Anashid – Islamic a cappella songs – figure prominently in the propaganda-consumption habits of the 17 jihadists who have caused casualties in the United States since 2013.

When the animals in George Orwell’s Animal Farm concluded that their misery could be ‘summed up in a single word’, namely ‘Man’, and became resolved to ‘Remove Man from the scene’, it was a song that propelled them to revolution.1 Old Major the boar, the most highly regarded among the animals, addressed his comrades with a philosophical speech about the ‘tyranny of human beings’, going on to tell them of a dream he had had about life after the disappearance of Man. In particular, he recalled a song from the dream, ‘Beasts of England’, the lyrics of which contained ‘joyful tidings’ of a ‘golden future time’ when ‘tyrant man shall be o’erthrown’ and the fields ‘shall be trod by beasts alone’.2 The song ‘threw the animals into the wildest excitement’, much more so than Old Major’s speech had done, and before long ‘the whole farm burst out into Beasts of England in tremendous unison’.3 In short, the song forged a common bond among the animals, transcending their differences and imbuing Old Major’s plan to eradicate Man with a potency and resonance that his rhetoric had clearly lacked.

In December 2013, the Islamic State (also known as ISIS or ISIL) was experiencing its own Orwellian moment and, like Old Major, saw fit to mark the occasion with a song – specifically an Islamic a cappella song or nashid (plural anashid). That month, ISIS killed Abu Sa‘d al-Hadrami, the leader of rival jihadi group Jabhat al-Nusra in Raqqa, and was set to take over the province. Convinced that divine providence was guiding its leaders and fighters, the group decided to share its own joyful tidings (bushra) by releasing a nashid so that the faithful might join in the celebration, and of course in the fighting:

My umma, [a new] dawn is breaking
The victory [that God promised]
Is in sight … awaiting
Islam’s [legitimate] state has risen
Because the faithful their blood they’ve given

My umma, rejoice
Victory is near
End your despair [and your fears]
My umma, God is our Lord,
[In His path we must fight]
And the blood of the [faithful] He shall generously reward
For victory could only be achieved
When the blood of our martyrs
[As a libation] to our Lord we pour4

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Nelly Lahoud is Senior Fellow for Political Islamism, IISS–Middle East.

Jonathan Pieslak is Professor at The City College of New York and Graduate Center, CUNY.

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Survival: Global Politics and Strategy

February-March 2018

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