Northeast of Syria’s largest city Aleppo sits the small town of Dabiq. Before the war which continues to ravage Syria began in 2011 its population was below 4,000. It is noteworthy for the simple reason that an Islamic Hadith about Armageddon proclaimed that end-times would transpire there when the Muslims engage against their enemies.
Historically Dabiq was an important location during a 1516 battle fought between the Ottoman Empire and the Mamluk Sultanate. It ended with Ottoman victory and saw to the Ottoman’s gain control of all of the territory which conforms to the modern day Syrian state. The tomb of the Ottoman who led that victorious battle, Khalif Sulaiman ibn ‘Abd al Maliki, was in Dabiq until last August when Islamic State destroyed it after taking over the town.
Islamic State propaganda frequently boasts that it is the one leading Muslims against the western Crusaders and those it deems to be enemies of Islam. The magazine Dabiq (not unlike the Al-Qaeda magazine Inspire) gives the reader a valuable insight into how Islamic State see themselves and the wider world. Which makes it worth examining closely if one is to understand how this dangerous group thinks.
After all, like it or not the so-called Islamic State matters. Here is a group which has not only seized Iraqi and Syrian territory that is now about the size of the United Kingdom, millions of people live under their rule and they have the capability to generate very substantial revenue to fund their jihadi and terrorist endeavours.
Read Dabiq in order to see exactly how they portray and view themselves and how they glorify, never-mind justify, their grotesque actions. The just published sixth issue of the magazine, for example, opens by praising the “lone-wolf” attacker of the Lindt café in Sydney, Man Haron Monis. And, not ones to repudiate their reputation as a terrorist group, it also features a lengthy article which gives point-by-point advice “for the soldiers of the Islamic State” which includes tips about how to discipline and conduct oneself in the eyes of God as a foot soldier of the so-called “caliphate”. An interesting insight into how those who are infamous for their cruelty view themselves as well as an interesting insight into how well organized and committed they are when it comes to achieving their goals. Making them, at the very least, a very formidable enemy to their enemies. Which amounts to most of the rest of the world.
A prior issue of Dabiq employed the Biblical story of flood which Noah built his Ark to overcome as a metaphor for the times we are living in. In their stated view those who do not heed the call to join Islamic State are to drown or perish as it prevails across the world. They also depict themselves in their periodical as having successfully brought the “Crusaders” into their lands in order to fight them and see their final victory over them as being inevitably and worth it, no matter the cost. It depicts that United States-led military campaign which is targeting them a “failed Crusade” in Issue #4, the cover of which is a depiction of St. Peters Square in Rome with their black flag of jihad risen above it. That issue was followed up by the fifth issue which talks about the various other Islamist moments as falling in line with them and their outlook and goals in the wake of their perceived stand against the so-called Crusaders and consequently declares that they will soon spread into Egypt’s Sinai (where the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis movement is seeking to establish a similarly strict Islamist order), Algeria, Libya, Yemen and the Arab states of the Persian Gulf. And according to them everything is going just as they planned.
The enslavement of women and children is bragged about in ways that make one wince. They take pride in the gory ways in which they execute their enemies and make it relatively easy for anyone who seeks to document their crimes to do so.
This stuff matters because Islamic State matters. They have forced themselves on the world through their grisly crimes and threats to level more crimes against humanity. They see themselves as the ultimate Muslims, their rather self-gratifying outlook deems them the only true and pure Muslims and most of the outside world to be either corrupt apostates or Crusaders who will constantly try to corrupt them and pillage and intervene in their lands. Therefore they see the only way to realize a just and righteous world is to fight these people in an apocalyptic showdown. Dabiq is the ground zero of the showdown which they are so very eager to bring on. They have already incurred war at the hands of several states and they are still standing. With each passing day they see themselves as having been vindicated since the Americans and the powers that be haven’t yet thoroughly uprooted them. Furthermore they continue to subdue the populations over which they rule. Their well disciplined apparatus may make them prone to delusions concerning the longevity of their unrecognized nascent state. But at the same time one would be a fool to underestimate these guys. They are very ambitious, very well organized and experts at exploiting turmoil and instability to their advantage. Which is another reason why evaluating and comprehending their propaganda and how they perceive themselves (not to mention how they wish to be perceived in the eyes of the world) is of crucial importance when it comes to devising a coherent strategy to reverse their gains and thoroughly defeat and discredit their form of fanaticism.