Extremists Rebrand the Conflict in Afghanistan

by Chris Lundry

Indonesian extremist site Prisoner of Joy recently posted the announcement by the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan that operations against the United States and its allies will now be named Al Farooq Operations. From the post:

The invaders should be made aware that the names of these operations are not merely accidental rather they have a special meaning and interpretation.

This new name, however, may carry broader connotations of conflict within the Muslim world as well.

The previous year’s operations were named Badr. The Battle of Badr is referred to in the Qur’an and Hadith, and in early biographies of the Prophet Mohammad. We have also identified it as an extremist master narrative, and have found it to appear with regularity in the texts that we analyze. In the historical Battle of Badr, a vastly outnumbered force of Muslims, led by Mohammad, defeated the Meccan force led by Amr Ibn Hisham, an antagonist of the Muslims. The Muslims victory was considered an act of divine intervention. As a master narrative, its invocation conveys the message that although righteous Muslim warriors may be outnumbered and outgunned, Allah is on their side and they will eventually be victorious.

flagAl Farooq has a different connotation. The term literally means the one who distinguishes between truth and falsehood. Although it is a relatively common name in Muslim societies, its use is commonly associated with Umar, the second of the four rightly guided Caliphs, on whom it was bestowed as an honorific.

Umar’s importance and influence in Islam are tremendous, despite his reign as Caliph lasting only a decade before his assassination. Among his many accomplishments, the consolidation of Arabian lands and the conquest of what is now Libya, Syria, Egypt, Persia and others are perhaps what he is most famed for, and likely what spurred the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan to rename their operations. In Arabia, Umar also expelled Jews and Christians – the stated goal of the Islamic Emirate of Afghanistan (although Umar also ordered that they be treated with respect, an order absent in Afghanistan).

Although the announcement invokes other master narratives and names as enemies President Obama, zionists, crusaders, invaders, Jews, satanic allies, and kufr (non-believers), the choice of al Farooq might also signal hostility to Shia Islam, and perhaps Iran. Umar was assassinated by a Persian. Twelver Shiites consider Umar a traitor to Mohammad.

The Taliban was accused of ethnic cleansing against Shiite Hazara in Afghanistan. Conflict between Shiites and Sunnis seems to have escalated in the past year or so. In the Indonesian sources that I follow, this is certainly true. And although Indonesia has a tiny minority of Shiites (around .3 percent of the population), they have come under attack recently. This recent ar Rahmah post declares that American Shiites are collaborating in the US-led crusades. Prisoner of Joy posted a story that gave 17 reasons why Shiites are considered kafr. Last December, an angry mob burned down a Shiite boarding school and mosque on the Indonesian island of Madura. The regime in Iran, seen as the most important Shiite country, has been making discriminatory statements and policies about Afghans lately, as my colleague Jeffry Halverson noted in this blog post.

An Indonesia Shia boarding school and mosque were burned down by an angry mob

An Indonesia Shia boarding school and mosque were burned down by an angry mob

Perhaps another reason for the renaming is the sense that the conflict is changing as the United States and others continue to debate reducing their presence. The Battle of Badr was a clear-cut victory for the Muslims and a sound defeat of their enemy. This has clearly not happened in Afghanistan, and perhaps the extremists have come to the realization that the conflict might wind down in other ways. Regardless of the renaming of the operation, it will likely not signal any new kinds of tactics on the part of extremists.

 

Update, May 28: A recently translated communique from the Taliban (dated May 9) announcing the renaming of operations in Afghanistan to al Farooq states that the operations are named after Umar, the Second Caliph. It also speaks of Umar’s efforts to destroy the two most evil empires, the Byzantines and Sasanians. The Byzantines were the Christian Roman empire, and the Sasanians were the Zoroastrian Persian empire. This supports the assertion that the naming might also be a display of enmity toward Iran, consistent with a rise in anti-Shia rhetoric.