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On the Road to Quds: How the Axis of Resistance Defines Geopolitical Battlegrounds in Favour of Authoritarianism

On the Road to Quds: How the Axis of Resistance Defines Geopolitical Battlegrounds in Favour of Authoritarianism
20th June 2024 Dr. Chamila Liyanage
In Insights


‘Shia civilization awakened’, a Russian ideologue proclaimed on his Telegram channel in early 2024, hailing the infamous Axis of Resistance (AoR). Inflaming Shia Muslims against the West serves Russian geopolitical interests as it prepares for a multipolar world shaped by diverse traditional cultures, as well as religious and ethnic identities. AoR gives hope to authoritarianism, defining proxy geopolitical battlegrounds against the West and its allies. AoR compliments the ideas of the Global Civilisational Initiative (GCI) proposed by China and backed by Russia, a core tenet of autocracy promotion by fostering traditional cultures worldwide. China and Russia seek a multipolar world founded against the values of Western liberal democracy, and AoR falls within its remit. AoR is the Iran-backed Shia armed groups in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, and Yemen. AoR’s stated mission is to fight  Israel and its allies in the West. It deploys a well-formed ideology with a geopolitical outlook integral to its worldview.

This Insight analyses six English-language Telegram channels loyal to AoR to identify their worldview and ideology, direction, and broader geopolitical alignment. One channel is an English version of an Arabic channel. Five channels broadcast the broader AoR remit, such as its ideology, worldview, direction, statements, operational updates, and geopolitical positioning; one channel focuses on the civilian casualties in Gaza. The total subscribers of the channels stand at 2,215,170 as of 1 April 2024. The channels are run by at least one individual with some background in English-speaking countries (homegrown). This is important because of the intertextuality of language and how the channels relate to extreme right political discourse in the West. The channel administrators are either members of AoR or individuals closely associated with AoR. They frequently provide operational updates about attacks, often including photos and sensitive details about specific AoR factions involved in the attacks. The following is the excerpt of the evidence-based analysis of the data collected from the selected Telegram channels. 

Figure 1. An example of identity politics and culture wars

 AoR: Worldview and Ideology

AoR is laced with an apocalyptic worldview, referring to how it bears witness to Akhirul Zaman or the End Times. It brands Salafi militant groups like ISIS and Al-Qaeda as ‘Takfiriyeen’ or lapsed Muslims. AoR awaits the return of Al-Mahdi, or the figure in Islamic eschatology who appears in the End Times. The religious connotation does not end there but serves a broader geopolitical purpose to inflame Shia Muslims. Indeed, the Islamic Republic of Iran is the root of AoR’s allegiance. Iran devises a plotline to exalt itself to a universal role in preparing the world for the return of divine saviours. However, the only obstacle to establishing a divine system on earth is said to be the Jewish power (both in Israel and the West) and Anglo-American empire, repeatedly branded as the powers of Iblis or Satan. Telegram helps to perpetuate this mythical narrative in a digital realm, allowing individuals to embrace it without being branded as insane. 

Hailing the Iranian Islamic revolution for defying reason and modernism in the West, modernist thoughts and liberalism are branded as great evil by AoR adherents. The evidence they point to refers to the “tidal wave of liberalism”, which is said to result from a weak faith in God. The AoR Telegram channels also refer to the author Robin Woodsworth Carlsen several times. Carlsen met late Iranian spiritual leader Ayatollah Khomeini in 1982 and was awe-struck by what he saw as the ‘authentic faith emanating from him’. Even the official commemorative website of the late Imam Khomeini refers to Carlsen’s ideas as an account of how Iran works to reshape the destiny of humanity. In the latent analysis, the commemorative website confirms the AoR ideology expressed on Telegram, insisting that ‘no terrestrial power or force can hinder its (Iran’s) triumphant march’. The most adamant plotline of any extremist religious ideology is playing to the idea of a God to evade accountability. This plotline plays a fundamental role in upholding Iran-backed proxies such as Hamas to fight Israel and the West. The AoR narrative is, therefore, beyond ideologically dangerous insofar as its real-world manifestations; it emboldens  Iranian proxies to believe and endeavours to find more allies and sympathisers. 

