Not everyone in the Arab media thinks the Islamic State (ISIL) is part of a larger Western-backed conspiracy, but the view is depressingly widespread—even by those who in the same breadth demand retaliation against these apparently fabricated terrorists and their atrocities.
In many ISIL-related conspiracy theories, two reasonable points—that ISIL is in some sense a creation of regional and international powers, its rise a consequence of their terrible policies; and that what they do is “un-Islamic,” or horrifying to most Muslims—have been quickly pushed into the territory of non-thinking absurdity. A few examples:
ISIL was created by the United States
In Egyptian actor Mohamed Sobhy’s Feb. 16 analysis of the terrorist group’s filmed beheading of 21 Egyptian Copts in Libya, he asserted that the video was “an American film” with a joint “Turkish/Qatari/US/Israeli production.”
“Arabs don’t use acronyms.” The most obvious proof of this, Sobhy said, was that “Jihadi John”—who leads the group’s beheadings—holds prayer beads, symbolizing Islam, in the same hand as a knife, symbolizing violence. The group’s mysterious foreign producers, concluded Sobhy, were trying to send a subliminal negative message about Islam, and this was why Jihadi John spoke English: to reach the West and tarnish the image of Islam.
In June 2014, Egypt’s ex-jihadi talking head Nabil Naeem claimed on state TV that ISIL had received training from US marines in Jordan in 2011. In Sept. 2014, Dubai’s former police chief Dahi Khalfan tweeted that he believed the United States “unleashed” ISIL leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on the Gulf, just as it once did with Saddam Hussein. And Egyptian television anchor Amany el-Khayat claimed in Sept. 2014 on OnTV that ISIL must be a Western construction because “Arabs don’t use acronyms.”
ISIL is actually an Al Jazeera production
To Egyptian television host Ahmed Moussa, the proof of foreign meddling lies in the quality of Islamic State footage, which apparently evokes the cameras of Qatar-based media organization Al Jazeera. To Amr Adeeb of Egyptian television talk show Al Qahera Al Youm, the ISIL logo also looks suspiciously like Al Jazeera’s (it’s Arabic calligraphy, they all look alike). On Feb. 16, Adeeb announced on air: “The designer (of ISIL and Al Jazeera) is the same. May God take him.”
ISIL videos are not real
Perhaps hoping to stand out among conspiracy theorists, Lebanese television presenter Tony Khalife decided to go ahead and fake a beheading on Feb. 10, 2015, for satellite channel Al Kahera Wal Nas, just to prove that beheadings can be faked. Khalife has said that he believes that ISIL brutally kills people all the time, “I can tell the nationality of a person from their appearance.” but that he finds the most recent videos, especially those documenting the murders of James Foley and other Westerners, to have been tampered with. Strengthening his doubts are Western-media broadcast interviews with the families of ISIL victims, who appear too calm for Khalife’s taste, “like their children were still alive.”
Egyptian television channel El-Mehwar TV, on the other hand, interviewed Ahmed Samara, a hacker with a soul patch who claimed to have hacked an ISIL forum and server. Samara told viewers on Feb. 20, 2015, that he had watched the unedited version of ISIL’s Feb. 15, beheadings of 21 Coptic Christians in Libya, and saw an “un-ISIL-like woman” on a crane and an American-looking film crew. “I can tell the nationality (of a person) from their appearance” he explained.
ISIL is inspired by Al-Azhar
On the other hand, despite calling for the crucifixion of ISIL members and stating that the terror group is a Zionist conspiracy, representatives of Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, have raised the suspicions of some. “Quit. May God have mercy on you,” Egyptian television host Amr Adeeb told Sheikh Ahmed al-Tayeb, Grand Imam of Al-Azhar University, on Mar. 10, 2015, after al-Tayeb argued that so long as the ISIL fighters continue to adhere to the shahada (the Muslim profession of faith) and do not denounce Islam, he can’t label them as apostates.
In Dec. 2014, Egyptian journalist Ibrahim Eissa read on television excerpts from an Al-Azhar textbook that stated that fighting infidels was the duty of every sane, physically able man. And in Feb. 2015, Egyptian television presenter Youssef el-Husseiny read on live television the story of Abu Bakr, senior companion of the Prophet, burning an infidel, from Al-Azhar-published book al-Badyah wa al-Nahyah by Ibn Kathir—the same story from which ISIL derives justification for its burning of the Jordanian pilot.
ISIL is a Shia conspiracy
The last conspiracy theory comes from Al Jazeera TV’s Nov. 2014 guest and Syrian rebel Sheikh Hassan el-Dighym. After explaining that Sunni ISIL is the result of oppression by the Alawite-Shia government of Bashar al-Assad in Syria and the Shia government of Nour al-Maliki in Iraq, el-Dighym said that the group is made up of tortured Sunni Muslims and prisoners broken out of prison, who are being manipulated and controlled by undercover Shia intelligence officers from Iraq.
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