Guest Post: Charles Cameron on Khorasan – A Muslim Once and Future Kingdom

In Jordan via the jihadist web forums, al-Balawi signaled his identification with the victorious army of the coming Mahdi and with jihadists in Afghanistan by his choice of the cognomen “al-Khorasani” — but the name alone does not tell us which particular jihadist group he might have been thinking of, and that may not even have been an question he felt the need to resolve at that time.

  Once in Khorasan itself, al-Khorasani left us two “media” items, a magazine interview and a video, and we might hope that they would add to our understanding of the more literal, geographical meaning his name carried, for they clearly indicate his associations.

According to Flashpoint-Intel, who provided the version of the interview I’ve seen, al-Khorasani’s interview was given to “Vanguards of Khorasan” which they describe as “a well-known Taliban propaganda magazine” and released by the Al-Fajr Media Center, which they term “the official online logistical arm of Al-Qaida”. SITE refers to “Vanguards” as “the … magazine of al-Qaeda in Afghanistan”. Others more familiar with the logistics may want to clarify the point.

The video, then, seems to give the clearest indication. Al-Khorasani was taped sitting next to Hakimullah Mehsud, the head of the Terik- i-Taliban Pakistan or TPP (whose death in a drone strike is reported but unconfirmed at the time of writing), and indicated his allegiance with the words, “We will never forget the blood of our emir Baitullah Mehsud” — referring to Hakimullah’s predecessor.

In general, “Khorasan” doesn’t appear to function as code for a particular jihadist organization, but as a more general symbol for victorious jihad — coming from the East, faithful to the truth, unstoppable, ushering in the Caliphate, serving the cause of the Mahdi, and thus heralding the End of Days.

I’m intrigued to note that the Australian analyst / scholar Leah Farrall at All Things Counter Terrorism blogged on Abu Dujana today  (after I’d “completed” this post) and closed her post with an aside. I’ll quote the whole paragraph for context, but it’s the last point that ties in here:

Another point of interest is Khorasani’s  internet history circa 2001- 2003. Despite what Khorasani said in his interview in the Taliban magazine ( I think it was the Taliban mag if memory serves), one does not get to be a forum administrator overnight. I watched another person rise through the ranks this way and he had direct contact with  a mid-level AQ commander. It still took him 18 months or so. This brings me back to my question about Khorsani’s early internet history and possible real world history. As an aside, back then, in the early days you didn’t write Khorasani, Kandahari etc unless you had been there. It was used as an identifier. This has changed in recent years but I do wonder about this with him too.

Leah’s curiosity on this point reminds me that along with the general symbolism of Khorasan, which I have tried to explore here, there are intriguing aspects to the particular use Abu Dujana made of the name.

I look forward to any further thoughts she may have.

Grateful thanks to Jean Rosenfeld for our very helpful conversations around this and related topics, and for the comment that gave me its title.

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18 comments on this post.
  1. M. N. Silva:

    Very, very interesting post!But my reading of the term Khorasan would be just Al-Qaeda’s designation for central Asia (in the likeness of "islamic Maghreb", "Arabian peninsula", "Mesopotamia" etc). The term not having been used thus far out of political correctness and respect, since the Taliban regime has more nationalist traits and claims to fight for Afghanistan.

  2. Ibn Siqilli:

    Excellent, as always, Charles

  3. Ibn Siqilli:

    One possibly interesting point on the issue of the black banners, given your discussion, I wonder if it’s at all significant that in at least one major video featuring Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan’s Hakimullah and Wali al-Rahman Mehsud, the banner prominently featured behind them was not black but white with black lettering….I don’t know, it just struck me as I re-read your post.

    <a href="http://1.bp.blogspot.com/_eOThecFRKFQ/S1VQPFydaZI/AAAAAAAAFZo/6Buh1tRU7gE/s1600-h/Hakimullah+Mehsud+%26+Wali+al-Rahman.png">Tehrik-i Taliban Pakistan’s "white banner"</a>

    In a related note, one of the first things that the Isma’ili Shi’i Fatimids did, according to the medieval historian al-Maqrizi, upon conquering Egypt, Syria-Palestine, & the Hijaz was to replace the black banners of the ‘Abbasids with their white banners.

  4. Charles Cameron:

    Ibn al-Siqilli: greetings and thanks!  I’m intrigued to note that your post on Views from the Occident today, (which includes the image of the "white banner" you mention, bearing the as-Sahab logo) features a second video about Hakimullah Mehsud which you embedded — this one identified by its logo (bottom right) as from the "Khorasan Islamic Emirate" with an image of the "black banner" embedded (top right). And there we go again…

  5. Jean E. Rosenfeld:

    Charles and Leah are particularly sensitive to something often overlooked in our analysis of the "ideology" of the International Jihad of al-Qaida, and I especially applaud their comments in this informative post: that the taking of a name means more than we think from the perspective of our literal and rational culture.  Should we have been more concerned about trying to "turn" a Jordanian jihadist who took the name al-Khorasani?  I think so.

