ISIS Embarrasses U.S. With Anniversary Charity Video

Jun 17, 2015 at 3:05 PM ET

ISIS celebrated Ramadan and the one-year anniversary of its declaration of a terrorist state with a new propaganda video showing off its charitable work across Syria and Iraq—images that will embarrass the White House as the Obama administration struggles to come up with an effective strategy to fight the extremist organization.

While the U.S. claims to have killed at least 10,000 fighters and is pushing to send more troops into the region to assist in the battle, ISIS is distributing goats and cattle, handing out money, and giving Muslims advice on how to properly set aside income to help the poor.

The video, released on the group’s official Furqan network, may seem comparatively mundane, but it is a powerful propaganda instrument. ISIS has repeatedly sought to brand itself as more than a fighting group. One of ISIS’ greatest successes has been its ability to portray the aspects of an actual state that cares for its citizens. It operates schools, has cleaned streets, restored electricity, opened amusement parks and five-star hotels, and shown off healthcare systems and services in Syria, all in a bid to attract not just new fighters but families.

The propaganda video, titled “And they gave Zakat (charity),” is bookended with a show of brutal strength. It begins with a military operation to destroy a building ISIS claimed was an Iraqi army stronghold. That is followed by images of dead fighters, including one belonging to the Iranian-backed Badr Brigade, before the video becomes something that could almost be mistaken for an infomercial for a charity organization.

Several spokesmen lecture that zakat, being one of the five pillars of Islam, is the duty of every Muslim alive. There are scenes of grateful recipients and shelves worth of Iraqi dinar bundled into packs before being shoved into envelopes and marked with an “Islamic State” stamp. In one scene, an ISIS member tells jewelry shop owners that, as wealthy people, their obligation to give to the poor is greater than others.

The video ends with a gruesome firefight in which several dead fighters are shown, then switches to a wheat farmer saying that his crop was particularly good this season because of divine intervention.

Releasing this newest propaganda effort as the sun set in the Middle East and Ramadan officially began showed a particular astuteness. Ramadan is a time of self-reflection for Muslims, for fasting and focusing on those less fortunate. A video in which ISIS quotes the Prophet Muhammed on Muslim obligations regarding charitable giving will undoubtedly strike a chord with many sympathizers.

There are more videos expected, as the group has usually marked Ramadan in a significant way.

During Ramadan in 2012, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, then known as the leader of al-Qaeda in Iraq, made his first online statement as the head of ISIS. In 2013, the group carried out simultaneous raids on Taji and Abu Ghraib prisons in Iraq during the holy month, setting free more than 500 prisoners who quickly joined ISIS’ ranks.

And just last year, ISIS declared its caliphate during Ramadan, when it captured the northern Iraqi city of Mosul.