend Me Your Ears, Episode 4. Al-Furqan Media, Lend Me Your Ears, Episode 2. Al-Furqan Media, Lend Me Your Ears, Episode 3. Al-Furqan Media, Lend Me Your Ears, Episode 4. Al-Furqan Media, Lend Me Your Ears, Episode 4.
134 Proto-State Media Systems displaying abrupt shifts in his performance ritual. He no longer appeared as a sitting captive in an orange prisoner uniform. Instead, on October 26, 2014, he made his debut appearance as a wartime correspondent for ISIS.54 Dressed in plain clothes during his walks through Kobani, Cantlie highlighted images that discredited the Western media’s narrative of ISIS setbacks and emphasized the group’s continuing control over the city. Cantlie then made a similar appearance in Mosul as part of an eight-minute al-Hayat Media video released on January 3, 2015.55 In the Mosul video, he drove a vehicle around the city to showcase the normalcy and prosperity of life in the caliphate.56 ISIS released the final video in this second series on February 9, 2015. In it, Cantlie roamed throughout Aleppo, emphasizing what was presented as the everyday life of those participating in the proto-state’s agricultural sector, schools, markets, and battlefields. While the videos did not produce spikes in online searches about ISIS, his Kobani and Aleppo videos did correspond to a 20 and 65 percent surge respectively in global news coverage mentioning the group on their release dates. Besides negating the governing institutions and policies of existing states in an effort to gain attention, al-Qaeda and ISIS also present their own proto- states as preferred governing institutions. Such pronouncements appeal to the news values of relevance, the power elite, and the news organization’s agenda. Recently, the most poignant example of that approach occurred when ISIS declared itself a caliphate on June 29, 2014. The choice to add the new label simultaneously negated the existing order of established states and affirmed the new, as the notion of a caliphate encompassed an alternative form of governance that usurped territory from internationally recognized states. Global news items mentioning ISIS increased 55 percent the month beginning two days after the caliphate announcement, followed by a heightened, sustained level of media attention on the group in the months ahead. The relative number of online searches by individuals for ISIS also surged, with the Google Trends score moving from 49 the day before the announcement, to 60 on the day of the proclamation, to 81 the following day. ISIS’s reinforcement of its alternative governing structure also corresponded with heightened attention to its proto-state. Rather than rely on the standard state-based monikers of president, king, or prime minister to depict its new leader, the proto-state instead chose the more exclusive and
Al-I’tissam Media, Inside ‘Ayn Al-Islam.
55 Al-Hayat Media Center, From Inside Mosul. 56 Al-Hayat Media Center, From Inside Haleb.
Material Presence and Online Attention 135 surprising title of the caliph, a designation previously awarded only to the Prophet Muhammad’s successors in charge of religious and civic life within the caliphate. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the man who would later become the so-called caliph of Muslims, rose to his leadership position after US airstrikes killed his predecessor, Abu Umar al-Baghdadi. The new head of the group made no public video appearances until July 5, 2014, a move that heightened the news values of exclusivity, celebrity, and surprise. On that day, ISIS released a twenty-one minute video of his Friday sermon in a Mosul mosque. Dressed in a black robe with a long beard, al-Baghdadi stood on a pulpit declaring himself a caliph of the Muslims and the “Islamic State” before he led the prayer. Global news stories mentioning al-Baghdadi jumped 333 percent the day after the announcement of the caliphate and 67 percent the day after his video sermon’s release. The relative number of individual Internet searches for al-Baghdadi increased as well, with the Google Trends scores rising 14 points on the day of the caliphate announcement and 26 points the following day. After his first publicized sermon, al-Baghdadi retained his newsworthiness by avoiding public appearances for the majority of his tenure serving as caliph. Except for rare audio statements, he deviated from al-Qaeda’s approach of foregrounding its leader as a media figure. ISIS instead featured statements by its official spokesmen Abu Muhammad al-Adnani and Abu Hassan al-Muhajir. Five years after the release of al-Baghdadi’s first video, he appeared in his second and last video during his nine-year period as leader. The proto-state distributed the eighteen-minute video on April 29, 2019, one month after ISIS had lost its last territorial stand against US-led coalition forces in al-Baghouz, Syria. Al-Baghdadi looked starkly different from his first appearance. Sitting on the ground and wearing a military-like waistcoat with an AK47 to his right, al-Baghdadi appeared as a military leader checking on his subordinates and delivering his battle plan. Despite ISIS’s diminished power, the news coverage mentioning the group soared by over 230 percent on the day al-Baghdadi made his second video appearance. In sum, the material presence of proto-state governance corresponds to almost all the contemporary news values associated with elevated newsworthiness. Attacks against symbolic institutional structures, coupled with the presence of an alternative governing structure, attempt to demonstrate the vulnerabilities of existing states’ power elite. Surprise voices try to undermine the initial and ongoing case for war against the governance alternative. Appearances by proto-state leaders, whether frequent or rare, also attract the
136 Proto-State Media Systems interest of global media outlets and individuals online, particularly in cases where they challenge Western interests. Notably, steps taken toward the institutionalization of alternative governing systems correspond to the most sustained spike in attention to the proto-states.
Population Control, Attention, and Newsworthiness The need to assert authority over a population housed within controlled territories is essential to the achievement of effective proto-state governance. Leaders, operating as recognized authorities over reconstituted populations, direct the definition of collectives’ behavioral expectations and help formulate the punishments appropriate for those who fall short of those expectations. Material circumstances of population control include those that undermine existing state institutions, as well as those that demonstrate the alternative control structures of the proto-state. The material presences most commonly associated with existing states’ population control efforts are police stations and entry checkpoints. Both serve as recognizable symbols of the power elite and, thus, have news value.57 Both al-Qaeda and ISIS attack law enforcement as part of their targeted acts of aggression against existing states. ISIS, for example, conducted a rolling series of attacks against police stations operating in Middle East and North Africa (MENA) countries during the first week of January 2017. Each of the attacks corresponded to an increase in global news stories related to the group. Global news stories rose 12 percent after the first attack in Samarra, Iraq, 26 percent after the second in Arar, Saudi Arabia, and 65 percent after the third in Sinai, Egypt. The violent acts on the police stations, however, did not correspond with spikes in individual searches for ISIS worldwide, as the Google Trends scores were already quite high at the times of the attacks (Iraq: 69/100, Saudi Arabia: 97/100, and Egypt: 86/100).
57 Few studies focus on attacks that such groups use to target police stations and checkpoints. Balcells and Torrats-Espinosa, in “Using a Natural Experiment,” find that citizens’ increased willingness to participate in political elections after a terrorist attack are less likely when the attacks occur against the police or military than when the attacks target civilians. Gibbs, in “Terrorist Attacks Targeting the Police,” finds that a foreign military presence makes suicide attacks against police more likely and more lethal. Kampmark, in “Releasing the ‘Terror Genie,’ ” maintains that threats to behead policemen can create an imagined Islamic monster. Perry and Long, in “ ‘Why Would Anyone Sell Paradise,’ ” show how an attack against a police station can communicate mythic accounts of martyrdom in ways that facilitate recruitment to the proto-state.
Material Presence and Online Attention 137 Proto-state incidents designed to expose the vulnerability of population control efforts of existing states, however, extend beyond attacks on the power elite operating within the MENA region. Inspired by ISIS calls to randomly attack Australians, for example, 18-year-old Numan Haider stabbed two police officers in Melbourne before authorities subsequently shot him on September 23, 2014. News items mentioning ISIS increased by 82 percent the day of the stabbings. A spike also occurred in the relative number of online searches for ISIS by individuals located in fifty-nine countries, with the Google Trends score jumping from 57 to 100 the day of the attack. Proto-states also seek to promote material circumstances that affirm their ability to control populations associated with their own communities. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS distributed videotaped beheadings to demonstrate their authority over any individual found present within their territories. The relevant, bad news for all who traveled within the proto-states’ controlled territory increased media and public attention to the groups.58 Following the lead of the Chechen rebels, the future leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, for example, posted a five-minute online video on May 11, 2004, showing the beheading of Nicholas Berg, an American independent contractor in Iraq, that attracted more than 15 million views before its removal.59 International news stories mentioning al-Qaeda rose by over 30 percent on the date of Berg’s beheading, followed the next day by another almost 70 percent hike. As Figure 5.8 reveals, the relative number of Internet searches for al-Qaeda also soared, beginning with an increase the day of the beheading video’s release. Recognizing the newsworthiness of Berg’s execution, al-Qaeda affiliates repeated similar acts of ultraviolence to convey authority over populations in and around their controlled territories. On June 18, 2004, for example, AQAP released still images of the beheading of American engineer Paul Johnson in Saudi Arabia. News items mentioning al-Qaeda jumped 134 percent the same day. The Google Trends score for individual searches of al-Qaeda went 58 A growing body of literature has begun to address the use of beheadings by the proto-states. Studies contextualize the role of beheadings within the Islamic faith (Uddin, “The Fanatical ISIS”), offer reasons for why such groups utilize the tactic of beheadings (Lentini and Bakashmar, “Jihadist Beheading”), and examine why viewers watch such violent acts (Redmond et al., “Who Watches an ISIS Beheading”). Friis, in “ ‘Beyond Anything We Have Ever Seen,’ ” discusses how the emergence of beheadings as a visual icon helps to transform humanitarian crises in Iraq and Syria into matters of national security. Finally, Matusitz, in “Communication of Terrorism,” discusses how beheadings function as conspicuous, controversial events that can break through the media noise to serve as conduits to public attention. 59 Talbot, Fighting ISIS Online.
138 Proto-State Media Systems 100
2 Days Before Release
1 Day Before Release
Date of Berg Video Release
1 Day After Release
2 Days After Release
Figure 5.8 Google Trend scores for online search levels occurring around the release of al-Zarqawi’s 2014 Nicholas Berg beheading video. Source: Google Trends.
from 10 on the day before the beheading, to 91 the day of the picture’s release, to 100 the day after the release. Al-Qaeda in Iraq quickly echoed the strategy by releasing a video showing a captured South Korean Christian missionary Kim Sun-il pleading for his life before al-Zarqawi’s militants distributed his videotaped beheading on June 22, 2004. Once again, global news items mentioning al-Qaeda sharply increased by 152 percent the day after the video’s release. On June 25, 2006, the same group released an online video showing the beheadings of captured Russian diplomats. The Google Trends score for Internet searches for al-Qaeda more than doubled on the day of the beheadings, and global news items mentioning al-Qaeda rose by 21 percent. When the rift between al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) and al-Qaeda Central (AQC) deepened in the years to follow, the former group morphed into ISIS with surprising acts of ultraviolence as one of its chief publicity tools. During the first six-month period following the group’s announcement of itself as a caliphate (August 2014–February 2015), ISIS distributed repeated, videotaped beheadings to demonstrate its control over the populations in and around its territories. Yet, unlike the previous, low-quality beheading videos of al-Qaeda in Iraq, ISIS released a highly professional August 19, 2014, video titled A Message to America documenting the beheading of American
Material Presence and Online Attention 139 journalist James Foley in retaliation for US airstrikes in Iraq.60 Subsequently, the proto-state issued a series of video warnings of more decapitations to come if the group’s demands went unmet. After one video featured a masked British executioner threatening to kill American journalist Steven Sotloff if former President Obama did not halt US air strikes, the group released a second video showing Sotloff ’s brutal beheading on September 2, 2014. The group then similarly threatened the United Kingdom by warning that British humanitarian aid worker David Haines would meet the same fate if his country did not “back off.”61 When the United Kingdom did not retreat, ISIS released a video on September 12, 2014 titled A Message to the Allies of America showing a masked militant severing Haines head.62 The same video went on to warn that another captive in proto-state custody would face execution if ISIS demands did not prevail. An October 3 video documented that the group had carried out its promise and showed the beheading of British citizen Allan Henning.63 The streak of beheadings videos in September and October 2014 attracted extensive public and media attention on ISIS around the globe. Over 100,000 news stories mentioning ISIS appeared during the sustained two-month period of beheading video distribution. Additionally, as Figure 5.9 displays, Google Trends scores of Internet searches for ISIS reached a monthly peak in September after the release of two beheading video releases, a figure only surpassed by score increases that occurred following the group’s November 2018 attacks on Paris. Building on the demonstrated ability of beheadings to attract media and public attention, ISIS innovated its strategy of mediated ultraviolence to demonstrate control over populations located in its claimed territories. On February 3, 2015, ISIS released a disturbing twenty-two minute video showing the immolation of Jordanian pilot Muaz al-Kasasbeh inside a cage for his part in the US-led coalition airstrikes.64 Less than two weeks later, the
60 Al-Furqan Media, A Message to America. 61 Al-Furqan Media, A Second Message to America, 2:37–2:38. 62 Al-Furqan Media, A Message to the Allies of America. 63 Al-Furqan Media, Another Message to America and Its Allies. The strategy of serial murders has a long history. In 1973, the Black September Organization initially kidnapped US Ambassador Cleo Noel and Deputy Chief of Mission Curtis Moore in Khartoum Sudan. After issuing a series of demands, the group informed the US government that they would kill one person per hour if their demands went unmet. After the deaths of the two Americans, Richard Nixon publicly announced that the United States would not pay blackmail to the terrorist group. Nixon’s pronouncement served as the cornerstone of US policy (at least publicly) for decades to follow. 64 Al-Furqan Media, Healing of the Believers’ Chests.
140 Proto-State Media Systems 100
0 2 Weeks 1 Week Before Foley Before Foley Release Release
Foley’s Beheading Video Release
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Sotloff's Beheading Video Release
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Figure 5.9 Google Trends scores for online searches of ISIS occurring around the 2014 beheading videos of James Foley and Steven Sotloff. Source: Google Trends.
group released another video titled A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross65 showing a mass beheading of twenty Egyptian Coptic Christian hostages on the Mediterranean shore in Libya. Although the victims in both cases were Arabs, ISIS defined the individuals as part of the “Crusader campaign” against Islam. The group referred to al-Kasasbeh as a crusader who functioned as a representative of the US-led coalition, while the religion of the executed Coptic Christians extended the message’s resonance well beyond the Egyptian church to the West at large. The string of ultraviolent acts in the month of February 2015 corresponded to the third highest peak of online searches for ISIS since the group announced its caliphate in June 2014. Additionally, the news coverage of ISIS more than doubled from January to February 2015, after intensive reporting on the group immediately followed the release of al-Kasasbeh and the twenty Egyptian Copts’ beheading videos. The media not only replayed snippets of ISIS’s own videos, but some outlets (e.g., Fox News) posted the full immolation video of the Jordanian pilot on its website, rendering it still accessible with a simple Google search at the time of this writing.
65 Al-Hayat Media Center, A Message Signed with Blood to the Nation of the Cross.
Material Presence and Online Attention 141 In short, material demonstrations of population control linked to news values such as exclusivity, bad news, conflict, surprise, audiovisuals, shareability, drama, relevance, and celebrity attract heightened levels of media and public attention online. Circulated video documentation of events that model population control functions as an operational set of behavioral expectations and guidelines for those entering the territories under proto- states’ control. Simultaneously, the footage strives to showcase existing state impotence to preclude proto-states from carrying out population control measures within their occupied territories. The strategic use of forewarnings of forthcoming ultraviolent acts sustains public and media attention focused on the proto-states’ population control efforts over time.
Territorial Control, Attention, and Newsworthiness Territorial control functions as an essential precursor for establishing the governance and population control efforts of a proto-state.66 Its material presence reinforces that existing states lack the ability to defend their borders and reaffirms an alternative. However, precise dates related to shifts in territorial authority can be murky, as the changes in control over land often result from battlefield outcomes that lack clear endpoints. Battles can also restart or continue unabated if the population refuses to submit to the new authority. Nevertheless, official proto- state spokespersons often demarcate the timing of the acquisition of new territory under their group’s control. In the case of ISIS, for example, Iraqi parliamentary spokesperson Osama al- Nujaifi announced that Mosul, the second largest city in Iraq, as well as the entirety of the Ninawa province, had fallen to ISIS militants on June 10, 2014. Backing for al-Nujaifi’s statement included ISIS’s release of more than a thousand prisoners, numerous reports of Iraqi soldiers abandoning their posts after four days of fighting, and al-Baghdadi’s subsequent declaration of the caliphate from al-Nuri mosque in west Mosul. The pronouncement had news 66 Several studies examine the contemporary relationship between territorial control and politically motivated violent groups (Lunstrum, “Terror, Territory, and Deterritorialization”; Stanislawski, “Para-States, Quasi-States, and Black Spots”). Castan Pinos, in “The Islamic State as the Epitome,” considers group like ISIS to be parastates that resemble states in many ways, but lack the states’ durability. Elden, in “Terror and Territory,” explores the implications of such groups, focusing on how they threaten territorial integrity, a term encompassing both territorial preservation and territorial sovereignty. When such groups lose territory, Bloom and Dayman, in “Assessing the Future Threat,” show how groups like ISIS continue their presence online.