    Charles explains that Khorasan is more than a region with a history in the story of the "pure" Abbasid caliphate; it is an identity with that army and its establishment of a once and future "pure" or millennial, kingdom.  By taking the name, the Jordanian operative became a "new man" in terms we might better understand as readers of St. Paul and early Christianity.  He was then very unlikely to put off his holy warrior identity and turn away from his ultimate salvation.  As a mujahid he guaranteed that salvation, since al-Qaida sees itself as the one sect in Islam that will attain paradise because of its militant defense of the religion.  Leah wonders about his "early" identity, and I, too, believe that being able to decode the signs–in this case the taking of a name denoting commitment to the millennial goal of al-Qaida–might enable our analysts to avoid such tragedies in the future.

  6. zen:

    "So the Black Flags or banners represent the Prophet as warrior at one end of Islamic history and the Mahdi’s army from Khorasan at the other…" 

    .

    A historical note, much like medieval Christian armies which carried various alleged holy relics before them, splinters of the True Cross, fingerbones of an Apostle and other oddments, Muslim armies commanded by the Caliph often bore the Green Banner of the Prophet. This practice continued under Ottoman rule until the late medieval/early modern era when the banner was captured when the Polish king Jan Sobiesski personally routed the armies of the Ottoman Sultan, a huge blow to the military prestige and religious authority of the Ottomans. 
    .
    This attachment to the mythical, apocalypticism of the black banner as a symbol by the AQ types over the historical green of the real Islamic caliphates seems to indicate to me a particular psychology, one that eschews a focus on any kind of realistic political aspirations in favor of a magical thinking that is highly emotive/motivating and focused on accruing momentum or acquiring the kind of power gained by waving a charm or talisman. This reminds me of similar political uses of elevating symbols such as the Nazi swastika, the burning cross, the use of royal pretenders as sacred "living banners" by peasant rebellions in Tsarist Russia. 
    .
  7. Charles Cameron:

    The Saudi flag is green, and has a sword below the script.  The World Flag Database used to have a note that said:

    The script in the centre of the flag is the Islamic creed, "There is no God but Allah, and Mohammed is the Prophet of Allah". The flag is therefore considered sacred and special protocol rules apply: the flag does not dip in salute, nor is it ever flown at half-mast. Note that the creed always reads properly from right to left, with the sword hilt to the right, so the reverse of the flag is not a mirror image of the obverse. When making the flag, the creed must be reproduced precisely, including the accent marks. The use of the flag on any commercial item (especially clothing) is not recommended as it might be considered inappropriate, or even insulting.

    The note seems to have disappeared, but I thought the protocol was of interest.

  8. Ibn Siqilli:

    Great catch, Charles!

    Unrelated note: Historically, black banners were used by proto-Shi’is, which may explain why Abu Muslim decided to use them when he launched his revolution on behalf of the ‘Abbasids.

  9. Jean E. Rosenfeld:

    Zen,

    Yes, magical thinking is a feature of nativist movements and the jihadist movement qualifies as a nativist movement, as well as being revolutionary and millennial.

  10. Charles Cameron:

    Zen:

    a magical thinking that is highly emotive/motivating and focused on accruing momentum or acquiring the kind of power gained by waving a charm or talisman

    I do a lot of some kind of magical thinking myself, as a poet. I think in fact that magical thinking is something we all do, and of which we are mostly unconscious. And as you say, it is "highly emotive/motivating". That’s why one of the tasks I hope to get to fairly soon is a poetics of jihad — which would essentially be a symbolic geography of the jihadist mind. I read a hadith today that said:

    Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet said, "A wound which a Muslim receives in Allah’s cause will appear on the Day of Resurrection as it was at the time of infliction; blood will be flowing from the wound and its color will be that of the blood but will smell like musk." — Sahih Bukhari, vol. 1 bk. 4 #236.

    A quote like that has no military significance, I think — until you read Clausewitz, who says the war of weaponry cannot be sepoarated from the war of passions, and that:

    The effects of physical and psychological factors form an organic whole which, unlike a metal alloy, is inseparable…

    Furthermore, he relates understanding of the psychological and moral side of war directly to an imaginative and empathic style of cognition:

    The appreciation and understanding of moral factors can only be perceived by the inner eye…

    But I’m getting ahead of another long post, currently in the works.

