Jihadist reactions to the U.S. protests that have arisen as part of the Black Lives Matter trend have been fairly predictable. There is a general tone of glee at the events as a sign of instability within America, and the events are taken as proof of the decay of the country and its political system. Others point to Islam’s supposed superiority based on the religion’s anti-racist philosophy in contrast to the racial prejudices in the West.
The Islamic State propaganda machine quickly latched onto the protests, providing extensive coverage in issue 237 of the Islamic State’s al-Naba’ weekly newsletter issued by its official media department. The weekly news section at the end of that issue of the newsletter (published on 4 June) documents the protests in an excited tone, declaring that “the demonstrations that started out from Minneapolis have transformed to violent confrontations between the protestors and the police forces in more than 140 American towns, accompanied by widespread acts of ‘rioting, plunder and vandalism’ that have struck a number of police centres and a number of business centres.” New York and Washington were described as being “under fire” in sub-section headline. The newsletter also pointed to the large numbers of arrested, killed and wounded while highlighting the mobilization of forces from the National Guard and the Pentagon. Further, the newsletter highlighted the “political and societal division” within the U.S. regarding the protests and the responses to them, particularly as a result of the tweets by the “American taghut” (idolatrous tyrant) Donald Trump.
Indeed, so important were these protests in the view of the Islamic State’s media team that they became the topic of the lead editorial for that week’s issue of al-Naba’. The editorial line taken was to compare the “chaos” in America to the coronavirus that originated in China. Just as many observers were wrong to think that the coronavirus would be contained to China, so the same error in thinking presumes that the unrest will be confined to the U.S.
Rather, the editorial claims, the world is primarily living in a state of a “labyrinth,” which has led people into a state of despair and sees “disbelieving governments” at a loss as to what direction to take. The economies have contracted, and youth tendencies to work to destroy the system exist. The weakness of systems the world over, the editorial argues, means that many more countries are exposed to the sort of unrest striking America, even as impacts may differ from one country to another. These problems should further exhaust the “disbelieving states” and their interest in Muslim lands, reducing the abilities of their allies in the Islamic world to wage war on the true Muslims.
The Islamic State’s rival al-Qaeda has likewise taken a gleeful view of the U.S. disturbances, covering them in the new English-language magazine One Ummah. The “internal divisions” and “racism” afflicting America, the coronavirus, economic downturn and “attacks of the Mujahideen” constitute the “five corners of America’s pentagonal coffin” and represent the work of God in “America’s undoing.” As the economy has been devastated thanks to the coronavirus and the government tries to stall economic collapse, so a “civil war” as a result of the killing of George Floyd may be on the horizon: “this one, God willing, should mark its [America’s] end.” The article even speculated that Trump would meet a fate similar to that of Mu’ammar al-Gadhafi of Libya.
However, unlike the Islamic State editorial that concluded by noting how the unrest might benefit the Islamic State’s operations within the Muslim world in particular, the One Ummah article ended with an appeal to the “oppressed” in America, noting that supporting the oppressed was part of al-Qaeda’s approach and urging black people not to be deceived by the Democrats’ “exploitation of your grievances.” Rather, the only way forward for them is to follow the advice of Malcom X, convert to Islam and live up to his words that “the price of freedom is death.”
Other jihadists have also pushed the line that Islam is the solution to the racial injustices. For example, the Egyptian jihadist cleric Abu al-Yaqdhan al-Masri– based in northwest Syria- primarily focused in his reaction to the U.S. protests by contrasting the supposed record of anti-racism in Islam’s literature and history with the racist legacy of the West. As he concluded: “there is no solution to the crisis of America, France, Sweden and Belgium today except in the teachings of Islam and waging war on racism.”
The jihadist reactions to the U.S. protests then are in keeping with their record of latching onto anything that points to internal troubles afflicting their enemies, seeing those troubles as an opportunity to promote their agenda within their territories of operation and on a wider scale globally.
Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi is a fellow at the Center for Global Policy and a doctoral candidate at Swansea University, focusing on historical narratives in Islamic State propaganda. His website is http://www.aymennjawad.org