142 Proto-State Media Systems value because of its strategic relevance, its element of surprise, and its focus on the power elite. ISIS’s capture of Mosul, in particular, also had cultural relevance because the city had once served as the site of the only defeat suffered by the Persian conqueror Nadir Shah at the hands of Ottoman provincial forces.67 Global news items mentioning ISIS in Arabic news outlets spiked 122 percent on the day of al-Nujaifi’s announcement and another 59 percent the following day. The rise in related global news items written in English was even more dramatic. English news items jumped 452 percent on the day of the announcement and another 219 percent of the day after the territorial proclamation. The relative number of online searches for ISIS also rose as individuals located in seventy countries searched Google for ISIS. For those searching in English, the Google Trends score jumped from 1 on the day before the announcement, to 20 on the day ISIS took Mosul, to 37 on the day after the declaration. For those searching in Arabic, the scores rose from 20 to 97 to 100 over the same three-day period. Another major point of ISIS territorial acquisition occurred when the group took over Raqqa, Syria, and turned the sixth largest Syrian city into its de facto capital. On January 8, 2014, a group of Syrian rebels made up of members of Jabhat al-Nusra, the Free Syrian Army, and others wrestled control of Raqqa from ISIS, but the proto-state regrouped and reassumed control by January 13, 2014. The newsworthiness of the city’s takeover resulted from its relationship to the power elite and its historical relevance as a key military center during the late Umayyad period and an administrative center during the Abbasid Caliphate.68 Global news items rose sharply during the period, but their timing depended on whether the media accounts were written in English or Arabic. English news items increased 9 percent when Syrian rebels took back control of Raqqa from ISIS, but increased 84 percent when ISIS took control of the city. Arabic news items, in contrast, displayed their largest increases on the days when the two sides in the conflict were engaged in the fierce battle. Online searches for ISIS in the same period occurred from individuals located in thirty-five countries, but stayed roughly at the same level throughout the battle for control (i.e., a Google trend of between 7 and 11 throughout the week of January 8–15, 2014). On the whole, shifts in proto-state territorial control correspond to heightened levels of public and media attention. Changes in land holdings in
67 Olson, Siege of Mosul and Ottoman-Persian Relations. 68 Winter, “The Province of Raqqa.”
Material Presence and Online Attention 143 areas encompassing large populations, those possessing historic relevance, and those involving battlefield conflicts or other forms of conflict have particularly high newsworthiness. In the case of ISIS, English news items mentioning the proto-states tended to increase when the battle for territory achieves an announced outcome; those in Arabic focused more on periods when the fight was underway. Google searches followed a less discernible pattern, with some proto-state land acquisitions corresponding to surges in online searches, while others did not. The largest growth in the relative number of online searches, however, occurs in relation to individuals living in Arab countries, perhaps due to the relevance and proximate risk associated with the ensuing battles.
Alliances, Attention, and Newsworthiness Proto-states seek to undermine existing state-based alliances by attaining lifelong pledges of allegiance to their own leadership. While existing alliances between governments in the region or with the West can often pose consequential or even existential threats to proto-states, alliances between proto- states or among proto-states and less ambitious entities (e.g., tribes, other extremist groups, etc.) can add value to the proto-state. Celebrations of new allegiance pledges to proto-states leaders can shift both real and perceived balances of power.69 The new alliances expand the proto-states’ fighting forces both symbolically and materially; they can also enlarge the anticipated locations of future attacks. Material attacks on symbols of existing state alliances heighten public and media attention on the proto-states. Such attacks are typically newsworthy
69 Several studies seek to identify the nature, causes, and effects of organizational alliances between terrorist actors (e.g., see Bacon, Why Terrorist Groups Form International Alliances; Horowitz and Potter, “Allying to Kill”; Sagemen, Understanding Terror Networks). Bacon, in “Is the Enemy of My Enemy,” argues that what motivates alliances between such groups is the need to overcome organizational shortcomings, the existence of corresponding needs and ideologies, and the capacity to overcome suspicion of the other group. Bapat et al., in “Perfect Allies,” focus on why alliances do not form despite the existence of apparent interest overlap. Chuang, Ben-Asher, and D’Orsogna, in “Local Alliances and Rivalries,” demonstrate that adversarial, neutral, or collaborative relationships between groups can be predictive about the timing and likelihood of attacks, while Desouza and Hensgen, in “Connectivity among Terrorist Groups,” illuminate how alliances between terrorist groups and criminal institutions aid in attack success. Other scholars attempt to develop techniques for identifying alliances (e.g., Fang et al., “The Alliance Relationship”) and anticipate the likelihood of future alliances (e.g., Ackerman and Bale, “The Potential for Collaboration”). The interactions between announcement of alliances and attention by the public and the media, however, remain unexplored.
144 Proto-State Media Systems because they embody so many news values, including bad news, conflict, surprise, audiovisual, shareability, drama, follow-up, the power elite, relevance, magnitude, the news organization’s agenda, and in certain cases, celebrity depending on the identity of the victims resulting from the attack. On August 7, 1998, al-Qaeda, for example, demonstrated the news value of symbolically undermining existing state alliances. Recognizing that embassies constitute a recognizable physical manifestation of extant state- to-state alliances, al-Qaeda members used truck bombs to kill 224 people in American embassies in Nairobi, Kenya and Dar es Salam, Tanzania. The attacks were particularly newsworthy because they reflected the news values of bad news, conflict, surprise, audiovisuals, shareability, drama, follow-up, the power elite, and magnitude. In the months leading up to the bombings, global media news outlets often ignored the group altogether. However, in the month of the bombings, global news items mentioning al-Qaeda rose by 63 percent, with news items bringing up the group spiked another 205 percent the following month. ISIS, having broken from its former group but still aware of the fame that al-Qaeda had reaped from its embassy attacks,70 called on its supporters to attack embassies, too. In early March 2018, the Turkish government temporarily closed the US embassy in Ankara for security reasons and subsequently arrested members of the ISIS group allegedly engaged in plotting attacks against the diplomatic post. In addition to publicity gains available from undermining existing state-based alliances, ISIS and al-Qaeda experience heightened media and public attention when other non-state groups pledge allegiance to their proto-state leaders. The new alliances are newsworthy because they may increase the chance of intensified conflict with the power elite or they may have historic or cultural relevance for surrounding populations. On February 9, 2012, for example, al-Shabaab leader Ahmed Abdi Godane pledged his group’s allegiance to the leader of al-Qaeda, Ayaman al- Zawahiri. Figure 5.10 shows that media stories mentioning al-Qaeda peaked on the day of Godane’s announcement. The relative number of online searches conducted by individuals located in twenty-eight countries moved from a Google Trend score of 62 the day before the pledge to 90 on the day of the announcement. Similarly, on April 10, 2013, when Jabhat al- Nusra’s leader Abu Mohammed al-Jawlani released an audio recording pledging allegiance
70 Abu Maysarah Ash-Shamali, “The Qā’idah of Adh-Dhawāhirī.”
Material Presence and Online Attention 145 450 400 350 300 250 200 150 100 50 0
2 Days Before Pledge
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Figure 5.10 Number of global news items mentioning al-Qaeda occurring around the 2012 al-Shabaab allegiance pledge to al-Qaeda. Source: Nexis-Uni database. 700 600 500 400 300 200 100 0
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Figure 5.11 Number of global news items mentioning al-Qaeda occurring around the 2013 Jabhat al-Nusra allegiance pledge to al-Qaeda. Source: Nexis-Uni database.
to al-Qaeda leader Ayman al-Zawahiri, media and public attention related to the group rose. Figure 5.11 reveals that global news items mentioning al-Qaeda spiked on the day of the announcement. The relative number of online searches by individuals located in sixty-one countries also increased
146 Proto-State Media Systems from a Google Trends score of 31 the day before the pledge to a score of 78 on the day of the new alliance’s formation. ISIS also benefitted from heightened attention after receiving allegiance pledges to its leaders. On March 7, 2015, for example, Boko Haram leader Abubakar Shekau released an audiotaped message where he pledged the loyalty of his group to the now former ISIS leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Individuals from 130 countries conducted online searches for Boko Haram and ISIS in the ten-day period before and after the announcement. As Figure 5.12 shows, the Google Trends score peaked sharply on the day of the announcement. A 30 percent jump in global media items mentioning ISIS and Boko Haram also occurred, but not until Monday, the first workday following the Saturday announcement. Similarly, the date when militants in Sinai publicly pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi corresponded with a 90 percent increase in global news items to a total of 2,641 items in traditional media outlets. When militants in Cyrenaica, Tripolitania, and Fezzan pledged their allegiance to al-Baghdadi in late 2014 as ISIS announced three new allied Libyan provinces, the number of global news items was similarly high at 2,876. In sum, alliances designed to both attack existing state- to- state relationships and to celebrate pledges from other known non-state groups are newsworthy for proto-states. In the case of al-Qaeda and ISIS, attacks 100 80 60 40 20 0
Three Days Before Pledge
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Figure 5.12 Google Trends scores for online searches occurring around the 2014 Boko Haram allegiance pledge to ISIS. Source: Google Trends.
Material Presence and Online Attention 147 on the physical symbols of existing state-to-state relationships were more newsworthy than new pledges of allegiance to the group leaders, perhaps due to their comparatively larger number of connections to the established standards of high news value. While attention bumps in global news items and relative numbers of online searchers did correspond to the announcement of new allegiance pledges, they only last for a brief period of time. While online searchers typically attend to the formation of new alliances on the day of or the day after the pledge occurs, traditional media sources may lag, particularly in instances when the non-state groups vow their allegiance to the proto-states leader over the weekend.
Summary and Conclusion Many actions and events associated with a proto-state’s material presence receive little to no attention by global news media outlets or individuals searching for the groups online. Yet, to attract the attention of current and future adherents to sustain their emergent collective in a highly saturated global communications environment, a proto-state must work to establish the newsworthiness of its group, its media systems, and its proto-state status. To accomplish those goals, emergent collectives emphasize material circumstances that jointly have high news value and emphasize the six defining features of proto-states. Only then do they emerge as a newsworthy, constituted proto-state.
6 Audience Resilience Strategies of Proto-State Media Systems Once individuals access proto- state media products, sustaining interest emerges as a defining element of relative media system success. Multimodal communication strategies, including any associated performances, experiences, and distributional strategies, help maintain social configurations within the online environment.1 Aural, textual, and visual messaging modes can remind audiences of foundational narratives of the group.2 Combined, the modes reinforce message appeals in ways that attract viewer attention, speed up message processing, facilitate recall, enhance believability, and magnify issue salience—particularly in instances where the message delivered through two or more modes reinforces the same informational content.3 Given the added value of such approaches, proto-states strive to sustain their online audiences through a recurrent use of patterned multimodal strategies that enhance media product credibility, encourage audience involvement, and demonstrate adaptability to material challenges to their systems’ resiliency.
Proto-State Media System Credibility Proto-states media systems use multimodal strategies in their media products to present themselves as credible alternatives to conventional media systems. Yet their methods vary based on subject matter, the group 1 Kress and Leeuwen, Multimodal Discourse; O’Halloran and Smith, Multimodal Studies; Castells, Communication Power. 2 Zelizer, “When War Is Reduced.” 3 Collignon et al., “Audio-visual Integration”; Domke, Perlmutter and Spratt, “The Primes of Our Times”; Hsin and Cigas, “Short Videos Improve Student Learning”; Johnstone, Repetition in Arab Discourse; Koch, “Presentation as Proof ”; Loui, Wessel, and Kam, “Humans Rapidly Learn Grammatical Structure”; Suchan, “Toward an Understanding of Arabic Persuasion”; Valentino, Hutchings, and White, “Cues That Matter”; Zelizer, “When War Is Reduced.” Proto-State Media Systems. Carol K. Winkler and Kareem El Damanhoury, Oxford University Press. © University of Maryland National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) 2022. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780197568026.003.0006
150 Proto-State Media Systems involved, the channel selected, and the audience targeted. To illustrate, the following will assess credibility strategies that proto-states utilize when presenting their militant operations, media operations, and community standards.
Militant Operations Both proto-states strategically display informational content about militant activities to help identify their media systems as credible. One way they enhance the gravitas of their media systems is by positioning certain media products to serve as go-to educational sites for violent attack information. Al-Qaeda, for example, repeatedly provides visual and textual instructional guides in its magazines,4 but the material content and form vary across time, affiliate group, and media product.5 The affiliate group al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP), for example, features step-by-step instructions in Inspire on how to build bombs, shoot guns, and equip vehicles for maximum destruction. The strategy converts Inspire from a simple, online magazine into a ready-made instructional manual available for study by interested followers. Conventional global media outlets unwittingly assist in the effort by reporting how actual attacks mimic the magazine’s featured techniques. Multiple instances of perpetrators possessing Inspire at the time of their arrests substantiate the workability of the magazine’s instructional proof of concept.6 Videotaped live simulations of attack methods further enhance the credibility of the groups’ media systems as they present proto-state militants as knowledgeable experts. Since the 1990s, for example, al-Qaeda has distributed “how to” videos in an effort to train followers on the process of manufacturing TNT and other bomb components.7 Early on, the group’s sympathizers mainly repurposed videotaped bomb- making simulations from other groups (e.g., Hezbollah, al- Qassam Brigades, and al- Shura Foundation for Media Production) before circulating them through
4 See, for example, Jihad Recollections, Inspire, and Gaidi Mtanni. 5 Conway, Parker and Looney, “Online Jihadi Instructional Content.” 6 In “Inspire Magazine: A Critical Analysis,” Lemieux et al. enumerate instances of bombers, arsonists, and vehicle attackers who had instructions from Inspire in their possession at the time of arrest, as well as incidents that mimic those set forth in the magazine. 7 Intel Center, Evolution of Jihadi Video.
Audience Resilience Strategies 151 al-Qaeda-affiliated forums.8 After 2008, bomb-making videos became more prominent in al-Qaeda’s media ecosystem, but unofficial outlets or individuals still posted most of the simulations online.9 ISIS includes live demonstrations to emphasize its system as a credible alternative. In ISIS’s You Must Fight Them, Oh Monotheist,10 for example, a masked French-speaking militant offers his expertise on how to carry out a stabbing attack, while a man tied to a concrete column stands silently in the background. The militant calls on Muslims in France to carry out blade weapon attacks in retaliation for Muslims killed in US-led coalition airstrikes. The militant stands close to the hostage while emphasizing the most lethal points of attack (e.g., the neck, the arms, and the abdomen). After this initial setup, he passes a knife to a hooded man, who then carries out the instructions on the captive’s body. The video boosts the sound of the knife as it penetrates the individual’s flesh before a chanting chorus calls on followers to fight the disbelievers. A caption identifies the bleeding victim as a “crusader coalition agent.”11 Both proto-states reinforce their system’s credibility through a consistent use of outcome reporting. Since October 2015, ISIS has taken the lead by establishing its Arabic newsletter al-Naba’ as a predictable information source of militant battlefield outcome information.12 ISIS supplies weekly infographics to report the number of destroyed planes, helicopters, convoys, soldiers, and tanks, as well as its completed tactical operations (e.g., IED detonations, suicide bombings, rifles fired, etc.). The infographics’ reliance on statistical appeals echoes a proven strategy for establishing informational credibility in other contexts.13 Further, the textual and graphic form of the infographics bolsters the believability, comprehensibility, and recall of the presented information.14 Finally, the use of the infographic as a stand-alone
8 For example, one al-Qaeda video, Tribute of the Marabouts’ Preparation of the Ammonium Nitrate Explosive, begins with text apologizing for including music borrowed from Hezbollah’s original release. Al-Qaeda sympathizers removed the logo of Hezbollah before distributing this twelve- minute video on how to manufacture an ammonium-based explosive to followers. 9 Stenersen, “Bomb-Making for Beginners.” 10 Al-Raqqa Provincial Media, You Must Fight Them. 11 Al-Raqqa Provincial Media, You Must Fight Them. 12 For more information on ISIS’s use of infographics, see Adelman, “One Apostate Run Over”; Glausch, “Infographics and Their Role”; and Winkler, Damanhoury, and Lemieux, “Validating Extremism.” 13 Chaiken, Lieberman and Eagly, “Heuristic and Systematic Information”; Eagly and Chaiken, The Psychology of Attitudes; Petty and Caccioppo, Communication and Persuasion. 14 Amlund, Gaffney and Kulhavy, “Map Feature Content and Text Recall”; Griffin and Stevenson, “The Influence of Statistical Graphics”; Kelly, “The Effects of Display Format”; Pasternack and Utt,
152 Proto-State Media Systems media product positions the form to have a broadened market reach across social media.
Media Operations The two proto-states expend substantial effort establishing the credibility of their media content. Both al-Qaeda and ISIS work to bolster their system’s standing by repeatedly referencing established credible sources’ reactions to their media products. They highlight internationally recognized scholars who study their media content, and they refer to regional religious scholars who agree with their interpretations of Islam. One challenge that al-Qaeda and ISIS face to their media’s credibility is their need to maintain messaging legitimacy. For more than a decade, “jihobbyists,” “fanboys,” and other online users have distributed self-generated online content under the auspices of the group.15 In response, both proto-states implemented branding strategies to validate the authenticity of their media products and distribution centers.16 Al-Qaeda relied on a top- down approach to authenticate its media products.17 Since the beginnings of as-Sahab Media, the group has utilized a consistent logo to brand its videos, audio releases, and written statements, as Figures 6.1 and 6.2 illustrate. Following the 2009 rebranding decision of al-Qaeda affiliates’ media arms from “regional offices” to “foundations,” AQAP’s al-Malahem Media, al- Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s (AQIM) al-Andalus Media, and al-Shabaab’s al-Kata’ib Media each created similar logos that remain in use today, as Figure 6.3 illustrates. Their resemblance to as-Sahab’s logo in calligraphy and color design emphasizes the aesthetic and conceptual linkages between al- Qaeda Central and its affiliates. During its time as an affiliate of al-Qaeda, ISIS adhered to a top-down approach similar to that of its parent organization. The logo of al-Furqan Media created in 2006, for example, appears on its Arabic-language central videos, audio releases, and statements. Yet, while ISIS’s foreign language content
“Reader Use and Understanding”; Peterson, “Tables and Graphs Improve”; Smiciklas, The Power of Infographics; Toth, “Revisiting a Genre.” 15 Brachman, Global Jihadism. 16 Dauber, “The Branding of Violent Jihadism.” 17 Rogers, “Children and Extreme Violence”
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Figure 6.1 As-Sahab logo on a videotaped bin Laden sermon in 2000. Source: As-Sahab Media, ‘Id al-Fitr Lecture 2000: 0:36.
