Jihadist Narratives: Democratized Islam and Islamic Nation Building
Caleb S. Cage
The driving storyline of extremist Islam, often referred to simply as the Narrative, states that the West and its allies are continuing in a historical effort to destroy Islam. More particularly, the Narrative states that the U.S., Israel, and puppet Islamic leaders, are continuing the historic efforts of outsiders conspiring to eradicate, exploit, and humiliate Muslims. That some westerners view this proof that jihadists are freedom fighters and others bristle at this characterization does not matter: variations on the Narrative are some of the most powerful tools wielded against the West by extremist Islam, providing a common ideological reference point, powerful recruitment tools, and justification for their violence.
A cursory examination of the literature of extremist Islam reveals overt references to the Narrative. In his 1996 manifesto, A Terrorist’s Call to Global Jihad, Abu Musa’ab al-Suri states, “the modern Crusader-Jewish, American-led campaign against the Arab and Islamic world has clearly announced its goals: total elimination of the civilizational, religious, political, economic, social, and cultural existence of Muslims.” In his 1996 fatwa, as translated in Princeton Readings in Islamist Thought, “Declaration of War Against the American Occupying the Land of the Two Holy Places,” Osama bin Laden writes:
It is no secret that the people of Islam have suffered from aggression, iniquity, and injustice imposed on them by the Zionist-Crusaders alliance and their collaborators, to the point where Muslim blood has become the cheapest and their wealth as loot in the hands of the enemies.
But it is not only in the writings of the major jihadist leaders that you find the Narrative. Through invoking it through mass communication, the Narrative has come to permeate parts of the broader Islamic worldview. It is common in the media communications of extremist Islam and even in their abundant rumors.
Anti-terror leaders have long noted the importance of understanding and combating the Narrative in postmodern warfare. After the rise of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) in 2015, President Obama addressed it directly, saying, “that narrative becomes the foundation upon which terrorists build their ideology and by which they try to justify their violence,” as he outlined a plan to defeat the Narrative through a campaign that includes counterterrorism operations, social media, and encouraging Islamic clerics to weigh in. Shaykh Abdullah bin Bayyan, a prominent but controversial Islamic scholar, was among the first to issue a fatwa against ISIS in late 2014, which some have seen as a step toward an effort to weaken the narrative over time.
Scholars and strategists have examined the sources of the Narrative’s power for years, but to limited measurable outcome. Extreme Islam remains active and aggressive; the reform movement within Islam remains unpersuasive; and the U.S. and its allies remain as much on the brink of war as they were in 2001 before they invaded two Islamic nations bent on democratization.
In his Atlantic essay, “What ISIS Really Wants,” Graeme Wood asserts that two key misunderstandings of the Islamic State are the reasons for the West’s failures. The first error, Wood writes, is that “we tend to see jihadism as monolithic” when it really consist of many factions. Second, and specific to ISIS, Wood asserts that westerners are misled by a “well-intentioned but dishonest campaign to deny the Islamic State’s medieval religious nature.”
Wood’s assertion that extremist Islamic groups have diverse ideologies and strategic goals is a crucial first step. Although his focus is ISIS, he alludes to a major difference between ISIS and Al-Qaeda: where ISIS wishes to establish a Caliphate based on original Islam, Al-Qaeda has focused on a more amorphous goal of decentralized terrorism prosecuted through a global network. Stated differently, ISIS aims to establish a premodern state while Al-Qaeda aims toward a postmodern movement. Both rely on narratives to achieve their goals and to erode the modern political and religious barriers, respectively, they confront.
Scholars’ efforts to understand and combat extreme Islamic narratives have yet to provide a full picture. The shortcomings in understanding narratives are precisely for the reasons Wood describes: they tend to view jihadism as monolithic, namely, that all jihadist organizations desire a geographic caliphate, and they fail to recognize that the extraordinary difference in strategic outcomes are driven by extremely different philosophical worldviews. In doing so, theses scholars have attempted to understand the narrative in modern or postmodern terms instead of applying those lenses to the various philosophical foundations of extremist groups.
The 2012 book, Narrative Landmines: Rumors, Islamist Extremism, and the Struggle for Strategic Influence, Daniel Bernardi and his co-authors examine Islamic narratives through their most basic element, rumors, while Jeffry Halverson and his co-authors study the hierarchy of narratives in their 2013 book, Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism. Both books largely agree that narratives operate rationally within formal frameworks and that they are used to achieve the jihadist goal of establishing a global caliphate. However, they disagree on nearly all the particulars, from whether narratives can be strategic tools to the appropriate use of modern or postmodern theories when understanding them.
