Archive for May 2018

The Clashes of the Swords – Nashid as Pop-Culture & Translation of the nashid salil al-sawarim

May 1, 2018

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Don’t mind the few times these particular nashid had been downloaded within Telegram, part of the normal traffic of IS networks there. While this may be a paradox given the constant drum beat that IS is in decline, or as recently claimed, their ‘play book’ was disrupted online (for the third time?), the IS networks on Telegram did not get that memo, as BBC Monitoring confirmed. Neither had IS been hempered to either release their weekly al-Naba’ 129 or the w. Damascus video. And neither did the IS members and sympathizers who conduct media raid operations bringing content to the non-/less initiated on Facebook, Twitter, and everywhere else see a disturbance, so dropping “dark web” as a buzz word isn’t a excuse.

Three reasons for online network resilience and continued existence in the offline realms:

  1. Lingual firewall: Arabic content that hardly echoes into the academic realm or within analysis (with few exceptions),
  2. Initiation firewall: you need to have read and consumed the content in Arabic to understand the depth of theology which is used as coded communication;
  3. comittment, coherent messages and applying what was penned on paper as state policy with the uninterrupted documentation of bringing shari’a rule in their understanding to the few territorial zones that are held or reclaimed by IS. This combination gives credibility. The coherency in the media output is based on tens of thousands of – mainly Arabic – penned pages where jihadis clearly state why they fight. But without Arabic and understanding the religious depth exercised here, it simply does not matter to the outside who are pre-occupied with the few English items that are found (not neccesarily understood).

So nashid and warning – a reference to the 1980s... again…:

Nashid (or nasheed if you will / pl. anashid) are jihad-hymns. These religious songs are exclusively acapella-styled and oftentimes enhanced by sound effects such as the “clash” or “clang” of a sword, a machinegun, an explosion or the neigh of a horse – suggesting the Mujahid embarked on a horse following the historical role models steering into combat.

Since the 1980s, the nashid has been a genre of its own, enriching sermons and the videos of jihad in general, conveying elemental and key themes of Sunni extremist ideology in a playful style to a wider audience. The use of the Internet was key in popularizing the nashid, some of which have entered mainstream pop-culture, such as the song salil al-sawarim. Generally, nashid acoustically convey rhythmic and easy to comprehend texts featuring religious key words in Arabic. This holds true for both Arabic and non-Arabic nashid, where likewise Arabic key words full of Sunni extremist meaning are broadcast outlining theological concepts and a general Muslim identity. Such key concepts are enhanced by visual means, either pictures or short video sequences – or the nashid serves as the theme for segments within jihadist videos.

The nashid salil al-sawarim has become one of the main IS theme songs, often used to enhance videos, including non-jihadist content, such as a video showing a belly dancer with over 1 million views,[1] a “Shiite version” with drums and about 875 000 views,[2] Egyptians mocking IS[3] or a heavily modified “Skrillex” version thereof with over 430 000 views.[4]  When searching for this nashid in Latin transliteration salil al-sawarim, the ‘original’, unmodified version appears by Abu Yasir with over 640 000 views and about 4 500 likes.[5] Most of the comments are in English with the seeming majority in favour. Of the nearly 2,000 comments, statements such as “this song rocked so hard the twin tower collapsed” (25 likes) appear as often as references to first-person-shooter games where two teams fight each other to death:

“Played this over mic in a csgo [Counter Strike Global Offensive, a first-person-shooter] match while yelling Allahu Akbar. Everyone else started yelling with me. The bomb got detonated and we all went totally crazy. 10/10 would jihad again,” (742 likes)

or a top comment:

“My speakers just exploded for like no reason.” (957 likes)

Other commentators criticize the popularity of the IS nashid, claiming that:

“Thanks to 4chan & Reddit, metadata won’t be able to tell the difference between legit radicalized Westerners and teenagers with really weird senses of humor.” (47 likes)

The nashid tends to accompany action-related content released by IS, such as in-combat footage or sniper videos, including a video released January 13, 2016 by the wilaya Halab (“province of Aleppo”). The 7-minute video entitled “Deadly Arrows” (sahm al-qatil) highlights the professional training of IS snipers, with one sniper speaking to the audience about the necessity to fight. Footage showing the shooting of Syrian soldiers through the sniper scope is enhanced by the nashid salil al-sawarim.

As stated, the nashid in general is a genre of jihadist media productions that is meticulously and professionally produced and serves the strategy of conveying ideological parameters and popularizing key words with in-depth meaning to a wide target audience.