Figure 6.2 As-Sahab logo on a videotaped al-Zawahiri lecture in 2019. Source: As-Sahab Media, Together to God, Episode One: 1:57.
producer al-Hayat Media continues to use al-Qaeda-style calligraphy and coloring in its logo design, it also adds aspects of Al Jazeera’s logo to associate itself with the more established, international news organization. The visual identity of al-Furat media (ISIS’s producer of mostly non-Arabic
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Figure 6.3 (From left to right) The logos of al-Zulaqa, al-Andalus, as-Sahab, al- Malahem, and al-Kata’ib Media Foundations. Source: As-Sahab Media, Together to God, Episode One: 0:36.
content) represents a more notable sign of separation between the two groups. Removing any visual association with al-Qaeda or even other ISIS brands, the distributor’s logo shows two wavy white lines featured against a blue background. ISIS reinforced its media products’ networked appearance by directing its provinces to include the group’s black flag in the top right corner of all video products. The proto-state designed a unique logo for each of its dozens of provincial media offices similar to that shown in Figure 6.4. Nonetheless, the provinces have and continue to use the localized identifiers alongside the proto-state’s iconic black flag. The double branding approach visually underscores the expansive reach of the ISIS media system and its journalistic corps. Another method for establishing media system credibility involves the consistent quality of the media products. Chapter 2 has described ISIS’s centralized enforcement mechanism for standardizing thematic content, production, and postproduction. Additionally, both proto-states use self- referential advertising to direct consumers to high-quality, media products. As far back as 2005, al-Qaeda in Iraq’s (AQI) Arabic-language magazine
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Figure 6.4 The logo of Dijlah Provincial Media. Source: Dijlah Provincial Media, They Will Not Harm You Except for Annoyance: 0:10.
Dhurwat al-Sinam displayed full-page posters to advertise notable print, audio, and visual media products, as Figure 6.5 illustrates. AQAP, by contrast, depended on very basic text advertising until late 2008: “Stay tuned. . . . Soon—God Willing—Our upcoming release . . . Yemen’s Guantanamo video release.” With the 2009 rebranding of al-Qaeda’s regional media operations, al- Qaeda affiliates broadened the scope of their advertising efforts. AQAP incorporated high-quality, graphic posters promoting books and videos in the later issues of Sada al-Malahem. Jihad Recollections began featuring ads for al-Qaeda’s regional and central media releases and introduced hyperlinks for ease of access. AQAP shifted to high-quality posters in Inspire and al-Masra to promote releases from its distribution centers, as shown in Figure 6.6. Al-Qaeda channels on Web forums, Twitter, and encrypted messaging applications such as Telegram and Rocket Chat promoted notable books, photo reports, audio statements, and videos produced by different affiliates. Throughout its history, ISIS aimed for a more centralized advertising approach than al-Qaeda. Following the group’s launch of ISR, IS News, Dabiq, and Dar al-Islam in 2014, for example, ISIS began incorporating high-quality
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Figure 6.5 A promotional poster advertising AQI’s new media releases. Source: Al-Qaeda in the Land of the Two Rivers’ Media Department, “Dhuruat al-Sinam: A Periodical,” 42.
posters promoting its magazines, videos, and audio tracks released from al- Hayat Media, al-Furqan Media, and al-Bayan radio, as Figure 6.7 illustrates. In the twelfth issue of Dabiq, for example, ISIS features four “Selected 10” posters that advertise the group’s top forty videos released since the previous
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Figure 6.6 A promotional poster advertising a new al-Shabaab video release in AQAP’s newsletter al-Masra. Source: Ahmad, “ ‘Whoever Changes His Religion, Kill Him,’ ” 7.
issue of the online publication. As Figure 6.8 shows, promotional posters also appeared in ISIS’s French and Turkish publications. Rumiyah distributed ads in multiple languages from 2016 to 2017. Since its first official weekly issue in late 2015, the Arabic-language newsletter al-Naba’ joined the effort and began featuring ads for proto-state videos and literature. ISIS further diversified its advertising strategy over time to expand the reach of its featured media products. For example, ISIS transformed “Selected 10” into a periodic, stand-alone infographic that members could post to Twitter, Telegram, and file-sharing websites like JustPaste.it. In May 2016, al-Hayat Media began producing short promotional “Selected 10” videos that could circulate on other platforms. The group also disseminated online image and video teasers for provincial and central media releases. As Figure 6.9 reveals, ISIS even advertised its educational Web applications for children in short promotional animation videos on the group’s official Telegram channels. Finally, both al-Qaeda and ISIS heighten the credibility of their media systems by placing certain access restrictions on viewing content. Followers who login frequently receive rewards of continued access to private chat rooms or new entry into other encrypted accounts. Those demonstrating less commitment find themselves “punished” by their removal from the encrypted
Figure 6.7 A promotional poster advertising al-Bayan Radio in ISIS’s French publication. Source: “Discover the Daily News in French,” Dar al-Islam, Issue 4, 41.
Figure 6.8 A Selected 10 poster advertising provincial video releases in ISIS’s Turkish publication. Source: “Top 10,” Konstantiniyye, Issue 3, 25.
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Figure 6.9 A screengrab from a video advertising ISIS’s new application for kids. Source: Al-Himma Library, Promotional Video for the App: 0:46.
platforms.18 The benefits of such a reward and punishment scheme mirror proven high-frequency viewing outcomes of other online forums, such as online shopping,19 online pornography,20 smartphone use,21 online gaming,22 and general Internet addiction.23
Community-Building ISIS and al- Qaeda also strive to render their media systems credible promoters of proto-state community standards. The publication’s textual references, posters, and infographics help identify expected community norms and values. Both groups quote from the Qur’an and hadiths to emphasize the high standing of their norms and values. The repeated strategy invites followers to interpret recommended beliefs and behaviors as part of a
18 Bloom and Daymon, “Telegram and Online Addiction.” 19 Kellet and Bolton, “Compulsive Buying”; LaRose and Eastin, “Is Online Buying Out of Control?” 20 Laier et al., “Cybersex Addiction”; Ley, Prause, and Finn, “The Emperor Has No Clothes.” 21 Billieux, Van der Linden, and Rochat, “The Role of Impulsivity”; Kuss et al., “Problematic Smartphone Use.” 22 Agarwal, Sanger, and Luqman, “Relationship of Computer Game Addiction.” 23 Chou and Ting, “The Role of Flow Experience”; Griffiths et al., “The Evolution of Internet Addiction”; Hardie and Tee, “Excessive Internet Use.”
Audience Resilience Strategies 161 long-standing, respected tradition dating back to the Prophet Muhammad, rather than the temporary whim of a proto-state leader. The religiously grounded group norms and values highlight a coherent set of familiar expectations for prospective community members. Al-Qaeda’s Jihad Recollections stresses humility, knowledge seeking, perseverance, faithfulness, piety, sacrifice, and faith in Allah. Inspire encourages patience, prayer, generosity, loyalty, sincerity, and piousness. ISIS’s Dabiq emphasizes that no Islam can exist without Jama’ah (the Group of Muslims) and that Jama’ah requires leadership. Al-Naba’ accentuates the values of voluntary loyalty to Allah, seeking knowledge, purifying the heart, praying, fasting, reading the Qur’an, paying charity to the poor, acquiring good manners, and eventually positioning oneself for a place in paradise. While far from exhaustive, these publications’ lists of values define the general parameters of the collectives’ cherished ideals. The two proto-states also define the values of their communities by negation in their media products. ISIS advises readers to avoid backbiting, gossiping, lying, bearing false witness, and other “pests of the tongue.”24 Al- Qaeda encourages followers to reject oppression, bigotry, religious disrespect, and its opponents’ immorality. One al-Qaeda poster even names the United States as “the nation standing on no values”25 after its court system accepted same-sex marriage. The proto-state media systems stress that particular beliefs and behaviors should occasionally have added salience. The decision by US-led coalition forces to begin military operations to retake Mosul and Raqqa in October 2016 served as such a moment. In response, Dabiq features the value of maintaining faith during times of affliction. Al-Naba’ increasingly shifts to calls for waging jihad, maintaining the Jama’ah of Muslims, sustaining patience, having courage, holding steadfast, and surviving the affliction. In the moment of challenge, ISIS infographics label Sufis, Muslim innovators, disbelieving imitators, selected religious scholars, and the followers of democracy as enemies due to their adherence to inferior values. Both proto-states reinforce the high standing of their community values by mentioning them in the eulogies for inspired lone actors, battlefield militants, and military and media leaders. While the values differ a bit based on the honored individual, the recurrent personality traits, beliefs, and
24 “The Pests of the Tongue,” Al-Naba’ Issue 21, 16.
25 “The Nation Standing on No Values,” Inspire, Issue 10, 39.
162 Proto-State Media Systems behaviors of martyrs display a consistent pathway forward for those seeking heavenly rewards in the hereafter. Both groups honor those embodying the personality traits of patience, benevolence, asceticism, generosity, piety, humility, trustworthiness, courage, determination, cheerfulness, and good humor. Venerated characteristics include an unwavering belief in Islam, a willingness to follow orders, an acceptance of a simple life, and a readiness to sacrifice. Admired behaviors encompass a tireless work ethic, an overt, demonstrated commitment to the cause, a repeated display of fighting strength, a track record of effective service as a leader of men, a continual pursuit of knowledge (e.g., about Islam, how to handle equipment, or media skills), and a proven inclination to provide hospitality to fellow fighters. The eulogy of al-Qaeda member Abu Yazeed al-Qatari illustrates the approach.26 The tribute enumerates how al-Qatari exemplifies the community’s values, such as “high morals and a generous heart,” his willingness to emigrate to Yemen to fight, his decision to eschew “a pursuit of happiness in the form of hoarding wealth,” the fact that he is “extremely fit and healthy,” his “wide knowledge” of language and customs of the West, his willingness to pen the emotional eulogy for fellow al-Qaeda member Samir Khan, and “his skills and leadership talent” as a recruiter. The eulogy traces al-Qatari’s journey from Qatar to the United Kingdom to expand his education and his decision to relocate to Yemen in search of “the green birds” (a metaphor connoting Muslim rewards in the afterlife). The tribute recalls that after being “patient and making du’a (supplication), Allah granted him Tawfeeq (the special blessing and acceptance of Allah) and allowed him to meet the [mujahideen] brothers he so longed for.” It then recalls that he joined the fight and was killed in Aden Abyan. A quotation from Verse 11 from chapter 9 of the Qur’an inscribed against a background of clouds on the page adjoining his eulogy reads, “Allah has purchased from the believers their lives and their properties [in exchange] for that they will have Paradise.”27 In short, proto-states use multiple strategies for developing the credibility of their media systems, but the approaches vary based on the topic of information. Attack and battle reporting rely on information exclusivity, predictable format consistency, and the use of expert, statistical, and empirical-based authority appeals. Credible media operations depend on brand consistency, cross-platform promotion, and the documented loyalty 26 All quotations in this paragraph are taken from the Abu Ziyad Al-Muhajir, “Brother Askar, Abu Yazeed Al-Qatary.” 27 Qu’ran, 9:111.
Audience Resilience Strategies 163 of online followers. Respected community standards derive from values previously established in the Qur’an and hadiths that hold out the promise of a blissful, eternal afterlife.
Audience Involvement Proto-states encourage community involvement with their media products in an effort to foster sustained engagement. With ISIS’s internal documents explicitly identifying one of their media’s primary goals as the incitement of followers to action,28 audience involvement with the group’s media systems functions as a useful first step. Strategic choices involving various media product types, substances, and presentational styles all encourage followers to participate actively in proto-state messaging. Al-Qaeda and ISIS produce and distribute speeches, nashids, fatwas, photo reports, sermons, magazines, and videos, among other forms of media products that invite audience involvement. Here, we will illustrate strategies that promote audience resilience by focusing on three particular types of multimodal products that repeatedly encourage audience engagement.
Nashids Both proto-states distribute nashids, or Islamic a capella hymns and chants, that include text-based lyrics that are sometimes accompanied by sounds (e.g., swords clashing, gunfire, galloping horses, etc.). The genesis of nashids as a recurrent form of communication dates back over 1,400 years to the time of the Prophet Muhammad.29 Around 622 CE, the people of Medina, for example, welcomed the Prophet in their city upon his migration from Mecca with the prominent nashid “The Full Moon Has Risen Over Us.” More recently, proto-states have drawn on nashids that have their roots in militant efforts to energize followers in Malaysia in the 1950s, members of the Palestinian group Fatah following the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, rebel protesters in Syria and Lebanon in the 1970s, the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt during the 1970s, and members of rebel groups fighting the Soviets in Afghanistan
28 Al-Himmah Library, “Media Operative, You Are a Muhajid.” 29 Gråtrud, “Islamic State Nasheeds.”
164 Proto-State Media Systems in the early 1980s.30 Both the expansive timeframe and the geographic dispersal of the nashids’ recurrence position the two proto-states as part of long- standing, expansive collectives fighting against state structures the groups consider infidel and apostate. While al-Qaeda and ISIS borrow and embed nashids from other groups in their media campaigns,31 they also produce original content that serves as stand-alone media products or as soundtracks for videos. AQAP, for example, has produced over sixty-five original nashids since December 2014 distributed through al-Basha’ir, its resuscitation media wing. In addition, ISIS produced at least 160 nashids since July 2013, releasing those sung or chanted in Arabic from the Ajnad Media Foundation and those in other languages through al-Hayat Media Center.32 While agreement on a set of core societal themes in the nashids remains elusive,33 proto-state nashids clearly encourage the involvement of listeners in the celebration of the collectives’ victories. The words of the nashids differentiate ingroup members from their enemies through an extensive use of collective personal pronouns (e.g., we, you).34 ISIS’s 2017 nashid “We Will Not Bow Down,” for example, illustrates this pronoun-based strategy of collectivization: “We will not bow down. We will not be defeated. We will not end. We will not flee.”35 Such lyrics invite those hearing or singing along to consider themselves as part of the proto-state. The lyrical form of the nashid reinforces that proto-state followers have an opportunity to participate in many timeless traditions of the Muslim community. The nashid’s reliance on a capella songs identifies the proto- states with a long-standing strand of Salafi Islam that prohibits instrumental accompaniments.36 At times, proto-state nashids even reappropriate the language or phrasing patterns of ancient Arab history and older poems,37 as well 30 For more on the historical uses of nashids, see Hirshkind, “Experiments in Devotion Online”; Lahoud, “A Capella Songs”; Parker, “Song and Rebellion in the Syrian Uprising”; Pieslak, Radicalism and Music; Pieslak and Lahoud, “The Anashid of the Islamic State”; Said, “Hymns (Nasheeds).” 31 Lahoud, “A Capella Songs.” 32 Lahoud and Pieslak, “Music of the Islamic State”; Pieslak and Lahoud, “The Anashid of the Islamic State.” 33 For more on themes in the nashids, see Gråtrud, “Islamic State Nasheeds”; Lahoud, “A Capella Songs”; Pieslak and Lahoud, “The Anashid of the Islamic State”; Said, “Hymns (Nasheeds)”; Shemesh, “The Songs of the Islamic State.” 34 Gråtrud, “Islamic State Nasheeds”; Kendall, “Yemen’s Al-Qa’ida and Poetry”; Shemesh, “The Songs of the Islamic State.” 35 Ajnad Media Foundation, “We Will Not Bow Down.” 36 Lahoud and Pieslak, “Music of the Islamic State”; Shemesh, “The Songs of the Islamic State.” In a few rare instances, the proto-states initially incorporated instruments in their original nashid content. 37 Said, “Hymns (Nasheeds).”