Narrative Landmines studies how narratives manifest locally through rumor, and how rumor drives broader beliefs. For them, “rumor is a shorthand term for speculation, half-truths, and misinformation in the form of stories that, to some groups, appears to offer rational cause-and-effect explanations of events.” Previous scholars argued that rumors are non-narrative in nature, an idea that these authors contest, arguing instead that rumors “are, in essence, local stories that participate in larger narrative systems that, given the right mix of cultural references and ideological formations, end up volatile when placed in the service of either an insurgent or counterinsurgent agenda.” To them, rumors are actually “narrative IEDs,” mimicking the cheap and effective tactical weapons insurgents use in Iraq and Afghanistan.
If rumors are tactical weapons, then they are most effective when they complement narratives used as strategic communications. In a broad sense, a narrative is “a system of interrelated stories that share common elements and a rhetorical desire to resolve a conflict by structuring audience expectations and interpretations.” For their study of rumor in wartime, they define the concept as “a continuous process of understanding in which external data are constantly ordered and re-ordered into patterns that make sense to people.” A “narrative landscape,” then, is “a system of narratives” that refer “to the complex array of narratives that circulate within a specific social, economic, political, and mediated environment—the narrative context that gives rise to rumors and in which rumors compete for prominence.”
Unlike rumors, narratives are comprised of stories, which they argue, “consist of sequences of events involving characters in setting and are recounted for rhetorical purposes.” There are three components to stories that make them meaningful and understandable to audiences: archetypes, story forms, and master narratives. These components are crucial for successful narratives as they are derived from “larger cultural systems.”
In narratives, archetypes represent easily identifiable shorthand for versions of people, places, and events the Muslim world has interacted with throughout history. They range from Tyrants and Hypocrites, to Crusaders and Colonizers, Martyrs and Champions, and include the oppressive Pharaohs of Egypt, to the Mongolian military leader Hulaga Khan, who sacked Baghdad in the 13th Century, and others. Archetypes act through story forms, or “recognizable patterns of storytelling that are easily comprehended because of their familiarity.” Common story forms include Invasion, Noble Sacrifice, Reward, and Deliverance, which are intended to persuade the audience that they are an aggressed underdog, and dying and even killing for their cause is just. Master narratives move “across historical boundaries, resolving archetypal conflicts through established and literary and historical forms,” and include the Crusades and Colonization, which depict westerners invading Muslim territories to “exert their political power to extract natural resources (Islamic wealth and property) from the rightful Muslim owners.”
Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism provides an alternative understanding of narratives. Its proposed structure operates through “vertical integration” between three levels of narratives, with communication at the lowest level being more “concrete” and “manifest” and moving toward the more “abstract” and “latent” at the highest level. Vertical integration of narratives allows Islamic extremists to achieve their primary goals, which the authors refer to as resistance, rebuking, and renewal.
The rumors described in Narrative Landmines are most closely aligned with “personal narratives,” or “systems of stories experience, remembered, and told by individuals.” Personal narratives integrate with “master narratives,” which the authors describe as “narratives whose component stories, by virtue of being widely shared and repeated across time, have become deeply embedded in a particular culture.” The majority of their work is a detailed analysis of 13 master narratives that they have identified in extremist literature, including the Crusader and Hypocrites narratives.
Contrary to the central argument of Narrative Landmines, Halverson and his co-authors argue that master narratives are not strategic. Instead, master narratives combine “at the highest level of abstraction” to form a “rhetorical vision,” which is similar to the “narrative landscape” defined in Narrative Landmines. A rhetorical vision uses story forms and archetypes to integrate “master narratives in an emotional and logical sense,” providing common “resources for constructing personal narratives and developing goals for actions and behaviors.”
While both sets of authors base their arguments on highly structured narrative models, they have opposite views when it comes to addressing modernism and postmodernism when understanding Islamic narratives. The authors of Narrative Landmines see modern rigidity as the fundamental source of the West’s communications failures. Conversely, the authors of Master Narrative of Extremist Islam favor a decidedly modern approach.
