Three case studies were selected in order to identify global commonalities as well as regional differences in socially mediated terrorism. These case studies are located in Asia, the Middle East and Europe. The first case study is the series of attacks that included the Bacalan Theatre in Paris, France on 13 November 2015. The second is the destruction of cultural heritage sites in Iraq and Syria and the third is the struggle between nationalist values and extreme Islamic values in Indonesia.
4.1. Paris: 13 November 2015
A series of attacks on Paris by Da’esh were undertaken on 13 November 2015, resulting in the deaths of 130 people. Da’esh’s representational coverage of the attacks suggest deep planning. Sophisticated and polished media materials were distributed immediately following the attacks, designed to target specific audiences. The high cost of these signals served to establish the legitimacy of Da’esh’s campaign. One clear target was the five million young Muslims who live in France. Among Da’esh’s online recruitment materials are high-quality online videos calling young French Muslims to join other young French nationals who have joined Da’esh (CNN 2015). As Leander
(2016, p. 18
) points out, the commercial quality of such materials ‘gives each a reassuring stamp of normality.’ She contends that:
These are not marginal aspects of DA’ESH politics. Rather, they are important for broadening the range of potential Western recruits the videos can speak to and crucial for enrolling them in circulating the videos.
Informed by such strategies, Da’esh’s media outputs concerning the November Paris attacks included a polished and sophisticated image of an intrepid fighter walking away from a Paris that is engulfed in flames. This image keys into the heroic tropes of online gaming, particularly Prototype and inFAMOUS, (Figure 1
). In a similar vein, the logo of the Islamic State Health Services (ISHS) mimics that of the British National Health Service (Leander 2016, p. 16
). Given a creation strategy of emulation, it is clear that the Paris image was designed to garner new recruits—to turn virtual warriors into actual warriors. The image is inscribed with both Arabic and French text “France under fire.”
A sense of Da’esh’s invincibility was projected through an image in which the Eiffel Tower was redesigned as a triumphal arch with Da’esh’s flag flying victoriously on top. The tower is illuminated from below. It points to the heavens and a God-given victory (Figure 2
). The inclusion of a road running through the Eiffel Tower provides a sense of speed, change, even progress. In Arabic, the white text states “We are coming, France” and the yellow text states “The state of Khilafa.”
There were conflicting responses on social media. Da’esh supporters celebrated on Twitter, with threats of further action, especially against the United States (SITE Intelligence Group Enterprise 2015
). This may have been predictable. What was not predictable was the emergence of the blue, white and red lights social action campaign to show support for the Paris victims and, tangentially, the democratic values of liberty, equality and fraternity. Blue, white and red lights shone in major cities throughout the world, including the US, Britain, Europe, Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, Taiwan and across South America (Rodriguez 2015
). These lights were shown in few countries with Muslim majorities, though they were displayed in Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia and the UAE. Support for the Paris victims was also embedded in a parallel Facebook function that allowed members to activate a blue, white and red filter (Horton 2015
At first glance, the social media responses to the Paris attacks were caring approaches to such a tragedy. However, these actions inadvertently furthered Da’esh’s agenda by highlighting conflicting cultural values between different peoples and widening small fissures. As the blue, white and red activism played out around the globe it began to transform into a symbolic manifestation of an ‘us’ and ‘them’ mentality. Such a division supports xenophobic forces, which itself steers recruits towards Da’esh. Muslim countries were in an invidious position: display the lights and be vulnerable to being characterized as lackeys of the West, or do not display the lights and appear unsympathetic to the victims. This question was invidious at a personal level. Many Muslim people, particularly those who are recent immigrants, find themselves exploited and condemned to poverty by neo-liberal economic models. The blue, white and red activism put them into a difficult position. They felt sympathy for the victims. However, they were bitter about how they were being treated by the ‘West,’ including France.