Audience Resilience Strategies 165 as memorable moments of Islamic history.38 The rhyme schemes and meters echo classical forms of Arabic poetry,39 while their use of pitch mimics the maqam system, a melodic structure dating back to pre-Islamic secular music.40 The nashids’ recurrent use of the verse-chorus format hearkens back to the madih al-nabawi genre used to praise and eulogize the Prophet Muhammad.41 The stylistic device formally reinforces the ongoing relationship between the individual to the group,42 and it encourages group identification by echoing the call-response format used by imams training students of Islam today.43 Proto-state nashids further encourage audience involvement by emphasizing the promising future that awaits their collectives. The nashid’s characteristic use of repetition44 and cascading voices45 implies an ongoing supply of fighters that stand at the ready to defend the proto-states’ causes. In ISIS’s 2014 nashid “Clanging of the Swords,” for example, the following chorus of the nashid repeats eight times, making up about 65 percent of the three-minute nashid: Clanging of the swords is the nashid of the defiant And the pathway of fighting is the trail of life Between a breakthrough that annihilates the tyrants And a sound suppressor with a beautiful echo.46
Such structural repetition is not indicative of a lack of creativity; instead, it generates aural patterns that heighten attention and facilitate recall and memorization.47 “Clanging of the Swords” ends with the same stanza, but in its last occurrence, the words echo as a sonic reminder that the group’s fighters will persist moving forward. The repetitive reinforcement encourages audience involvement by calling on potential members to join the group’s ranks toward eventual victory. 38 Kendall, “Yemen’s Al-Qa’ida and Poetry.” 39 Said, “Hymns (Nasheeds)”; Shemesh, “The Songs of the Islamic State.” 40 Pieslak, “A Musicological Perspective.” 41 Pieslak, “A Musicological Perspective.” 42 Winkler and Pieslak, “Multimodal Visual/Sound Redundancy.” 43 Matusky and Beng, The Music of Malaysia. 44 Gråtrud, “Islamic State Nasheeds.” 45 Winkler and Pieslak, “Multimodal Visual/Sound Redundancy.” 46 Ajnad Foundation, “Clanging on the Swords.” The nashid first appears in the group’s notorious one-hour video Clanging of the Swords Part 4 released in May 2014 before ISIS’s audio production house Ajnad then released it as a stand-alone nashid. 47 Schinis, “Hymnal Propaganda.”
166 Proto-State Media Systems Proto-state performances of nashids not only function as invitations for followers to connect to the past and future iterations of the collective, but they also work to encourage current fighters to remain steadfast and resilient. The papers left behind by one of the 9/11 hijackers reveal that al-Qaeda recognized the strategic value of the transhistorical performance of nashid for its group. The instructions to the hijacker told him that if his operations were on the verge of success, he should recite nashids “to his brothers, as the forebearers used to recite rajaz poetry in the midst of battle—to comfort them and to lift their hearts with the presence of God (sakina) and joy.”48 The religious connotations encourage audience involvement with the media product type as an act of piety. The lyrics of the nashids widen the span of potentially involved proto- state members by emphasizing the transpatial nature of the groups’ accomplishments. The lyrics define expansive areas of conquest, as the nashid “Maliki Has Been Vanquished” illustrates: Falluja, [the birthplace of] dignity we acquired. And Zwei’ and Dolib [their centers] we crossed, All of Ramadi we captured. Tikrit and al-Dor we liberated. And Beiji and Kirkuk we raided. In half America, we divided. And the dogs of Europe we humiliated. Sykes–Picot’s [borders] we abolished. And the sharia we established.49
The lyrics serve a dual purpose of enumerating specific areas of victory that might encourage the involvement of particular audiences, while simultaneously rejecting participation in established international orders. Further, the lyrical presentation of nashids invites expansive involvement by establishing the transpatial identity of proto-state members. Despite the fact that both proto-states mainly produce their nashids in Arabic, the singers and chanters do speak in various languages. Al-Qaeda, for example, targets Indians, Pakistanis, Somalis, and Kenyans by presenting chants and songs in Urdu and Swahili. ISIS produces nashids in multiple languages,
48 Williams, “The Bureaucracy of Terror.”
49 Ajnad Media Foundation, “Al-Maliki Has Been Vanquished.”
Audience Resilience Strategies 167 including French, Turkish, English, Bengali, Uyghur, German, Russian, Chinese, and Urdu. The proto-states also use distinct Arabic dialects to facilitate transpatial inclusion. Standard Arabic constitutes the dominant language of the proto- states’ nashids because of its widespread familiarity in and outside the region. Nevertheless, both groups use local dialects to facilitate identification with particular groups of followers. The 2017 al-Qaeda nashid “An Elegy for Leader Abu Hadi,”50 for example, begins with a poem in a Yemeni dialect (also spoken in southwestern Saudi Arabia) that praises militants on the battlefield. It then shifts to a Saudi, Najdi dialect as a melancholic chorus hails Abu Hadi a hero who “wrote with his blood the meaning of dignity and glory.”51 ISIS similarly uses dialectic appeals to reach out and involve specific audience groups. Several months after Houthis seized control of the Yemeni capital and formed a presidential council in 2015, for example, ISIS distributes the nashid “Oh Sons of Yemen.”52 The nashid’s singer chants in a Yemeni dialect to call on listeners to attack the Houthis in Sanaa. Following ISIS’s expansion into Syria in late 2013, however, ISIS shifts to the Najdi dialect popular in Saudi Arabia in its nashid “How Bad the Mention of My Return to Saudi Arabia.”53 The singer of the nashid uses the Najdi dialect to issue the lyrical appeal that “a trip to the Levant eradicates all the sadness” to recruit Saudis to the group’s cause. While subtle to Arabic speakers from other localities, the dialects underscore the proto-states’ efforts to reach individuals in specific areas to encourage their ongoing involvement.54 In short, the proto-state nashids embody a multilayered approach for encouraging audience involvement. The nashid’s group- based performance rituals emphasize a sense of belonging for individuals who serve as part of the groups. The transhistorical and transpatial identification appeals infused in the nashid’s form and lyrical content accentuate the lasting,
50 Al-Basha’ir Media Foundation, “An Elegy for Leader Abu Hadi.” 51 Al-Basha’ir Media Foundation, “An Elegy for Leader Abu Hadi.” The Najdi dialect, used in the Najd Plateau in modern-day Saudi Arabia, is the most prominent dialectical form in Saudi Arabia. The Saudi royal family uses it, as does one of the Saudi mainstream media outlets. Citizens in Yemen and other surrounding areas widely understand its use. Bedouins in some Iraqi, Syrian, Jordanian, and Kuwaiti towns also speak a Bedouin-Najdi subdialect. For more on Najdi dialect, see Ingham, Najdi Arabic; and Racoma, “Inside the Arabic Languages.” 52 Ajnad Media Foundation, “Oh Sons of Yemen.” 53 Ajnad Media Foundation, “How Bad the Mention of My Return to Saudi Arabia.” 54 For a sophisticated analysis of the recruiting context for al-Qaeda and ISIS, see Zelin’s discussion of Tunisia in Your Sons Are at Your Service.
168 Proto-State Media Systems widely available opportunities for participation in the proto-state communities. Finally, the nashids incorporate various languages and dialects into their presentation in ways that add specialized inclusion appeals for particular target audiences.
Magazines and Newsletters The magazines and newsletters of al-Qaeda and ISIS combine textual and visual modalities in ways designed to sustain a number of target audiences. Proto-states seek out specific nationalities through the creation of media content produced in multiple languages, global audiences through transpatial identity constructions,55 and localized Muslim audiences through context- specific appeals.56 Within each of these targeted groups, the followers of the magazines and newsletters include fighters, supporters, sympathizers, and enemies of the proto-state.57 Research to date, however, lacks full agreement regarding the themes or worldviews used to reach the target audiences in the proto-state print publications.58 One overarching message prevalent in proto-state media products, however, is that the proto-states simultaneously seek to undermine existing state apparatuses while instituting their own alternative configurations. Both al- Qaeda and ISIS submit revised conceptions of existing state apparatuses as central to the accomplishment of their missions. They stress the need for followers to emigrate to join their new collectives, participate in a capable militant force ready to defend the proto-state alternative, and accept an alternative functioning governing apparatus in their controlled territories. As the following will demonstrate, the magazines and newsletters of the proto-states utilize multimodal reinforcement to emphasize three associated themes to augment that community-building project: emigration, militancy, and state building. 55 Droogan and Peattie, “Mapping the Thematic Landscape.” 56 Colas, “What Does Dabiq Do.” 57 Mahzam, “Rumiyah—Jihadist Propaganda.” 58 For examples of scholars who offer various taxonomies of the groups’ themes, see Abdelrahim, “Visual Analysis of ISIS”; Cantey, “Beyond the Pale”; Colas, “What Does Dabiq Do”; Droogan and Peattie, “Mapping the Thematic Landscape”; Ingram, “An Analysis of Islamic State’s Dabiq,” “An Analysis of Inspire and Dabiq 2017”; Lakomy, “Towards the ‘Olive Trees of Rome’ ”; Parvez, “ ‘The Khilafah’s Soldiers in Bengal’ ”; Strnad and Hyneck, “ISIS’s Hybrid Identity”; Welch, “Theology, Heroism, Justice”; Wignell, Tan, and O’Halloran, “Under the Shade of AK47s,” “Violent Extremism and Iconisation”; Winter, Documenting the Virtual “Caliphate.”
Audience Resilience Strategies 169 The proto-states’ online print publications, for example, stress the need for emigration to replenish and expand the groups’ ranks. Textually, they provide ongoing iterations of personal narratives and eulogies to praise individuals who have relocated to the proto-states. Al-Qaeda publications highlight followers who have relocated to the group’s active battlefields. ISIS publications celebrate followers who have come to both fight and live in the place they claim as the future site of the apocalyptic battles in ancient prophecies.59 Hadiths displayed at the conclusion of almost all Dabiq issues, for example, complete the apocalyptic narrative by promising near-term fulfillment of those prophecies.60 To reinforce the emigration theme visually, the proto-states rely on a heavy use of dynamic photographs. Like calls for emigration, dynamic photographs invite viewers to engage with and complete ongoing movements. A number of empirical studies suggest that such images work to enhance audience involvement. Studies utilizing functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) scans on individuals seeing photographs snapped in the midst of action in progress, for example, activate the same regions of the brain as those witnessing actual movements taking place.61 Experimental studies add that dynamic imagery stimulate audience attention, recall, and involvement levels as viewers must rely on their imaginations to complete the movements underway at the time the photograph was taken.62 As a result, the two proto-states’ use of dynamic images invites audience involvement by readers of their magazines and newsletters. ISIS, for example, displays dynamic photo subjects in roughly two-thirds of its images in Dabiq, Rumiyah, and al-Naba’.63 Figure 6.10 provides an example of a dynamic photograph in Dabiq. It shows a line of men walking behind a rider on horseback. The tagline superimposed onto the bottom of the photograph reads “The Soldiers of Wilāyat Khurāsān” to emphasize that the displayed marchers are ISIS fighters migrating to their next battlefield. While some of
59 Ostřanský, The Jihadist Preachers. Others discussing the apocalyptic theme in ISIS media products include Ingram, “An Analysis of Islamic State’s Dabiq”; and Winter, Documenting the Virtual “Caliphate.” 60 Ostřanský, The Jihadist Preachers. 61 Goebel et al., “The Constructive Nature of Vision”; Kourtzi and Kanwisher, “Activation in Human MT/MST.” 62 Cian, Krishna, and Elder, “This Logo Moves Me,” “A Sign of Things to Come”; Pratt et al., “It’s Alive! Animate Motion.” 63 Winkler, Dewick, and Luu, “Dynamic/Static Image Use.” The same essay calculates how ISIS’s use of dynamic imagery works differently in publications written in English and Arabic distributed by the group.
170 Proto-State Media Systems
Figure 6.10 Example of a dynamic image showing ISIS militants photographed in the process of movement. Source: “The Soldiers of Wilāyat Khurāsān,” Dabiq, Issue 7, 36.
the dynamic images in the proto-states’ publications do not directly display movements associated with emigration routes to the battlefields or the caliphate, they nevertheless function metaphorically to encourage followers to move along on what the two proto-states consider to be the path to Allah. The theme of the readiness and prowess of the groups’ militant forces receives the most prominent multimodal reinforcement in the proto-states’ print publications. As previous chapters have already detailed, the texts of al-Qaeda and ISIS’s print publications draw community-based boundaries demarcating the Ummah’s militant fighters from those the proto-state deems apostates or infidels. The articles and essays appearing in the publications provide elaborate justifications for the proto-states’ interpretation of jihad.64 They mostly focus on violence-laden, Qur’anic verses from the Medina period revealed to the Prophet Muhammad and his followers upon their early migration from Mecca to Medina to escape persecution and establish an
64 See also Colas, “What Does Dabiq Do”; Droogan and Peattie, “Mapping the Thematic Landscape”; Ingram, “An Analysis of Islamic State’s Dabiq” and “An Analysis of Inspire and Dabiq”; Parvez, “ ‘The Khilafah’s Soldiers in Bengal’ ”; and Welch, “Theology, Heroism, Justice.”
Audience Resilience Strategies 171 Islamic State.65 The texts stress the transhistorical, transpatial character of the Ummah’s fight, and they feature stories of child fighters to emphasize the future continuity of militant forces.66 The textual narratives tout the victorious outcome expected for current and future battles by accentuating the proto-states’ ready supply of militant forces, heroes, and equipment. The publications’ articles also provide added assurances to readers that divine providence will be available, if needed, to succeed on the battlefield. To reinforce visually the omnipresent strength of the proto-states’ fighting forces, al-Qaeda and ISIS repeatedly use images that show militants in action. ISIS displays its own militants in slightly more than a third of its total image count in both its English and Arabic publications.67 Similarly, al-Qaeda shows militant fighters in 36 percent of the images in its Arabic publications, but adopts a less provocative stance in its English publications, where militants only appear in 17 percent of the images on its pages.68 Despite the fact that both groups show the next generation of fighters to some extent, ISIS displays almost four times more images of child fighters than al-Qaeda. To display the readiness of the militant forces, both proto-states extensively rely upon extensive use of about to die images. About to die photographs showcase impending loss of life in ways that prompt audiences to use their imaginations to interpret the events before and after the moment of looming loss.69 One type of about to die image particularly relevant to the militant’s battlefield readiness is presumed death images (i.e., photographs that display guns, bomb-making materials, tanks, explosions, and other means of destruction likely to produce future death). Presumed death images encourage the highest level of audience involvement among all of the about to die image types because audiences must engage their imaginations to fill in those that will kill, those to be killed, and how the act will occur.70
65 Frissen et al., “Capitalizing on the Koran.” 66 Kaczkowski, “Qualitative Content Analysis”; Watkin and Looney, “ ‘The Lions of Tomorrow.’ ” 67 Across all issues of Dabiq and Rumiyah, ISIS shows militants in 36 percent of its images; in issues 1–229 of al-Naba’, ISIS shows militants in 35 percent of its total image count. These same issues of ISIS publications serve as the basis for all descriptive statistics reported throughout this section. 68 Al-Qaeda’s English magazines analyzed here include Inspire (Issues 1–17), Jihad Recollections (Issue 1–4), and the portions of Gaidi Mtanni (Issues 1–9) not written in Swahili. Al-Masrā (Issues 1– 58) serves as the basis of analysis regarding Arabic publications. These issues of al-Qaeda publications collectively serve as the basis for all descriptive statistics in this section. 69 Zelizer, in About to Die, is the first to theorize on about to die imagery in contemporary Western media contexts. For its use in the proto-state media context, see Winkler et al., “The Medium Is Terrorism” and “Images of Death and Dying.” 70 Zelizer, About to Die.
172 Proto-State Media Systems While both proto-states heavily use presumed death images, the two diverge on how they incorporate them in the media products to facilitate audience involvement. Al-Qaeda displays presumed death images in 40 percent of its total image count with few noticeable differences between publications written in English (41 percent) and Arabic (38 percent). ISIS likewise utilizes presumed death images in 42 percent of its total image count. However, it does differ in the frequency of use of the visual strategy in its Arabic and English publications. Presumed death images account for 46 percent of the total image count in ISIS’s Arabic publications, but only 36 percent in its English publications. The difference likely reflects the added importance of visually reinforcing the presumption of future deaths to enemies of Islam in and around ISIS-controlled territories during times of intense conflict in the region.71 The presumed death images highlight the militants’ capacity to kill by reassuring viewers that the group still has access to needed equipment, ammunition, and explosives to defend the collective moving forward. Another type of about to die image that underscores the proto-states’ military readiness is certain death images. These images display a photo subject who appears alive in a published photograph, but the accompanying text of the magazine or newsletter verifies that the death of the individual has already occurred.72 In the print publications of al-Qaeda and ISIS, many certain death images feature smiling martyrs who often gesture their belief in monotheism (by pointing their index fingers upward) in the period before they take their own lives. The proto-states’ certain death images also show individuals whom the groups consider infidels or apostates on their knees displaying negative facial expressions in the moments immediately preceding their executions. ISIS’s notorious image of Steven Sotloff kneeling in an orange jumpsuit with a somber look on his face reflects such a pose, with the accompanying text confirming that “his killing was the consequence of U.S. arrogance.”73 Over 150 photographs, or between 3 and 4 percent in the total image count, in ISIS’s English and Arabic publications are certain death images. Al-Qaeda similarly displays certain death images in 3 percent of its total image count in its English publications, while doubling that percentage in its Arabic publications. The difference in approach may stem from the meaning of the visual strategy for believers of the Islamic faith. The certain death photographs not only magnify the fighting potential and power of the
71 Dodwell, Milton, and Rassler, The Caliphate’s Global Workforce. 72 Zelizer, About to Die.
73 “A Message from Sotloff,” Dabiq, Issue 4.
