Monday, September 07, 2009

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

*Second post in a series of posts based on my current research project on Islamist visual media , "The Art of the Martyr & Mujahid" (copyright). The first post may be viewed HERE; please see the explanatory, contextual discussion about Islamist visual media in the first post.*

Mural for the Somali Salafi jihadi group Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen [Movement of Jihadi-Youth], showing the outline of Africa.

The visual media selections in this post portray "mujahideen" [warriors of faith], the description used by transnational Sunni and Sunni-Salafi jihadi groups to describe their fighters. These images, many of which are high quality designs, often reference popular culture and themes and symbolism from Islamic history. I have included posters and murals of both jihadi leaders and rank-and-file fighters, as well as murals praising the "mujahideen" and castigating their enemies. Brief descriptions of each selection are included.

Commandeering a well-known saying from the United States Marines, this mural (one in a series) portrays on the left and right-hand sides 'Abdullah 'Azzam, a Palestinian religious scholar who was perhaps the most important jihadi ideologue of the modern era. 'Azzam was instrumental in fundraising for the Afghan and foreign mujahideen who fought the Soviets and their Afghan allies during the 1980s, setting up the Maktab al-Khidamat lil Mujahideen al-'Arab (Services Bureau for Arab Mujahideen) in Peshawar, Pakistan. He was assassinated in a car bombing with his two sons in 1989 by an unknown party or parties. Some suspect Usama bin Laden, with whom 'Azzam was associated in the late 1980s, or Ayman al-Zawahiri, who disliked 'Azzam's ties to the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, who al-Zawahiri disdained.

'Abd al-Malik Droukdal, popularly known by his nom de guerre, Abu Mus'ab 'Abd al-Wadud, the amir (leader) of al-Qa'ida in the Islamic Maghrib (AQIM), an affiliate of al-Qa'ida "Central." Despite sharing the same name, the two organizations are operationally independent. AQIM's leader has pledged allegiance to AQC, but remains primarily concerned with local and regional issues, such as its ongoing insurgency against governments in the region (primarily Algeria).

Mural showing a masked rider on a horse bearing a flag emblazoned with the shahadah, the Muslim testament of faith: "There is no god but [the] God, and Muhammad is His Messenger." This figure symbolizes the early days of Islam, when Arab Muslim warriors, mainly on horseback, expanded across the Middle East, North Africa, Anatolia, the Iranian plateau, and into Central Asia, the Indian Subcontinent, Europe, and sub-Saharan Africa. The mural is dedicated to the amir of the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI), Abu 'Umar al-Baghdadi. The ISI is an umbrella for the most radical of the Sunni-Salafi insurgent groups operating in Iraq, including al-Qa'ida in the Land of the Two Rivers (AQI), whose amir, Abu Hamza al-Muhajir, has declared his fealty to al-Baghdadi.

Mural declaring the loyalty of some Palestinians to the late Jordanian leader of AQI, Abu Mus'ab al-Zarqawi. The text parallel to the left-hand photograph of al-Zarqawi says that he is in Paradise, or the "confluence of Heaven." Such sentiments are expressed with increasing frequency by the small, but reportedly growing Salafi jihadi minority within Palestinian society, particularly in the besieged Gaza Strip. Small Salafi jihadi groups, such as Jund Ansar Allah and Jaysh al-Ummah (Nation's Army), operate in Gaza and are highly critical of Palestinian Islamist-nationalist groups such as HAMAS. Younger, more impatient members of HAMAS and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ) have joined such groups. Based on my research findings, it seems that several of the Jund Ansar Allah members killed in fierce fighting with HAMAS in the city of Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip in August were members of PIJ.

Mural for the Islamic State of Iraq, showing the shahadah to the right and coffins of U.S. soldiers to the left, ablaze in flames symbolizing Hell.

Mural urging al-Aqsa, the sacred mosque in Jerusalem, to be patient, saying that the Islamic State of Iraq remains [intact]. The mural shows the "soldiers of God" (to the right) winning over the "soldiers of Satan" (to the left). A popular saying by Salafi jihadis operating in Iraq is that the path to al-Aqsa goes through Baghdad, meaning that once an Islamic state is formed in Iraq, the path to al-Aqsa will follow.

Mural for Elif Medya, a major Turkish-language jihadi media outlet

Mural urging Muslims to "come to jihad [struggle]", showing armed horsemen bearing a flag with the shahadah.

Commandeering the title of a popular HBO miniseries about U.S. soldiers in the Second World War, Band of Brothers, this mural depicts members of Harakat al-Shabab al-Mujahideen, the Somali Salafi jihadi group that has sworn allegiance to al-Qa'ida "Central."

Unnamed fighter-martyr from one of the Palestinian Salafi jihadi groups in the Gaza Strip

Mural dedicated to AQC leader Usama bin Laden which reads: "God is Greater [than all]: There is No Honor Except through Jihad [struggle]."

The text reads "The Next Generation"

Mural dedicated to Shaykh 'Abd al-Latif Musa, also known as Abu'l Nur al-Maqdisi, and the members of the Palestinian Salafi jihadi group Jund Ansar Allah [Soldiers of God's Partisans] killed in a fierce, daylong battle with HAMAS security forces in the southern Gaza city of Rafah at the Mosque of Ibn Taymiyyah in late August. Abu'l Nur is described as the shaykh al-mujahid or the "warrior-shaykh."

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