ISIL’s new recruitment song in Mandarin is another way to enrage China

The Islamic State, already known for its savvy with English-language media, is now targeting its propaganda at Mandarin speakers, too.

 The terrorist group, known as ISIL, released a song ostensibly trying to recruit Muslims in China. The lyrics are entirely in Mandarin, and the song is typical of ISIL’s jihadi nasheeds, Islamic chants that are sung mostly a cappella. (The group’s interpretation of Islamic Law largely forbids the use of musical instruments, though the latest song is no stranger to post-production techniques like auto-tune.) The singers have a firm grasp of Mandarin pronunciation.

ISIL’s propaganda for foreigners typically details the group’s exploits and high opinions of itself. The Wall Street Journal produced a rough translation of the Mandarin song’s lyrics. Here is a sample:

The brilliance of Islam is etched in history. The purpose of our struggle is to let it shine again.

The brilliance of Islam is etched in history. The purpose of our struggle is to let it shine again.

Wake up! Muslim brother, now is the time to awaken

Take up your faith and courage, fulfill the lost doctrine.

Wake up! Muslim brother, now is the time to awaken

Take up your faith and courage, fulfill the lost doctrine.

We are Mujahid, our shameless enemy panics before us

To die fighting on this battlefield is our dream.

US presidential candidate Hillary Clinton thinks ISIL is the “world´s best recruiter.” But if the goal of this song is recruitment, the choice to perform it in Mandarin is puzzling.

The Chinese government and Communist Party have a very sensitive relationship with the country’s 20-million-plus Muslims. This is especially true of the ethnic Uighur minority that lives in western China’s Xinjiang Province, where acts of terrorism have been carried out several times. But ethnic Uighurs speak a Turkic language that is completely unrelated to Mandarin. While younger Uighurs are taught in Mandarin (paywall), those with a separatist and anti-China bent are not likely to care much for the language.

 ISIL could plausibly be targeting ethnic Hui people, who account for over 10 million of China’s Muslims, but they are known to be more cooperative with the majority Han. Much more than Uighurs, they have played a central role in parts of Chinese history, and speak Mandarin. The famed Ming Dynasty sailor Zheng He, for example, who in the 15th century commanded voyages all the way to East Africa, was a Muslim Hui. But Hui also practice Sunni Islam, which could lead ISIL to consider them natural allies.

It seems more likely that doing the song in Mandarin is simply a way to direct a warning at all of China. The song is sure to annoy the Chinese Communist Party, as ISIL has been doing more often of late. Last month, the terrorist group murdered a Chinese national for the first time, and in another video it implicitly acknowledged Taiwan as  country.

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