Audience Resilience Strategies 173
Figure 6.11 ISIS displays governing authority over individuals in its controlled territories. Source: “The Laws of Allah,” Dabiq, Issue 10, 60.
proto-state, but they also give the appearance of a preferable after-life outcome for nearby fighters more likely to join the proto-state fight. A third central theme that receives extensive multimodal reinforcement in proto-state print publications is that such groups can successfully assume the community functions of existing states. Previous examinations of the textual content of ISIS’s magazines emphasize the patterned association between state functions and the community-belonging needs of the group,74 as well as the legitimization of the proto-states to carry out those duties based on the conclusions of authoritative voices of Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, the Prophet’s companions, and chosen Muslim scholars.75 State-building images show the active presence of social services, law enforcement, markets and currencies, media operations, and alliances with outside groups. For example, in Figure 6.11, ISIS displays an image of confiscated cigarettes with the tagline, “The men of hisbah (commanding good and forbidding evil) seize 74 Lakomy, “Towards the ‘Olive Trees of Rome’ ”; Welch, “Theology, Heroism, Justice.” 75 Lakomy, “Towards the ‘Olive Trees of Rome.’ ” For comparative studies on the groups’ magazines, see El Damanhoury, “Constructing Place Identity,” “The Visual Depiction of Statehood”; Wignell et al., “Under the Shade of AK47s,” “Violent Extremism and Iconisation”; and Cantey, “Beyond the Pale.” Strnad and Hynek, in “ISIS’s Hybrid Identity,” maintain a bifurcated distinction between the state-building and terror network identities of such groups, but here, we consider the acts of aggression simply a defining component of the proto-states.
174 Proto-State Media Systems and destroy a large quantity of cigarettes, alcohol, and other haram items,” to demonstrate the governing authority of ISIS within its self-proclaimed caliphate. State-building images also show maps of territorial control and available pristine lands for future expansion. While both proto-states display photographs that display state-building activities, ISIS and al-Qaeda differ regarding the degree their groups choose to emphasize those activities. With state building central to its immediate mission, ISIS displays conventional state activities and outcomes in 35 percent of all of its magazine and newsletter photographs. Al-Qaeda, by contrast, uses state-building images in only 12 percent of its total image count, reflecting its longer-term vision for establishing the caliphate. As Figures 6.12 and 6.13 reveal, the main difference between the two proto-states concerns ISIS’s more frequent display of media operations, a factor that is particularly apparent in the proto-states’ Arabic publications.76 In sum, the online print publications of the proto-states combine visual and textual patterns of multimodal reinforcement to involve and sustain their readership. The text-based theme of emigration stresses the urgent
Media Operations Allegiance Pledges Available Land Markets/Currency Territorial Maps Law Enforcement Social Services 0
40 Al-Qaeda Arabic
Figure 6.12 Frequency of state-building images in the Arabic and English publications of al-Qaeda. 76 Damanhoury, “The Visual Depiction of Statehood,” notes that the state-building images in ISIS’s English magazines align with the four internationally recognized state criteria of the Montevideo Convention at the United Nations. The images in ISIS’s Arabic newsletter are far less likely to display the group providing social services or having population control in their territories.
Audience Resilience Strategies 175 Media Operations Allegiance Pledges Available Land Markets/Currency Territorial Maps Law Enforcement Social Services 0
Figure 6.13 Frequency of state-building images in the Arabic and English publications of ISIS.
need for the proto-state collective to come together, while the extensive use of dynamic imagery functions as a first step in that process as readers participate in the movements of the displayed photo subjects. The proto- state publications also couple the text-based theme of the proto-states’ capable defense force with an extensive reliance on about to die imagery to encourage audiences involvement in those very outcomes. Finally, both proto-states use textual and visual messaging to document their capacity to govern a caliphate. Combined, the multimodal strategies emphasize the proto-states’ readiness to provide a preferable alternative to existing state structures.
Videos Videos constitute the most sophisticated multimodal messaging opportunities for the proto-states because they utilize the widest range of modalities to reinforce conveyed information. Yet creating a useful taxonomy of proto- state videos is difficult because single videos often display a mash-up of various topics and stylistic devices. When disaggregated, however, the videos do reveal patterned strategies of multimodal reinforcement in recurrent subject matter themes of the videos. To illustrate, the following will explore topical
176 Proto-State Media Systems segments focusing on IEDs, training, battlefield operations, and battlefield casualties. Al-Qaeda first popularized IED video segments in the 2000s. The typical design of IED scenes builds anticipation through early text or audio descriptions of planned attacks followed immediately by visual narration sequencing how to build the IED, visual modeling of how to bury and hide the device from intended targets, and a background nashid toggling between a chorus of singers (or a collective chanting) and a soloist to reinforce the future connections between those who carry out IED operations and the group.77 A long shot characteristically oversees a road or pathway from afar, positioning the viewer to see the action from the militant’s perspective. A man’s voice often whispers, “God is great,” to lend divine inspiration to the mission. The viewer and the militant then await the approach of a Humvee, a personnel carrier, an armored vehicle, or a tank. Upon arrival, the IED detonates, creating a loud explosion that lights up the screen and typically results in flames engulfing the vehicle. Frequently, the video repeats the explosion over and over again—sometimes in slow motion—in ways that may leave viewers gleeful, unsettled, or traumatized, depending on their past histories with trauma and their interpretation of the eventual outcome.78 IED segments have also been common in ISI’s media campaign given the bomb’s prevalent use in Iraq in the early 2000s. The fifty-seven-minute al- Furqan Media release The IEDs Are the Most Useful79 in 2011, for example, features about thirty distinct attacks utilizing a similar multimodal sequence to the example just described. Adding to the earlier al-Qaeda formula, ISI edits numerous, back-to-back attacks accompanied by a nashid and/or statements from leaders (e.g., Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, Abu Umar al-Baghdadi, or Abu Hamza al-Muhajir) that call on viewers to wage jihad against those the proto-state considers the disbelievers and the apostates. As the group morphed into ISIS, the same multimodal techniques appear in the provincial videos. A two-minute 2015 video by North Baghdad Province, for example, uses the “Clanging of the Swords” nashid on the audio track while seven different IED attacks visually repeat on the screen.80 The sonic, 77 For examples, see Al-Andalus Media, “Explosion of Three Bombs;” AQI Media, “Improvised Explosive Devices.” 78 Robinson in “Traveling Eye” indicates that a common reaction to slow motion is the sensation of being unsettled. Hackmann, “Imagery Rescripting,” notes that posttraumatic stress disorder sufferers often react negatively to the bright lights and loud sounds of videos. 79 Al-Furqan Media, The IEDs Are the Most Useful. 80 Baghdad Provincial Media, The Explosive Devices Are Most Effective.
Audience Resilience Strategies 177 visual, and textual modes all convey the information that unanticipated, fatal consequences await those that the group considers apostates or infidels. Additionally, both al-Qaeda and ISIS routinely use predictable multimodal reinforcement strategies in their video segments of militant training exercises. AQAP tends to produce short segments that are often less than a minute long to emphasize training outcomes, namely that al-Qaeda has a ready, unified fighting force. For example, in January 2012, one al-Malahem Media release displays a long line of militants standing in formation. The recruits, dressed in black pants with black head coverings, complete basic movements in unison. The audio track reinforces the theme of ready unity by having all the militants simultaneously participate in a call and response to the trainer’s commands that includes collective stomps to highlight the uniform readiness of the fighting force. Textually, a tagline serves as the final modality emphasizing the same theme: “The Mujahideen’s readiness to liberate it [the Arabian Peninsula] in 2009.”81 By contrast, ISIS videos typically include more extensive training segments that demonstrate the techniques with more sophisticated instances of multimodal reinforcement.82 In the proto-state’s video Terrify the Enemy of God,83 for example, the training segment lasts more than five minutes. The segment appears in component parts that illustrate the various stages of the training process. As the video progresses, the recurrence of a futuristic transition slide articulates several steps in the training program: “Physical Preparation,” “Military Camps,” “Night Intrusion,” “Training on Prisoner Release,” “Thrust into Buildings,” “Avoid the Ambushes,” and “With It, You Will Terrorize Your Enemy and God’s Enemy.” At the end of each transition, the camera quickly draws the viewer into the action through a lens zoom deployed before the demonstration of the next component begins. When demonstrating training exercises, ISIS reinforces the development of advanced muscle memory through repetition accompanied by recurrent nashid lyrics, rhymes, and rhythmic patterns. The training segments also emphasize the continuous supply of militant recruits. One militant after another responds to the movement commands, as the accompanying nashids incorporate a cascade of voices to reinforce the theme that the ready supply of militants remains unbroken. 81 Al-Malahem Media, And There Are Martyrs of You. 82 Winkler and Pieslak, in “Multimodal Visual/Sound Redundancy,” provide a more extensive discussion of the themes that garner multimodal reinforcement in ISIS training videos. 83 Hims Provincial Media, Terrify the Enemy of God and Your Enemy.
178 Proto-State Media Systems Finally, al-Qaeda and ISIS adopt similar patterns of multimodal reinforcement to emphasize themes in their battlefield segments.84 For example, one prominent theme in the battlefield segments is that proto-state fighters cause battlefield deaths. The loyalties of proto-state fighters are branded through gestures of monotheism and/or the appearance of the groups’ respective flags in battlefield footage showing militants in active conflicts. Visually, the video toggles between shots of the proto-state fighters using various forms of weaponry and those of buildings or transportation vehicles blowing up as a result of the use of proto-state ordinance. The visual footage uses point-of-view shots that “place” the viewer in the battlefield action sequences. The audio track in the battlefield sequences typically includes an up-tempo nashid reinforcing the rise of adrenaline associated with battlefield activities. The audio track also reinforces the cause-effect sequence by playing the same, uninterrupted nashid as background to the firing of the weapon throughout the destructive outcome. At times, the voice of a narrator describes the fight underway and its positive results, while fighters shout out their successful battle cry, “Allahu Akbar” (God Is Greater). Following in sequence after the battlefield segments in proto-state videos are often scenes that display the casualties resulting from the military engagements. One related theme that proto-states often utilize multimodal reinforcement to convey is that the afterlife of enemy fighters will be far worse than that of the proto-state fighters.85 Viewers who see the condition of the body after death function as witnesses to the comparative fate that awaits the militants and enemies of the proto-states. Proto-state fighters appear as clean corpses, at times with contented, smiling faces and closed eyes at peace, as they lay on smooth surfaces awaiting their expected easy transition to the higher levels of heaven. Enemy fighters, by contrast, appear unprepared for the afterlife, as their corpses are often dirty, disfigured, and bloody as they lay splayed over rocky terrain. The contortions of their facial expressions imply ongoing pain, and their open eyes suggest a deep placed fear of what is to come. The accompanying soundtracks to video segments showing casualties 84 See, for example, al-Janub Provincial Media, God Will Punish Them; Dimashq Provincial Media, And If They Fight You; Sinai Provincial Media, Shockers of the Heart; Hims Provincial Media, Assault of Redemption #3; and Kirkuk Provincial Media, The Raid of Suhayb al Iraqi. For a related al-Qaeda video segment, see Ansar al-Shari’a Reporter–Abyan Province, Liberation of Waqar City from the Gangs of Abd al-Latif al-Sayyid and AQIM, Shades of the Swords: Zaqqar Valley Ambush. For a more expansive discussion of the themes in battlefield segments in ISIS videos, see Winkler and Pieslak, “Daesh’s Multimodal Strategies.” 85 For a more expansive discussion of the themes of casualty segments, see Winkler et al., “Images of Death and Dying” and Winkler and Pieslak, “Daesh’s Multimodal Strategies.”
Audience Resilience Strategies 179 reinforce the message. Somber, reverential nashids often supplement footage of proto-state fighters’ corpses in the video segments, while more up-tempo nashids standard for battlefield victories accompany the display of enemy corpses. While al-Qaeda relies on gory images of corpses less often than ISIS in its videos, the differences between the two proto-states’ casualty segments are more a question of degree than kind. In sum, the multimodal audience involvement strategies of the two proto- states vary based on the type of media product, its subject matter, and the group that produced it. Proto-state nashids combine lyrics, sound effects, presentational forms, performances, and cultural diffusion practices to encourage potential members to join their communities. Publications rely on patterned uses of textual content combined with particular types of still images that invite audiences to use their imaginations to reinforce desired transitions away from existing states toward their own. Video segments combine predictable multimodal patterns of message reinforcement within recurrent subject matter content segments. Videos can utilize the benefits available from nashids, still images, and text while importantly adding drama that further draws viewers into the action sequences.
Media Product Adaptation and Resiliency Proto-states face repeated challenges to their continuing existence both from recognized states seeking to preserve the existing international order and from competing groups wanting to assume governing authority over their membership. In response, proto-states adapt their media products and distribution venues to sustain their communities. Previous work demonstrates that the content and form of proto-state media campaigns shifts along with certain state responses such as intensified militant operations,86 killings of proto-state leaders,87 and obvious weakening of competing proto-states.88 86 Berger, “Countering Islamic State”; Cunningham, Everton, and Schroeder, “Social Media and the ISIS”; Damanhoury et al., “Examining the Military-Media Nexus”; Kuznar, “The Stability of the Islamic State”; Lakomy, “Towards the ‘Olive Trees of Rome’ ”; Milton, Communication Breakdown and Down, but Not Out; Mohamedou, “Modernity and the Globalised Insurgent”; Pieslak and Lahoud, “The Anashid of the Islamic State”; Wignell et al., “Under the Shade of AK47s”; Welch, “Theology, Heroism, Justice”; Winter, “Apocalypse, Later.” 87 Damanhoury, “Dissecting Visual Conflict”; Medina, “Social Network Analysis”; Milton, Communication Breakdown, and Down, but Not Out; Roggio, “Al Qaeda in Iraq Is ‘Broken’ ”; Torres- Soriano, “The Caliphate Is Not a Tweet”; Winkler et al., “Intersections of ISIS Media Leader Loss.” 88 Winkler et al., “Considering the Military-Media Nexus.”
180 Proto-State Media Systems Less clear is if and how proto-state media products adapt to events and other conditions caused by their own group’s actions. Chapter 5 shows how certain material conditions, when symbolically related to the six defining elements of proto-states, prompt attention by online audiences and traditional media sources. The same material conditions also correspond to changes in the groups’ media content, as illustrated in an analysis of the visual media content of the print publications of ISIS and al-Qaeda in the period immediately before and after each incident.89 All incidents corresponding to the first defining element of the proto- state—the presence of an ideology—accompany shifts in the visual media content. During events with a clear connection to the groups’ ideology, ISIS and al-Qaeda more heavily emphasize their power to destroy existing structures and those seeking to protect them. After al-Qaeda’s 2010 attack on a Catholic church in Baghdad, for example, Inspire includes a higher than statistically expected number of images of corpses and destroyed buildings. Likewise, ISIS displays a higher than expected number of destroyed building images after its 2019 Easter attacks on Sri Lankan churches and hotels. After the Charlie Hebdo shootings, however, Inspire distinguishes itself in how it reinforces al-Qaeda’s power projection. The magazine includes a higher than expected number of images utilizing a proven strategy for conveying power and dominance, namely photo subjects looking directly at the viewer.90 Events linked to the second characteristic of the proto-state—a pattern of aggressive acts against local, regional, national, or international governments—correspond to the largest number of significant changes in the proto-state’s visual content.91 Acts of aggression often precede increased, visual power projection in proto-state media products. After ISIS’s series of November 2015 bombings in Paris, for example, the group’s English 89 For this section, we examine images in Dabiq (Issues 1–15), Rumiyah (Issues 1–13), Gaidi Mtaani (Issues 1–9), al-Naba (Issues 1–239), al-Masrā (Issues 1–57), and Jihad Recollections (Issues 1–4). We compare images displayed in the three issues before and after each incident highlighted in Chapter 5, unless only two issues were available before and after the event. Two coders evaluated each image in the dataset on twenty-one content categories, with a third coder resolving any differences. We used chi-square analyses to identify significant differences in the before and after period for each category, and the approach presented in Sharpe, “Your Chi-Square Test,” for comparing statistically observed versus expected cell frequencies to identify an over-or underemphasized visual element. Appendix 1 provides the statistical results for each of the findings in this discussion. 90 Tang and Schmeichel, in “Look Me in the Eye,” document how viewers in experimental settings interpret photo subjects using direct eye contact as more powerful and dominant. 91 Winkler et al., in “Shifts in the Visual,” maintains that attacks with low death counts do not result in changes to the visual media campaign strategy. With attacks causing high death counts, shifts in visual media strategy correspond to whether the attack generates high or low levels of publicity from traditional media outlets.
Audience Resilience Strategies 181 magazines displays a higher than expected number of images displaying non-ISIS fighters, corpses, and certain death. Immediately following the same attack, al-Naba’ shows a higher than expected number of destructive acts in progress and casualties caused by ISIS. After the attack on the Russian airliner in Sinai in late 2015, Dabiq also displays a higher than expected number of images showing enemy fighters, enemy corpses, and certain death. Considered as a whole, the proto-states’ visual displays heighten the militants’ apparent power and dominance by depicting more militants and more deadly, destructive outcomes of their attacks often following their own acts of aggression. Notably, ISIS does not always rely on visualized power projection after it commits acts of aggression. At the proto-states’ zenith, it refocused its visual strategy on emphasizing the state-building activities of its caliphate following successful, high-profile attacks. After the bombing of the Brussels airport in March 2015, for example, Dabiq displays a lower than expected number of ISIS fighters and a lower than expected number of images showing ISIS militants as the cause of death. Instead, the magazine shows a higher than expected number of images of maps and media propaganda that visually expand the offline and online boundaries of its self-proclaimed caliphate. When ISIS-inspired attacks occur in the United States, ISIS differentiates its visual strategy by taking a more provocative posture in its English rather than its Arabic publications. After the ISIS inspired shootings in San Bernardino, for example, ISIS adopts a dominant visual posture in its English publication. Dabiq shows a higher than expected number of images of Western leaders, destroyed buildings, and certain death. In al-Naba, however, ISIS is less confrontational. The Arabic newsletter displays a lower than expected number of images of adult males visually appearing in close proximity to the viewer, perhaps in an effort to avoid provoking a more intense, retaliatory response by US-led coalition forces in the region. Events emphasizing the third characteristic of proto- states— governance—also relate to changes in the publication’s visual media strategy, but in ways distinct from shifts associated with ideology and aggression.92 While still projecting a heightened visualized sense of control, the focal point of that control changes. After ISIS released the first videos of the hostage
92 The reason why we excluded many of the incidents related to governance in Chapter 5 (e.g., declaration of the caliphate, the 9/11 attacks and responsibility declaration, etc.) is because the events occurred prior to the production cycle of the print media products analyzed.
