At a Glance
Briefing Note: Dabiq and Inspire - Rivalry and Manipulation
15 Jan 2015
Jihadi groups use online propaganda targeting impressionable youth to attract recruits and encourage violence. This briefing note examines the content of recent publications.
In the aftermath of the Paris attacks, in which one group claimed affiliation to Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) and another to ISIS, there is renewed scrutiny on the methods that these extremist organisations use in order to gain an international following. An analysis of recent issues of their online publications, Inspire (AQAP) and Dabiq (ISIS), which are primarily published in English, gives an insight into the ways these publications manipulate their readers, playing on insecurities and attempting to undermine the authority of other sources of information.
These publications give a glimpse into why French citizens in particular have been motivated by such extremist propaganda to direct attacks against their own country. Indeed France is given numerous special mentions in the most recent editions of Dabiq (January 2015) and Inspire (Winter 2014-5). For example, a quotation from a speech by ISIS official spokesman Abu Mohammed Al-Adnani enjoins the murder of Americans and Europeans, "especially the spiteful and filthy French".
Stéphane Charbonnier, aka Charb, the editor of Charlie Hebdo, who was among those murdered on 7 January, was featured in a March 2013 issue of Inspire along with ten others under the heading 'Wanted: Dead or Alive, for Crimes against Islam'. Inspire focuses extensively on 'lone jihad' rhetoric against the 'far enemy', going into much more detail than Dabiq about specific targets in the West, and providing practical information about how to prepare attacks. AQAP's principal 'near enemy' – the Houthi movement in Yemen – is only mentioned in passing, and described as part of an American conspiracy: "Of course, America have tried to keep us busy with the Yemeni army. And now they are seeking to keep us busy with the Houthi".
The contents of Dabiq and Inspire give some insight into the relationship between ISIS and AQAP. Dabiq openly criticises several leaders of AQAP in response to official statements by its leaders doubting the legitimacy of ISIS' caliphate. Inspire does not mention ISIS at all, a conspicuous absence given that ISIS has arguably now become the most high-profile jihadist group in the world and has declared itself to be the caliphate. This reveals an apparent contradiction in the fact that Chérif and Saïd Kouachi, who committed the Charlie Hebdo massacre, declared allegiance to AQAP, while their close collaborator Amedy Coulibaly, who committed the Kosher supermarket attack, claimed to be inspired by ISIS.
The latest edition of Dabiq expresses an "inchoate rage against modernity".
Both publications promote engagement in so-called 'lone-wolf attacks', Inspire telling its readers that "The lions of Allah who are all over globe – some call them 'lone wolves' – should know that they are the West's worst nightmare. They instill fear around the world". ISIS also glorifies the violence of individuals, praising the actions of those individuals who carried out attacks in Australia, Canada and the US, as well as France. It is noteworthy that both ISIS and al-Qaeda claim credit for attacks such as that of Zale Thompson, who attacked four police officers in New York City with an axe, despite the fact that Thompson did not claim allegiance to either group.
Both this and the differing allegiances of the Paris attackers demonstrate how affiliation to ISIS or al-Qaeda has become an increasingly abstract concept, providing a narrative for the actions of a violent or unstable individual, or may be used to create the illusion of greater international reach and impact for the group concerned. This idea is global impact is further exaggerated in a feature in Dabiq entitled 'Action in the New Wilayat (states)', which praises the actions of groups in Libya and Egypt as an integral part of the work of ISIS.
As with previous editions of the publication, the latest edition of Dabiq expresses an ' inchoate rage against modernity', that is expressed though articles which focus on the 'conspiracy' of Western and Arab media, the global economic system, and the denunciation of a variety of Muslim religious scholars. The role of this content can be understood as aiming to manipulate the insecurities of impressionable readers, aiming to depress and panic them, and make them feel that nothing can be trusted, cultivating paranoia about a global conspiracy.
The magazines manipulate the insecurities of impressionable readers.
The article 'Meltdown', purportedly written by British hostage John Cantlie, is a key example of this. In it, Dabiq tries to appeal to grievances about injustice in global economics, while projecting an exaggerated apocalyptic vision of the modern world. The article discusses how the abandonment of the gold standard as the basis of monetary systems has led to economic chaos and global inequality, quoting various economists and appealing to legitimate concerns about global economic problems. The article shows a characteristic nihilism towards all forms of modern economics, and presents ISIS's own introduction of a gold currency as the solution to all economic problems.
The publication also contains a number of full-page collages of photographs and text, denouncing 'enemies'. These included prominent Jordanian salafists Abu Qatada and Abu Mohamed al-Maqdisi, who have spoken out about ISIS' illegitimacy according to Islamic scripture, under the title 'misleading scholars', and former and current Aljazeera directors, who are given the title 'Bewitching Media'. Western media outlets are described several times throughout the publication as trying to smear ISIS with false allegations. Thus, all alternative sources of information for readers as framed as untrustworthy and part of the global conspiracy against ISIS.
While much is reported about the 'slickness' of the jihadi propaganda machines, the latest edition of Inspire is an outmoded and low-quality publication. By comparison, Dabiq is presented in an appealing and professional way, with frequent high-quality images and titles, and written in the colloquial English of a native speaker. Nevertheless, the key objectives of the two publications are the same: to impress the reader with vaunted international achievements, and to gain adherents by manipulating and destabilising individuals who feel alienated from their societies.
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