 

A Translation of the nashid salil al-sawarim

Clashing of the swords,[6] hymn[7] of the reluctant

while the passageway of fighting is the way of life

so amidst an assault, tyranny[8] perishes

the most beautiful echo is silence[9]

concealment of the voice[10] results in the beauty of the echo

By it my religion is exalted[11] and tyranny is laid low

Therefore, my people, awake on the path of the brave

For either being alive delights leaders

Or being dead vexes the enemy

So arise brother get up on the path of salvation

So we may march together, resist the aggressors

Raise our glory and raise the foreheads

That have refused to bow before any besides God

Come on to righteousness

The banner has called us

To brighten the path of destiny

To wage war on the enemy

Whosoever among us dies

In sacrifice for defense

Will enjoy eternity

Mourning will depart

Will enjoy eternity

[1] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=exMS5HkfCFA

[2] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GZCT6013Skg

[3] A news report on mock executions and Egyptians dancing in a funny manner to offend IS, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zFR1AUA_RPo. About a quarter million views with some strong language in favor of IS in the comments.

[4] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jg_mZv_SdZw

[5] https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZQoJvI8XUa0

[6] Salil al-sawarim

[7] nashid

[8] This refers to local tyrants (local Arab regimes) and the ‘far enemy’ (Western nations, supporting regimes in the Arab countries to suppress Islamist and jihadist movements).

[9] Lit.: the silencing of the voice is a beautiful echo.

[10] Lit.: the silencer is a means of a beautiful resistance [to assassinate enemies in secret].

[11] In the meaning of “my religion is honored” (‘izza), a term frequently used to re-instate lost pride and respect to incite the consumers of jihadist media to get active and participate in an empowering movement. La ‘izza ila bi jihad, “there is no honor except by jihad” was a popular slogan for the first generation of AQAP and often used within the electronic magazine “The Voice of Jihad.”

 

The Echo of the “Deep State” – Salil al-Sawarim (4)

May 1, 2018

jihad mediatique motif du combat

The four Salil al-sawarim (SAS) video series by ISI(S), as outlined in earlier posts, are a groundbreaking installment that echo well into the contemporary Sunni extremist ecosystem. Although being repetitive, it has to emphasized time and again that this ecosystem communicates above all other languages in Arabic and hence the messages – openly and subtly – projected in videos such as SAS target a global Arab audience. The codes submitted in these Arabic language materials, which are shared across networks from Telegram outwardly, are religious motifs and references, such as salil al-sawarim. This is the norm of Arabic language materials which have been pushed in writing and videos on the Internet since the Balkan war, where in the process the value of non-Arabic language materials, crafted by foreign fighters in their language of choice, became more promiment – yet while the wealth of Arabic sources are the absolute majority. Yet the majority of analysis and academia seems to be pre-occupied with the few English-language items and even then not take the texts in magazines such as Rumiyya, Dabiq and before that Inspire into account. The actual ‘narrative(s)’ don’t seem to matter while energy is wasted on another ‘analysis’ on Rumiyya. Congratulations. In the meantime from the wealth of excisting Arabic sources jihadis manage(d) to build their own frames of reference using Latinized key words from Arabic for non-Arabic target audiences. Salil al-sawarim is not only a four video series but also features a popular nasheed that managed to penetrate across languages due to its mesmerizing effect. Most important, understanding what the extend of SAS means, it re-echoes within the contemporary channels, groups and general communication on Telegram, where role models such as Abu Wahib are mingled with the hopes of re-newed SAS videos. In particular the fourth video demonstrated at the time of its release the sweeping of territory and establishment of the dawla and hence remains a integral media item that is referenced and reflected in current IS releases as well.

A recent example is the wilaya Sinai release on February 11, 2018, Safeguarding the shari’a. The video follows the 2014 IS video style of “the clanging of the swords, part 4.” Control of territory and purging of Egyptian state soldiers caught and killed on the street. The video starts with a detailed – extremist typical – explanation of Sunni Muslim identity and theological outlining non-Muslims and Muslims who are violating the extremist identity as legitimate enemies. Any Muslim participating in the upcoming Egyptian elections is an apostate. Professional carried out hit and run and guerilla warfare styled operations on Sinai as well as executions of Egyptian agents conclude the video that focused on a young Egyptian IS recruit who attained “martyrdom”. The fight for Sunni extremists is about applied theology that leads to the destruction of graveyards sanctioned as places of shirk, obliteration of mummies as in Palmyra and the execution of Shiites who are defined along theological lines as legitimate targets etc.

Salil al-Sawarim, part 4 

As is typical of jihadist videos, Salil al-sawarim, part 4 begins with the basmala[1]: “in the name of God, the most beneficent, the most merciful.”