182 Proto-State Media Systems John Cantlie rejecting the West’s reasoning for going to war, for example, Dabiq displays a higher than expected number of images showing individuals buying products at markets in the caliphate, but a lower than expected number of images focusing on the group’s media propaganda efforts. The approach emphasizes the caliphate’s on-the-ground, governing capabilities, while deemphasizing its online activities. After bin Laden publicly criticized Obama’s foreign policy in the run up to the President’s Cairo address, however, Jihad Recollections adopts a different posture. It shows a lower than expected number of images of Arab, Russian, and Asian leaders, all of whom represent potential future competitors to proto-state governance in the region. The same magazine also shows a higher than expected number of images of law enforcement, destructive acts in progress, possible death, and certain death, all of which project a sense of control within the proto-state community rather than on the battlefield. Without having a governing role over a self-proclaimed caliphate in the contemporary environment, al- Qaeda and its affiliates instead emphasize various forms of authority to position themselves for future leadership control. Incidents associated with the fourth defining characteristic of the proto- states—population control—correspond to adaptations in the visual media campaigns, but only when an associated attack occurs against the West and the publication is in English. ISIS’s attacks against police stations in Saudi Arabia, Iraq, and Egypt do not correspond to significant changes in visual messaging in either the group’s English or Arabic publications. However, after ISIS beheaded Americans James Foley and Steven Sotloff, its English language magazine Dabiq shows a higher than expected number of images featuring ISIS militants as the cause of death. The approach reinforces the message that the proto-state has firm control over life and death decisions for those who enter its controlled territories. ISIS adopts a different approach in the aftermath of attacks conducted outside of the Middle East and North Africa region, such as the September 2014 police stabbings in Melbourne. Dabiq instead shows a higher than expected number of photographs snapped from an intimate distance (i.e., a photographic strategy conventionally used to highlight the victim status after traumatic events like natural disasters). When undertaking attacks outside its controlled areas, ISIS uses population control events to emphasize the vulnerability of existing state-based alternatives. Events related to the proto-states’ fifth characteristic—territorial control— also correspond to changes in visual media campaign strategy.
Audience Resilience Strategies 183 Between 2014 and 2018, the total number of images in Dabiq, Rumiyah, and al-Naba’ grew when the proto-state’s territory expanded and declined when the group lost territory. During periods of territorial expansion, the proto-state had a higher than expected number of military-related images in both its English and Arabic-language publications. In periods of territorial decline, the English and Arabic publications, instead, had a higher than expected number of state-building images, particularly those that depicted a higher than expected number of images showing social services, law enforcement, markets and currency, and media operations.93 The shift signaled that despite setbacks on the battlefield, the self-proclaimed caliphate would continue moving forward. Finally, incidents related to the sixth defining characteristic of proto- states— alliance building— correspond to changes in the visual media campaigns of al-Qaeda and ISIS, but the shift depends on the identity of the groups involved. After al-Shabaab pledged allegiance to al-Qaeda leader al-Zawahiri, for example, both Inspire and Gaidi Mtaani show a higher than expected number of images of corpses and a higher than expected number of foregrounded images. The decision to assume a more prominent, foregrounded visual posture that features reminders of fatal outcomes awaiting enemies likely reflects the proto-states’ heightened confidence level in the fighting capacity of its new alliance. After the leader of al-Nusra pledged allegiance to al-Zawahiri, however, AQAP visually shifted to deemphasize military prowess. Inspire shows a lower than expected number of images of martyrs, militant fighters, and males. To reinforce the less threatening posture, the same publication shows a higher than expected number of photographs that point the camera angle down at the photo subject (i.e., a production technique that denotes less power and credibility) and more images of photo subjects sitting down. After Boko Haram pledged allegiance to al-Baghdadi, ISIS assumed a more assertive approach. Dabiq shows a higher than expected emphasis on media propaganda and social services as visual proof that the group’s caliphate is indeed remaining and expanding. 93 As the two examples of incidents of territorial control shifts described in Chapter 5 occur prior to ISIS’s declaration of a caliphate and before the group began producing and distributing its own media products, here we report the findings of Kaczkowski et al., “Intersections of the Real.” These authors examine changes in the visual images in issues of Dabiq, Rumiyah, and al-Naba’ as available from July 2014 to September 2018 in relation to ISIS’s expansions and contractions of territorial control during the same period. For more on the relationship between territorial control and the media campaigns of the proto-states, see Frampton, Fisher, and Prucha, The New Netwar; Kaczkowski et al., “Intersections of the Real”; Lakomy, “Towards the ‘Olive Trees of Rome’ ”; Milton, Communication Breakdown and Down, but Not Out; and Winter and Ingram, “Terror, Online and Off.”
184 Proto-State Media Systems Taken together, the pledges of allegiance underscore that the proto-state media systems appear sensitive to each allegiance pledge in their visual media campaigns, but each alliance is distinctive. In short, events symbolically associated with the defining elements of proto-states do correspond to changes in the visual media elements of al- Qaeda and ISIS print publications. Notably, two visual content categories— religion and flags—do not significantly change in relation to events linked to any of the defining elements. The constancy of both proto-states’ visual approach for displaying religion implies that the Muslim faith functions as a core element of identity formation for the collectives of al-Qaeda and ISIS regardless of on-ground or online events. The dependable appearance of proto-states’ flags underscores the resilience of both the emblem and the proto-state itself throughout the ebbs and flows of existential challenges.
Summary and Conclusions To maximize and sustain market share, the two proto-state media systems strive to establish themselves as credible sources of information, as engaging experiences that stimulate consumer involvement with their respective collectives, and as entities ready to adapt to shifting material circumstances. Related strategic choices differ based on the identity of the proto-state group, the media product type, the subject matter of the content, the presentational form of that content, the target audience, the media channels, and the situational context. Without an ongoing, in-depth understanding of each of these elements, evaluations of proto-state media content could be partially mistaken, if not totally misguided, in reaching any conclusions about the future operations of the groups’ media systems.
7 An Analytical Approach for Understanding Proto-State Media Systems Militant proto-states challenge claims to states’ sovereignty. Their presence alone functions as proof that currently recognized states lack complete control over their own populations and territories. Proto-states demonstrate their readiness to serve as alternatives to state structures through the development of competing ideological formations, acts of aggression, governing structures, territorial control, population control, and non-state alliances. In short, proto-states embody a multifaceted challenge to the international order. In the contemporary era, proto-states have a heightened importance due, in large part, to their expanded presence within the online environment. Wide-ranging consumer access to low-cost digital communications broadens message reach around the globe, removes content filters of traditional media, creates new opportunities for unmonitored, private communications, provides a platform suitable for repeated emotional and ideational appeals, and encourages high-frequency viewing of messaging content. Digital tools also permit militant proto-states to incorporate exaggeration, deceptive practices, and imaginary activities into their messaging more easily with relative impunity.1 Capitalizing on these and other opportunities available in the current global communications environment, proto-state media systems now pose an ongoing test to the marketplace of ideas in ways that raise the need to understand such operations in the twenty-first century.
1 For examples of ISIS’s use of exaggeration, see Winkler et al., “Intersections of ISIS Media Leader Loss and Media Campaign Strategy” and “Considering the Military-Media Nexus from the Perspective of Competing Groups.” For examples of its use of deception, see Dauber, “The Truth Is Out There” and Milton, “Truth and Lies in the Caliphate.” For examples of its use of imagined renderings, see Lokmanoglu, “Coin as Imagined Sovereignty.” Proto-State Media Systems. Carol K. Winkler and Kareem El Damanhoury, Oxford University Press. © University of Maryland National Consortium for the Study of Terrorism and Responses to Terrorism (START) 2022. DOI: 10.1093/oso/9780197568026.003.0007
186 Proto-State Media Systems Meaningful evaluations of proto-state media systems recognize the dual purposes that such institutions serve. Like all media systems, those of the proto-states have an obligation to build and sustain their own viability and vitality within an increasingly saturated media environment. But simultaneously, they must also build and sustain the community of adherents willing to commit to the proto-state.
Revisiting Assumptions of State-Based Media Systems Theory Many conventional, state-based criteria for evaluating media systems retain their currency in the contemporary context. The need to track the mass circulation of media products, for instance, remains a needed factor for determining the relative strength of a proto-state media system. However, a wider accounting of available media product types (along with accompanying reach and consumption levels) would yield a more apt depiction of such groups’ circulation patterns. Rather than focus on newspapers and television that serve as the bases of state-based analyses, proto-states have wider portfolios that include newsletters, magazines, pamphlets, infographics, photo reports, nashids, fatwas, videos, and personal chat rooms, among other communication forms. These additional media products often demand less production time and can easily circulate through multiple distribution vectors, making them preferred alternatives when proto-states face ongoing security challenges to their operations. Assessing circulation patterns and rates in local, regional, or international markets should remain a criterion for comparatively assessing proto-state media systems. Identifying the language and dialect choices of distributed media products, as well as the locations of accessed or downloaded content, can help identify target markets of proto-state followers, sympathizers, potential constituents, and enemies. The exclusion of researchers and other trolls around the globe, however, remains a needed step for reducing error in such tracking efforts. Due to the heavy reliance by proto-states on digital communications, consideration of “distribution outlets” should include central nodes (i.e., individuals who post or repost the proto-state content to large groups of followers), as well as named, group-affiliated central distributors, provincial media distributors, and pledged alliance distributors of media content.
An Analytical Approach 187 Demographic breakdowns also have continued relevance for evaluating proto-state media systems, but categories of consideration need to expand from an exclusive focus on gender to age. Like their state-based counterparts, proto-states benefit from reaching both genders to maximize the spread of the groups’ ideologies. In addition, they need to create, nurture, and defend the next generation of the proto-state members. Since children function both as future (if not current) militant fighters and supporters willing to sustain the collective’s ideology, identification of educational and entertainment products targeting children, as well as their spread and online access rates, should remain an ongoing part of proto-state system analysis. The conventional state-based criterion of assessing relative levels of sensational versus elitist media products should remain but needs recalibration in the proto-state context. The proto-states’ heavy reliance on the crowded online environment for content distribution, coupled with the coming-into- being status of their communities, magnifies their need for heightening audience market share. Accordingly, proto-states often blend sensational and elitist reporting into all their media product types. A more apt proto-state rubric might be the relative frequency of distributed sensational content distributed across media products, as such a criterion could signal proto-state strength or weakness based on the groups’ own perceptions of their need to attract attention. Further, what constitutes an “elite media” source in the proto-state context needs definitional clarification. Proto-states rely on privacy of their source (e.g., through levels of encryption, social media platform access restrictions, new online addresses, etc.) as a necessary defining factor of their elite media, as security concerns function as a high priority for such groups. Elite media for proto-states also include media products designed as hubs for credible product identification. The application of political parallelism, conventionally understood as the level of political-media coordination within a state, should also transform in the proto-state context. The need for coordination between political and media spheres (broadly understood) remains important to proto-states, but the relevant political and media entities change. Analysts should still track temporary proto-state alignments with states and conduct a cost-benefit analysis of the moves for achieving proto-state objectives. Parallelism between distribution centers, media production centers, proto-state hierarchical structures, and outside groups pledged to a proto-state leader area are also salient given the need to convey a consistent, coherent worldview capable of attracting and sustaining new members.
188 Proto-State Media Systems The nature and function of a proto-state journalistic corps is another area where media systems analyses should revamp their rubrics of assessment. Proto-state systems typically have more start-up needs than their state-based competitors, rendering demonstrable skill levels associated with thematic development, production techniques, postproduction methods, and constancy of format presentation useful criteria of analysis. The nascent status of proto-state collectives also alters the value of particular criteria conventionally used to assess the journalistic corps. The standard criterion of journalistic autonomy would likely undermine consistency in messaging necessary for creating and sustaining the groups. Further, proto-states often eschew clear demarcations between editorial and advertising content, given their need for self-referential product promotion to heighten consumer interest. One criterion where states and proto-state actors do agree, however, is on the need to respect high levels of source confidentiality. The security concerns of proto-states may even be more valued, as the use of byline aliases to protect the identity of the named journalist operative attests. The role of the state in evaluations of proto-state media systems shifts away from the standard, voluntary-to-legal relationship continuum that exists between media systems and existing states. As proto-states are in competition with internationally recognized states for control of governments, populations, territory, defense apparatuses, and alliances, the evaluation of associations between proto-states and existing states should track the frequency of media content appeals that undermine existing state authority. They should also track how proto-states can adequately perform conventional state functions moving forward. On the whole, media systems theory in the proto-state context should include the traditional rubrics of state-based evaluations. However, the definitions of system components, the assessed value of standard activities, the nature and role of media products, and the ideal end goals of the media system need adjustment. Once analysts reconfigure these elements, the conventional rubrics for evaluating media systems have continued currency in the proto-state context.
Expanding Conventional Media Systems Theory Simply put, an exclusive reliance on preexisting, state-based criteria to assess proto-state media systems is insufficient. The situational exigencies facing
An Analytical Approach 189 recognized states and proto-states are unique and, thus, systems analysts need to take them into account. Proto- states, unlike their state- based counterparts, must undermine one or more states to achieve their on-the- ground existence. They must also convince members of their envisioned collective to switch allegiance from an existing state to their own. Accordingly, the criteria for evaluating proto-state media systems should add four analytical categories: transhistorical identity assessment, transpatial identity assessments, evaluation of material condition-attention interactions, and evaluation of material condition-resiliency interactions. Accounting for those elements involves content analyses of the proto-state media system’s various media products as well as the tracking of proto-state contextual factors over time.
Transhistorical References as Identity Formations Understanding the transhistorical framework should function as a critical component of proto-state media system assessment. Lasting identities help transform proto-state members from short-term collectives expected to fade before they accomplish their missions into timeless community formations that could prevail. Repeated references to collectively revered individuals serve as a useful lens to recognize the preferred beliefs and behaviors for current and future members of the proto-state, while repeated references to historical events help reveal how the collectives as a whole should function in the ideal. To assess transhistoric positioning, media systems analysts should identify the historical allusions and assess their frequency; determine if transhistorical references on the whole aggregate into identifiable clusters of meaning that reinforce particular messages; and assess relationships between emphasized transhistorical references and particular proto-state media content, product types, or distribution channels for audience targeting purposes. After mapping the terrain of transhistorical references and their usage, analysts should then assess the implications of the historical allusions both for proto-state community-building and for further development of media system evaluation rubrics. In the context of Sunni militant proto- states, the constellation of transhistorical references focuses on militancy in its various forms. The referenced events and individuals call for the community to coalesce on the fight against those the group considers enemies of Islam. When applied
190 Proto-State Media Systems to media systems theory, the historical allusions add nuance to the criteria needed to understand media market structures, namely by emphasizing the unique community roles assigned to key targeted demographic groups, by evaluating the system security implications of production and distribution strategies, by understanding how media content and distribution practices separate loyal and disloyal followers, and by taking into account the value of operations located outside of the proto-states’ controlled territories for system resilience. Transhistorical references also add criteria for evaluating the strength of the journalistic corps, including the demonstrated resiliency of such operatives to fight in the face of adversity, the patient ascendency to the upper levels of the media system decision-making, the knowledge of religious texts and media-related skill sets, and the willingness to accede to centralized proto-state guidelines without public dissension. Finally, historical allusions transform the criteria for evaluating the role of the state by adding the degree of separation between state and proto- state media systems, as well as the need to consider the relative standing of the proto-state’s media systems in relation to those of other proto-states competing for like-minded followers. While the transhistorical references supplement the criteria for proto- state media system evaluation more generally, eventual proto-state rubrics may function differently from those mined from the media products of al- Qaeda and ISIS. Differences in proto-state beliefs, behaviors, and situational contexts may alternate the appropriate interpretative frameworks. For example, historical allusions that other proto-states use in their media products might not prioritize militancy as an organizing principle. A nonmilitant, non-Sunni group might, instead, use media products to repeatedly reference historically revered rulers, events, and objects to emphasize long-established, governance ideals as the basis of its collective’s identity. The standard presentational forms of transhistorical references may also vary between various types of proto-states. Sunni militant proto-states, for example, frequently showcase ideal beliefs and behaviors of transhistorical figures in the eulogies of those who have died in their “martyrdom” operations. Followers of Islam who embrace conduct expectations in this life to achieve a more honorable and fulfilling afterlife might well find such appeals persuasive. Proto-states appealing to faiths less focused on the afterlife, however, might seek other content forms to regularly convey the timeless identities of their collectives.
