Researchers with Arizona State University’s Center for Strategic Communication (CSC) analyzed more than 2,000 items of propaganda from al Qaida and related Islamist groups from 1998 to 2011. In their report, How Islamist Extremists Quote the Qur’an, they catalogued more than 1,500 quotes from the Qur’an that extremists used to support their arguments, and identified the surah and verse represented in the quote. Most of quotes are about enduring hardships and maintaining faith and hope in the face of attacks by enemies of Islam. The so called “Verse of the Sword” (9:5) that says “fight and slay the pagans wherever you find them” was used only three times. Bennett Furlow, one of three co-authors of the study, said:
We were surprised at the very limited use of the sword verse. Conventional wisdom says Islamists are bent on world domination and this verse is the justification. We found it to be insignificant.
The verses most frequently cited came from three surahs:
- “Surat at-Tawbah” (surah 9, “The Repentance”)
- “Surat al-Imran” (surah 3, “Family of Imran”)
- “Surat an-Nisa” (surah 4, “The Women”).
They address enduring hardships and the importance of fighting against the unjust outsiders who oppress men, women and children. Lead author, Jeff Halverson, a professor of communication in ASU’s College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, in reference to the theory that future wars will be fought over religious identity rather than national boundaries, said:
These findings challenge the idea of a clash of civilizations. What extremists are really saying to Muslims is, “our communities are under siege and God will defend us if we have faith and courage”.
It is important to be realistic about Islamists’ arguments when trying to counter their influence attempts. ASU’s Herberger Professor and study co-author Steve Corman noted:
If we try to portray them as evil conquerors when their audience sees them as protectors and champions, it damages our credibility and makes our communication less effective.
The study concludes with four recommendations for the West:
- abandon claims that Islamist extremists seek world domination
- focus on addressing claims of victimization
- emphasize alternative means of deliverance
- reveal that the image of “champion” sought by extremists is a false one.
Other studies have shown in fact that militants linked to al Qaida are 38 times more likely to kill a Moslem than a member of another group—hardly the activity of a competent champion, the ASU study states.
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