The opening sequences of the film are set within the overarching notion of the 37th sura of the Qur’an (sura al-saffat)[2], Verses 172-173:

“Our word has already been given to Our servants the messengers: it is they who will be helped, and the ones who support (jund) Our cause will be the winners.”[3]

As M.A.S. Abdel Haleem notes, “in classical Arabic jund means ‘supporters’, not just ‘armies’.” IS, however, implies the meaning of jund is “soldiers”, hence defining every true legitimate supporter of the “Islamic State” as a soldier. This enhances the Sunni Muslim identity IS stands for, as any physical member of their group is presented as a soldier of God (jund allah), or soldier of the caliphate (jund al-khilafa) with a reference to the above cited passage of the Qur’an.

The video shows a satellite map of the greater Middle East to visually . Clearly visible are the rivers Euphrates and Tigris, which are according to jihadist doctrine the god-given boundaries of what should be referred to as the “Arab Peninsula.”[4] This drive to liberate the Arab Peninsula is focused on Mecca and Medina as much as Jerusalem, where the Sunni extremists position themselves as the only Muslim Arabs – in contrast to all Arab regimes – willing to take Jerusalem back while enforcing the “true” Islam in the birthplace of Islam in contemporary Saudi Arabia.

Syria and Iraq are part of the Arab Peninsula in jihadist understanding, and defined as the cradle of Islam, including by Ayman al-Zawahiri in a 2012 speech commemorating and acknowledging martyred al-Qaeda ideologues and leaders.[5]

The camera zooms into Iraq and takes the audience into the full HD perspective of a drone, hovering over the Iraqi city of Fallujah, where the most severe attacks against the U.S. occupational forces occurred. As a result, Fallujah has been at the center of jihadist narratives in writing and on video since 2003. The U.S. Army suffered many losses in the Iraqi province of al-Anbar, and was only able to retake the city of Fallujah after two intensive campaigns consisting of house-to-house fighting. Drones, operated by handheld tablets such as the iPad or Android powered, are in part revolutionizing the landscape of jihadist videos. On December 17, 2015, the IS-province of al-Anbar, Iraq, published a video message for the Saudi government titled “expel the mushrikeen from the Arab Peninsula”, a phrase popularized by the first generation of al-Qaeda  in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) At the end of the video, a suicide bomber’s farewell ceremony is documented and his advance towards a remote Iraqi Army outpost is filmed by a drone, showing the long drive through the desert plains and the massive explosion at the Army site.

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Death on the ground – filmed from above by an IS operated full HD camera drone

The remote controlled drone, possibly the iPad controlled AR Parrot drone, provides an overview of the city of Fallujah, suggesting calmness and peace after the takeover by IS in January 2014. The drone perspective suggests power and projects the “Islamic State” as functioning and operational in Fallujah, presenting itself as the only force able and willing to protect the Sunni population – a strategic message in the light of the bloody sectarian war in Iraq and the recent history of grievances of the city itself. The images of the drone are termed “Fallujah bi-adsa al-furqan”, “by the lens of al-Furqan [media]”, the main official media outlet of IS, founded in the days of al-Zarqawi and now used as one of the main media stations in the sense of a Caliphate-wide broadcasting company.

From the “lens of al-Furqan” the sequence shifts to mainly convoys of Toyota pick-up trucks with armed fighters and .50 caliber guns from various IS controlled cities to underline the fight for territory within the Sunni Arab heartlands of Syria and Iraq. IS attempts to project the notion that the self-proclaimed “Islamic State” is indeed in the phase of consolidation when the video was published in May 2014 and takes the audience from the city of Fallujah to cities across Syria and Iraq showing columns of IS-cars and fighters parading in various cities.

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The “al-Furqan drone” documenting the IS convoy from above and cameramen on the ground in Fallujah

From Homs and al-Raqqa (Syria) to Ramadi that fell to IS in May 2015 and was liberated by Iraqi forces in February 2016[6], and Fallujah the scene ends with the black flag of the Islamic State while the narrator sets the tone of divine guidance for IS:

“by the voice of truth (haqq) and the conquest of the millat Ibrahim prying open the true conflict between the opposing military camps and those who fight for al-haqq and falsehood (al-batil).[7] For jihad is set to establish the din (bond to god etc), this is a shari’a obligation, a duty that can only be achieved by holding fast (i’tisam) on to God and by adhering to the jama’a.[8] This endeavor entails sacrifice and humbleness until the judicial rulings prescribed by shari’a[9] are retained and safeguarded, the divine physical punishment (hadd) are implemented and carried out without any fear of God.[10]

The focus of the video is Syria and Iraq, where at the time of the video release, “vast territories” had recently been conquered and ingested into the entity of the self-proclaimed “Islamic State”. The target audience consists of Arabic native speakers who understand the dynamic in Iraq, where IS was able to establish itself as the only lobby for the marginalized Sunni population, particularly in al-Anbar.[11] The conquest and subsequent consolidation of territory, as allegedly shown in the video, is framed within the grand dream of liberating Jerusalem, a repetition echoed by jihadist groups since the 1980s,[12] stating that “the Mosque of al-Aqsa is just a stone hurl away” from the newly (re-) established Islamic State that seeks to liberate and integrate all parts of the once blossoming caliphate. Hence, IS is “building firm towers to bring down conspiracies that collapse within and break at the walls of the Islamic State”.