Figure 2. A theatrical call for support and religious incitement

From this worldview devolves a labyrinth of worldly discourse, and the ideology of AoR starts to spring forth with all its fury. The conviction that AoR is stronger than it has ever been before, while the West and Israel have become weaker, emboldens its resolve. AoR is overly confident, assuming that its ally Hamas has shattered Israel’s invincibility through the surprise 7/10 attack. AoR ideology is part of the Third Reich-grade antisemitic propaganda; such classic antisemitic lexicon is rife in the ideology. It rejects the West as Zionist Occupied Governments (ZOG), a conspiracy theory that the world is controlled by a cabal. Khazaria and Ukraine conspiracy theories, anti-vaccine conspiracy theories, and ideas about the ‘globalscamdemic’ are weaponised to imply that Jews and the West planned all these events. Popular conspiracy theories about Hollywood, mass media, 9/11, the Great Replacement, Great Reset, agenda 2030, LGBT agenda, paedophilia, Netflix conspiracy, Third Temple, and Dajjal (false messiah) scatter the Telegram discourse as well. 

Figure 3. An example of homophobic propaganda

With such intense antisemitic and anti-Western conspiracy theories, the Telegram evidence shows that AoR’s worldview, ideology, and brotherhood are conjoined with the conspiracy rabbit hole. Sexism is virulent; vicious sexist stereotypes of Western women remind us of Taliban atrocities against Afghan women, reflecting the same misogynistic mindset of AoR. 

The AoR ideology demonstrates how a Shia Muslim extremist ideology can relate to the extreme right, anti-Western, pro-Russian, and traditionalist worldviews, all against neo-liberalism. This ideology uses the virtual world and technology to easily declare loyalty to like-minded allies who stand together ideologically in the battle against the collective West. They establish ideological strongholds and attract allies on Telegram, where they exchange loyalties and ideological synergies. To AoR, the overall idea is simple: tradition against modernity. AoR ideology denies what it brands as Godless liberalism, the West, its allies, and its way of life and fights to replace it with the way of life of Islam. 

Figure 4. An example of weaponising traditionalism

Direction of AoR

As for the proclaimed direction of AoR, the immediate goal is defined as the fight for Jerusalem, meaning to liberate Jerusalem from Zionists. ‘On the Road to Al-Quds (Jerusalem)’, and ‘On the Road to Quds’, which scatter the selected Telegram channels, refer to preparing Jerusalem for the return of the saviours. The Telegram channels refer to a Houthi military exercise named, ‘Our Path is towards Jerusalem,’ which trained Houthis to confront Israeli forces in Dimona and the Negev desert while attacking American and British supply lines. A slain Palestinian Jenin brigade fighter was glorified as a ‘knight on the path to Al-Quds’. AoR aims to radicalise sympathisers to their ideology. The leader of the military wing of Hamas, Al Qassam, announced the start of the Al Aqsa Flood battle on 7 October 2023 with attacks on Israel. He called for the unity of the Muslim world to expel the occupiers. As this call may have had an impact on some factions and individuals, AoR ideology failed to draw broader support in the Muslim world. Civilian casualties in Gaza are used to justify AoR propaganda, putting people in harm’s way and with no concern for the Palestinian people’s suffering. Hamas is a terrorist organisation that governs over two million people in Gaza. It has little interest in the welfare of the Palestinian people or in good governance. Instead, Hamas prioritizes terror and war, subjecting Palestinians to military reprisals, and then using civilian casualties to incite the Muslim world. The following section analyses a critical aspect: how AoR and its backers align geopolitically, sharing loyalty to a broader geopolitical alliance, and how Telegram plays a key role in this task.

Figure 5. Updates from the AoR factions

Geopolitics of AoR

The loyalty of AoR spans from a shared worldview rooted in an anti-democratic ideology tied at the end to conform authoritarianism. AoR is not just a regional alliance of Iran-backed proxy militias—it shows loyalty to the global rise of authoritarianism. The AoR-backing channels are loyal to a wider geopolitical alliance of Russia and China with their allies, which share an anti-Western worldview, aiming to topple what they call the Western hegemony by teaming up with the Global South and reviving traditional cultures. AoR is not just fighting Israel but insists on a fight against liberal values framed as Godless and seeks to revive tradition in its place. The task is referred to as decolonisation, and using the lexicon of the European New Right, it is a so-called revolt against the modern world. The Telegram channels brand AoR’s fight as an ‘Islamic liberationist, counter-hegemonic, anti-Zionist, and anti-imperialist revolution’.  