An Analytical Approach 191
Transpatial Referencing as Identity Formation Understanding the transpatial identity positioning of proto- states also aids in the development of media evaluation in the contemporary environment. Proto-states seek to transform current spatial boundaries (along with their attendant power-based structures) to build a homeland for their collectives. Within proto-state media products, space functions as the recurrent scene of grievance depictions, a source of individual and group identities, a means of negating existing spatial configurations, and a vehicle for reimagining alternatives. To assess transpatial elements of proto-state media products, media systems analysts should track the frequency of recurrent spatial references; investigate the narrative functions of those references (i.e., serving as scenes of grievance, identity-based character markers for individual or groups, and thematic negations of existing spatial configurations or reimaged alternatives); examine audience-targeting strategies by assessing whether those spatial references vary by media product type, language of publication, or distribution channels; and evaluate the implications of the spatial references for proto-state community-building and media system evaluation rubrics. Evaluators of proto-state media systems should also map the online and offline locations of the journalistic corps. To fully understand the workings of the media systems, analysts should track the timing of shifts in the locations of key nodes or distribution centers, the reasons that cause the proto-state to shift its media operations, and the associated gains or losses in viewership of their media products. When assessing the spatial locations of the gains and losses, analysts should consider whether changes in viewership occur in locations aligned with the proto-states’ members, allies, or enemies. The media products that Sunni, militant proto-states produce and distribute feature spatial references in all their primary narrative elements of their media products. Their narratives’ transpatial scenes emphasize that Muslims around the globe face physical, cultural, economic, and political hardships regardless of where they reside. Space-based identifiers characterize individual Muslims who emigrate, fight, and die for the group’s cause, as well as the leaders of the proto-states and enemy states. They also specify regional and existing states that the groups consider infidels or apostates. Thematically, the proto-states stress the vulnerabilities of existing states and the availability of an alternative spatial configuration that would revive the
192 Proto-State Media Systems glory of Islam in medieval times and strengthen the life experience of contemporary Muslims around the globe. Spatial references of Sunni, militant proto-states expand understandings of the criteria useful for evaluating proto-state media systems. They help identify promising markets for mass circulation by highlighting resonant areas of global grievances. They help reveal the targeted communities of their group-centered political parallelism by highlighting the home countries of emigrants and martyrs, as well as those not qualifying for such association (e.g., infidels or apostates). They establish ideals for the journalistic corps by stressing the value of adaptability to rapidly changing spaces online and offline, and they offer focal points for tracking the role of the state through repeatedly cited future imaginaries and present-day condensation symbols. Transpatial media content also has uses for analyses of the media systems of non-Sunni militant proto-states. For example, the Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (FARC), despite its primary location in Colombia, has previously had short-term occupations in Mexico, Bolivia, and Paraguay. While individuals affiliated with FARC are far less global than those identified with ISIS or al-Qaeda, they nonetheless share transpatial grievances, carry out attacks on existing various state-based structures, and, at least before the recent peace agreement, envisioned an alternative configuration to improve conditions for its collective. Examinations of how FARC media operations utilize space-based appeals and determining if all of the chief narrative elements in the group’s communications emphasize transpatial considerations could provide a useful starting point of comparison for different types of proto-state media systems.
Materiality, Attention, and Newsworthiness Proto-state media systems analysts should also account for how material circumstances intersect with such groups’ ability to attract public and media attention to its media products. Faced with a fragile, coming into b eing collective enmeshed in a crowded information environment, proto-state media systems experience substantial challenges in their ability to attract the attention of their online followers and conventional news outlets. In response, proto-states can and do capitalize on material circumstances to raise their news value for target audiences.
An Analytical Approach 193 In the case of Sunni militant media systems, on-the-ground events associated with each of the defining elements of the proto-states correspond to heightened levels of newsworthiness for their groups, their media systems, and their proto-state status. Spikes in attention levels occur following material events that emphasize the groups’ ideologies, acts of aggression, governance, population control, territorial control, and new alliances. While the rise in attention is often temporary, the Sunni militant media systems make an ongoing effort to attract consumer attention by staging numerous events that relate to the proto-states’ definitional criteria. Often, these actions simultaneously have implications for media systems analysis. The news value of the material conditions, the definitional reinforcement of the group as a proto-state, and the repetitive fortification of the proto-states’ media systems combine to serve as key informational resources useful for constituting emerging collectives. The conceptual approach of evaluating the intersection of material circumstances, consumer interest, and traditional media attention levels has potential applicability to assessments of the media systems for non-Sunni militant proto-state groups. Initially, analysts should determine if on-the- ground events predictably align with one or more of the six defining elements of the proto-state. If an event potentially links to more than one definitional characteristic, systems analysts should judge which element best describes the event under consideration. To determine the most appropriate fit, they should analyze the content of the proto-state’s media product to ascertain both how the group generally depicts the event and if those portrayals conform to a particular definitional characteristic. They could also analyze the content of the traditional media depictions of the event in an effort to understand if the proto-state is aligning or challenging the event’s purpose in various publics’ imaginaries. Finally, they could conduct a historical analysis of how the proto-state publicly positions similar events in the past. Once events sort into the definitional categories, analysts should then examine the dates of each specific event in relation to the levels of individual online searches or traditional media news stories levels over some predetermined period of time (e.g., a week, ten days, a month, or longer depending on the frequency of output of the media product and the purpose of the analysis). Analysts should further note spikes and declines in the online searches or news stories. Such assessment should include both the results in the aggregate and in relation to inferred target audience(s) based on the local, regional, or national locations of interested online searchers or traditional media news outlets.
194 Proto-State Media Systems In assessing the findings, media system analysts should first determine if events associated with each of the defining elements of the proto-state correspond to attention spikes. If the actions of a less violence-prone proto-state do not attract attention of consumers or traditional media outlets or if only Sunni-related entities appear to do so, the definitional criteria presented here and any generalizability of this book’s findings must be reconsidered. Analysts should also examine spikes unexplained by current definitional criteria and material circumstances to assess the potential viability of additional, and as of yet, undiscovered definitional elements of the proto-state.
Materiality and Proto-State Media System Resiliency Finally, contemporary media analysts need to assess how the material circumstances of proto-states intersect with efforts to sustain viewer attention and involvement. Examining the initial attraction to media products, while important, is insufficient to consider fully how proto-states’ community- building and media systems function. Proto-state media systems must also find ways to encourage followers to repeatedly access their media products and heighten their engagement with the media products. Operating in fluid environments, proto-state media systems must continually find ways to adapt and sustain their credibility and levels of consumer involvement. For the Sunni, militant proto-states, the strategies to maximize audience resilience involve bolstering credibility, multimodal involvement strategies, and adaptability of strategic messaging. To enhance the credibility of their operations, the media systems utilize an array of tactics related to their reporting of militant activities, media operations, and community-building activities. Approaches to enhance audience involvement include sound strategies that encourage community participation, still photographs that invite consumers to complete violent actions underway, and repetition of multimodal reinforcement strategies in online print and video products. To demonstrate system adaptability, the products of the Sunni militant media systems make significant changes to their messaging patterns of emphasis in accordance with shifts in material conditions that correspond to defining elements of the proto-state. Strategies of credibility-building, audience involvement, and system adaptation have applicability for comparative studies with non-Sunni militant proto-states. The combined functions of achieving at least the perception of
An Analytical Approach 195 successful proto-state militant activities, media operations, and communities have benefits regardless of the cultural and religious identity of the collective. The particular strategies of audience involvement will change if the history of the group does not include recognizable chants, particular law enforcement practices, and the like, but the need to have the audience participate and remain engaged will likely continue as an overarching goal of proto-state multimodal strategies. Finally, the need for any proto-state media system to adapt to material circumstances will presumably continue due to the recurrent interests of recognized states to put an end to the existence of proto-states. Yet, whether all proto-state media systems have the awareness or the capacity to adapt quickly to material circumstances that correspond to proto-state definitional characteristics emerges as an important matter for determining the relative standing of proto-state media systems around the globe.
Expanding Understandings of Constitutive Theory In addition to retrofitting media systems theory for the proto-state context, this examination of Sunni, militant proto-states has implications for rethinking constitutive theories. As constitutive scholars consider the process of how collectives come into being, identifying the envisioned end state of the collective has implications for group formation. While a pirate group only seeks sovereign authority over a ship, a proto-state requires much more. A proto-state functions both as an anti-sovereign to existing recognized states and a pro-sovereign to bring about its envisioned alternative. The dual purpose provides constraints and opportunities for interpolating group members. For example, identified grievances serving as an impetus for identity realignment (e.g., poor law enforcement, ineffective provisions for social services, etc.) might undermine future processes of interpellation if the same grievances resurface under the aegis of a new proto-state. Media products and distribution modes function as critical sources of both text and context for understanding how interpellation works in the twenty-first century. The Internet opens opportunities for multilayered identification appeals to reach both general and specific audiences simultaneously. Emotional and logical calls for identity-based formations infuse multimodal sensory experiences that have deep cultural roots across time and space. When desired, the targeting of such messaging can be private,
196 Proto-State Media Systems public, or some mixture of the two. Security challenges to proto-state media systems transform or disrupt attempts to reach susceptible followers in ways that render a focus on a single speech, video, or other media product a mere snapshot that lacks full explanatory power. Relationships between the media systems of the proto-states, their allies, and their enemies need tracking to ensure a full understanding of the interpellation process taking place. Examination of proto-state transhistorical and transpatial identity positioning also has expanded implications for studies of constitutive rhetoric. The implications of transhistorical and transpatial appeals extend beyond interpretations of the boundaries of the community across time and space; they can also help define parameters for how institutions (like media systems) work to help bring communities into being. The transhistorical and transpatial appeals open opportunities for understanding how newly constituted communities will redefine institutions to differentially shape markets, develop professional standards, secure future institutional alliances, and bolster communicative resiliency. The proto-state example also yields insights into how material conditions intersect with constitutive rhetoric. Characteristics related to envisioned alternative entities help magnify the importance of certain material events and circumstances. Material circumstances that most closely align with the characteristics of the envisioned collective’s identity correspond to increases in attention to the group’s efforts at interpellation. When connected to the definitional boundaries of a new collective, the material circumstances function to underscore the presence of a community coming into being. When the aligned circumstances recur frequently, repetition signals that the collective is not only present but seeking sustainability.
The Debate for Hearts and Minds Identity, as the logically prior communicative function to persuasion, should function as a guiding, foundational element of media campaigns seeking to respond to proto-state messaging. Taking the lead from the proto-states’ strategic choices, a key feature of competing campaigns could seek to undermine the identity formations of the targeted proto-state while affirming the identity of states or other competitors. Within such a communicative context, the six defining elements of the proto-state serve as a readily available
An Analytical Approach 197 cache of topics to serve as the core elements of the debates between the competing media systems.2 The definitional element of territorial control clearly illustrates how such an approach could help guide responses to proto-state media systems. Repeated news stories from state-based media outlets undercut ISIS’s standing as a proto-state after coalition forces reclaimed operational control over Raqqa and Mosul. ISIS’s “remaining and expanding” territory-based slogan subsequently rang hollow after the group lost most of the land under its control by March 2019. While ISIS might reclaim its proto-state status by regaining control over alternative locations or even those it once previously controlled in the future, the collective would then face the heightened challenge of reestablishing all six defining proto-state elements from its newly weakened position. State-based media systems seeking to respond to proto-state groups also need to affirm the preferred status of their affiliated states or groups. Such a strategy would entail an emphasis on how the existing international order encompasses a preferable ideological perspective, a demonstrated ability to defend populations from aggressive actors, a competent governing apparatus, clear control of territories with its current boundaries, the ability to maintain order, and strong alliances to tap, if needed. Defending the existing order’s ability to provide for its residential citizens on one or more of the definitional components could help remove the need for an alternative. This analysis also has implications for identifying the preferred sources to deliver messages from competing states and other responders. Responders should tap individuals or platforms with transhistoric standing, such as the descendants of revered families, long-standing, credible leaders, or distribution outlets that have established, legacy relationships with audiences in the proto-states’ targeted communities. Other impactful sources might include those who have credible reputations that cross national boundaries or, if not available, a collection of messengers that collectively appeal to global or regional audience markets that the proto-states target. Further, individuals with a demonstrated and lasting charismatic appeal or acquired charisma sufficient to spike online searches and traditional media coverage may also prove useful and necessary. Individuals who escape from their prior 2 Aristotle more fully describes the concept of topoi, or recurrent lines of argument that form the substance of a debate, in varying contexts in The Rhetoric.
198 Proto-State Media Systems affiliation(s) with proto-state groups serve as a clear instance that could attract viewer interest. Media systems seeking to compete effectively with proto-state apparatuses should avoid the use of individuals or distribution outlets that the proto- state could cast as outgroups. Regimes named by proto-states as infidels and apostates should avoid taking the lead on providing countermessaging or other alternative content. Existing states should also avoid the use of controversial individuals sullied by the proto-state media systems as long as more credible alternatives exist. Careful selection of spokespersons or narrative characters is essential, as even an association with noncredible sources or other state actors could undermine the authority of those delivering alternative messages. The reaction to online remixes of ISIS’s nashid “The Clanging of the Sword” (previously mentioned in Chapter 6) serves to illustrate the potential reach and impact of appropriate communicators. By February 13, 2020, the ten most viewed YouTube videos incorporating an altered version of the original “The Clanging of the Sword” relied exclusively on Arab communicators to deliver the intended messaging. Collectively, the revised nashids received over 8 million views. One of the popular nashid remixes incorporated a performance by Safinaz, a famous belly dancer in the Arab world.3 It received over 1.4 million views. The soundtracks of other videos included various remixes of the nashid over scenes of cartoons, Japanese anime, Arab celebrities dancing in movies, and Shia militants on the ground in Iraq. An Egyptian couple, previously known only to their family and friends, used one remix as their wedding entrance song. The video showed the groom’s friends covering their faces and holding swords in their hands before erupting into dance.4 The majority of such nashid remixes incorporate humorous attempts at cultural resistance against ISIS.5 Collaborations between credible religious scholars and independent artists also yield compelling forms of alternative messaging. British Imams, Arab clerics, and young graphic designers, for example, have partnered to produce slick, multilingual digital publications (e.g., Haqiqah and Deviance Series). Their effort focuses on the delegitimization of Islamist militant groups by foregrounding their ideological fallacies, and by offering nuanced, credible interpretations of the very same texts in a visually appealing, contemporary 3 Mohsen, Clanging of the Swords. 4 Mehwar TV Channel, 90 Dakika. 5 Al-Rawi, “Anti-ISIS Humor.”
An Analytical Approach 199 format.6 In addition, Azhari scholars teamed up with content creators to package their competing theological interpretations into narratives in well- produced short films and online animation videos that reached millions of viewers.7 Perhaps one of, if not, the most sophisticated partnerships to date is a collaborative effort between Muslim televangelist Moez Masoud, Egyptian and Emirati producers, and a pan-Arab crew. The group produced the thirty-episode, entertainment-education television drama al-Siham al-Marika (The Piercing Arrows). The show aired across Arab stations during two consecutive Ramadan seasons and was then made available to millions of other viewers via YouTube.8 The collaboration’s narrative conveyed competing scholarly Muslim opinion to the proto-states’ perspective through entertaining stories portrayed by popular celebrities in the Arab world. The TV drama served as an illustration of a compelling, credible anti-extremism campaign that was culturally and religiously sensitive. Perhaps as a result, it avoided accusations of sensationalism or calls for its removal that had plagued similar dramatic efforts in the past.9
Last . . . and Most Importantly Perhaps the greatest insight emergent from analyses of proto-state media campaigns is the need to listen more intently to the voices of the new collectives. The process can lead to openings for reducing the conflicts between state and proto-state actors even before they happen. Repetitive messaging patterns, coupled with emergent components of media systems prior to the announcement of a proto-state, should serve as clear signals of the pressing need to respond to situational exigencies. Rather than focus exclusively on transhistorical events or figures tied to war and conflict, the identification and celebration of those who sought and achieved change through other means, such as revered prophets, leaders, theologians, scientists, and intellectuals, could serve as potentially powerful alternatives. The tracking of material circumstances that correspond to heightened individual searches and traditional media news stories on topics related to
6 Imams Online, “Haqiqah—What Is the Truth Behind ISIS”; Sanad Network, “Deviance.” 7 Sanad Network, “Videos.”
8 Al Nahar Drama, “Al Seham Al Mareka—Full Episodes.”
9 Jaber and Kraidy, “Mediating Islamic State”; Lindsey, “TV versus Terrorism.”
200 Proto-State Media Systems conflict zones should also begin prior to announcements of new proto- states to identify collectives gaining traction in the global or more specific contexts. Finally, existing states should exercise a calculated effort to make their communications with the public more consistent, more credible, and more willing to involve the public.
