The latest edition of ISIS' web-based magazine Rumiyah mentions nothing of the major operations against the group’s strongholds in Syria and Iraq. Instead it sends a message to fighters and supporters that they should have faith in the group. Aside from the usual discussion of enemies and attacks, a clear theme resonates throughout the issue: Do not give up.
The issue contains subtle but clear reminders to readers that regardless of what “hard trial” jihadis are put through, it is part of God’s plan. ISIS’ former stronghold in Iraq, Mosul, is under severe pressure and will inevitably fall, while preparations to recapture the group’s Syrian capital Raqqa are well underway. ISIS is facing a global offensive against its infrastructure and finances, pushing the group to reassure its legions of followers.
Though ISIS fails to mention how quickly it is losing territory or how heavy its losses are, it admonishes readers to “worship your lord until death comes to you” and says fighters should stay “on the frontline remaining firm in his place… with his brothers behind him for support.” This refrain is found throughout the magazine, backed by theological scaremongering, promising that leaving captured lands would “anger your Lord and assist your enemy against you.”
ISIS also claims that being tested is part of God’s will, especially for jihadis who endure torture. But it claims those who suffer the most are chosen by God and that they must “grasp the nature and demands of the battle, that this path must be paved by the blood of [Islam’s] righteous.” Aware of its inadequacy, ISIS provides the example of the seventh century Battle of Badr, where forces of the Prophet Muhammad, through belief, hardship, and divine intervention, were able to overcome the superior strengths of their Meccan competition. This is another example of the prophetic parallels that the group seeks to forge.
Though not referencing its inferiority in the face of the global effort against it, ISIS here is trying to remind its fighters that “hardships cause a hidden strength” and patience with these trials will bring victory. Islam, it says, is in need of men “inclined to work hard, find comfort in pain and toil, strong resolutions, who refuse to be entangled by weariness… so roll up your sleeve.” This notion is reinforced by an article attributed to former al-Qaeda chief, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, stressing the idea that losses and tribulations are natural and divine.
In a sign, perhaps, of its ailing fiscal health and general desperation, aside from urging fighters to stay strong, ISIS encourages theft and looting. In an article titled “The Kafirs [disbelievers] Wealth is Halal [permissible] So Take It” the group asserts that there is “clear permissibility of spilling their blood and taking their wealth until they accept Islam,” describing the proceeds of such looting as ghanimah, booty. The article closes with the line: “May Allah… the kuffar’s wealth, weapons, women, and children ghanimah for those who strive for His cause.”
Though it claims that the purpose is to cause its enemies economic harm, ISIS says it wants 20 per cent of whatever loot is taken. To give such a clear directive could be an indicator of ISIS’ deteriorating reserves. It could also be an attempt by the group to bolster itself by making sure fighters understand God wants them to steal and plunder to provide capital to the group.
Images of high-end cars, a large electronics store, cameras, gold rings, and an expensive watch appear alongside the group’s calls for taking the wealth of its enemies. The images and the narrative may indicate an effort to tap into criminal backgrounds and tendencies of potential jihadi recruits.
Similarly, another section stresses the need for being resistant to the “test of illness,” another indicator of the stack of challenges the group faces. Lack of medical supplies in ISIS-held areas may have led the the group to try and bolster supporter mentality, possibly fearful of the desperation that illness could cause among its ranks. Echoing its broader apocalyptic vision, ISIS claims that ill health is a test, which if not cured, will pay dividends in the afterlife.
Overlooking the challenges facing the group in its heartlands, the content of this issue is evidence of the impact of sustained pressure against the group on multiple fronts.
While there is no doubt that the group’s ideology will continue to pose a threat, inspiring attacks far beyond the confines of the Levant, the focus on perseverance and sacrifice in ISIS' latest edition of Rumiyah suggests the group is in a demoralised state.