“The most perfidious way of harming a cause consists of defending it deliberately with faulty arguments” -Friedrich Nietzsche
In the world of social media, rumors and lies have an insidious tendency to start up and quickly spread, often despite the good intentions of the people who fall for them. Even people on the right side of an issue can be fooled and end up accepting fictions as facts.
For the last few months, we at WildFlowers have been closely following the situation in Iraq and Syria. ISIS (aka the Islamic State) has run through town after town, amassing ever more territory for their caliphate. They’ve committed some horrendous acts, and surprisingly, they are not shy about openly showing what they’ve done. Nearly every advance they’ve made on their way to re-establishing the caliphate has been carefully documented and spread by their members via social media.
The production value of many of their videos is remarkably sharp and well-done despite the fact that they often show mass executions, fierce gun fights, and the destruction of religious monuments.
The point of all this is to show that ISIS isn’t ashamed of what they do, and they aren’t afraid to show off their atrocities in high quality videos and pictures.
But despite ISIS’s willingness to openly flaunt their brutality, false rumors and straight up lies have been spread by those who consider themselves anti-ISIS. Unfortunately, these untruths only damage the reputation of those who claim to oppose the Islamic State. Lies should not and cannot be the means by which theocracy and fascism are defeated. So here are a few myths and rumors that anti-ISIS people need to stop spreading.
ISIS Issues Caliphate Passports
One of the first rumors to spread about ISIS came to the internet courtesy of news outlet Al Arabiya and their often-poor reporting. They claimed that ISIS was issuing its own passports “to 11,000 citizens living in cities bordering Iraq and Syria.” Al Arabiya was itself unsure about whether this was a hoax or not so, in an apparent attempt to shield their derrières, they added an “allegedly” to the headline.
Meanwhile, ISIS members and supporters had a good laugh at Al Arabiya. And people who actually bothered to fact check the story learned to take Al Arabiya stories with a scoop of salt.
Female Genital Mutilation
Another rumor about ISIS started when Jacqueline Badcock, a high-ranking UN official, told reporters that a fatwa had been released by the Islamic State stating that all girls and women in Mosul, Iraq, between the ages of 11 and 46, were required to undergo female genital mutilation (FGM). Articles in Western media reported that this could affect up to four million Iraqi girls and women.
This seemed suspicious from the beginning due to the fact that FGM was never widely practiced in Iraq, and there is nothing in ISIS’s Salafist ideology that mandates the practice. FGM has traditionally been more prevalent in African countries and isn’t directly mandated by the Quran or any widely-accepted hadiths.
The alleged document issued by ISIS was exposed as a fake, but Western media and people opposed to ISIS still ended up looking a little less trustworthy. And even worse, the rumor still persists amongst some with even former Governor of Vermont Howard Dean recently making reference to it on MSNBC.
ISIS Member Marries Young Christian Girl
Another false rumor that has spread online involves a supposed photo of an ISIS member forcing a 9-year-old Christian girl into a marriage with him. The picture shows a smiling, brown-skinned, curly haired, Arab-looking man with his arm around a light skinned young girl with blondish hair who appears to be on the verge of weeping.
The rumor that she was a Christian girl might have come from the fact that she’s light-skinned with blonde hair. And her face along with the fake description make the photo even more emotive.
But the description is a lie.
The man in the photo is, in fact, an ISIS member of Tunisian origin who goes by the name Abu Waqqas. The girl is not a Christian though. She’s a Muslim Syrian girl. And of course, she was not being married off to Abu Waqqas. The photo is of a singing contest held by ISIS in 2013. The girl, while reciting verses from the Quran, ended up crying from shyness. Abu Waqqas, despite being a member of a theocratic group that commits horrific acts, was the emcee for the contest and was simply trying to console the girl. A video of this event can be found on YouTube.
Variations of this picture also show the corpse of a man who appears to be Abu Waqqas with the claim that he was taken prisoner and killed.
This is also false.
Abu Waqqas is very much alive and even has a Twitter account. He’s even responded to people who have posted the picture by joking that he’s been allegedly killed “one time by Bashar [Al Assad, current president of Syria] and another time by [president of Iraq, Nouri Al] Maliki.”
ISIS Burns Down Christian Churches
For some reason, Christians on social media seem to be especially vulnerable to propagating false claims about ISIS and their actions in Iraq and Syria. Despite the fact that there are plenty of real, legitimately fucked up things that Christians can get upset about, they seem to end up being the supposed victims in many of these false internet rumors.
This was sure to get people all riled up, but it simply wasn’t true. The picture, originally taken in August 2013, was actually of a church in Egypt known as the Church of el-Amir Tadros el-Shatby.
The blog “Conflict Antiquities” has done an awesome job debunking this as well as a few other alleged photos of ISIS destroying churches.
While ISIS has destroyed quite a few Yezidi shrines and Shiite holy sites, including the Tomb of the Prophet Jonah, we at WildFlowers have yet to see any evidence of Christian churches being destroyed. The most that appears to have happened to Christian churches is that ISIS has taken down crosses that they claim are “idolatrous.”
ISIS Beheads Christian Girl
Here’s yet another piece of misinformation intended to get Christians angry. The above photo has been spreading on social media with the claim that it shows a Syrian Christian girl who was beheaded by ISIS.