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The introduction is concluded by a lengthy talk given by a foreign fighter from Kosovo who is fluent in Arabic and holds his passport into the camera like most of his comrades. The group of men waiving black flags and flashing their weapons and passports are framed as sincere believers who “fulfill their covenant to God”[13]  and are as such presented to the audience as ultimate role models.

[1] Bi-smi l-llahi l-rahmani l-rahim is a common saying for Muslims worldwide; during prayer; when entering a house, when thanking god for their food etc. Every Sura of the Qur’ an with two exceptions (surat al-anfal (“spoils of war”) and surat al-tawba (“repentance”), start with the basmala

[2] “Those who set the ranks”. The term “saff” (row) is reference to the rows of believers during prayer and is used in jihadist slang likewise to project unity in their war against non-Muslims worldwide.

[3] M.A.S. Abdel Haleem, The Qurʾan. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004.

[4] In Jihadist definition the Arab Peninsula (al-jazirat al-‘Arab) comprises an area that includes Iraq. According to the first generation of al-Qaeda in Saudi Arabia, the Arab Peninsula must be cleansed of all polytheists (mushrikin) as detailed in AQAP’s electronic magazine “the voice of jihad”, vol. 6 & 7. Discussed in: Nico Prucha, Die Stimme des Dschihad “Sawt al-gihad”: al-Qaedas erstes Online-Magazin, Hamburg: Verlag Dr.Kovač, 2010

[5] Ayman al-Zawahiri, li-ahlina fi manzal al-wahi wa-mahad al-Islam, al-Sahab, May 16, 2012.

[6] Iraq liberates city of Ramadi from Islamic State, Chicago Tribune, February 9, 2016,  http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/nationworld/ct-iraq-ramadi-islamic-state-20160209-story.html,

[7] For a description of the terms haqq / batil: Nico Prucha, Notes on the Jihadists’ Motivation for Suicide-Operations, Journal for Intelligence, Propaganda and Security Studies (JIPSS), vol. 4, no. 1, 2010, 57-68.

[8] A religious reference to the ahl al-Sunna wa-l jama’a, meaning the Sunni Muslims who are acting on behalf of the prophetic tradition (Sunna), exemplified by prophet Muhammad and his companions. Sunni extremists claim to be in the closest proximity to God by re-enacting the example and guidance as set by the Sunna of prophet Muhammad and his companions (sahaba). The “Islamic State” has taken this AQ penned concept to a new level by popularizing their slogan “upon the prophetic methodology” (ala minhaj al-nubuwwa), framing every action, ranging from the destruction of Shiite mosques to the execution of non-Sunni Muslims, as the only valid model of pieces of divine scripture as well as the alleged prophetic conduct.

[9] In Arabic: ahkam al-shari’a. The term ahkam, singular: hukm, refers to the judicial findings based on the interpretations of religious scripture and is often equated to a specific “ruling” or “jurisprudential decree” issued by a religious authoritative scholar (shaykh).

[10] A frequent issued sentiment and a core theme for the jihadist literature. In particular the first generation of al-Qaeda on the Arab Peninsula (AQAP) who published a great deal of writings online referred to the fifth verse (al-Ma’ida) of the Qur’an in defining themselves as the only proper Muslims favored by God. “[God] loves and who love Him, people who are humble towards the believers, hard on the disbelievers, and who strive in God’s way without fearing anyone’s reproach. Such is God’s favour.” A true believer adhering to the jihadist corpus of writings and videos only fears God and accepts or gives guidance channeled through the formalization of religion and thus enforced as “shari’a law”, ahkam, or defined as part of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence).

[11] Emma Sky, The Unravelling. High Hopes and Missed Opportunities in Iraq, Atlantic Books: London 2015.

Also: Patrick Cockburn. The Rise of the Islamic State. ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution, Verso: London, New York, 2014.

[12] The importance to liberate Jerusalem by fighting within the Arab countries is discussed in: Nico Prucha, ‘Abdallah ‘Azzam’s Outlook for Jihad in 1988 – “al-Jihad between Kabul and Jerusalem”, RIEAS, December 2010, http://rieas.gr/images/nicos2.pdf

[13] The contract, or ‘ahd, is a central theme throughout the ideology of Sunni extremist groups. In jihadist mindset, only the ‘true’ Muslim is the one who understands and acts on behalf of the “contract [or: covenant] with god”, affirming that god in return will recompense the bloodshed and deeds invested by the believer in the afterlife, as based on the extremist reading of verses such as 3:169 or 8:60 to briefly reference two samples.