ISIS and the Elephant

Not radio-related, but I couldn’t help but share this caricature by Latif Fityani that Roya TV has just posted on its Facebook page:

The reference here is to the Qur’anic Sura of the Elephant, in which God is said to have sent “birds in flights” against the enemies of the faithful (as a sign of His power), which in the Sura are referred to as أصحاب الفيل (People of the Elephant).

The “birds” here are, of course, symbolically, Jordan’s air force bombing the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq (the flag sticking out of the frontmost elephant says “Daesh” [= ISIS]). The cloth (saddle blanket?) over the animal’s back says أصحاب الضلال والتضليل – “those who delude and deceive/misdirect,” which refers back to the Qur’anic quote both through the initial  أصحاب – literally “owners,” “friends” or “companions,” but also used to mean “those who…” or “people associated with…” – and the final تضليل “misdirection” or “leading astray” – which also occurs in the Qur’anic original (though as something that God inflicted upon the Elephant people, rather than one of their attributes), and is also in keeping with the verse-final -iil rhyme that occurs throughout the Sura.

The rest of the iconography – noble hawks / falcons / eagles, with Jordanian air force symbols on the underside of the wings, flying across a bleak landscape – fits very neatly into the various graphics posted by Jordanians and Jordanian media outlets on social media websites over the past few days.

ISIS and the Elephant

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