A few months ago, a new commodity emerged in Islamic State’s online channels: a daily audio file in which an American-accented fighter reads the day’s news in impeccable English.
In Tuesday’s message, which is shorter than 4 minutes, he begins with the customary greeting: “We thank our listeners for tuning in and present the following Islamic State news bulletin for Tuesday, the 15th of Sha’ban in the year 1436 of the prophetic hijra,” the date on the Islamic calendar. In calm tones resembling daily headlines on NPR or American talk radio, he announces the terrorist group’s latest victories — inevitably good news that portrays the jihadis as perpetually on the march.
As of June the program, called Idha’at al-Bayan (“Radio Al-Bayan”), also broadcasts daily in Arabic, French, Kurdish and Russian. Each program’s newsreader has a fluent native accent and is accompanied by nasheeds, a cappella songs that boast about ISIS’ gains in rhyming Arabic verse, often updated to include references to recent events.
Radio Al-Bayan is just one of Islamic State’s many channels which target potential recruits in their preferred language. Like a sophisticated international brand, no matter where in the world prospective recruits may be, the group has a way of reaching them in an intimate and accessible way.
Tuesday also saw the release of a 20-minute video, purporting to show an 80-year-old man who emigrated from Xinjiang, a majority-Muslim region in western China. Speaking in Uyghur, the local language, he rails against the anti-religious Chinese policies which he says prevented him from practicing true Islam. (RELATED: China Forces Muslim Shopkeepers To Sell Liquor)
Other videos in recent months, made to the same exacting production values as Islamic State’s more popular releases, have featured jihadis speaking Russian, Kurdish, Kazakh and even a local sign language. And the group recently debuted online magazines in Russian, Turkish and French, each advancing specific arguments — whether to Russian-speaking central Asians or French-speaking Muslims in Europe — for migration to ISIS’ purported state.
For those who want to fight, Islamic State publishes unflinching accounts of garish violence against religious minorities, criminal offenders and enemies on the battlefield — though reports that it enslaves girls as young as 8 for sex, and perpetrates other horrific criminal acts, go unaddressed. But for those who are attracted by its claims to be a perfect, orderly society in accordance with religious principles, it also has soft-focus portrayals of restaurants, hotels, schools and other jarringly normal features of daily life.
Islamic State often boasts of its racial, ethnic and linguistic diversity, portraying its recruitment of Muslims from around the world as one of its key strengths. It has even depicted itself as a utopia of multiracial harmony as a contrast with racialized violence in the United States — though in reality, multiple reports show that the group favors Arabs as leaders and discriminates against recruits from Africa, South Asia and other places. (RELATED: ISIS Makes Absurd Baltimore Solidarity Ploys Online)
As Islamic State projects strengths through franchises — “provinces” — outside its base in Syria and Iraq, it continues to evolve as an adaptable brand with responses to every possible grievance. Whether recruits are motivated by poverty, injustice or perceived victimization at home, whether they wish to fight, raise a family or simply fight for a flawed, extremist vision of Islam, ISIS is prepared to speak to their own concerns and in their own language.
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