What We Learn from ISIS’ Online Magazine

Islamic_State_FightersBy Peter Bergen & Emily Schneider

(Re-Published from CNN, Oct. 20, 2014) ISIS is looking to take over a good chunk of the Middle East — if not the entire Muslim world. At least, that’s the message the terrorist movement is sending in its English online magazine, Dabiq.

In Dabiq’s first issue, which debuted in early July, the magazine declared that a “new era has arrived” for Muslims. Photographs in the webzine of ISIS militants in American armored vehicles rolling through Iraq seemed to buttress that claim.

Graphic photos of dead soldiers from Iraqi forces litter the pages of each of the issues of Dabiq, and articles detail skirmishes across Iraq and Syria.

Each issue of the magazine — there have been four so far, appearing at roughly monthly intervals — starts with a foreword that contains an inspirational message for readers, before diving into longer pieces that extol the virtues of ISIS and provide updates on the group’s military campaign. ISIS members fervently believe that they have established a true “caliphate” in the areas that they control, a supposed distant echo of the perfect Islamic rule of the Prophet Mohammed and his immediate successors in the seventh century.

[pullquoteright]Other articles aim to reassure readers that ISIS, which in June renamed itself the Islamic State, is an actual state that provides social services and reconstructs critical infrastructure.”[/pullquoteright]Overall, the magazine is quite religious in tone. Excerpts from rulings by Muslim scholars are included in every issue, as are religious rationales for the actions of ISIS.

In the most recent issue, an ISIS writer reasoned that capturing women from the Yazidis, an Iraqi minority group, to use as sex slaves was acceptable under ISIS’ version of Sharia law, since the Yazidis are polytheists, a great heresy in Islam. Showing some convoluted logic, the ISIS writer also asserted that enslaving Yazidi women is a good way to stop adultery, since a man having sex with a concubine is legal under ISIS’ interpretation of Islamic law, but sexual relations outside of marriage with free women are forbidden.

The magazines are also, unsurprisingly, highly sectarian, repeatedly showing images of Shia shrines and tombs that have been blown up by ISIS, a organization made up of members of the Sunni sect. ISIS believes these sites to be idolatrous. Iraqi Army soldiers — who are generally Shia — are referred to as “apostates” and graphic photos of their executions by ISIS fighters are a staple of the magazine.

Other articles aim to reassure readers that ISIS, which in June renamed itself the Islamic State, is an actual state that provides social services and reconstructs critical infrastructure. The magazine asserts that administrators govern towns after the main ISIS fighting force moves on and the most recent issue of Dabiq includes photos with captions showing “services for Muslims,” including street cleaning, electricity repairs, care homes for the elderly and cancer treatment centers for children …

For the complete article, click here.

Peter Bergen is CNN’s National Security Analyst, a Vice President at New America, and Professor of Practice at Arizona State University. Emily Schneider (LAW ’13) is a Research Associate at New America and an INSCT alumna.

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