Issue Brief

Coronavirus as God’s Soldier: Assessing the Divine Retribution Narrative of Jihadi Organisations

August 01, 2020

The SARS-CoV-2 (Coronavirus) that causes COVID-19 has engulfed the whole world within weeks of its outbreak in the Chinese city of Wuhan in late December 2019. Within six months of its advent, over 8.24 million people have been infected with over four lakh deaths (as of mid-June 2020) and an ongoing major global disruption. The deadly Coronavirus pandemic has occupied centre stage in the international security discourse at present. Amid this unprecedented global crisis and healthcare chaos, evil intentions of ever opportunistic Islamist jihadi forces have come to light. While the nation states struggle to cope with the pandemic, the violent non-state actors, especially the militant Islamists and jihadists around the world, are found to be celebrating the deaths and destruction due to the spread of the disease. Surprisingly, some of the violent groups have adopted or are adhering to health guidelines issued by the World Health Organization (WHO) or The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), even as they continue intense criticisms against these organizations by targeting the very foundations of these global health superstructures based on western science and knowledge. For example, the Taliban issued health advisories in accordance with WHO and CDC norms on Coronavirus in early March 2020 when a surge in suspected COVID-19 cases surfaced in Afghanistan, terming the pandemic as a divine test.

For the Islamic extremists, the virus is a divine punishment unleashed by God (Allah) due to widespread disobedience and increasing human transgression against supreme law. They also claimed that the disease and deaths would soon bring the ‘Day of Judgement. ’ Certainly, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and the resultant global disruption provided a unique opportunity to transnational jihadi terrorist groups and their ideologues to justify God’s law and Islamic way of life by despising Western values, culture and lifestyle. Heavily prejudiced, radical Islamic clerics blamed people’s indifference towards Islam for the spread of the pandemic and argued that only Islamic teachings can save people from COVID-19. They have even urged people to join and follow Islam to be free from the wrath of Coronavirus. A section of Islamists exulted the disease spread in China as a ‘punishment from Allah’for the alleged persecution of the Muslim Uighur population. Even Islamist propaganda machinery worked overtime to criticise Iran and the Shia regime for the spread of the disease in Qom city, affected by the Coronavirus outbreak. The Islamic State group primarily accused Shia Iran of hypocrisy in believing in God at the time of distress and their polytheistic practices. In another seemingly weird analogy taking a dig at western societies, especially sluggish response to the COVID- 19, jihadist cleric Abu Qatada al-Filistini criticised the UK (United Kingdom) government’s response to the pandemic by stating that it aimed at eliminating pensioners to rid the government of their financial burden.

For the Full Text, Please Refer to the Book titled "COVID-19: Analysing the Threat" (Edited by Ajey Lele and Kritika Roy, Pentagon Press, New Delhi, 2020).  

Author Note
Animesh Roul, Executive Director, Society for the Study of Peace and Conflict, New Delhi.