The complexities and contradictions of action in such circumstances play out through symbolic communication (Figure 3
). As visual artist and activist Charlotte Farhan, editor of the online magazine Art Saves Lives International
, pointed out on Twitter and Facebook, the blue, red and white campaign emerged as support for the victims in Paris but was not enacted for victims of comparable attacks in other places (Lavender 2015
). Why did similar global campaigns not arise in support of the 90 people killed by bombings on 11th October in Ankara, Turkey, (Letsch and Khomami 2015
) the 43 people who were killed by bombings in Beirut, Lebanon, on 12th November (Barnard and Saad 2015
) or the 26 people killed in Bagdad, on 13 November 2015 (The Associated Press 2015
)? While this could be attributed partially to a level of war-weariness in relation to conflicts in the Middle East, it is also likely to be related to Paris’ iconic status. In a similar manner to the destruction of the World Trade Centre in New York in 2001, the attacks in Paris held a personal and symbolic dimension for the many millions of people who have visited this city. As Coller
) points out, an attack on Paris is likely to make the front page. However, the global campaign in support of the Paris victims highlighted the absence of that level of support for people who suffered similar atrocities in other parts of the world. In a system that celebrates liberté, égalité and fraternité, all lives are not mourned equally. The global manifestation of these values supported Da’esh’s agenda.
4.2. The Destruction of Cultural Heritage Sites in Iraq and Syria
The second case study concerns the destruction of cultural heritage sites in Iraq and Syria. In the same way that lamenting the attacks on Paris can create or exacerbate a polarised worldview, so too can reactions to Da’esh’s attacks on heritage sites. There are two key points. Firstly, the international community and global media framed the damage done by Da’esh at the Mosul Museum and the ancient sites of Palmyra or Nimrud as random by-products of wanton terror or as moments of unrestrained barbarism. The United Nations Security Council condemned the attack on the Mosul Museum as part of the ‘ongoing barbaric terrorist acts in Iraq by ISIL’ (Charbonneau 2015
); UNESCO described the destruction of archaeological remains in Palmyra as evidence of ‘how terrified by history and culture the extremist are … and exposes [their heritage destruction] as expressions of pure hatred and ignorance’ (UNESCO 2015
). More specifically, UNESCO Director General Irina Bokova reacted to the destruction of the ancient Assyrian capital of Nimrud by arguing that such attacks were underpinned by ‘propaganda and hatred’ and that ‘there is absolutely no political or religious justification for the destruction of humanity’s cultural heritage’ (Bokova 2015
One of Da’esh’s tactics is to elicit outrage from the West in order to reinforce perceptions of strength and facilitate local territorial control and expansion (Smith et al. 2016
). Given the high value that Western cultures place on cultural heritage sites, it is a relatively simple matter to elicit this outrage through the dissemination of images that record the destruction of heritage sites such as the Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria (Figure 4
, see also Worley 2016
). In 2002, Colwell-Chanthaphonh
), analysed the impact of internet news coverage and associated social media such as internet message boards, of the destruction of the Buddhas in the Bamiyan Valley, Afghanistan in 2001. His work highlighted how differences in social, cultural and religious values informed reactions to this destruction. Some of the messages revealed attitudes to cultural heritage destruction that may be surprising to those who are steeped in Western values:
Saturday, 03/03/01, 1:59:07 p.m. (#383)14
As a Buddhist, I must say that, from a religious perspective, it makes no difference whatsoever if these statues are destroyed or if they are saved. They are merely representations of a man and they, like everything else, are impermanent and in a world of constant change—nothing lasts forever….
Since this time, vast changes in the media landscape, including the establishment of Facebook in 2004, Twitter in 2006 and Instagram in 2010, have provided new spaces for individuals and groups to express their views without the mediation of a third party. Combined with a transformation in the nature of conflicts, these changes are such that social media can now constitute a threat to cultural heritage. Within this rapidly evolving media landscape World Heritage sites are particularly vulnerable to extremists who seek maximum impact for their political agendas (Smith 2015
The acts of cultural heritage destruction undertaken by Da’esh are much more than mere moments of barbarity, ignorance or propaganda devoid of political or religious justification (Shahab and Isakhan 2018
). Instead, their iconoclasm is carefully articulated and deliberately designed, drawing on historical precedent and key Islamist principles to construct a coherent theological framework and to establish ideological purity and political homogeneity towards the creation of a new and serene ‘Islamic State’ (Isakhan and Zarandona 2018, p. 4
). The religious and political dimensions to the iconoclasm conducted by Da’esh are evident throughout their propaganda outlets. In terms of religious iconoclasm, Dabiq
is situated within an extremist Salafi/Wahhabi interpretation of Islam with specific religious rhetoric providing the theological framework that underpins their iconoclasm. For example, Da’esh frequently assert a temporal and spiritual link between their iconoclasm and key figures of Islamic history. They repeatedly emphasise the importance of following the path of the Prophet Ibrahim, the Prophet Muhammad and his companions (Dabiq 2015b, pp. 26–29
). For example:
the actions of the mujāhidīn [holy warriors] had not only emulated Ibrāhīm’s … destruction of the idols of his people and Prophet Muhammad’s … destruction of the idols present around the Ka’bah when he conquered Makkah but had also served to enrage the kuffār, a deed that in itself is beloved to Allah.
