ISIS’s apocalyptic warning in Libya

On Valentine’s Day, a video surfaced of an Islamic State group executing 14 Egyptian Christians on the coast of Libya. An English-speaker in tan camouflage emceed the grisly event.

The look and apocalyptic script of the video parallels the video of Peter Kassig’s execution in November 2014. “You have seen us on the hills of al-Sham and on Dabiq’s plain chopping off the heads that have been carried across the region for a long time,” the camo-wearing emcee says, using an Arabic term for Syria and referring to the execution of Peter Kassig and 18 Syrian soldiers. Kassig’s executioner claimed the American was the first crusader to be killed on the plain of Dabiq in northern Syria, an allusion to a statement attributed to Muhammad prophesying the location of a final battle with the infidels before the Day of Judgment.

Before the ISIS men of Libya murder their captives, the emcee explains to Christians — the “community of the Crusaders” — that the Islamic State’s war against them will only end when the Christians allied against them stop fighting.

Lest Christians become hopeful that a more passive approach to the Islamic State will curb its bloodlust, the emcee says the Christians will stop fighting because they have been defeated. Then Jesus will descend from heaven to break the cross, kill the swine, and abolish the poll tax on non-Muslims. In Islamic prophecy, Jesus descends at the End of Days.

After the execution, the emcee promises the conquest of Rome, another event in the Islamic end-times drama.

Westerners are not used to encountering apocalyptic messages in Islamist propaganda. Al-Qaeda downplayed Islamic prophecies of the Day of Judgment, preferring more accessible political rhetoric and wary of stirring messianic fervor.

As I argue in a forthcoming book, the Islamic State is different. While its tactics and strategies are practical, its goals and motivations are eschatological. The interplay has expanded the group’s territory and enlarged its ranks. As Graeme Wood argues this week in The Atlantic, “pretending that it isn’t actually a religious, millenarian group, with theology that must be understood to be combatted, has already led the United States to underestimate it and back foolish schemes to counter it.”

The Islamic State will continue releasing grisly videos until we get the point.