  11. Charles Cameron:

    Just a quick note to say that there’s a black flag that looks otherwise identical to the Saudi flag I mentioned above (ie it has what looks to be the same exact sword graphic) in the first martyrdom nasheed-video that Ibn Siqilli posted today.  You can find it at around the 7.42-47 mark, followed by this text (in all caps): 

    The obligations of Jihad have been forgotten … dear Muslims everywhere remember that the black flag is still flying and will always fly … it is up to you to decide if you want to fight beside it

    The video opens with the words "Muhaajiroon Media Presents" and is titled "Our Al-Shabaab Al-Mujahideen From The West": it closes with the words "Al-Shabab — Somalia".

  12. zen:

    Hi Charles,
    .
    Imaginative thinking and creativity is good. Most of us can use more of it. But the kind of "magical thinking" embraced by jihadis ( or early 20th century volkisch mystics in the Nazi movement, or radical Pan-Slavists, Neo-Eurasianists, the Boxer Rebellion, Japanese state shinto fanatics – whatever) is to jump the shark and go through the looking glass on a semi-permanent basis. There’s a doublethink of believing that esoteric or reactionary myths are real – even when the believer took active part in constructing them from scratch- and calculating decisions on that basis.
    .
    It is also my speculation that if we looked at the brains of these ppl under an MRI and EEG, we’d see patterns reminiscient of ppl with addictions and/or neurotic behavior where the norepinephrine feedback loop keeps reinforcing and rewarding deviant behavior.  The biological "fight-or-flight" response would account for a sensation of exaltation and manic craving for conflict or risk.
    .
    Thank you also to Jean and Ibn for their informed commentary here – you always add and extend to my understanding of Charles’ posts.

  13. Majestic Islam:

    Allah Ho Akbar!

  14. Shareena Mohammed:

    In the Name of Allah, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful Assalaamu ‘Alaykum Wa Rahmatullahi Wa Barkatuhu

    Since Afghanistan, as Khurasan, has powerful resonance with many Muslims because of the messianic expectations focused on that region it is a way Allah has created in order protect the identity of  Hz. Mehdi (as) and the bless ones, Al Hashimi, Al Khorasani, and Shuayb Ibn Saleh from being singled out by Dajjal. Although Afghanistan is known as a part of Khorasan it is not the Khorasan spoken of in the other hadiths. The one where the people of Taliqan is mentioned has played out its role and their second role will come after the Mehdi (as) reaches Syria and Shuayb Ibn Saleh (Pres. Ahmadinejad/Flag Bearer) pledges his allegiance to Mehdi (as).

