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Off The Battlefield, Islamic State Militants Wage War For Hearts And Minds


Kurdish people watch from atop a hill near the Turkish-Syrian border as fighting continues in the Syrian town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobani by the Kurds, on October 12.

Kurdish people watch from atop a hill near the Turkish-Syrian border as fighting continues in the Syrian town of Ain al-Arab, known as Kobani by the Kurds, on October 12.

Beyond Islamic State's battle for territory, the extremist group is also fighting to capture hearts and minds.

Among other places, the fierce propaganda battle is being waged through the pages of Islamic State's English-language magazine, "Dabiq," whose fourth edition was released on October 12.

The full-color, heavily illustrated magazine is published by Islamic State's media arm, Al Hayat, and distributed as a PDF file on social media.

This latest edition is titled "The Failed Crusade," and in addition to articles praising Islamic State's military gains and a gruesome report of the enslavement of Yazidi women, it devotes space to promoting Islamic State's efforts to gain the loyalty of the ordinary Syrians and Iraqis under its control.

In an article titled "A Window Into The Islamic State," "Dabiq" emphasizes that "the soldiers of Allah do not liberate a village, town or city only to abandon its residents and ignore their needs."

Islamic State, according to "Dabiq," is devoted to ensuring "the needs of Muslims are met" even though they are battling "a relentless campaign by the crusaders" (a reference to the U.S.-led coalition in Iraq and Syria).

The civilian activities that Islamic State claims its fighters are undertaking in the towns and cities it controls include: restoring electricity in Raqqa in Syria; providing cancer treatment for children and a care home for the elderly in Nineva, Iraq; and carrying out street-cleaning services in various places.

Islamic State is not the first jihadi group in Syria to use social media to push propaganda claiming that its fighters are carrying out civilian, charitable, and local government activities benefiting the Syrian and Iraqi peoples.

Jabhat al-Nusra, via its media outlet the Hemm News Agency, has published videos showing that group's efforts to promote its governance abilities in areas it controls. These activities, just like those promoted by Islamic State, include feeding the hungry, restoring local public services, and sweeping the streets.

Why is Islamic State devoting time and effort to pushing a "softer side" of its jihadi ideology? One reason is of course an attempt to show that it cares for the local people under its rule. In part, this is an attempt to counter criticism, including by local activist groups like Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently, that Islamic State engages in brutal repressions, public crucifixions, and executions. The picture painted by Raqqa Is Being Slaughtered Silently is that locals in the Islamic State-ruled town oppose the extremist group's rule.

Another reason for Islamic State's emphasis on the battle for hearts and minds is an attempt to show that Islamic State is able to govern the areas it has captured. Islamic State needs to show that it is not just a military force and that the caliphate it declared in June is a functioning state.

"Dabiq" writes that Islamic State fighters have "come to understand that a state cannot be established and maintained without ensuring that a portion of the sincere soldiers of Allah look after both the religious and worldly affairs of the Muslims."

-- Joanna Paraszczuk

About This Blog

"Under The Black Flag" provides news, opinion, and analysis about the impact of the Islamic State (IS) extremist group in Syria, Iraq, and beyond. It focuses not only on the fight against terrorist groups in the Middle East, but also on the implications for the region and the world. The blog's primary author, James Miller, closely covered the first three years of the Arab Spring, with a focus on Syria, and is now the managing editor of The Interpreter, where he covers Russia's foreign and domestic policy and the Kremlin's wars in Syria and Ukraine. Follow him on Twitter: @Millermena

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