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All You Need to Know About ISIS Before Watching Homeland Season 5

Don’t know what ISIS is up to? Here’s everything you need to know to understand Homeland Season 5.

Updated
World
4 min read
<i>Homeland</i> Season 5 poster.

Spoiler Alert: This article contains minor spoilers for the first two episodes of Homeland Season 5.

ISIS, or ISIL, or just plain IS? Iraq and al-Sham, Iraq and Syria, Iraq and the Levant? Or just the Islamic State? And who’s Daesh? It’s confusing enough as it is, but the new season of Homeland uses at least three of these names in the first episode itself.

So what should you go with? There are proponents for all of them, but we’re sticking with ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) because the group wants to be called the Islamic State, and The Quint likes to be contrarian.

Daesh, by the way, is an acronym of the group’s Arabic name and has become a pejorative in the language. As one can imagine, ISIS doesn’t like being called Daesh.

While the makers of Homeland Season 5 need to be given due credit for doing their background research well, the rest of us may not be so well-versed in the daily goings-on in Syria and what ISIS is up to.

Two things separate ISIS from all other terror groups: Its online presence and appeal to Western youth.

An Islamic State militant carries a piece of wreckage from a Syrian war plane after it crashed in Raqqa, in north-east Syria. (Photo: Reuters)
An Islamic State militant carries a piece of wreckage from a Syrian war plane after it crashed in Raqqa, in north-east Syria. (Photo: Reuters)
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But First, the Basics

ISIS is a terrorist organisation functioning in the Middle East and controls large portions of the Syrian region. But it’s not the only one. If it ever feels lonely, ISIS has the Al Nusra Front, Hezbollah and the pro-Assad forces, which continue to fight for the President of Syria Bashar al-Assad, for company.

But these groups don’t really get along with each other.

ISIS has declared itself as the rightful Islamic state with Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as its leader. Its goal? To establish a global caliphate and wipe out all infidels from the face of the planet.

American involvement in Syria was initially against the pro-Assad forces. This focus then shifted to the al-Nusra Front, which also goes by the more familiar name of al-Qaeda in Iraq. Yup, al-Nusra is a wing of the most recognisable terror organisation in the world.

But now, the US’ focus, as well as the attention of the rest of the world, is on ISIS. The group is proving to be the most ruthless Islamist terror organisation in the world – even the Afghan Taliban has declared jihad against ISIS.

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Terror Goes Online and We Don’t Mean Cyberbullying

Homeland begins its entire ISIS narrative with a hacker posting a video to a recruitment website run by the organisation. The website is aimed at Germany, where the storyline is also based.

True to real life, in Homeland, online surveillance is a huge part of tracking ISIS networks and activity, especially in Europe. Tying in issues of online privacy, Homeland also tackles the question of how to ensure national security without compromising the privacy of citizens.

Outside the world of television, the terror group has also established a substantial social media presence, where it regularly posts photos and videos. A lot of propaganda is shared online.

True to real life, in Homeland, online surveillance is a huge part of tracking ISIS networks and activity, especially in Europe. (Photo: <a href="https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3yBHxsTnIXg">Youtube Screengrab</a>)
True to real life, in Homeland, online surveillance is a huge part of tracking ISIS networks and activity, especially in Europe. (Photo: Youtube Screengrab)

ISIS aims to radicalise using the Internet, a space that most of us now see as an extension of our daily lives. Not scary enough?

ISIS has accounts on Twitter and Facebook – fighters and jihadi brides post pictures and messages extolling the virtues of living in the ‘homeland’. Many of them dress up in branded clothing and talk about living in luxury in the same breath as they accuse USA and the West of suppressing Islam and mistreating Muslims.

ISIS no longer hides only in the depths of the dark web. The terror group shares the same social networks where you and I post our selfies.

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Truly a Global Jihad

ISIS’ global jihad is also witnessing unprecedented numbers of foreign fighters travelling from Europe and other parts of the world to fight in Syria. The group seems to resonate with a younger section of the Western population. Australia, the United Kingdom, France and Germany, among several other nations, are suffering the consequences of this inexplicable appeal.

Foreign fighters originating from these countries number in thousands and the influx into the Syrian region is unabated.

Homeland has also picked up the idea of the jihadi bride – a concept that has caught the imagination of global media. In a side plot about a jihadi bride recruiter, the show has adapted the now legendary story of three British teenagers who escaped the United Kingdom to travel to Syria to serve ISIS.

The image of the bearded, Kalashnikov-toting, Arabic-speaking middle-aged terrorist is fast fading. The new breed of terrorists brandish guns, as well as expensive mobile phones, wear name-brands as they take the name of Allah, and speak in global languages – French, German, English.

Homeland seems to be getting it right. Even down to the part where it takes a dig at the incoherence of America’s ISIS strategy.

(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)

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