Not in My Name – ISIS and protests against it, as reflected on social media

Michael Barak analyzes the use of social media, both as a tool for Islamic State indoctrination and propaganda, as well as for protest and resistance against it.

Social media networks are a central component of PR and recruitment efforts of the Islamic State (ISIS), which makes sophisticated use of SNS to transmit its messages to multiple target audiences, and as a tool for both indoctrination and psychological warfare. For example, many of its members have personal Twitter accounts in several languages, which they use to document their battle experiences, explain the organization’s activities, praise fulfilling the duty of jihad, and encourage Muslims around the world to fight alongside ISIS. The organization controls a wide-ranging structure of media outlets that are responsible for maintaining a constant flow of information regarding its activity in the areas it controls in Iraq and Syria. Its main official media site, for example, is al-Furqan. Others include ISIS’s official print media organization and Al Hayat, which publishes videos in various languages, primarily in order to recruit new members.[1]

In recent months, ISIS activists on social media have been waging psychological warfare against the Saudi regime, and recruiting Muslims to fight the Royal House of Saud, which ISIS considers a heretical agent of the West and an obstacle to its vision of an expansive Islamic caliphate. For this purpose, activists created several hashtags, including “Mobilizing supporters in the Land of Two Holy Places” (the Islamic term for Saudi Arabia used by Islamists who do not recognize territorial nation-states), to communicate that ISIS is willing to wage jihad against the Saudi regime and conquer the country.[2] The psychological warfare conducted by ISIS includes distributing documentation of the atrocities committed by its members. This material, which frequently occupies the international media, has apparently had the effect of inspiring an increasing number of attacks by individual Muslims on Western security personnel. In addition to creating an atmosphere of anxiety, attacks in the West contribute to Western antagonism towards both Muslims and Islam.[3] In response, Muslim activists from several streams mounted an extensive, international campaign on social media networks in September to drive home the point that ISIS does not represent the Muslim majority, and is distorting the true nature of Islam which preaches, they claim, values of tolerance and acceptance of the “other.”

In early September 2014, British Muslims from the Active Change Foundation launched an English-language, online PR campaign against ISIS under the heading “Not in my name.” The direct cause for this campaign was the murder of the British humanitarian aid worker David Haines by ISIS. The campaign included a PR video explaining not only why ISIS does not represent Muslims but also that its behavior and practices actually violate the laws of Islam. Many users claimed that the organization disregards human values including compassion, harms innocent people, and is trying to appropriate Islam in order to brainwash young Muslims. Activists in the organization called on Muslims around the world to join together in order to bring an end not only to ISIS and its activities but also to the radicalization it represents. They note that history is overflowing with examples of violence by extreme groups. Just as Nazism should not use an example to claim that Christianity is inherently violent, so too ISIS should not be taken to represent Islam.[4]

This online campaign earned an honorable mention from US President Barack Obama in his speech to the General Assembly of the United Nations in September 2014,[5] and has inspired young Muslims to undertake similar activities in Canada, France, South Africa, and elsewhere around the world. In Canada, for example, the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community (a Muslim movement that supports tolerance) launched a similar campaign in late October, under the title “Stop the CrISIS,” which included flooding SNS with proposals of how to deal with the challenge of radicalization, including educating children to the values of loving the other from a young age, and maintaining open dialogue with other Muslims around the world in order to find a solution for the ISIS crisis.[6] The online dialogue of young Muslims in France is also highly critical of ISIS and calls on others to repudiate the organization because it is, they claim, ruining Islam’s good name, and has become a magnet for people who are “intellectually and emotionally disabled.”[7]

A similar campaign has also spread in Arab countries. Mahmoud al-Arab, a leading journalist for the satellite channel Al-Arabiya in Bahrain, initiated an exchange on Twitter intended to clarify why ISIS does not represent Muslims. “I believe that Islam is a tremendous religion that spread in the hearts of humanity even before there were nation-states. ISIS, MSIS, HALAS [in Arabic, “Da’esh,” “ma’esh,” and “hal’esh,” respectively] are heretical movements,” he tweeted using Arabic rhymes to make fun of ISIS. Many young Muslims, particularly those from the Gulf States, agreed with him, declaring “anyone who kills, exiles and displays corpses” does not represent them and “ISIS has blighted the image of moderate Islam, “and “ISIS is responsible for the increase of Islamophobia in the West.”[8] Furthermore, many users demanded that ISIS be included in the list of terrorist organizations, together with Muslim Brotherhood, Lebanese Hezbollah and Houthis (partisans of God) in Yemen, which they claim are no less dangerous.[9]

In Morocco, a group of politicians, media personalities, intellectuals and young activists launched a similar campaign on social media in Arabic, Amazight (the language of Berber minority), and French. The declared purpose of the campaign was to eradicate “the barbaric actions taken by bloodthirsty extremists who can in no way be associated with Islam.” Some participants uploaded protest videos and added the campaign’s logo to their accounts. The logo shows a bloody palm with the caption “Not in my name.” One young Moroccan noted that the terrorists are bringing disgrace on Muslims, and that is important for a Moroccan voice against terrorism to be heard. Another noted that the silent majority must awaken from its apathy and reject the militant, radical minority.[10] They claimed that the rebellion against the Syrian regime is a popular protest against an oppressive and corrupt government and that the rebels virulently oppose the ascent of another oppressive, corrupt regime such as ISIS. In their words, “ISIS does not represent the Syrian revolution but rather is taking advantage of it.”[11]

ISIS activists and supporters frequently attempted to infiltrate the discourse with messages supporting the organization. Their claims were characterized primarily by apologetics that attempt to explain how the Islamic State expresses the true values of Islam, and strongly criticizing those who oppose the organization. For example, one supporter disparagingly asked why Christians in central Africa are not protesting the slaughter of Muslims there. Another accused the Gulf states of cooperating with enemies of the Muslim nation and the forces of the West in their war on Islam. Some created a hashtag “I am a Muslim, ISIS represents me.”[12] However, this type of intervention is marginal when compared to the vibrant discourse amongst opponents of ISIS around the world.

In conclusion, social media services are a central platform in the PR campaign opposing ISIS but also an important tool that the organization uses for both psychological terrorism and recruiting activists. However, as the media presence of ISIS grows, so do the voices of young Muslims around the world who transmit an unequivocal message both to the West and to ISIS. They do not identify with the organization’s actions and indeed condemn them. In their minds ISIS is responsible for the increase in Islamophobia throughout the non-Muslim world; it grossly distorts the inherent values of Islam and threatens the unity of the Muslim nation. Therefore, they reject ISIS and anyone who would join its ranks. The increasing use of social media platforms by both sides demonstrates that it is a key arena in the battle for Muslim hearts around the world.



[1] For example, see the Twitter feed of Al Hayat in French:

[2] #أستعداد_الأنصار_في_بلاد_الحرمين, #ﻋﻤﻠﻴﺎﺕ_ﺃﻧﺼﺎﺭ_ﺍﻟﺪﻭﻟﺔ_ﺑﺒﻼﺩ_ﺍﻟﺤﺮﻣﻴﻦ

[3] For example the detailed report of hostile actions towards Muslims in Europe

[4] , , , #notinmyname


[6] #StopTheCrISIS. See another campaign by young Muslims from Ontario Canada deprecating ISIS and its ideas

[7] ‎#PasEnMonNom

[8] #انا_مسلم_داعش_لا_تمثلني


[10] #ماشي_بسميتي ; #MachiBessmity; for me details on the campaign, see:

[11] داعش لا تمثلني

[12] #أنا_مسلم_دولة_الإسلام_تمثلني