In citing such historical precedent, Da’esh seeks to draw theological parallels between their actions and those of the founding figures of Islamic monotheism and of the first ‘Islamic State.’ In terms of the political dimension to their iconoclasm, issue one of Dabiq
includes a transcription of Da’esh leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi’s speech at the Grand Mosque of Mosul in which he announced the formation of the new Islamic State in June 2014. In it, the self-proclaimed Caliph warns the world that:
The Muslims today have a loud, thundering statement and possess heavy boots. They have a statement to make that will cause the world to hear and understand the meaning of terrorism and boots that will trample the idol of nationalism, destroy the idol of democracy and uncover its deviant nature.
Here, the principle of iconoclasm is extended beyond the relics and monuments of ancient civilisations, to the ‘Western’ political ideologies of ‘nationalism’ and ‘democracy.’ More to the point, Da’esh seeks to connect these ideologies to the sites of ancient Mesopotamia or the Greco-Roman world. For example, in one Dabiq
article documenting their destruction, they state:
The kuffār [unbeliever] had unearthed these statues and ruins in recent generations and attempted to portray them as part of a cultural heritage and identity that the Muslims of Iraq should embrace and be proud of. Yet this opposes the guidance of Allah and His Messenger and only serves a nationalist agenda.
In this quote, Da’esh details two dimensions to their political iconoclasm. Firstly, it is an attack on the kuffar—
presumably Westerners who, as part of the colonial period not only drew the modern borders and created the contemporary states of the Middle East but also excavated Mesopotamian archaeological sites and placed them in public museums to be admired. Following the end of colonial oversight in the mid twentieth century came the arrival of secular nationalist governments who sought to use the rich history of Iraq and Syria to inculcate a sense of collective identity (Baram 1991
; Wedeen 1999
). Attacks on pre-monotheistic sites are therefore not just an attack on the sins of polytheism and idolatry but also an attack on the Western colonial powers who unearthed the ancient relics and designed the modern state, as well as an attack on an entire epoch of state produced symbols that manipulated the region’s rich history to serve their own ‘nationalist agenda’ (De Cesari 2015
The attacks on pre-monotheistic sites are also a broader rejection not just of polytheism, colonialism and the modern state but also of the secular liberal norms that are enshrined within institutions such as the museum or multilateral bodies such as UNESCO (Gamboni 2001
; Winter 2014
). For example, in March 2015 UNESCO’s Bokova issued a statement reacting to the destruction of heritage sites at the hands of the Da’esh, referring to them as a ‘war crime’ (Bokova 2015
). Knowing that UNESCO was powerless to stop them, the following month Da’esh showed their clear disdain for such rhetoric in their Al
video filmed at the World Heritage Listed city of Hatra. The film not only shows militants using sledgehammers and assault rifles to destroy priceless reliefs engraved into the walls of the ancient fortress city, it also features a bold repost to Bokova: ‘Some of the infidel organisations say the destruction of these alleged artefacts is a war crime. We will destroy your artefacts and idols anywhere and Islamic State will rule your lands’ (Al-Hayat 2015, cited in Isakhan and Zarandona 2017
A second dimension is worth consideration. In much the same way that the ‘West’ appears to care more about terrorist attacks in Paris than in Baghdad, it also appears to care more about heritage sites connected to the foundational myths of Western civilization than Islamic sites. Consider the outcry over sites featured in the Bible, such as the Assyrian capitals of Nineveh and Nimrud, or Greco-Roman sites such as Palmyra, when compared to the vast array of Islamic sites that have been damaged or destroyed by Da’esh. It is important to note that while a Mesopotamian artefact, or a Greco-Roman site are clearly important in terms of their heritage value, the Middle East’s rich Islamic history may arguably hold more ‘significance’ to the everyday lives of many ordinary Syrians or Iraqis who derive elements of their identity from these sites.