The photo, taken in December 2011, is actually of a girl who was beheaded by Bashar Al Assad’s army in a Syrian village called Kafr Owaid. The village had been the site of anti-Assad protests as well as clashes between the army and anti-Assad rebels. In a brutal act of retaliation, Assad’s army surrounded the village and proceeded to massacre over 100 innocent people. The poor girl in the photo was one of those innocent people.
Sadly, her gruesome death is now being used as nothing but a piece of propaganda. There is also a YouTube video which proves this.
While ISIS has engaged in all kinds of crucifixions and beheadings, there is little evidence that they’ve crucified or beheaded any women or children.
ISIS Takes Women And Children As Slaves
One of the most horrific rumors to make its way around social media and the news is the claim that the Islamic State has forcefully taken women and children as slaves or forcefully married them off to ISIS fighters (which would just make them sex slaves by another name). While ISIS supporters and members have talked tough online about takng certain female Israeli politicians as war booty, we at Wildflowers have yet to see any hard evidence of ISIS actually doing this to women and children on the ground.
As was said before, ISIS has shown itself more than willing to openly brag committing atrocities in territory they control. They do all of this with a smile and put it in their propaganda videos.
But as for taking slaves, they’ve vigorously denied all the accusations. Their members and supporters online have even expressed incredulous amazement that people actually believe this allegation.
In his statement on US action in Iraq, President Barack Obama even claimed that “chilling reports describe ISIL militants” “enslaving Yezidi women.” But whether these “chilling reports” had been fact-checked, Obama did not say. Obama probably has sources that we at WildFlowers don’t have access to, but as of now, we have yet to see any confirmation that ISIS has taken women as slaves.
[In the past few days, ISIS has released the fourth issue of their official magazine “Dabiq.” In this issue, there is an article entitled “The Revival Of Slavery Before The Hour” where ISIS admits to taking Yezidi women as slaves.
According to the article, Sharia students in the Islamic State researched the Yezidi religion to determine whether it should be treated as a sect of Islam which later apostatized or an originally “mushrik” (pagan or polytheist) religion. It was then determined by the Islamic State that Yezidism is a mushrik religion, and, therefore, Yezidis could be taken as slaves.
Yezidi women and children were divided amongst Islamic State fighters who took part in Sinjar operations with one-fifth of the captured “transferred to the Islamic State’s authority to be divided as khums.” Khums are a sort of tax on war booty (known as “ghanima”) which is paid to the caliph.
The capture of Yezidi women is compared with Boko Haram’s capture of Christian girls, both of which are praised as proper implementations of the Sharia. ISIS also claims that they do not separate mothers from young children, and that many of the captured have “willingly accepted Islam and now race to practice it with evident sincerity.”
Along with officially admitting to taking slaves, ISIS, as is typical of them, went on to defend the practice. The article makes reference to several hadiths that imply that the revival of slavery would be one of the signs of Judgement Day’s approach. It also discusses the possible meanings of an obscure hadith which mentions slave girls giving birth to their masters.
Slavery is also justified as a remedy for fornication and adultery. The logic goes: if a man cannot afford to marry a free woman, it is better for him to have a slave woman than to engage in fornication, which is considered haram. Slavery is supposedly more moral than extra-marital sex.
It also allows men to lust after their housekeepers without it being considered haram. How convenient!]
Why These Lies Hurt The Cause
As Nietzsche told us, the best way to harm a cause is to defend it with bad arguments. And this is precisely why these rumors about ISIS need to be stopped and debunked by those who consider themselves the enemies of the Islamic State.
The various well-produced videos and statements that ISIS puts out online illustrates how seriously they take the social media sphere. Twitter and Facebook are used as instruments for ISIS’s particular form of da’wah. And many of the Westerners who end up joining ISIS (and other Islamist groups) are indoctrinated via social media. The internet is merely another battlefield for ISIS.
As a result, every lie and false rumor about ISIS presented by the media or by people online represents another opportunity for ISIS members to rightly accuse its enemies of being nothing but liars. Every time they expose one of these bullshit stories for what they are, there is a young Muslim out there, unsure of which side the truth is on, being tipped towards ISIS’s side in this conflict. And ISIS supporters will gladly take every opportunity to present themselves as fighters for truth.
Lies and propaganda are traditionally the tools of theocracy, fascism, and totalitarianism. They are not supposed to be employed by the enemies of those oppressive ideologies. Doing so only besmirches the cause of freedom and anti-fascism. Freedom and opposition to oppression thereby gain the reputation of being nothing but lies as well. And no one really wants to fight on the side of a falsehood.
And aside from the damage it does in the sphere of public relations, making up lies about the Islamic State is totally unnecessary. Why waste time making up lies when the stuff that ISIS actually does is already sufficiently shocking and appalling?
ISIS really does commit mass executions. ISIS really does crucify and behead people. ISIS really does destroy the holy monuments of other religions. ISIS really does put people’s heads on pikes. ISIS really are theocrats seeking to impose barbaric interpretations of Sharia on people.
They proudly present these acts to the world and take full responsibility for them. They’re more than willing to be honest about what they do. They believe they have God on their side!
So wasting energy on the construction of lies can only hurt the anti-ISIS side. We at WildFlowers have a deep respect for truth, and we are lovers of freedom. And it is for these reasons we want to implore those who share our respect for truth and love of freedom to confront these lies wherever you find them, whether that be the internet, the media, or even politicians. And by doing so, we bring honor to our side of this struggle.