The images in this article — all from ISIS and Caliphate Twitter ‘Tweets’ — should shock you. What’s more, they should concern you personally, no matter where you live or what religion you practice (or don’t practice).
ISIS, now also known as the Islamic State or the Caliphate, is a brutal terrorist organization. Before long, it will be safe to call them a regime — and much of the credit for their rise to power in Iraq and Syria can be credited to their effective use of Twitter, YouTube and other social media.
So, how does a terrorist organization like ISIS go about using social media? In most cases, they use social media sites like Twitter the same as the rest of us do, only in a more sophisticated manner. Many of those who make up ISIS are young, 20-something Muslims. Many of them grew up in the West and are as familiar with Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, et al, as the average teenager. What’s more, some of them are educated enough to know how to set up an effective social media marketing campaign, which they use to recruit, raise funds and intimidate those they intend to terrorize and eventually rule.
So, how easy is it for a person to find ISIS recruiting material online? Easier than you might think, especially on largely unmonitored sites like YouTube. Even when the material gets removed, the majority of it remains available in the YouTube videos of coverage by major news outlets.
So why does this matter to Americans and other people in the Western world? It’s easy, especially if you don’t happen to be Muslim, to sit back and watch Sunni Muslims and Shia Muslims killing each other and ask why we should get involved or worry about the establishment of a Caliphate in the Middle East.
That question, however, shows a general ignorance of history. The goal of establishing a Caliphate has never been restricted to the Middle East. It wasn’t in the years immediately following Mohammad’s death, in which Islam was spread by the sword throughout the Arabian Peninsula. It wasn’t in the Middle Ages, when only violent counteroffensives by Charles Martel and the like pushed the range of the Caliphate out of Europe. It isn’t now. The goal of Islamic extremists is, and has always been, a worldwide Islamic State, in which all are required to submit to Islam, either by conversion or the payment of Jizya tax.
Beyond the fact that — simply as human beings — we ought to be concerned about people killing people anywhere, we need to be aware of the fact that ISIS has no intention of limiting their Caliphate to Iraq and Syria — they intend to expand on a worldwide basis. The question that faces us is not whether to fight them, but where to fight them. We can do what it takes to stomp out this disease where it originated, or we can wait until it is at our doorstep.
The scary part is that social media can be used for a lot more than just recruiting disenfranchised western Muslims to go fight in the Middle East. It can also be used to encourage homegrown terrorism and — worse — to help coordinate efforts. ISIS leaders have very publicly called for a worldwide jihad, encouraging Muslims to spread the Caliphate’s authority wherever they happen to be. What’s more, the Islamic State has gone so far as to claim that governments should be considered nullified anywhere its fighters are found. Note that they didn’t say “anywhere in the Middle East.”
While it’s highly unlikely that the Islamic State will be able to convince significant numbers to rise up and try to take territory in any Western nation, much less overrun a country like they have Iraq, the attacks on 9/11 — which were carried out by a group that has denounced the Caliphate/Islamic State for being too radical — should be more than enough proof that it really doesn’t take many determined terrorists to kill a whole lot of people and destroy and awful lot of property.
What’s more, it’s not like there are not significant pockets of Muslims living in the West. Dearborn, Michigan — just outside of Detroit — is home to the largest concentration of Muslims outside of the Middle East. While the vast majority of those Muslims are not extremists or jihadis and will never take up arms against their neighbors, there are undoubtedly some among them who would (and likely will) take up the call to worldwide jihad, particularly if they believe themselves to be marginalized.
Many Muslims believe the more inflammatory and warlike verses in the Koran — and the concept of jihad in general — t0 be an inner struggle. However, there have always been and continue to be Muslims who take verses like the following both seriously and literally:
Quran (2:191-193) – “And kill them wherever you find them, and turn them out from where they have turned you out. And Al-Fitnah [disbelief] is worse than killing… but if they desist, then lo! Allah is forgiving and merciful. And fight them until there is no more Fitnah [disbelief and worshipping of others along with Allah] and worship is for Allah alone. But if they cease, let there be no transgression except against Az-Zalimun (the polytheists, and wrong-doers, etc.)”
Quran (9:29) – “Fight those who believe not in Allah nor the Last Day, nor hold that forbidden which hath been forbidden by Allah and His Messenger, nor acknowledge the religion of Truth, (even if they are) of the People of the Book (that is, Christians and Jews), until they pay the Jizya with willing submission, and feel themselves subdued.”
The fact that many believe that the Caliphate does not pose a problem to people living in the United States shows just how short our collective memory span is. ISIS would not waste its time Tweeting pictures of crucifixions, beheadings and other brutal executions if they were not effective in recruiting Muslims in the West and in intimidating enemies.
ISIS’ social media division has already figured out how to send mass Tweets – generally to those who have signed up to receive updates via Twitter – and how to bypass the normal spam filters Twitter employs, according to a report in the New York Times. They have used Twitter to spread messages and images of the carnage they have spread throughout Iraq. They have used English YouTube videos to try to recruit westerners to their cause. It would be an easy thing for ISIS/The Caliphate/The Islamic State/Whatever you want to call them to use Twitter and other social media to coordinate an attack or to encourage homegrown jihadist attacks… and that should be cause for concern for all of us.