Beheading Raises Islamic State Street Cred

by Dawn Perlmutter  /  FrontPageMag.com

The Sept. 13, 2014 beheading video of David Haines, British aid worker and military veteran, is almost identical to the Foley and Sotloff productions establishing an Islamic State forensic signature, PSYOPS pattern and a winning recruitment strategy. The David Haines beheading video titled “A message to the allies of America” is addressed to Prime Minister David Cameron who failed rapper turned jihadi executioner calls the “obedient lapdog” of America. This expression is a double insult signifying that he is controlled by America and intrinsically impure. The in your face disrespect will have particular appeal in recruiting British Islamists. Although the latest victim David Haines is British, the beheading video continues to symbolically reference Gitmo by making the hostages wear orange clothing. The disarticulated head placed on the center back of the body is identical to the forensic signature of the beheadings by Al Qaeda in Iraq, the predecessor group to Islamic State. The end of the video is a uniquely terrifying characteristic of IS messaging displaying their next victim, in this case hostage Alan Henning.  Similar to the two previous videos, Haines is not murdered on film and only ten seconds of the 2:30 second film displays violent imagery. Unlike the Foley and Sotloff videos that humiliated President Obama the Haines video was easily accessible online.

Although the beheading video was addressed to Prime Minister Cameron it was also a response to the ineffectiveness of President Obama’s September 10, 2014 speech that obviously did not strike fear into the hearts of the IS. The Presidents refusal to call the Islamic State by their chosen name or to recognize them as Islamic or a state not only demonstrated his inability to understand the threat but symbolically reflected an unwillingness to know and face the enemy. A semiotic principle expressed in magical thinking is that fear of naming something represents actual fear of the thing itself. Ancient societies believed in word magic, the idea that words, particularly names are imbued with magical powers. They attached great importance to the knowledge of names and believed that to know the true name of something gives one power over it. Furthermore it was a common belief that pronouncing the names of gods or demons in their original form and language would bring them into existence. That is the origin of the expression ‘speak of the devil and he will appear’. To name something makes it real and a force to be reckoned with. Hence to choose politically correct messaging that creates taboo words such as Islamic, State or War has the unintended consequence of evincing fear and weakness. Conversely, tribal warrior cultures like the Islamic State instinctively understand the power of words.

The significance of names as a form of symbolic warfare is evident in gang graffiti where it is common for gang members to cross out names of rival gangs. For example, to spray paint over another gangs tag, cross it out and then put your name up right next to it is an act of disrespect. Crossing out a rivals name and putting a ‘K’ next to it, signifies your intent to kill a member of that rival gang if they come into your territory. This is precisely the same message that the Islamic State sent in their beheading videos, if you enter our territory we will kill a member of your gang. By making good on their threats to kill, the Islamic State raised their street cred. Their credibility and level of respect is what attracts new recruits. Islamic State beheading videos and social media messaging should be interpreted in the same manner as gang codes. For example, the hundreds of IS beheadings of soldiers and civilians can be understood as initiation rituals similar to the concept of ‘Blood in Blood Out’ which requires a new member to commit murder. The beheading videos can be viewed as similar to the revenge threats coded in gang graffiti dissing President Obama and Prime Minister Cameron. Similar to gangs without the appropriate timely, symbolic and proportional response the videotaped revenge killings will not only continue but escalate.

Islamic State recruitment has been so successful because they understand the signs, symbols and language of the street and the urge to jihad. This is evident in the thousands of Westerners they recruited to join the fight in Syria and Iraq. Conversely The State Department’s ‘Think Again Turn Away’ campaign demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of jihadist messaging. The campaign which utilizes twitter, Facebook and jihadist own violent imagery to attempt to dissuade foreign recruitment into IS is based upon a nonexistent we-are-the-world shared humanitarian rational worldview that presumes everyone is appalled by acts of brutality.  The campaign is based on a false premise that permeates President Obama’s policies and strategies, a fallacy of universal characteristics of human nature, in this case the belief that all people are inherently good and strive for the same things. The Obama fallacy can only comprehend beheadings, violence and terrorism as a direct or indirect result of oppression, colonization, child abuse, poverty, lack of education or some other social ill.  This dangerous misconception is also responsible for the inexplicable denial that countries can be invaded and conquered in the 21st century and the denial that Islamist jihadists around the globe want to rule the world.

While the state department sometimes utilizes the words shame and honor in their messaging they completely misunderstand the nature of warrior honor cultures, particularly the importance of instilling fear, showing strength and making good on their threats. Once the Islamic State took control of cities, like any gang or cartel, any attempts to reclaim designated territory provokes revenge killings.  The president’s refusal to acknowledge the conquered territory in Iraq and Syria as an Islamic State reveals that the administration does not comprehend that when Westerners join IS they are essentially pledging allegiance to another country, the enemies of America. Instead of ‘Think Again Turn Away’, a better slogan would be ‘Join Jihad, Lose Citizenship, Stay Away’.

Similar to President Obama the Prime Minister refuses to call the enemy by name and Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg does not recognize them as a state. In response to the beheading of David Haines Prime Minister David Cameron said, ‘They are killing and slaughtering thousands of people – Christians, Muslims, minorities across Iraq and Syria. They boast of their brutality. They claim to do this in the name of Islam. That is nonsense. Islam is a religion of peace. They are not Muslims, they are monsters”….“This murderous organisation calls itself Islamic State. But it is not a state, it is a brutal terrorist outfit” The hundreds of potential British recruits interpret this language as punk ass fear unworthy of respect. The Islamic State names their enemies and through the power of words, images and videos they sounded a call to arms throughout the world. Their first strategic advantage is their willingness to name their adversary, hence the acknowledgement that they are ready, willing and able to confront the West. Their second strategic advantage is the West’s reluctance to name them which allows Islamist jihadists to live in America and Britain hiding in plain sight. It’s time for the West to properly name, thereby, accept the nature of their enemy.

Dawn Perlmutter is the Director of the Symbol Intelligence Group and one of the leading subject matter experts (SME) in symbols, symbolic methodologies, unfamiliar customs and ritualistic crimes. She designed and developed Jihad-ID, a symbolic database of the signs, symbols and identifiers of global jihad.

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