The authors of Narrative Landmines provide important analysis of the concept of objective truth in wartime rumors. “The standard in rumor studies has been for many years to define, and thus study, a ‘rumor’ as information or belief about a situation that is of dubious veracity, a statement that does not meet ‘secured standards of evidence,’” they write. “Although dubious veracity and unclear origins are central characteristics of rumors, an overemphasis on veracity and truth claims isolates rumors categorically, rather than recognizing their impact and dynamic functions, especially with regard to strategic communications contexts.”
Instead, they call for rumors to “be understood in their cultural contexts.” This means that “the truth of a situation presented to any given individual has more to do with how that individual organizes available data than any objective and idealized ‘truth.’” It is the primary function of narratives, therefore, “to make sense of that body of data,” which narratives do by offering “a means of uniting culturally provided templates to include story forms and archetypes with data such as stories, rumors, histories, and the like.” In the end, “‘truth’ becomes less about facts and evidence and more about coherence with pre-existing and prevailing understandings.” This is a postmodern understanding of rumor and narrative, making them a highly subjective force that actively deconstructs modern structures and beliefs.
Master Narratives of Extremist Islam builds its case for a modern understanding of narrative on a modern understanding of Islam. In modern Islam, they argue, being able to “quote extensively from the Qu’ran by memory creates an aura of knowledge and piety in a speaker and establishes a hierarchical position that situates the speaker apart from (or above) the audience on the basis of his or her knowledge of the sacred text, infusing or encoding his or her words with transcendent authority.” Modern Islam allows those in higher positions to dispense doctrine and adjudicate legal matters in accordance with the various sacred texts of Islam.
Islam’s master narratives, then, “are thoroughly ‘modern’ (in a macro sense) and their ideological uses are definitively ‘modernist.’” They concede that “some readers may ask why [they] are relying on elements of modernist notions of narrative” when so many in their field have “moved beyond modernist conceptions like ‘master narratives’” to understand the way narratives work. They respond that “while postmodern theories may well represent attractive resources for how we might learn to counter extremist arguments (in the same ways that postmodern theories provide rich textual resources to counter modern conceptions of narratives) it is vital to remember that Islamist extremists emphasize the articulation of ‘transcendent’ values derived from a ‘grand’ or authoritative text.”
These distinctions highlight the shortcomings of these works, which are the same shortcomings proposed by Wood. First, they view Islamic terror organizations as a monolith, at the very least implying that they all seek the establishment of an Islamic Caliphate. Second, central to both works are misapplications of the modern and postmodern lenses to the narratives themselves. Narratives should simply be seen as tools used to achieve the different strategic goals of organizations like ISIS and Al-Qaeda. Because modernity and post-modernity describe philosophical foundations, these lenses are better applied to understanding the organizations and to their movements.
In an article entitled, “A Tale of Two Jihads: the Al-Qaeda and ISIS Narratives,” Naureen Chowdhury Fink and Benjamin Sugg suggest that this monolithic understanding of extremist Islamic organizations is understandable due to their many surface similarities. Through their examination of the official publications of Al-Qaeda and ISIS, Inspire and Dubiq, respectively, they note that both organizations demand jihad from all Muslims and that they rely on the broad use of the Narrative to justify their actions. However, beyond those surface similarities, Al-Qaeda and ISIS have vastly different “ultimate aims,” which are reflected by the narratives that they generate.
The authors identify the driving narratives found in Al-Qaeda’s Inspire revolve around three recurring themes. First, the magazine glorifies “militant activities and terrorism”; second, Inspire provides a “DIY guide for weaponry”; and third, it encourages “‘lone wolf’ acts of terror by individuals that can have absolutely no formal association with Al-Qaeda.” All of the elements of Al-Qaeda’s narrative appear to empower independent, uncoordinated action toward achieving Bin Laden’s one-time goal of a “defensive jihad, a battle to promote and protect the Ummah, or global Muslim community, from the onslaught from the West.”
Unlike Al-Qaeda’s narrative, the authors show that ISIS’s narrative revolves around a centralized, organized plan for the establishment of a formal Islamic State. Dabiq calls for support of the Caliphate through appealing “to doctors, engineers, and professionals to make hijrah (migration) in order to assist the construction of an Islamic government,” the authors write. It also advances the narrative of political Islam by highlighting the type and level of “social services, defense, and dignity” that Muslims will be able to enjoy once protected from by the newly-established Caliphate.
