By Alberto M. Fernandez – MEMRI –
The propaganda of the Islamic State is entering an interesting new phase, as the “physical” Caliphate comes under unprecedented pressure and some ISIS franchises, such as the one in Libya, suffer major reverses. Despite overheated rhetoric by some in the West, and seemingly wishful thinking by some in the media, ISIS propaganda does not dwell on the new U.S. president and his policies. ISIS videos do focus extensively on the battle to defend its territories in places like Mosul and Raqqa. Recent videos have also lovingly focused on weaponized drones and on encouraging more suicide bombers, singling out the use of young boys or old men or even non-combatant administrative personnel.
The sectarian dimension of the ISIS message is never far away. Violence and threats against Iraqi Shi’a or Kurdish Peshmerga are a constant. Descriptions of “secular Turkey and “atheist PKK” are meant to be insults. Anti-ISIS Sunni “clerics of evil,” some of them quite extreme, are to be targeted and killed. One recent video focused on the travails of Rohingya Muslims at the hands of Burmese Buddhist, or Nigerian Sunnis versus Christians and Shi’a, while other visual material lingered over supposed civilian deaths inside the “Caliphate” at the hands of “Crusader” airstrikes.
The ISIS branch in Egypt, seeking to make the jump from Sinai to the Nile Valley, recently focused on an old chestnut beloved by Egyptian (and non-Egyptian) jihadis for decades, targeting the Coptic Orthodox Church.
A 21-minute video released by “ISIS Egypt” on February 19, 2017 is an important reminder of how ISIS propaganda combines several strands of argument in one product and how it seeks to exploit and piggyback on existing fissures and prejudices in local societies. The title of the video, “And Fight Against the Polytheists Collectively,” taken from the Quran’s Surah Al-Tawba, Verse 36, is one of those verses favored by jihadis as justifying ongoing violence against non-Muslims.
A relentless attack on Coptic Christians, the video presupposes that there is fertile ground for such a message, and that there is deep-seated and widespread bigotry against this religious minority among many of Egypt’s Muslims. None of the themes that ISIS addresses are new, and all of them could be found in jihadi anti-Copt propaganda in the 1970s, during a period when these groups began to proliferate in Sadat’s Egypt and targeted Christians for robbery and death, in addition to killing government officials.
The intended message against the Copts is political, economic and religious. They are first shown as engaged in behavior calculated to enrage: demonstrating for their rights, carrying crosses in the street, worshipping, declaring themselves to be the “original Egyptians.” The narrator describes them as the “largest Crusader minority in the Middle East” but much smaller than the Copts claim to be, “only 4 million.”
The supposed favored economic role of Copts is emphasized: they “control more than 40% of the Egyptian economy,” while images of some wealthy Copts and their businesses are shown.
The video shows Egyptian officials saying nice things to Copts – such as offering condolences after a December 2016 church bombing by ISIS. Not only are Egyptian President Al-Sisi and regime clerics featured, but so is former president Morsi and his “Apostate Brotherhood” (Muslim Brotherhood) and the Salafi Islamist Nur Party. Christian leaders, including Coptic Pope Tawadros II, are in turn shown praising the Egyptian government and its “tyrant” president. The scene then shifts to images of Muslims supposedly killed in Sinai by Egyptian airstrikes. The trick is to both discredit anyone who has anything decent to say about Coptic Christians and to tie the Copts to the regime, a widespread calumny found beyond the ranks of ISIS.
The political and economic attack is built upon a clear framework of religious justification. Verses from the Quran, from Hadith, and from history – the Pact of Omar – are used to advance the notion that this is a people that has collectively broken any sort of possible protection it could have under Muslim rule and is to be attacked with impunity. The video goes beyond chapter and verse, telling us that “Allah has called for the extermination of every Apostate (Murtad) and Disbeliever (Kafir) and the cleansing of the earth from them.”
The viewer is given a heavy dose of Christian imagery intended to repel and incite bigoted Muslims – Copts taking communion, praying, and images of crosses and churches.
Not satisfied with exercising political and economic power, the video claims, “among the worst things these stubborn infidels do” is to insult the Prophet Muhammad and Islam in the local media and on satellite television.