    Mar-Salaam

  15. Ethan Hevron:

    Dear Friend,You have an interesting post here and I think it is very informative but from a totally different perspective. First of all Khorasaan has nothing to do with Al Qaeda. Khorasaan existed way before Jesus Christ was even born.Khorasaan is referred to the liberation of the "Holy Land" and if we go back in history we know that the Holy Land was rescued twice by two different empires. First it was rescued by the Babylonian Empire. Secondly it was rescued by the Roman Empire and finally and for the last time it will be rescued by Khorasaan Empire. In the entire region of Khorasaan there is a particular country which has never been occupied nor left to be invaded fully. We all know what that country is and who is trying to occupy it.Khorasaan is in response to the Jews (not every Jew) but those who rejected Abraham and those who rejected Moses and those who rejected Jesus Christ and those who rejected Islam. ALLAH (swt) says in the Quran that "Ya Bani Israelo" GOD is referring to the Israelite People here and ordering them, "Lo, you cause your mischief and oppression and every time you do, we will cause a punishment in liberating the "Holy Land"The goal of the Khazar Movement is to: First, liberate the holy land, secondly create a state in the holy land and thirdly rule the world from holy land. We know that first and second had already happened. The liberation of Holy Land started in 1914 with the assassination of the prince in Europe. The entire purpose of this assassination was to remove the Ottoman Empire from power because Ottoman Empire was the only force still in control of the Holy Land. World War I was created to dismantle the Ottoman Empire and destroy the Caliphate of Islam and "Britain" was successful in doing so. Mustafa Kamal Atta Turk was a British spy and he was placed in power in Turkey and declared Turkey a secular state thus completely removing the Caliphate from the Islamic State.World War II was implemented in order to take control of the Holy Land. We all know that in 1948 just right after World War II ended Israel became a country. Israel is not then recognized as a State. So liberating Israel had happened in 1914 and the return of the Israelite People started to go back to Israel. The state was created right after world war ii and so the only thing left is to rule the world from the Holy Land. If you go back in history to the Kingdom of David or Solomon Kingdom they all had one thing in common. They were the only ruler of the world. The Khazar Movement is after that. To rule the world from the Holy Land.The Jews, (again not all Jews) are working hard night and day to perform the struggle of transferring the world power from the United States into Israel. In 1889 when the Zionist Movement was created Britain used to be the World Power right up until 1930 and United States took over from Britain. Similarly the United States will be replaced by Israel between 2012 – 2015 and in order for Israel to take over and be considered the World Power, it will have to take control of the Arab Oil. So who controls the OIL in the Middle East now? It is the Zionist Movement of America and Pro Jewish NATO Coalition Forces who are in control of the Oil in the Middle East.The recent earthquake in Japan was a test by a system HAARP in order to control and deal with an earthquake which is about to happen in Pakistan to deal with the same nuclear reactors which produced its nuclear weapons. So Israel being the world power and Pakistan holding nuclear weapons is not going to look pretty. Israel will have to destroy the nuclear facilities in Pakistan in order to rest assured. There is no war between Israel and Iran. Why I say that, Iran is not a true Islamic State. It believes totally the opposite of the Quran and prophet Muhammad. So would Israel want to destroy such a perfect ally? I even think that Israel will even have an agreement between Israel and Iran for a total Shiat Control Middle East if Iran stops dealing with Russia. Turkey will be attacked on the other hand.When Israel takes over the world as one world power, you will witness the oppression not only in the middle east but all over the world and you will witness that the oppression is going out of control and that something needs to be done about it. That is when the Black Banners of Khorasaan will merge and no force will be able to stop it when it starts merging.I am currently working a book and in that I specified specifically when will the black banners rise from Khorasaan (Afghanistan). It will be a time when technology will no longer be able to function. It will be a time when the satellite systems will all be gone and destroyed and it will be within the next 40 years. http://www.khorasaan.net the book will be available for free so feel free to check it out.I have also talked about a certain period of time in the near future when the sun will rise from the west meaning that the possibility of the orbit or motion of the earth will change. This could have by two means and I have mentioned it in that book.The funny thing is I have contacted various publishers to publish this book. They all refused to publish it because it does not qualify as their requirement. So I played a bit with them and I pretended that I have written another book but this time, I said totally the opposite. I said I am a Muslim and I declare Publically that I am GAY and I have written a book about Islam and Homosexuality and that it is permitted to do so. All of a sudden I had tons and tons of emails requesting me to meet with them and they will pay for everything in order to publish the book. The funny thing is, yet they call the United States full of "Democracy" and "Freedom of Speech". When freedom of speech is unbalanced only for the benefit the state.Even writing this here could give me the label "Terrorist" with the funny thing is I am not even a Muslim.There is a saying in Islam that a Muslim leader will be killed and when that happens, it is the final stage and the next big thing happening will be the emergence of the black banners from the direction of Khorasaan. Oh and by the way the actual Hadith says this:"When you see black banners coming from the direction of Khorasaan, you go join them, even if you have to crawl over ice". And it continues to state that "For it is that army which will liberate the holy land and nothing will stop that army until it is inserted in Aelia". Aelia is the ancient name of Jerusalem.I am only a human and I do believe that there is GOD, whether it be Yahweh or ALLAH but if you ask me if the life we follow is humanly permitted, then I will say no. Because I do not see any sign of humanity whatsoever in this time. Who is right and who is wrong is only left to individuals to judge and I have read many religious scriptures and to be honest with you, I honestly do not find any fault in the Quran. It does not speak about wars or killings. But it does say to defend yourself when you are oppressed and I think we all will do that if we were ever oppressed by force. Right now the only place that is full of wars is in the Muslim countries and we as Christians and Jews really have to accept if we are right to do so.By making September 11 appear as if it was carried out by a terrorist organization does not give us the authority to invade every Muslim country there is. The more we invade the more we will be waking the sleeping giant (Khorasaan) and the more US Forces conduct operations the more sleepless that sleeping giants becomes. I am not worried about China, they are business people. Although, I am worried about Israel and Russia.

  16. pat:

    i just want to make one correction that Hazrat Ali RA was the cousin not a nephew of Hazrat MUHAMMAD (PBUH) 

  17. Charles Cameron:

    Pat:
    .
    Thanks — yes, cousin & son-in-law.

  18. larrydunbar:

    Cousins are the real link here. It has to do with how power is distributed. The velocity is greater at the cousin level than let’s say at the son level. The cousin is further removed from the power base, it is just not in his DNA, but, if he proves himself, there are more connection than there can possibly be at the son level, or as you say, the son-in-law level. Therefore, if, generationally, a movement is handed over to a cousin instead of a son, the movement is able to distribute itself into the environment faster, but without the potential someone else closer to the power base might experience. 

    *

    So the Sunni passed, when asked to get on board with the Shia, and, from what I have gathered and I might be wrong, the Sunni rely on the force of the son, instead of the speed of the cousin.

     *
    Which kinda brings it down to a Quant or Qual issue.

    *
    Where have I heard that before?