These strategic differences between ISIS and Al-Qaeda complement their philosophical differences. ISIS is driven by a pre-modern worldview toward the establishment of a pre-modern, medieval Caliphate, while Al-Qaeda is driven by a postmodern worldview toward the facilitation of perpetual global jihad. Narratives play a key role within these strategic and philosophical frameworks, with ISIS using narratives to replace the constraints of modern political constructs, and Al-Qaeda using narratives to replace the constructs of modern Islamic jurisprudence and doctrine to justify their actions as Islamic.
If ISIS’s strategic objective is the establishment of a premodern Caliphate, then it is akin to movements political Islam, the greatest distinction being ISIS’s reliance on a premodern worldview. Regimes within Islamic states have long used official or national narratives to rally their people in support of their vision for the future, to rise up against continued enemies and challenges, or both. In her book, Official Stories: Politics and National Narratives in Egypt and Algeria, Dr. Laurie Brand studies the creation, evolution, and circulation of these narratives, and in a subsequent essay, she argues that ISIS has already developed similar national narratives.
According to Brand, national narratives are the nation’s story as it is told and understood by the people. They amount to the nation’s collective social, ethnic, religious, and cultural identity, especially as they relate to the nation’s understanding of its story through historic trials, victories, enemies, and heroes. They establish legitimacy to rule for the regime, and once implemented, regimes can select and shape elements of their national narrative to adapt to the current challenges the regime faces.
“No political leader or elite, even in authoritarian states, rules solely through the threat of coercive violence,” Brand writes. Additionally, they require “some level of support, or at least acquiescence, from the people over whom they rule.” This support is often developed not entirely through formal levers of power like the military, the courts, and other institutions, but through “less tangible elements” organized in a “complex configuration of values, customs, political principles, and social relations accepted throughout society and its institutions at a given historical moment.”
According to Brand, attempts by regimes to control these variables have often come from the efforts to control public discourse, especially as they attempt to establish official narratives. They can be seen in a regime’s investment in cultural productions, such as plays and literature, through asserting control over educational texts, through speeches, policy programs, charter documents, or other official statements. Brand places the use of official narratives by states or state actors within the literature of propaganda, which historically has been effectively used to shape public opinion in times of crisis.
Establishing a national identity and unity are major goals of national narratives, but Brand argues that they are not desired ends. Regimes use narratives to establish their legitimacy, which she describes as “the process by which a leadership secures the people’s acknowledgement of its right to rule.” This process is accomplished through using narrative by obscuring their “state-building efforts intended to serve the citizenry in general,” on one hand, and policies intended to sustain and reinforce the regime’s hold on power, on the other. Without linking the interests of the people with the actions in support of sustaining the regime’s power, Brand argues, “a key part of the narrative’s legitimizing project will fail.”
If such a linkage is created through national narratives, then the regime is able rely on the narrative to rally support for their vision for governance. That is, by establishing themselves as legitimate leaders, the regime can further legitimize their “guiding ideology and the policies that flow from it.” By fitting their current existential threats or challenges into their established national narratives, regime leaders can further use narratives to provide the populace with a rationale for their personal responsibility to their nation, and “exhorting the people to serve, protect, and even die for them.”
While Official Stories is exclusively about the use of national narratives by Egypt and Algeria in the 20th Century, it also provides a remarkable overview of how and why Islamic states have circulated official narratives to establish their legitimacy and build their nations. Because ISIS is a derivative of political Islam, her argument regarding the use of national narratives found in Official Stories can be applied as well. Brand does exactly this in a piece in the Washington Post, entitled “The Islamic State and the politics of official narratives,” written only a few months after the establishment of the Islamic State was declared in 2014.
Brand argues here that the earliest actions of ISIS suggest that they are poised to develop a national narrative to legitimize their own government and build a case for national unity around the concept of a pre-modern Caliphate. Brand points out that ISIS established “its first major seat of power” in Mosul, Iraq, where “the basic institutions of its nascent state can be most effectively observed.” These institutions consist broadly of the basic civil services aligned with the tenants of Islam: prisons and courts, mechanisms for complaints and tax collection, and even “morality patrols” intended to ensure that the populace lives up to sharia law.
