Martyr #2475

As of yesterday, the Jordanian fighter pilot Muath al-Kasasbeh (captured by the Islamic State / ISIS in December 2014) is officially a martyr. Late afternoon on Tuesday, 3 February, a video was published online showing his execution by burning at the hands of IS, which Jordanian state television was quick to announce had already happened on 3 January. In light of the circumstances, King Abdullah cut short his visit to the U.S. and announced an immediate return to Amman. There were also demonstrations in both Amman and Kerak calling for retaliatory measures (which in fact happened at dawn this morning with the carrying out of the death sentences of Ziyad al-Karbouli and Sajida al-Rishawi, two convicted terrorists associated with al-Qaeda).

Within the space of an hour after the news broke, the #كلنا_معاذ (“We are all Muath”) hashtag shot up to first place among Jordan’s Twitter ‘trends.’ Tributes and eulogies of various kinds abounded, from individual users as well as media outlets. Some examples of the latter below.

From Radio Hala’s Twitter account. An image of the Sura of the Elephant, which tells of God’s might in destroying the enemies of the believers. Tweet reads: “The Almighty said: ‘And he sent upon them birds in flights / Who pelted them with stones of baked clay.’ #Martyr_2475”

Video from Radio Fann’s Facebook page. “Muath al-Kasasbeh. Martyr of duty, martyr of the homeland. Martyr of righteousness”

From Bliss Radio’s Twitter account. Radio Hala had published much the same image a few minutes before, though with the text in Arabic.

JBC radio’s own contribution. Tweet and image read: “God increase your reward, oh homeland. #The Heroic Martyr”

Radio stations dedicated Wednesday’s morning broadcasts to honoring Muath’s memory and calling for the fight against IS to continue. Listeners called in to offer their respects and reflections. Radio al-Balad had already “opened its airwaves” late Tuesday night, with a direct broadcast of the Jordanian army’s statement on the martyrdom followed by live call-ins taken by Muhammad al-Arsan (who usually hosts Rainbow, al-Balad’s weekday afternoon call-in programme).

Arsan, as always, tried to draw callers and guests into discussion and question their preconceptions – including questioning the word “retribution” or “revenge” (انتقام) against IS that was at that moment close to everyone’s lips. One of the callers, the parliamentarian and tribal leader Abd al-Kareem al-Doghmi, was especially insistent that the Jordanian state should respond “with force” – even against Arsan’s more subtle suggestions as to what “retaliation” might entail: waging more of a “war of ideas” against IS, combating it by engaging with beliefs and sensibilities that go against its precepts and conduct, and thus weaken it by narrowing the pool of potential recruits for the organization (some number of which have also been drawn from Jordan).

As for the IS’s angle here, I’m not sure. Perhaps it was, really, just a form of psychological warfare: gambling on the almost complete lack of news about Kasasbeh since his capture,  exploiting the uncertainty that comes from carefully controlled channels of disseminating information and seeing how far they can go. In any case, it guaranteed IS the top spot on the Jordanian media agenda for quite a while. Media manipulation is, of course, an important battlefield for the group – through their magazine Dabiq as well as other kinds of media activity (including social media).

Though maybe I’m just imputing logical motivations where there really are none.

Martyr #2475

3 thoughts on “Martyr #2475

  1. I hope you don’t mind an ignorant comment from another part of the world…

    …but I have to wonder about how people frame the story of ISIS. At least here (the UK) they’re framed as a frightening army, a military force… or as a political institution. And so we ask ‘what is their strategy here?’ or ‘what are their political objectives?’ because those are questions that can be applied to armies and to nations. And something they’re framed as a religious group, and then we ask about their ideology and their theology, because that’s what you ask about when you’re dealing with a sect.

    But I wonder. Because over here we don’t have ISIS, but we do have gangs of teenagers who break the law, sometimes in some pretty unpleasant ways. Every now and then – not frequently, but regularly, some little gang of a dozen or two dozen kids is in the news because they’ve been charged with gang rape, or beating someone to death or pouring acid over them, or beating up some old man and smashing all his belonging, or getting into knife fights with rival gangs, or whatever it is this week. Sometimes they even put videos of what they do up on the internet.

    So I wonder whether we’re going about it the wrong way, thinking of ISIS as something… well, serious and adult. Maybe we should be thinking about them as delinquant teenage hooligans out to smash stuff up and break taboos and shock their parents.

    Of course, one reason why I think that is that apparently a bunch of people in ISIS actually ARE delinquant teenagers (or delinquant twentysomethings) who have jaunted over to the region from France, England, etc. Sometimes they even try to come back once they’ve had their fun.

    So we view them through the lens of Nazis or Stalinists or some other political/military/ideological fear from the past… but I wonder whether maybe we should view them more in the context of Alex and his droogs from ‘A Clockwork Orange’, prancing about committing a little ‘ultraviolence’ for its own sake, with the ideological content only being used as an excuse.

    That’s just how it looks from over here, at least.


    1. jonafras says:

      Yeah, that’s definitely a factor here. I don’t think one should understate Daesh’s organizational assets too much – they have a leadership structure, and some kind of propaganda/recruitment apparatus, and definitely know how to wage medium-scale violent conflict – but as far as the ranks are concerned, they are probably filled with people who don’t concern themselves too much about strategy as long as they get to shoot at stuff.

      To what extent that’s true of any professional violence organization (e.g., army), I’m not sure. Though maybe with Daesh it’s the very viciousness of what they’re capable of doing that makes people all the more willing to compensate by imputing a tactical mindset. Who would be able to imagine – or, what’s probably more relevant here, would publicly be prepared to claim to be able to imagine – that someone might ENJOY seeing a person burnt alive?

      One of our department’s lecturers (a Syria specialist) recently gave a statement saying that Daesh has been ‘forced’ to publicize ever more monstrous crimes in order to gain media attention… though if Kasasbeh really was burnt on 3 January already I’m not sure how that works (or maybe they’re just doing their best to manipulate the timeline). Burn one Jordanian this week, three Iraqis the next… but then, what follows?

      Also, as part of a calculated realist strategy it seems a bit of a mistake in retrospect if it’s true now what they say that increased Jordanian airstrikes (“Operation Martyr Muath”) have already destroyed 20% of Daesh’s on-the-ground “sites” (مواقع mawaaqi3 in Arabic, there’s probably a more precise English term for this but I follow local news mostly). Maybe they’re just lacking in sociopolitical analysts that would tell them how Jordan (the leadership, as well as the normative media segments of the public sphere) was most likely to respond…

      Though, again. Kill stuff! What other justification do you need.


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