Combating Terrorism Center at West Point
Some of you may already be familiar with West Point’s Combating Terrorism Center, but I wasn’t—I stumbled across it for the first time this evening when I made this comment and my curiosity prompted me to go looking for info on the jihadi appropriation of the traditional Islamic black (and white) flags.
It looks like an excellent resource for information on all kinds of terrorism. For example this page analyzes a silhouetted horse & rider graphic:
According to prophetic tradition (hadith), the black flag was the battle flag of the Prophet Muhammad and it was carried into battle by many of his companions. In the contemporary Islamist movement, the black flag with the shahada (Islamic testimony of faith holding that there is no god but Allah and that Muhammad is his messenger) is used to evoke notions of jihad and of reestablishing the Islamic Caliphate.
The importance of the horse in both pre-Islamic Arabia and Islamic culture is evidenced by pre-Islamic poetry, hadiths (prophetic traditions or reports) and other genres of literature ascribing horses with the positive qualities of chivalry and bravery in battle.The horse and armed rider motif in the image is common in jihadi visual propaganda. The importance of the horse in both pre-Islamic Arabia and Islamic culture is evidenced by pre-Islamic poetry, hadiths (prophetic traditions or reports) and other genres of literature ascribing horses with the positive qualities of chivalry and bravery in battle. For example, the beginning of the Qur’anic sura 100 talks about “running horses” that appear as galloping through the world toward the final goal, namely, Judgment Day. Horses are also symbolic of the first generation of Muslims and that generation’s successful military campaigns, and thus are often employed to evoke specific Salafi religious sentiments with regard to the military victories of Muhammad and his companions. The rider emphasizes the element of human agency in jihad, and is a way to enhance the traditional symbol of a horse and flesh out notions of aggression and the call to jihad. Overall, the horse and rider motif places current jihadi activities within the same unfolding dialectic as the jihad of early Islam. […]
If found that fascinating on at least three levels:
- As a Muslim who cares about her faith
- As a graphic designer who, due to the nature of her job, is acutely aware of how the juxtaposition & symbolism of imagery influences perception
- As a sane person who often regards the jihadi stuff with a sort of bug-eyed, "WTF are these people thinking?" reaction
It also helps make it clearer how some young people can be taken in by extremist propaganda that takes well known symbols which carry positive emotional weight and twists them into something malefic that strives to portray the bloody brutality of terrorism as a noble and chivalrous concept (hence the name of the AQ magazine, Inspire, for example).
Here are the unfiltered search results of their “militant imagery project”—there are hundreds of images and tons of interesting analyses there. There’s also a very interesting looking 2006 study titled The Islamic Imagery Project: Visual Motifs in Jihadi Internet Propaganda. I’ve downloaded & skimmed it, but haven’t read the whole thing yet.
Considering how out of control the Tea Party wing of the GOP has been behaving lately and the racists they’ve allowed in their midst, some of you might especially appreciate a study released in January of this year titled Challengers from the Sidelines: Understanding America’s Violent Far-Right. It appears that all studies are available for download in PDF format, as is their monthly, independent publication, The CTC Sentinel.
You can read read the CTC’s mission statement here. As far as I know, they haven’t had the issues that some other organizations—such as FBI & NYPD, to name a couple—have had with getting training info from dubious sources, like fake former terrorists and/or people who label themselves as serious academics while exhibiting extremely questionable (and sometimes non-existent) professional ethics.
Additionally, while he was not from West Point, I was mightily impressed by Professor Brannon Wheeler of the United States Naval Academy who did an extended interview called All About Sharia on bloggingheads.tv back in 2010 (if you recall, that was the summer of Pamela Geller spearheading the whole ridiculous ZOMG-Ground-Zero-Mega-Terror-Mosque hysteria preceding the midterm elections that brought the Tea Party into Congress). There was also this lovely little TV ad courtesy of the National Republican Trust PAC that NBC & CBS refused to air.
Last, but not least, my reason for posting this: Most of you guys who’ve been around LGF for a while know that I’m a stickler for using reliable sources with respectable reputations, so I feel obligated to point them out whenever I discover a new one that will enable people to get information from professionals with serious academic & practical counterterrorism credentials—as opposed to the poo-flinging howler monkeys we encounter so often who are simply shoveling propaganda & hyperbolic, bigoted talking points at us in furtherance of their various agendas—this issue is far too important to be left in their hands.
Hopefully, this will help people find information that is well researched, useful, objective, and most importantly, factual.