In addition to these formal efforts, Brand also notes an early move by ISIS to establish the criteria for “legitimate education.” Examining an August 2014 release from the Islamic State’s Bureau of Curriculum entitled, “General Directive to all Educational Institutions,” Brand analyzes ISIS’s efforts to establish the initial model for educational instruction under the Islamic State. According to the directive’s first order, schools should immediately remove from their curriculum all training in humanities subjects, such as music, art, civics, social studies, and history, but also in mathematics and religious studies, to include Christian and Islamic education. Brand notes that the directive allows for these subjects to be replaced, which she concludes to mean “what is underway is not the wholesale abolition of most courses of study, but rather the first stage in a massive reworking of the curriculum.”
This reworked curriculum will establish a new national narrative for the Islamic State. This new narrative will “‘correct’ the history and mission promulgated by the former colonial power” and in its place, “an heroic story would be constructed, aimed at building a unified national identity, establishing the vision of that nation, and – crucially – consolidating power through reinforcing the regime’s legitimacy to rule.” Specifically, the directive calls for the reworked curriculum to replace national symbols and identities with Islamic ones, to remove photographs that defy sharia, and to replace references to evolution with attributing all acts of creation to Allah.
These early actions, especially when combined with the Islamic State’s expressions of violence, can fairly easily be seen as efforts to legitimize a conservative, authoritarian, pre-modern state. However, they should also be seen as efforts to delegitimize and erode support for competing modern political structures and practices through actions that directly support their narrative. In addition to those cited above, they have reportedly commandeered oil production facilities in order to sell the commodity and fund their efforts; they appear to continually disregard global treaties and practices by exacting a ransom for foreign hostages, and even murdering some on video for the largest response; and, Brand points out, ISIS has destroyed the border crossing between Syria and Iraq, “which the Islamic State framed in terms of overturning the legacy of Sykes-Picot, demonstrated its ideological rejection of existing state boundaries as it extended its own realm.” Unlike other Islamic nations determined to gain legitimacy through establishing and using national narratives, inherent within the ISIS narrative and actions is the message that it cannot exist alongside competing practices, beliefs, or even states.
Unlike ISIS, Al-Qaeda’s objective is maintaining a disruptive global jihadist movement. In order to accomplish this, Al-Qaeda has applied a form of postmodern thought to Islam, deconstructing Islam’s authority structure and replacing it with a more subjective and democratized forms. Though it is not a formal study of narratives, Al-Qaeda’s postmodern form of Islam is explored in great detail in Faisal Devji’s book, Landscapes of the Jihad: Militancy, Morality, Modernity.
Landscapes of the Jihad draws a significant distinction between political Islam and global jihad, though because it was written in 2005 it does not consider the rise of ISIS. To Devji, political Islamists aim to create a geographic Caliphate, while global jihadists aim to create a metaphysical one. Within the deconstructed Islam of global jihadist movements like Al-Qaeda, narratives have replaced traditional Islamic doctrine as the central authority of Islam, and are also used to justify their tactics.
Although Devji never uses the term “postmodern,” his argument suggests that he is referring to a deconstructed Islam created through efforts by global jihadists to “wrest the jihad away from the juridical language of the state and make it a strictly individual duty that is more ethical than political in nature.” Global jihadists have focused on the “destruction of the traditional forms and distinctions of Islamic authority,” which has resulted in “the democratization of such authority among all manner of groups as well as individuals.” Decrees and decisions once dictated by Islamic doctrinal and juridical authorities are now “given over to individual rather than collective examination.”
The fragmentation of traditional Islam influences the structure and language of the movement as well. Instead of Islamic groups committed to political change, the jihad has instead provided an umbrella cause and organizational structure for various groups and various interests, creating an “extraordinarily diverse membership, one that is not united by way of any cultic or ideological commonality, to say nothing about that of class, ethnicity or personal background.” For Devji, global jihad operates almost exclusively as a loosely affiliated network, diminishing the centrality of the Arabic culture and language, and has even replaced traditional Islamic architectural references like Islam’s five pillars with Sufi imagery.
As with all forms of postmodern philosophy, this entails rejecting claims to objective truth and claiming instead a necessary tolerance for the individual or subjective truth experienced by others. Devji addresses this directly, claiming, “militant Sunnism has abandoned the theological disputes of the past, based as these were on differing claims to the truth, and adopted a democratic narrative of enmity instead.” By this he means “it is no longer arguments about truth that animate such militants, only a desire for the recognition and respect of their neighbors, who are accused of insulting their sanctities while at the same time claiming to be fellow Muslims.”
