A Drowned Syrian Boy as ISIS Propaganda

In its magazine Dabiq, the Islamic State displays Aylan Kurdi’s photo as a warning to those trying to flee.

Graffiti in Sorocaba, Brazil, depicts the photo of Syrian refugee Aylan Kurdi on a beach in Turkey. (Paulo Whitaker / Reuters)

Editor’s note: This post contains a disturbing image.

The photo of Aylan Kurdi, the drowned 3-year-old Syrian boy whose lifeless body was found washed up on a Turkish beach last week, is by now distressingly familiar. Published by hundreds of media outlets all around the world, the shocking images of the small child who died fleeing war and terror in his homeland has stirred the conscience and emotions of Europe.

So the photo’s appearance in the latest edition of the Islamic State group’s propaganda magazine, Dabiq, this week is upsetting. But it is not surprising.

ISIS is highly media-savvy—and, of course, has no qualms about using the death of a child to warn about what awaits the children of other Syrians who try to escape its rule. The Dabiq article reveals—unwittingly—part of ISIS’s sensitive underbelly: Its deep concerns that Syrians and Iraqis living in ISIS-controlled lands are so desperate to leave that they risk death to do so.

ISIS, it seems, felt it had to issue a reaction to the claims prompted by the outpouring of emotion over Aylan Kurdi’s death, which said that Syrians were fleeing to Europe to escape ISIS’s barbarity. The militant group’s response was to warn Syrians that leaving IS-controlled lands is a “dangerous major sin” that will result in “one’s children and grandchildren abandoning Islam for Christianity, atheism, or liberalism.”

Even if Syrian refugee children in Europe do not become “infidels,” they will be “under the constant threat of fornication, sodomy, drugs, and alcohol,” Dabiq preaches.

The Aylan Kurdi photograph in the ISIS propaganda magazine Dabiq (Joanna Paraszczuk / Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty)

And those children who do not “fall into sin” will still suffer, because they will forget how to speak Arabic, the language of the Koran and Islam, warns Dabiq.

As usual, Dabiq tries to situate its argument that Muslims should not leave ISIS territory within a religious framework, using quotes about hijrah from the Koran, the hadith, and Islamic scholars. The article is playing on existing sentiment among ISIS and other militants in Syria toward Syrian refugees headed for Europe.

After the photo of Aylan Kurdi went viral last week, ISIS militants took to social media to slam refugees, accusing them of abandoning Islam and going to “infidel” lands. Some of the harshest criticism came from ISIS foreign fighters outraged at the idea that Syrians and Iraqis do not like ISIS rule.

One Chechen ISIS militant and media activist in Syria, who tweets under the handle @akhbarig, tweeted that “many refugees migrants (sic) in order to get a residence permit in Europe sold their religion and became Christians.”

Abu Aisha al-Kazakhi, an ISIS militant based in Mosul and originally from Atyrau in Kazakhstan, criticized Syrian male refugees for dancing with women when they reached Europe.

But the criticisms did not only come from ISIS.

Abu Ubaidah, a Syrian national and ethnic Circassian who fights alongside a Chechen-led group, Ajnad al-Kavkaz, posted an image listing the dreadful fates that militants believe await refugees in Europe, including un-Islamic laws, nudity, and polytheism.

This post appears courtesy of Radio Free Europe/Radio Liberty.