As the Telegram channels suggest, the anti-matrix discourse, resistance, and revolution are only possible given the ‘ongoing global awakening’. The awakening discourse from QAnon Map appears in AoR ideology. How does the populist radical right narrative seep into AoR? It is not merely an accident but something that happens in the context of the global rise of authoritarianism. Populism, radical right politics and conspiracy revival sweeping the world cannot occur without a mobilising nucleus. There is a mobilisation against Western liberal democracy and a nefarious attempt to delegitimise the West. It was witnessed first-hand with the US election interference and the Russian patronage of the European far right. 

In the analysed Telegram channels, Iran’s Ali Khamenei, Syria’s Bashar al-Assad, and Vladimir Putin’s views on the LGBT agenda and paedophilia are emphasised with a conspiratorial undertone. Illiberalism cannot rise without a movement, and its insidious roots are in the global rise of authoritarianism.

AoR insists that they are the true rebels and the rebukers of a Satanic status quo. AoR-linked Telegram channels give overwhelming attention to the Tucker Carlson interview with Putin, citing it as a ‘must be watched interview’. The loyalty updates are plenty across the Telegram data, including Syria’s Assad congratulating Putin on the Homeland Defender’s Day and Venezuela’s Maduro, blaming the West and Israel with a conspiracy undertone. A sense of loyalty is shown with the news about Iranian drones entering the service with Russian armed forces in Crimea, videos of the 2024 naval exercises of Russia, China and Iran, updates on Russian attacks in Ukraine, hailing Russian victories, and forwards from Russian Telegram channels on war updates. Putin’s election victory is celebrated with the news of how Iran, Yemen, and Syria congratulated him. There is an announcement about an ambassador from the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs meeting with the head of the Hamas political bureau in Qatar and an Iranian SNN TV interview with President Lukashenko of Belarus. 

Figure 6. An example of loyalty updates.

Broader loyalty updates also include how Russian forces will use Iranian-made drone boats to attack Ukraine, Russia’s plan to establish Iranian drone production lines in Russia and Russian fighter jet production lines in Iran, and how Iran will supply China with 15,000 drones. It emphasises how AoR shatters the aura of American and Israeli might with the late Iran’s President insisting in a speech, ‘Gone are the days when Americans ruled the countries’. The analysed channels demonstrate how AoR utilises Telegram to convey its support and loyalty across the geopolitical spectrum. It establishes a Telegram presence for sharing updates on AoR’s support for authoritarian regimes, along with operational updates on its proxy terror. This also shows how AoR effectively engages with its authoritarian loyalty base, using Telegram as a platform. 

Figure 7. An example of loyalty forwards.


Generative AI use is not detected in the channels investigated, but expert use of graphic designing software such as Adobe Suite is evident. As violent extremist actors evolve rapidly in their use of technology, tech companies must focus on both the evolving threat and technology landscape. Deplatforming will not work as extremist actors constantly migrate to new platforms. The global rise of authoritarianism provides social media platforms to host extremist, conspiracy, and anti-democratic elements to subvert democracies. The evidence refers to how Telegram channels serve as an extension of ‘exiled members banned from across different platforms of “normie web”’. Subversive platforms such as TikTok and Chan boards will spread with autocratic mobilisation, and extremism is a hybrid weapon in an autocratic metapolitical assault. Tech companies and governments must assess the risks in the context of the global rise of authoritarianism to understand the many tentacles of agile threats. According to the analysis, violent extremist actors are increasingly allied with geopolitical alliances, making counter-action difficult and requiring a whole Internet approach paved with complex policy challenges.   

Dr Chamila Liyanage is a specialist in terrorism and political violence. She investigates the nexus between grey zone/hybrid threats and enabling technologies such as AI. She is a member of the Standing Group on Organised Crime (SGOC) of the European Consortium for Political Research (ECPR), a member of the Strategic Hub for Organised Crime Research Network of the Royal United Services Institute, London, and a fellow of the Far Right Analysis Network (FRAN).