Afterword As we were writing the final pages of this manuscript, two events unfolded: the passing of a respected civil rights icon in the United States and the twenty- fifth anniversary of the Srebrenica massacre in Bosnia and Herzegovina. We couldn’t help but notice certain parallels between the physical, economic, political, and cultural hardships that US Representative John Lewis and President Alija Izetbegović had endured with those reverberating through the proto-state media products. The eulogies presented at the public funeral of Mr. Lewis in Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta, Georgia, for example, stressed grievances that Mr. Lewis had faced and conquered throughout his lifetime. Growing up, his family of Alabama sharecroppers suffered the consequences of economic segregation that too often plagued black families in the United States. In 1965, Alabama police forces beat Mr. Lewis almost to the point of death on the Petit Bridge in Selma for marching to promote voter registration efforts for black Americans. He was also jailed repeatedly for refusing to accept laws he considered to be unjust or unequally applied to the different races. For most of his life, the late Bosnian President Alija Izetbegović bore the brunt of fascist and communist regimes. He grew up in Nazi-occupied Sarajevo and spent time in Tito’s Yugoslav prisons for his activism. In 1983, Tito’s successors falsely charged him with conspiring against the state and sentenced him to fourteen years in prison for writing a book. Nonetheless, Mr. Izetbegović’s words spread across Bosnia as a call to bring all ethnicities together to build a unified state. Moving past the Serbs’ genocidal slaughter of eight thousand unarmed Muslim civilians in Srebrenica, then President Izetbegović decided to sign the 1995 Dayton peace agreement to end the forty-two-month long bloody conflict and solidify the future of the Bosnian state. Despite the apparent connections of circumstance, Mr. Lewis and Mr. Izetbegović clearly chose different pathways to bring about change. Mr. Lewis’s commitment to love, respect, and nonviolent activism rendered him an iconic figure in the United States and beyond. Four former US presidents celebrated his life at his public funeral. The US Congress made him the first
202 Afterword black legislator to lay in state in the rotunda of the nation’s Capitol. Millions of citizens worldwide mourned his passing. Nonviolent activism positioned Mr. Izetbegović to become the first president of the newly independent, multiethnic Bosnian state. Leading the fight for his nation’s survival against Serbia’s plans of ethnic cleansing, Mr. Izetbegović’s moral compass did not waver. He insisted, “Let us not be an army that does what they are doing to us. Let us never fight against women and children.” Today, millions of Bosnians hail Mr. Izetbegović as the father of their sovereign nation. Our respect for Mr. Lewis and Mr. Izetbegović’s deep convictions and moral courage is what led us to dedicate this volume to those who would follow in their footsteps to bring about lasting change.
Glossary Militant Groups AD-DAWLA AL-ISLAMIYA FI AL-IRAQ (ISLAMIC STATE OF IRAQ OR ISI) The new name for al-Qaeda in Iraq between October 2006 and April 2013. Abu Umar al- Baghdadi led the group until his death in April 2010 and was succeeded by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. AD-DAWLA AL-ISLAMIYA FI AL-IRAQ WAL-SHAM (ISLAMIC STATE OF IRAQ AND THE LEVANT OR ISIS) The new name for ad-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq (ISI) between April 2013 and June 2014, following the group’s expansion into Syria. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi led the group during that period. AL-QAEDA CENTRAL (AQC) A militant group that was founded by Osama bin Laden around 1988 during the Soviet-Afghan War. The group has been known for its deadly attacks since the late 1990s, including the 1998 US embassy attacks in Kenya and Tanzania and the September 2001 attacks in New York and Washington, DC. AL-QAEDA IN IRAQ (AQI) The new name for a militant group that was operating in Iraq under the leadership of Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. It assumed this moniker when Zarqawi’s pledged allegiance to bin Laden in October 2004. AL-QAEDA IN THE ARABIAN PENINSULA (AQAP) A militant group operating as al-Qaeda’s branch in Yemen and Saudi Arabia since 2009. AL-QAEDA IN THE INDIAN SUBCONTINENT (AQIS) A militant group operating as al-Qaeda’s branch in South Asian countries, including India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh since 2014. AL-QAEDA IN THE ISLAMIC MAGHREB (AQIM) A militant group operating as al- Qaeda’s branch in Mali, Algeria, and other North African countries since 2007. AL-SHABAAB A militant group operating as al-Qaeda’s affiliate in East Africa, with a focus in Somalia and Kenya since 2012. BASQE FATHERLAND AND LIBERTY A militant group in Spain since 1959 whose objective is the creation of an independent Basque state. FARC-EP A militant group that has operated in Colombia since 1964 with the goal of creating a communist-agrarian state. HAMAS A militant group founded in Palestine in 1987 that has served as the governing authority of the Gaza Strip since 2007.
204 Glossary HAY’AT TAHRIR AL-SHAM (HTS) A militant group that has operated in Syria since January 2017 following the merger of Jabhat Fath al-Sham, Jabhat Ansar al-Din, Harakat Nour al-Din al-Zinki, Liwa al-Haq, and Jaysh al-Sunna. HEZBOLLAH A militant group founded in Lebanon to fight against the Israeli occupation in the early 1980s. It has also functioned as a political party with seats in the Lebanese parliament since 1992. ISLAMIC STATE The new name for ad-Dawla al-Islamiya fi al-Iraq wal-Sham (ISIS) since June 2014 when the group publicly proclaimed itself a caliphate for Muslims worldwide. JABHAT AL-NUSRA A militant group operating in Syria since 2012 that sided with al- Qaeda and operated as one of its branches in Syria after the emergence of ISIS in April 2013. In July 2016, it announced its split from al-Qaeda to rebrand itself as Jabhat Fath al-Sham. JAMA’AT NUSRAT AL-ISLAM WAL-MUSLIMIN (JNIM) A militant group that has operated as an al-Qaeda affiliate in Mali and West Africa since 2017, following the merger of Ansar Dine, the Macina Liberation Front, and al-Mourabitoun. LIBERATION TIGERS OF TAMIL EALAM A militant group that operated in Sri Lanka between 1976 and 2009 with the goal of creating an independent Tamil state. PROVISIONAL IRISH REPUBLICAN ARMY (PIRA) A militant group that operated between 1969 and 2005 with the goal of ending British rule over Northern Ireland. ZAPITISTA NATIONAL LIBERATION ARMY A militant group that has operated in Mexico since 1994 with the goal of achieving land reform and protecting indigenous rights.
Proto-State Media Publications 44 WAYS TO SUPPORT JIHAD An English-language booklet written by al-Qaeda’s Anwar al-Awlaki that was published online in 2009. AL-BATTAR (THE SWORD) An Arabic-language magazine first produced by al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia in early 2004. AL-JIHAD An Arabic-language magazine launched by Abdullah Azzam and financed by bin Laden to raise awareness of the Afghan cause during the Soviet war. The first issue came out in late 1984. AL-MASRA (THE NIGHT TRAVEL DESTINATION) An Arabic-language newsletter first produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in 2016. AL-NABA’ (THE TIDINGS) An Arabic-language publication begun in late 2015 that serves as an ISIS weekly newsletter. Prior to that period, ISIS and its predecessors issued al-Naba’ in various formats, ranging from a newsletter focused on military operations in Iraq in 2010, an annual magazine in 2012–2013, and a biweekly newsletter in 2013–2014.
Glossary 205 AL-RISALAH (THE MESSAGE) An English-language magazine first produced by Jabhat al-Nusra in July 2015. DABIQ (TOWN IN NORTHERN SYRIA) An English-language magazine first produced by ISIS in July 2014. DAR AL-ISLAM (ABODE OF ISLAM) A French-language magazine first produced by ISIS in 2014. DHAT AL-NITAKAYAN (SHE OF THE TWO WAISTBELTS) An Arabic-language magazine launched by Abdullah Azzam and his wife in 1989. DHURWAT AL-SINAM (THE HUMP HEIGHT) An Arabic-language magazine first produced by al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI) in 2005. GAIDI MTANNI (TERRORISM ON THE STREET) A magazine written partially in English and partially in Swahili first produced by al-Shabaab in 2012. INSHALLAH SHAHEED (A MARTYR IF GOD WILLS) A pro al-Qaeda English-language blog that Samir Khan launched around 2005, before he created English-language magazines for al-Qaeda. INSPIRE An English-language magazine first produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in 2010. ISTOK (THE SOURCE) A Russian-language magazine first produced by ISIS in 2015. JIHAD RECOLLECTIONS An English-language magazine first produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in 2009. KONSTANTINIYYE (CONSTANTINOPLE) A Turkish-language magazine first produced by ISIS in 2015. LAHEEB AL MAARAKA (FLAME OF THE BATTLE) An Arabic-language weekly newsletter that Abdullah Azzam launched in 1989. QADDAYA JIHADIYAH (JIHADI ISSUES) An Arabic-language magazine first produced by al-Yaqeen Media Center in August 2008. RESURGENCE An English-language magazine first produced by al-Qaeda in October 2014. RUMIYAH (ROME) A multilanguage magazine first produced by ISIS in September 2016. SADA AL-MALAHEM (ECHO OF THE BATTLES) An Arabic-language magazine first produced by al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula in early 2008. SAWT AL-JIHAD (VOICE OF JIHAD) An Arabic-language magazine first produced by al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia in 2004.
Distribution Outlets AJNAD FOUNDATION FOR AUDIO PRODUCTION The media arm of ISIS that oversees the production of audio content in Arabic, particularly nashids and Qur’anic recitations, since its inception in 2013.
206 Glossary AL-ANDALUS MEDIA Al-Qaeda in the Islamic Maghreb’s media arm in charge of producing video, audio, and written content since its inception in 2009. AL-BASEERA MEDIA FOUNDATION Jabhat al-Nusra’s media arm for producing audio and video content between 2014 and 2016 until the group rebranded itself Jabhat Fath al-Sham. AL BASHA’IR FOUNDATION FOR AUDIO PRODUCTION Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s media arm in charge of producing audio content in Arabic (e.g., nashids and Qur’anic recitations) since its inception in 2013. AL-BAYAN RADIO The media arm of ISIS in charge of producing radio programming and news bulletins since its inception in 2015. AL-FAJR MEDIA CENTER A media distribution center for disseminating multimedia content by al-Qaeda and its affiliated groups starting in the mid-2000s. AL-FURAT MEDIA CENTER The media arm of ISIS in charge of producing videos mostly in languages other than Arabic since its inception in 2015. AL-FURQAN MEDIA FOUNDATION The media arm of ISIS in charge of producing audio and video content in Arabic since its inception in 2006. AL HAYAT MEDIA CENTER The media arm of ISIS in charge of producing media content (e.g., videos, nashids, and publications) in languages other than Arabic since its inception in 2014. AL-HIMMA LIBRARY The publishing house of ISIS in charge of producing books, pamphlets, leaflets, and posters since at least 2010. AL-I’TISAM MEDIA FOUNDATION The media arm of ISIS in charge of producing content from the provinces since its inception in March 2013. AL-KATA’IB MEDIA FOUNDATION Al-Shabaab’s media arm in charge of producing video, audio, and written content since its inception in 2009. AL-MALAHEM MEDIA Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula’s media arm in charge of producing video, audio, and written content since 2009. AL-MANARA AL-BAYDAA MEDIA FOUNDATION Jabhat al-Nusra’s media arm in charge of producing video, audio, and written content since its inception in 2012. AL.NEDA.COM One of the early websites that al-Qaeda created in the early 2000s. AL-ZALLAQA MEDIA Jama’at Nusrat al-Islam wal-Muslimin’s media arm in charge of producing video, audio, and written content since its inception in March 2017. AMAQ NEWS AGENCY The news media wing of ISIS in charge of disseminating multimedia content, including responsibility claims, articles, infographics, and raw videos from the field, since its inception in 2014. AMJAD PRODUCTIONS Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham’s media arm and website in charge of producing and disseminating multimedia content since its inception early 2017.
Glossary 207 AS- SAHAB FOUNDATION FOR ISLAMIC MEDIA PRODUCTION Al-Qaeda’s media arm in charge of producing multimedia content since its inception in the early 2000s. EBAA NEWS AGENCY Hay’at Tahrir al-Sham’s news media wing and website in charge of disseminating multimedia content, including photographs, videos, and articles, since its inception in early 2017. GLOBAL ISLAMIC MEDIA FRONT A media organization that has translated, repackaged, and disseminated multimedia content from al-Qaeda and its affiliates, as well as produced its own media releases since 2004. MAALEMALJIHAD.COM The first website launched by al-Qaeda in February 2000 to February 2001. MAKTAB AL-KHADAMAT (THE SERVICES BEREAU) An organization founded by Abdullah Azzam in 1984 in Peshawar, Pakistan, to support the war against the Soviets in Afghanistan.
Al-Qaeda and ISIS Media Changes Corresponding to Material Events Symbolizing Proto-State Definitional Elements Ideology Al-Qaeda’s 2010 Baghdad Pre-Event (N =346) Post-Event (N =187) Church Attack Count Residual Count Residual χ2 (Inspire) Destruction 0.004* Destruction in process 22 2.5 3 –2.5 Destruction aftermath 5 –2.3 9 2.3 Not applicable 318 –0.6 175 0.6 ISIS’s 2019 Sri Lankan Church Pre-Event (N =18) Post-Event (N =22) Attacks Count Residual Count Residual χ2 (Al-Naba’) Destruction 0.030* Destruction in process 1 –1.2 4 1.2 Destruction aftermath 0 –2.2 5 2.2 Not applicable 17 2.6 13 –2.6 Al-Qaeda 2015 Charlie Hebdo Shootings (Inspire)
Pre-Event (N =290) Count Residual
Post-Event (N =720) Count Residual χ2
Gender 0.000* Male 155 –3.9 200 3.9 Female 0 –1.0 1 1.0 Mixed 7 0.2 6 – 0.2 Gender unclear 92 4.5 42 – 4.5 Not applicable 114 0.5 103 –0.5 Eye contact 0.000* Looking directly at the viewer 25 –4.9 67 4.9 Looking upward 2 0.5 1 –0.5 Looking downward 4 0.3 3 –0.3 Looking at another person or thing 216 2.6 172 –2.6 Not looking (eyes closed or 5 –0.4 6 0.4 mangled) Not applicable 116 0.7 103 –0.7
210 Appendix Aggression Al-Qaeda’s 2015 Attack on London Subway (Inspire)
Pre-Event (N =368) Count Residual
Post-Event (N =352) Count Residual χ2
Eye contact 0.000* Looking directly at the viewer 25 –4.9 67 4.9 Looking upward 2 0.5 1 –0.5 Looking downward 4 0.3 3 –0.3 Looking at another person or thing 216 2.6 172 –2.6 Not looking (eyes closed 5 –0.4 6 0.4 or mangled) Not applicable 116 0.7 107 –0.7 Aboutto die image type 0.006* Possible death 0 –2.3 5 2.3 Certain death 8 0.8 5 –0.8 Presumed death 207 2.7 163 –2.7 Not applicable 153 –2.5 179 2.5 Al-Qaeda’s 2015 Attack on Pre-Event (N =121) Post-Event (N =73) London Subway Count Residual Count Residual χ2 (Gaidi Mtaani) Leaders 0.014* Jihad leaders 0 –2.2 3 2.2 Western leaders 3 1.4 0 –1.4 Arab State leaders 0 0 0 0 Asian/Russian leaders 0 –2.2 3 2.2 Shiite/tribal/other Muslim 1 0.8 0 –0.8 groups leaders Mixed 0 0 0 0 No leaders present in the image 117 1.5 67 –1.5 Cause of death 0.034* Islamic State 2 –1.9 5 1.9 FSA, Safawis, Kurds, regional others 6 1.9 0 –1.9 Western military forces 0 –1.3 1 1.3 Mixed 0 0 0 0 Not applicable 113 0.4 67 –0.4 ISIS’s 2015 Russian Airliner Attack Pre-Event (N =403) Post-Event (N =333) in Sinai Count Residual Count Residual χ2 (Dabiq) Military 0.013* Martyrs 2 –0.7 3 0.7 167 2.5 108 –2.5 Proto-state fighters Non-proto-state fighters 25 –3.1 43 3.1 Future proto-state fighters 4 –0.9 6 0.9 Mixed 5 0.4 3 –0.4 No humans preforming 200 –0.4 170 0.4 military roles About to die image type 0.002* Possible death 18 –0.2 16 0.2 Certain death 6 –3.3 20 3.3 Presumed death 163 –1.2 149 1.2 216 2.5 148 –2.5 Not applicable
Appendix 211 ISIS’s 2015 Attack on San Bernardino (Dabiq)
Pre-Event (N =384) Count Residual
Post-Event (N =329) Count Residual χ2
Leaders 0.007* Jihad leaders 11 1.5 4 –1.5 Western leaders 7 –0.3 20 0.3 Arab States leaders 12 –1.0 15 1.0 Asian/Russian leaders 2 0.4 1 –0.4 Shiite/tribal/other Muslim 19 1.8 8 –1.8 groups leaders Mixed 20 1.7 9 –1.7 No leaders present in the image 313 –0.4 272 0.4 Destruction 0.000* Destruction in process 51 1.2 34 –1.2 Destruction aftermath 11 –4.0 33 262 Not applicable 322 1.5 262 –1.5 About to die image type 0.001* Possible death 20 0.4 15 –0.4 Certain death 3 –3.8 19 3.8 Presumed death 159 –0.3 140 0.3 Not applicable 202 1.5 155 –1.5 ISIS’s 2015 Attack on San Bernardino (Al-Naba’)
Pre-Event (N =61) Count Residual
Post-Event (N =50) Count Residual
Stance 0. 001* On knees (not praying) 0 0 0 0 Sitting 3 0.2 2 –0.2 Standing 23 3.3 5 –3.3 Laying down 1 0.9 0 –0.9 Praying 15 0.8 9 –0.8 Mixed 0 0 0 0 Not applicable 19 –3.9 34 3.9 Distance 0.008* Intimate space (facial close-up) 2 1.3 0 –1.3 Personal space (1.5–4 ft) 12 2.1 3 –2.1 Social/public space (