As just one example, for the bulk of Syria and Iraq’s Shia populations, various Shia Islamic monuments—shrines, mosques, schools and other buildings—may hold far greater significance and therefore more ‘heritage value,’ than, say, a Babylonian statue destroyed in a museum, or a cylinder seal looted from an archaeological mound. Since the onslaught of Da’esh across vast swathes of Syria and Iraq, the Shia people and their heritage sites have suffered terribly. One prominent example is the gold-domed Sayyida Zaynab mosque and shrine in southern Damascus which has come under repeated attack from at least as far back as October 2012. For Shia Muslims, the shrine is sacred as it is thought to house the remains of a significant female historical figure (Isakhan 2018
). Another example occurred over three days in mid-2014, when Da’esh went on a rampage across northern Iraq destroying untold numbers of Shia mosques and shrines. For example, in just one Shia-majority town of Tal Afar, they destroyed a shrine dedicated to a founding figure of Shia Islam, Aqeel ibn Abi Talib and the mosque of Imam Sadiq, associated with the sixth Imam and a revered scholar (Danti et al. 2015, pp. 54–84
). The neglect of coverage or concern for these sites in the Western media or by multi-lateral bodies such as UNESCO is indicative of a cultural hubris that is not lost on the people of the Middle East: our lives are more important than your lives; our heritage sites are more important than your heritage sites. In other words, one of the many failings of attempts to interpret heritage destruction in Syria and Iraq has been the overwhelming reliance on normative assumptions about what constitutes ‘heritage,’ seen as it has been through the lens of Western culture, at the expense of cataloguing the destruction done at sites of everyday significance to ordinary Syrians or Iraqis.
4.3. National Values versus the Values of Radical Islam
Our third case study concerns the struggle between national values and the values of radical Islam in Indonesia. The organization chosen for this case study is the ultra-conservative Islamist group, Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (HTI). The genesis of HTI was in Al-Quds (Jerusalem, Palestine) in 1953. Since then it has successfully developed a transnational network covering more than 40 countries (Setiawan 2018, p. 14
). When it was established in the early 1980s HTI affiliated with Al-Baghdadi. The official name (HTI) was first used in May 2000 (Rubino et al. 2017, p. 245
While Da’esh and Hizb ut-Tahrir are both extremist organisations, they represent different extremes on this spectrum. Da’esh is firmly located within jihadi frameworks, while Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia stands outside the jihadi milieu. Though they are separate organisations, the similarities in their flags (Figure 5
) signal some commonalities in social, cultural and religious values. At a very basic level, both organisations are joined by the notion of Caliphate that breaks down divisions between Muslim countries. Moreover, Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia’s active support for Da’esh is indicated in its participation in protests against Syria’s President Bashar al-Assad in Surabaya, Indonesia, in 2012. (Figure 6
Indonesia is one the greatest user of social media in the world, with an estimated 143 million internet users in 2017 (Yuniarni 2018
). Ninety percent of Indonesian internet users are on social media. Facebook, Twitter and Telegram are the three most accessed platforms. Indonesians are the fourth most prominent Facebook users following the USA, Brazil and India (Indonesia Ministry of Communication and Information 2018
In July 2017, Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia (Party of Liberation) was banned by the Indonesian government. This organisation distinguishes only two kinds of countries: the Islamic State (Dar al Islam), which consists of those who follow Islamic Law (Shari’a) and the Infidel State (Dar al-Kufr), which consists of those who do not follow Islamic Law. The HTI believes that Islamic laws consists of spiritual believe (aqidah ruqiyyah
) and political ideology (aqidah siyasiyyah).
For this, the HTI spoke person, Ismail Yusanto, urge all Moslem in the world to practice Islamic way of life through Shariá Law and lead by a Caliph (Setiawan 2018, p. 15
). Therefore, Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesia strives to change the foundation of the Indonesia state. Its views can be found in its digital footprints, including a video of HTI’s birthday anniversary on 2 June 2013, in Senayan, Jakarta, which features an oration by some of HTI’s top rank. This video identifies four objectives for Hizb ut-Tahrir Indonesian members:
To change the ignorance (jahiliyyah) law as a result of democracy into Shari’a law;
To change power from the hands of the owners of capital to the hands of (Muslim) people (ummah);
To destroy the national barriers that divide Muslims; and
To appoint one caliph to unite Muslims.
