[Published here June 25, 2014]
BEIRUT, Lebanon — “Just don’t make us out as if we’re beasts and terrorists, you know? We’ve got families like you, we’ve got sisters like you, and you’ve probably got brothers like me.”
Despite his earnest tone, there aren’t many who have a brother like Abu Sumayyah.
An ethnic Kashmiri raised in the UK, Sumayyah has been living in Syria for about a year and recently pledged allegiance to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL or ISIS), the powerful Al Qaeda-inspired group making gains in Syria and Iraq.
After discussing his reasons for waging jihad in Syria, Abu Sumayyah was keen to make sure I left the interview with a positive impression of ISIL. “Be a good journalist and portray the truth, not what [others] want you to portray,” he said.
Like Sumayyah, ISIL members — from the leadership down to supporters abroad — are using social media to propagate a carefully-crafted narrative about ISIL. In the process, they’ve made themselves increasingly accessible online by tweeting, following, direct-messaging — and even in some cases successfully manipulating — foreign journalists.