Synopsis

Besides its para-military campaign, ‘Islamic State` (IS) is also waging a global battle for ideological hegemony over Islamic concepts of statehood and governance. An important part of this strategy is its use of offline and online pledges to create long-range command patterns and to radicalise individuals.

Commentary

 

THE ISLAMIC State (IS) group which has swept across large swathes of Syria and Iraq with its para-military campaign, has also used offline and online pledges of allegiance to assert its ideological interpretation of Islamic concepts of statehood and governance. It has become clearer that the ritual not only plays an important role in physical reality, but online and offline pledges to IS are closely intertwined and meant to reinforce each other.

 

Online pledges are supposed to stimulate rites of passage, which immerse sympathisers ever deeper into jihadi ideology and increase a feeling of shared brotherhood and communality, eventually turning them into active supporters and actors.

 

Virtual and Physical Bay’ah Rituals

Since the proclamation of the IS caliphate in June 2014, the nascent organisation has put a strong focus on the marketing of popular pledges of obedience and allegiance to its leader, Abu Bakr Al Baghdadi. More than a dozen regional jihadi groups, formerly allied with al-Qaeda, have announced their fealty to IS since then. Also in the online world, there has been a viral competition among sympathisers and supporters to virtually pledge obedience and allegiance to IS. This, however, has been strongly criticised by other Muslims, including Salafists and Islamists, who claim that the virtual ritual as well as the IS caliphate contravenes Islamic law.

 

The importance IS gives to the bay’ah or oath-taking ritual cannot be overstressed. Pledges are regulated by a special body of rules in Islamic law and distinctive mechanisms in the Islamic political systems. لعب روليت Pledges, first and foremost, regulate the delegation of power and creation of leadership. Although mostly referred to as ”pledges of allegiance,” this expression is somehow misleading, for pledges are applied to a much wider variety of purposes.

 

Al-Qaeda, IS and their splinter groups have used pledges to elect and confirm leaders, to create obedience, to forge alliances and allegiances, as well as – in a tactical sense – to strengthen conviction, oblige Muslims to emigrate (hijrah) to safer zones, and to prepare for battle. In addition, they have been experimenting for years with different forms of oaths via social media to create long-range command-and-control patterns – including activating lone-wolf style attackers.

 

The online marketing of pledges started in 2004, when Abu Mus’ab al-Zarqawi (d.2006), leader of ”The Jihad and Monotheism Group” (the stem-cell of IS) swore an oath of loyalty to Osama bin Laden, thus forming al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI). Since then it has become common practice of groups which join AQ-Central, or lately IS, to do through online statements.