“The great battle of Dabiq”: behind the power of ISIS propaganda

“You will invade the Arabian Peninsula, and Allah will enable you to conquer it” reports “The Flood”, the second issue of Dabiq, the Islamic State’s magazine. “You will then invade Persia, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. You will then invade Rome, and Allah will enable you to conquer it. Then you will fight the false messiah, and Allah will enable you to conquer him”.

Dabiq is the apocalyptic and cruel magazine used by the terrorist organization Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant to recruits militants and to radicalize foreigners all over the world. Published in English and others European languages, it works as an excellent instrument of propaganda due to its incisive pictures and rhetoric. As the Council of Foreign Relations wrote, the magazine shows the jihadists as the unique voice of Islam, and the West as its irreducible and sole enemy.
It announces that the end of everything, the Armageddon, is coming as a culmination of a centuries-long conflict between the Islam and the West. This is not a new beginning, says the magazine, but the apocalypse. In the vision of Dabiq’s authors, the war against the Islamic State is not to be considered as an isolated event, but part of a non-extinguished clash of civilizations. Following this ideology, there is no space for a third way because the world is entirely divided in two different camps. On one side, there is the camp of Islam and faith. On the other side, there is the camp of disbelief (kufr) and hypocrisy. Thus, the Muslims run counter to Jews, Christians and their allies, and to all the nations and religions of kufr which are led by United States and Russia. Crusades are the historical framework which inscribes the battle to the West. In fact, in the Dabiq’s narrative, the Westerns are described as “Romans” or modern “crusaders”, and often symbolized with images of popular politicians like President Obama or U.S. Sen. John McCain.
According to the analysts, the understanding of the incredible success of Islamic State’s propaganda is essential to study the power and fascination of its message. It has been estimated that the movement has recruited no less than 12,000 foreign militants from 74 countries. This has generated a wave of turmoil from Paris to Syria. The Islamic State has reached this result by taking advantage of the contradictions and vulnerabilities of many countries, and by exploiting the weakness of societies in addition to the sense of isolation of several citizens.
According to the Washington Post, one of the most powerful tools of Dabiq is to mobilize followers with its snazzy graphics. The magazine portrays images and pictures that seem to have been stolen from action movies or video games. In many representations, militants are depicted fighting in the flames or on an arch at the mercy of a rough sea. The magazine as a whole is a rational and cold celebration of violence and brutality. In Dabiq’s pages, there is a plenty of horrifying images like pictures of bloody corpses and destroyed buildings that all become key elements in the Islamic State’s insane recruiting strategy. Moreover, specific and detailed sections are often reserved to acts of beheading like the execution of American journalist James Foley.
“Muslim families were killed under the broad definition of ‘collateral damage’, which US grant itself alone the right to apply,” Dabiq boomed out in its third issue. “Therefore, if a mujahid kills a single man with a knife, it’s a barbaric killing of innocent. However if Americans kill thousands of Muslim families all over the world by pressing missile fire buttons, it’s a merely ‘collateral damage’.” A sort of revenge for “the countless accounts of American soldiers executing families and raping women under the sanctity of U.S. military,” thus the terrorist group legitimizes his crimes and murders.

0306 - second

The name of the magazine, “Dabiq”, is iconic. It has a very deep religious and symbolic meaning because it comes from a small city in the north of Syria, where the end-of-times showdown between Islam and the West will be fought. It is what the group considers the Armageddon. Dabiq, in fact, situated around 10 km from Turkish border, has no economic or strategical relevance. But, according to the Islamic apocalyptic prophecies, it is the site of the final challenge between Muslims and their enemies.
According to the tradition, the Prophet Muhammad predicted that “the last hour will not come” until Muslims overwhelm Romans at Dabiq on their way to seize Constantinople. Furthermore, Al-Zarqawi, the old leader and founder of Al Qaeda, is believed to say: “The spark has been lit here in Iraq, and its heat will continue to intensify […] until it burns the crusader armies in Dabiq”.
The city has appeared in the background of Islamic State footages since August, when a British militant showed the severed head of Abdul-Rahman Kassig, an American aid worker, at his feet. In that video the man said: “Here we are, burying the first American Crusader in Dabiq, eagerly waiting for the remainder of yours armies to arrive,” reports the BBC.
Dabiq is also the setting of another IS propaganda video broadcast on the web in October. In the footage Abu-Abdallah, the same British IS member of Eritrean origins, threatens executions of coalition forces when addressing the camera with the group’s black fluttering flag and claiming in the background: “We are waiting for you in Dabiq”. Previously, in another video released on the internet, the militants were filmed on a hill located in the northern edge of the town. Consequently, it’s not difficult to sustain that choosing Dabiq as the location of their propaganda messages; Islamic State’s jihadists have clearly manifested their intention to give the prophecies an opportunity to be fulfilled and to legitimize their aims worldwide.
However, how does Isis finds the resources to finance its massive propaganda machine? In experts’ opinion, the group’s moneymaking methods are too complex and refined for such a new organization like the Islamic State. The jihadist movement, as a lot of researches and investigations suggest is involved in several illegal businesses and criminal activities which allow it to make or to take large amounts of money.
Most of the profits come from oil production and smuggling. Isis controls refineries and wells situated in the north of Iraq and Syria which fruit between 1 and 2 million dollars every day, according to many sources mentioned by CNN. It has been demonstrated that the group smuggles out oil through the southern part of Turkey and sells it to people who need it as a vital source of energy for their everyday necessities. For the founder and director of the Iraq Energy Institute, Luay al-Khatteeb, terrorists control about 6 million of Iraqis and Syrians who have desperate needs of fuel. According to a Foreign Policy survey, the IS oil production reached the amount of 44,000 barrels per day in Syria and 4,000 barrels in Iraq.
Through oil traffic, Isis aims to create a self-sufficient State in the area of the “Sunni triangle”, located in the western and northern parts of Iraq. In order to establish a civil and administrative apparatus that could work like a State, Isis set out a well-structured system of taxation based on extortion and terror tactics. The group claimed the control of large areas where people have been forced to pay taxes for their survival and for anything else they want to do. There are also taxes on essential needs like electricity, security and local sources said.
A New York Times investigation released in 2014 has revealed that since 2008, al-Qaeda and its affiliates have gained around 125 million dollars in ransoms from kidnappings. It was also estimated that, only in 2013, they received the sum of 66 million dollars. The Islamic State was once an ally of al-Qaeda. Although the two organizations are now separated from each other, they still show many similarities. Seizure of people are, for IS, one of the best methods to gain money because there are nations that keep paying high ransoms to have their citizens freed despite publicly denying to adopt these kind of policies.
Looting and selling ancient artifacts have recently become new IS moneymaking strategies. Turkish people, who live in the Islamic State’s controlled zones, told reporters that the militants authorize local semiprofessional crews to dig ancient sites close to the Euphrates River. People are then obligated to pay IS a percentage of the money value of what they find. Through all these illegal operations, the group is gradually and irremediably canceling the historical heritage of Syria and Iraq.
Thanks to these financial activities, Islamic State militants have become able to create a war on two different levels, a thing that no other terrorist group had made before. Terrorist acts are considered an asymmetric threat, but the conflict fought on the ground is a typical symmetric war strategy. For this reason, defeating IS has become more and more difficult.


Masters degree in International Studies (University of Naples “L’Orientale”)

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. We'll assume you're ok with this, but you can opt-out if you wish. Accept Read More