Although Devji does not go into great detail into what he means by jihadists adopting a “democratic narrative of enmity,” his assertion here is at the center of his disagreement with the authors of Master Narratives of Islamist Extremism and Narrative Landmines. To these authors, narratives are defined as important communications tools used to drive their fellow believers toward an Islamic state. But to the global jihadists, narratives have replaced Islam’s fundamental objective truths. They are used to explain the world in terms that are aligned with the Narrative, but that are interpreted subjectively by the individual jihadist.
This subjective interpretation is available because of a belief in mystical engagement with the divine allows leaders of the global jihad to interface directly with God. “Everything we know about Al-Qaeda as a religious movement compares favorably with Sufi or mystical brotherhoods,” Devji writes, “even if these happen to be disapproved of by members of the movement itself.” This results in a significant reliance on the occult, on dreams as direct contact with God, and a view of Al-Qaeda’s leaders as a type of Prophet archetype “as spiritual authorities endowed with a grace that is unrelated to bookish learning of the kind that would mark a traditional cleric or even a fundamentalist.” This not only provides an easy way to circumvent the traditional authorities of Islam, but is also an enhancement to a democratized Islam in that it is used to reinforce the personal and ethical expectations of postmodern Islam.
Deconstructed Islam coincided perfectly with the new media age, Devji argues, with the Internet allowing beginners to have the same voice as established authorities. The new media age also assists in making the jihad available globally and impossible to ignore. Devji argues that, for most, the jihad “is experienced visually, as a landscape initially made available by way of the international media and then redacted in conversations, posters, literature, art-work” and so on. Acts of jihad are the primary visual associated with the religion, and through these depictions, “the jihad’s battlefields become sites of a global Islam.” This media focus on Islam’s violence not only drives jihadist attention and resources, but it also creates a new standard of personal and ethical Islam and unites “Muslims and non-Muslims alike in a common visual practice.”
Devji argues that this media dynamic within global jihad creates a universal, metaphysical caliphate, which is the ultimate goal for global jihadists. Through media representations of jihad, a “generic Muslim” is created, “one who loses all cultural and historical particularity by his or her destruction as an act of martyrdom.” This allows the jihad to achieve universality, allowing all viewers, even future martyrs, to experience the jihad in ways that are “entirely abstract and individual,” allowing them “to break with locally available forms of Islamic authority.” It also forces all who view martyrdom “into an ethical choice to support either its Muslim victims or their infidel oppressors—and all who make this choice are held responsible for it, having become participants in the jihad irrespective of their knowledge about its truth.” That is, it is not the truth behind the cause of global jihad that requires its viewers to make this choice, but the “spectacle of martyrdom” itself.
It is this notion of truth within global jihad that clearly defines it as a postmodern movement, one that is made especially possible because of these new media characteristics. “Media images of martyrdom have no epistemological status,” Devji writes, because truth is subjective and is never “a subject for discussion in the holy war.” Truth, then, in true postmodern form, fits a similar definition for narratives provided in Narrative Landmines: it is subjective, self-referential, and ultimately as flexible as it needs to be to justify their tactics.
If it is true that ISIS is driven toward a Caliphate through a premodern philosophy and Al-Qaeda toward global jihad through a postmodern philosophy, then they are extraordinarily different organizations. It may be true that Al-Qaeda laid the groundwork for ISIS to exist and has since faded, but each organization’s ongoing appeal cannot be understated. Because both have successful rallied followers to their causes through narratives, any future combination of their worldviews among extremist Islam will result in disastrous outcomes.
The Islamic State appears to be aggressively on the march. Western efforts to combat them through kinetic and non-kinetic means have yielded poor results, just as poor as the results from similar efforts to defeat Al-Qaeda. Though ISIS will certainly present a more static target than Al-Qaeda’s loose network, definitive strategies remain elusive.
This could result in a dangerous new phase in the battle against extremist Islam. If ISIS continues to build its case against modern political structures in favor of a Caliphate, and the remnant of Al-Qaeda continues its efforts to strip modern Islam in favor of global jihad, then the West will be faced with a worst-of-both-worlds scenario, with ISIS providing a clear vision for the future of Islam and Al-Qaeda providing methods for individual involvement everywhere. Indeed, it appears that this melding is already well underway, and narratives are key to each effort.