Friday, August 07, 2009

The Art of the Martyr, Part I: Martyrdom in Transnational Jihadi Visual Media

***First Post in a Series of Posts based on My Current Research Project on Islamist Visual Media, "The Art of the Martyr & Mujahid (Copyright)"***

"Shaykh" Abu 'Uthman Ibrahim, the member of al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghreb (AQIM), who carried out a kamikaze truck bombing against the United Nations offices in Algiers, Algeria on December 11, 2007.

Online discussion forums allow for the creation of virtual shrines and halls of remembrance by Islamist nationalist, secular nationalist, and transnational Salafī jihadī movements for their martyrs. Photographs of young men and women adorn threads which often include biographical information about the martyrs or links to official or unofficial biographies produced by the movements to which they belonged or by their family and friends who are participants in the forums. These threads enable the images and stories of the martyrs to be broadcast to an audience much wider than that in their own localities and places of residence. The commemoration of martyrs online has been transformed into a type of cyber-ritual, which includes participants leaving messages of praise and expressions of happiness that the martyr, they believe, “achieved” entrance into Heaven for their bravery while at the same time noting with sadness their death. The creation of such virtual “sacred spaces” and “cyber-rituals” is part of a growing trend in the online expression of religious, and in this case religio-political, belief.

By visiting these virtual shrines and halls of remembrance, members and supporters of these movements are able to perpetuate the continuous, and potentially global, remembrance of the lives and ultimate sacrifices of their martyrs, who in turn attain a “virtual” persona online. In these virtual spaces, a kind of pluralism in commemoration exists, with martyred senior leaders and martyrs from the rank-and-file existing in equilibrium, as these spaces enable friends and family of the rank-and-file members to publicize “their” martyr as widely as is done with senior leaders. Martyrdom artwork is no longer exclusive to physical environments, such as Gaza City and the streets of Iraqi cities and towns. Through the network provided by the Internet, new and old types of martyrdom artwork is now accessible to a much wider audience than was possible even fifteen years ago.

"Honoring" Mullah Mansur Dadullah (left), a senior military leader in the Afghan Taliban, and Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi (right), both shown in life and death (after achieving their "martyrdom," in the eyes of their supporters).

"Sword of Islam" Khattab, the Saudi-Circassian Arab jihadi commander (amir) in Chechnya who was assassinated by the Russians in 2002. The white dove represents the serenity of Paradise as well as the "birds of Paradise."

Unnamed martyr of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), an umbrella for the most radical Salafi jihadi groups operating in that country, including al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers (al-Qa'ida in Iraq; AQI). AQI's leader, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, has pledged allegiance to the ISI's "amir al-mu'mineen" (commander of the faithful), a title reserved by Sunnis for the caliph, Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi.

Unnamed martyr of the Islamic State of Iraq

Adam Ayro, "Abu Muhsin," a commander in the al-Qa'ida "Central" (AQC) affiliated Somali Salafi jihadi group Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen (Movement of Warrior-Youth), who was assassinated on May 1, 2008 in a U.S. airstrike.

Hamza al-Ghaznawi, " 'Aziz al-Rahman al-Afghani," a Taliban martyr from the Afghan province of Ghazni.

The "brother, Bilal". He was featured in a video release produced by AQIM in its series "Series of the Shade of Swords," سلسلة ظلال السيوف .

Al-Zubayr al-Sudani, one of the Arab jihadi martyrs featured in the fourth and most recent installment of the AQC-produced video series "Wind of Paradise," ريح الجنة .

Yusuf Abu Basir al-'Asimi, an AQIM "martyr".

Abu Mus'ab al-'Asami, an AQIM kamikaze bomber. According to the text, the "warrior-youth" was only 15 years old, and he killed or wounded about 90 "apostates" during his "blessed operation" against an Algerian military base in Dellys on September 8, 2007.

Abu Zubayr, a member of one of the small Salafi jihadi groups operating in the Gaza Strip (possibly the Salafi-Jihadi Youth in Gaza), in life and death.

Shaykh 'Abdullah 'Azzam, "Leader of Jihad," the Palestinian religious scholar who was a major fundraiser and recruiter for the resistance against the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan during the 1980s. He remains perhaps the most heralded and influential jihadi scholar, though many of his views were closer to the Muslim Brotherhood (Ikhwan) than to the Salafi jihadis of today.


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