Center for Strategic Communication

by Jeffry R. Halverson

If you’ve read our book Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism then you already have a solid understanding of the major master narratives employed by Islamist extremists in their communications. For example, you’re able to recognize the significance of a Pharaoh reference when an extremist is condemning a world leader. Or you’re able to see the apocalyptic scheme articulated in Ahmadinejad’s praise of the “Lord of the Age” (which is not a reference to Allah). However, it becomes more difficult when the master narratives are implicit and the fragmentary references in an extremist text are more obscure. When this is the case, it can be much easier to miss them. Let’s look at a recent example.

On July 10, 2011, a statement was posted online announcing the creation of a new extremist website and forum (or “network”). The new website is called “Al-Fida Islamic Network.” The word al-Fida’ means “sacrifice” in Arabic. The announcement included the following passage:

O proud Islamic ummah: Even though the slaves of dirham and dinar allied with the servants of the Cross under the leadership of the brothers of apes and pigs in order to stifle and silence the voice of jihad, they will fail to do so because this religion is supported by the Lord of all creation.

In the above passage, there are three master narratives that stand out to me. Let’s go through each of the three and see how these implicit master narratives can be unpacked for further analysis.

We can see from the start that three distinct groups are being mentioned in relation to each other, as indicated by the words “slaves,” “servants” and “brothers.” It’s the modifiers tied to these three groups that reveal the master narratives.

1. Let’s take the easy one first: “the servants of the Cross.” As we know this is a reference to the Crusader master narrative, a really common framework used by extremists to quickly depict the United States or Western Europe for their audiences.

2. The second one is trickier: “the slaves of dirham and dinar.” This is a reference to the Arab or Muslim leaders (and their security forces) that are cooperating with the United States in military operations against the extremists. The specific choice of the currencies “dirham” and “dinar” could refer to specific countries, such as Morocco and Iraq, but this is unlikely and the phrase is likely a general one. The claim is that these “slaves” (i.e. Muslims) are not “true Muslims” and they betray the ummah for the sake of money and wealth (e.g. U.S. financial aid). To emphasize this point, the word abd or “slave” is used to describe these enemies, because a “true Muslim” is the abd of God (Allah) Almighty and serves no one and nothing but Him (recall the pious name Abdullah or “slave/servant of God”). The extremists are implicitly invoking the Hypocrites master narrative here, which consists of a ruse story form and includes an archetypal traitor and imposter, to characterize their troublesome adversaries within Arab and Muslim countries as disingenuous or false Muslims.

3. Finally, the third master narrative  is evident in the phrase: “under the leadership of the brothers of apes and pigs. This is a direct reference to verses from the Qur’an, which states that God (Allah) punished a group of Israelites (i.e. Jews) for breaking His commandments, apparently those related to keeping the Sabbath and banning graven images (i.e. idols), by turning them into apes and pigs. Some Muslim exegetes interpret these verses in a metaphorical sense, meaning that the offenders were henceforth unclean and base creatures excluded from God’s grace.  However, that is not how the verses are typically understood by extremists (they usually read it literally). The reference (“brothers of apes and pigs”) is intended to denote “the Jews” and more specifically those Jews leading the “servants of the Cross,” which is a reference to the common “Zionist-Crusader Alliance” trope found throughout Islamist extremist texts. That last bit, expressing the relationship between these two groups in the statement, clarifies that this reference is about Zionism and therefore the Nakba master narrative and not the Khaybar master narrative (both of which relate negative Muslim experiences with Jews).

These are the three master narratives implicitly invoked through fragmentary references in a single sentence of this extremist text. In doing so, the extremists associated with al-Fida’ are positioning themselves within an existing scheme of a global conflict underway. Readers know precisely who al-Fida is opposing or fighting in their “internet jihad” without any further necessary exposition. The amount of master narratives condensed into a single sentence, presenting the three groups as a single alliance, also conveys a sense of urgency. In other words, the forces aligning against the “true ummah” are so vast and ominous that al-Fida‘ is a vital endeavor that others should become involved in immediately.

For further reading and more details about the different master narratives I mentioned in this analysis, I invite readers to consult chapters 9, 5, and 12 in Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism.