This note depicts core elements of the jihadi thoughts on the political polarisation of western societies and induced opportunities for jihadi movements. This analysis is based on the quantitative textual analysis and detailed reading of several propaganda materials published online in English, and targeting a western audience.
This short note depicts how religious narratives of jihadi groups such as Islamic State (IS) are embedded in political and social claims and interpretations. They attempt to increase the feeling of persecution among Muslims, legitimise the use of physical violence in European societies, and therefore prove that there is no alternative but to join jihadi movements.
IS propaganda frequently referred to its desire to attack and conquer the city of Rome, perceived and defined as the hearth and capital of Europe, even if Italy appears as relatively immune to intense jihadi activities, including homegrown jihadism. Jihadi propaganda in Italian is much less prevalent than propaganda in English or French. This could be explained by the perception of Rome as an external land to conquer in order to establish a claim included in several readings. IS propaganda is based upon a quoted excerpt of Sahih Muslim 2900, Book 54, Hadith 50, ‘The book of tribulations and portents of the last hour’, reported by Uqba Ibn Nafi, a military commander during the Rashidun Caliphate that was instrumental in expanding Islam in North Africa and Persia. This quote is displayed as the introduction of one of the most frequently transmitted pdf documents online.
We were with Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) in an expedition that there came a people to Allah’s Apostle (ﷺ) from the direction of the west. They were dressed in woolen clothes and they stood near a hillock and they met him as Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) was sitting. I said to myself: Better go to them and stand between him and them that they may not attack him. Then I thought that perhaps there had been going on secret negotiation among them. I, however, went to them and stood between them and him and I remember four of the words (on that occasion) which I repeat (on the fingers of my hand) that he (Allah’s Messenger) said: You will attack Arabia and Allah will enable you to conquer it, then you would attack Persia and He would make you to conquer it. Then you would attack Rome and Allah will enable you to conquer it, then you would attack the Dajjal and Allah will enable you to conquer him. Nafi’ said: Jabir, we thought that the Dajjal would appear after Rome (Syrian territory) would be conquered.
This quotation fits into the narrative of a prophecy that presents military operations as the unfolding of God’s plan, as shown by the command ‘you will’ and the asserted support ‘Allah will enable you, […] He would make you…’.
Exploiting the Cleavage with the Far-Right to Promote Authoritarianism in Islam
The propaganda document then postulates that far-right political forces will become the leading movement in Europe and that their supporters will turn to violent actions against Muslims. The jihadi narrative relies here on three main claims.
1) The idea that Muslim community is a coherent and all-encompassing community, that Muslims should think and behave in the same way, including politically.
2) The idea that Muslims are under attack from the far-right and that Muslims should defend themselves as such. The use of violence is legitimate for them as no groups or institutions are able to protect them.
3) The idea that violence is the only way to protect the mosques which is presented as the common good of Muslims in Europe. The police is depicted as ‘siding’ with far-right movements, based on a racial argument that non-Muslims and police members are predominantly white.
The argument proceeds in calling for extended violence, highly scattered across the nation in order to stretch out and exhaust police capacity, a technique that has been observed in France between 2015 and 2020 for instance. The polarisation with the far right is leveraged by jihadi propaganda in stating that “Right-wing Racist parties […] are replacing the traditional mainstream parties. Europe is transforming from a continent of people who simply wanted jobs and a secure living into a continent of people who are not satisfied except through war and aggression against minorities.”
Threat Based Politics
The nature of the argument is geared toward increasing the feeling of oppression, victimhood among Muslims facing a hostile environment and vicious attacks that could not be prevented or deflected. They could only be opposed, which means that the community needs to ‘defend’ itself as well as Muslims and Islam as a whole. Quite interestingly, this narrative of defending itself against an outside aggression reminds the trait of authoritarianism in Altemeyer’s definition.
Leveraging the Support of Left-wing Movements and Supporters
The propaganda document then proceeds in identifying available tactical allies for European Muslim communities among left-wing political and social organisations. “A growing population of left-wing activists look up to the Muslims as a force who are strong enough to fight against the injustices of the world.” Left leaning individuals are defined as exploiting Muslims for their own political agenda (not defined as a class struggle but as the pursuit of postmaterialist goals such as human and animal abuse, Zionism or corruption). The issue of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is, in this approach, also a resource for the jihadi movement.
Left parties are not perceived as ideological allies, but only as a convenient support, a mean to an end. The propaganda stresses for instance that leftists “will give intelligence, share weapons and do undercover work for the Muslims to pave the way for the conquest of Rome.” They are considered useful as long as they are possible partners for physical violence: “A portion from them [Left-wing protesters] will realise that protests are not effective, and that armed combat is the alternative. So they will start to work together in small cells of groups to fight and sabotage against the “financial elite”.”
It appears clearly from IS narratives that traditional far-right movements and jihadi groups share the same political vision of the social world as being divided and violent by nature. Behaviours and opinions are then shaped by high levels of perceived threats and a need to use physical violence as the best tool to repel it. It clearly emerges from primary sources that the link between jihadism and the far-left is not inexistent either as the former tend to perceive the latter as useful in their so-called battle. However, this link cannot be established either on a theoretical or on an ideological basis, it is only framed as a tactical move and not a ‘strategic alliance’.
Grievances and perceived threats are likely to get stronger as the world is shaken by long-term economic stress, structural urban segregation and deep political challenges in international affairs. Given the sharp increase in political polarisation in western Europe, reading and analysing jihadi propaganda and its internal contradictions is an important task for scholars in the post-COVID world that lies ahead. Even if the IS so-called caliphate has failed, the underlying factors for a strong homegrown jihadi movement, based on long-term grievances and specific opportunities for violence, remain strong and should be tackled before the next wave of high intensity terrorism.