Day 6

What ISIS songs reveal about the group's evolution

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, fellow at the Middle Eastern Forum, explains the significance of ISIS jihadi songs and talks about how they reflect the group's evolution.
A man purported to be Islamic State captive Jordanian pilot Muath al-Kasaesbeh stands in front of armed men in this still image from an undated video filmed from an undisclosed location made available on social media on February 3, 2015. According to Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi, the soundtrack to this video is a jihadi nasheed, or song, called "Soon, Soon". (Social media via Reuters TV)

After this month's attacks in Paris, ISIS released an audio recording celebrating the attacks and taking responsibility for them. The RCMP is still investigating the recording to determine whether the voice on the recording belongs to a Canadian. Some linguists are convinced it does, and that the speech patterns suggest he is from Ontario. But it's still not clear whose voice is on that recording.

What we do know is that the audio statement begins with an acapella song that's as hooky as any pop song, and it plays throughout the five and a half minute recording.

The song takes the form of a traditional Islamic holy chant, called a "nasheed". These songs have become key to the ISIS propaganda machine. They're the soundtrack to the shocking execution videos, they're blasted from cellphones on the battlefield and now, they're showing up more and more in English.

Aymenn Jawad Al-Tamimi,fellow at the Middle Eastern Forum, says the Islamic State is one of the leading producers - if not the­ leading producer - of jihadi nasheeds today.

Day 6 asked him to  listen to the music in ISIS' latest audio recording following the Paris attacks, and to compare it to other jihadi songs that ISIS has produced.

Following the attacks in Paris on November 13, ISIS released this audio recording which includes a jihadi song in the form of a traditional Muslim chant, or 'nasheed'.

"My immediate thoughts on that nasheed is the language used: English," says Al-Tamimi. He says the Islamic State has recently branched out into producing nasheeds in other languages, including English, French, German and even Hindi and Uyghur to reach  out to non-Arabic foreigners to join the Islamic State.

"This one  is what you could call one of the more generic nasheeds in terms of content, referring to conceptions of martyrdom and virgins of paradise promised for those who die in the cause of jihad," says Al-Tamimi. 

And he says the catchiness of the songs serves a strategic purpose. "In regards to the melodies of nasheeds being catchy, it can help subconsciously imbibe the nasheed into your mind. The catchiness of the nasheed will help reinforce the messaging and indoctrination," says Al-Tamimi.

ISIS jihadi nasheed - 'My Ummah, dawn has appeared'
This nasheed is called 'My Ummah, dawn has appeared. Al-Tamimi says it's significant that the song is about the rise of Islamic State, yet it pre-dates the group's announcement of a caliphate. "In a way then, given what happened subsequently, the nasheed has a prophetic ring emphasizing the rise of the Islamic State. ISIS never called it their anthem but because of the course of events and the catchiness of the nasheed, it kind of gained its unofficial anthem status," says Al-Tamimi.

He says it's important to pay attention to ISIS nasheeds, in part, because they can be useful in helping us understand broader trends in the jihadi world.

"When we look at the use of IS nasheeds they could, for example, help indicate to us the orientations of groups that may be aligning themselves with the IS. The best example of this is the case of Boko Haram that pledged allegiance to the Islamic State earlier this year," says Al-Tamimi.

ISIS jihadi nasheed - 'Soon, soon'

This nasheed translates into "Soon, soon". Al-Tamimi says this nasheed came out when a Jordanian pilot, Muath Safi Yousef Al-Kasasbeh, crashed in Islamic State territory. He was then burned alive in an infamous video that garnered worldwide attention. 

"The lyrics go, for example 'a fierce conflict and you will  see there will be battles in the hear of your abode'," explains Al-Tamimi. He says those lyrics parallel the motivation behind the Paris attacks, which "[struck] the enemy in the hearts of their abodes," says Al-Tamimi.

He adds that one of the problems that the rest of the world has to deal with is that this kind of propaganda can be difficult to counter. "It's very difficult to formulate an effective response that can match the level of content for instance or deal with the multiple narratives that the Islamic State employs in its propaganda," says Al-Tamimi.