The HTI campaigns focuses on establishing the Transnational Islamic Imperium. The HTI Leader K.H. Muhammad Al-Khaththath, argues that any countries, including Indonesia, could start the formation of the Transnational Islamic Imperium (Setiawan 2018, p. 16
). The HTI judges the Indonesian State ideology (Pancasila, see Morfit 1981) as kuffār ideology. The disagreement on Pancasila is cited by Ainur Rafiq from HTI in a circulation letter entitled Al-Banshasila Falsafah Kufr laa Tattafiq ma’a al-Islaam
(Setiawan 2018, p. 17
). These views led Mahfud MD, a Nahdlatul Ulama scholar and the former Head of Constitutional Court, to surmise that HTI is a radical organisation. In a televised debate, Mahfud MD argued that the radical feature of HTI is its endeavour to change the foundation of the Indonesia state, Pancasila (five pillars of the state), the state ideology which promotes diversity and pluralism. Mahfud MD rejected the idea of a Khilafah (Caliphate), which is endorsed by Hizb ut-Tahrir’s Indonesian supporters such as Ismail Yusanto and Felix Siaw. Moreover, he asserted that in the primary sources of Islam, the Qur’an and the Sunna (tradition) of the Prophet, there is no instruction on the specific teaching on the system of politics, state administration and the rule of law and that this is left to Muslims in accordance to the demands of their particular contexts. Certainly, the Islamic world recognizes many different systems of government. Among these are the mamlakah system (kingdom), the emirate system, the sulthoniyya system (sultanate) and the jumhuriyya system (republic).
Some of the strongest advocates against radical Islam in Indonesia are the two prominent Muslim organisations, Muhammadiyah and Nahdlatul Ulama. With a combined following of some sixty million people, these organisations have instigated social media campaigns that disseminate the Islamic principles of justice, diversity and tolerance. These organisations have been involved in the soft power approach taken by the Indonesian government to debunk radical interpretations of Islamic teachings. Both organisations support education, cultural engagement and social and economic development. Nahdlatul Ulama, a conservative Sunni Islamic group, maintains that Indonesia’s national identity needs to include all religious groups (Nahdlatul Ulama 2018
) also promotes a modern Islam free of superstition and syncretism.
The leaders of both groups have used social media to pro-actively advocate against the tenets of radical Islam. Said Aqil Siradj, Chair of the Central Board of Nahdlatul Ulama, invited Nahdlatul Ulama’s youths to use social media to spread friendly interpretations of Islam and debase Wahhabis
’ radical views. The video was uploaded on YouTube by IMNU Official. Responding to this message, IPNU and IPPNU (Nahdlatul Ulama student organisations) of the Mojowarno sub-district, of Jombang District, initiated a ‘1000 Status of Facebook Movement/Gerakan 1000 Status Facebook’ (Nahdlatul Ulama 2017
). In addition, some prominent Nahdlatul Ulama’s figures such as Ahmad Mustofa Bisri (Gus Mus) and Nadirsyah Hosen are active users of social media. Hosen is the chair of Syuriah
Nahdlatul Ulama and is a Professor at Monash University. His views on countering the idea of HTI’s khilafa
can be found in his Facebook page ‘Nadirsyah Hosen.’ Muhammadiyah’s use of social media includes the Facebook accounts Muhammadiyah
and Pemuda Muhammadiyah
. On an individual level, Takdir Ali Syahbana, a Muhammadiyah activist, initiated ‘Movement to follow [Muhammadiyah’s] Fatwas/Gerakan Patuh Tarjih
.’ Through Facebook, he has disseminated Muhammadiyah interpretations of Islamic teachings compiled in the book ‘Muhammadiyah’s Fatwas/Putusan Tarjih Muhammadiyah
.’ His efforts aim to protect members of Muhammadiyah from following radical views.
In the view of Director General of Political and Nation State, Indonesian Ministry of Home Affairs, Tanribali Lamo, HTI is considered as an illegal organization due to its disagreement on Indonesian State ideology as set out in Indonesian Constitution (Setiawan 2018, p. 17
In 2017, this soft power approach was combined with a hard power approach against radicalisation through the issuance of PERRPU (a government regulation in lieu of law) No. 2, 2017, on Mass Organisation. Article 59 of the law states that ‘mass organisations are prohibited from embracing, developing and disseminating any teachings or ideologies contrary to Pancasila.’ The banning of HTI by the Indonesian government follows the banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir by Malaysia in September 2015 and an earlier banning of Hizb ut-Tahrir by other countries such as Egypt, Jordan and Syria. However, as HTI has millions of followers in Indonesia, its influence is significant and it is believed to work clandestinely.