Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel write: On October 11, 2014, according to Islamic State-affiliated Twitter accounts a woman going by the name Ahlam al-Nasr was married in the courthouse of Raqqa, Syria, to Abu Usama al-Gharib, a Vienna-born jihadi close to the movement’s leadership. ISIS social media rarely make marriage announcements, but al-Nasr and al-Gharib are a jihadi power couple. Al-Gharib is a veteran propagandist, initially for Al Qaeda and now for ISIS. His bride is a burgeoning literary celebrity, better known as “the Poetess of the Islamic State.” Her first book of verse, “The Blaze of Truth,” was published online last summer and quickly circulated among militant networks. Sung recitations of her work, performed a cappella, in accordance with ISIS’s prohibition on instrumental music, are easy to find on YouTube. “The Blaze of Truth” consists of a hundred and seven poems in Arabic — elegies to mujahideen, laments for prisoners, victory odes, and short poems that were originally tweets. Almost all the poems are written in monorhyme — one rhyme for what is sometimes many dozens of lines of verse — and classical Arabic metres.
Little is known about Ahlam al-Nasr, but it seems that she comes from Damascus and is now in her early twenties. Her mother, a former law professor, has written that al-Nasr “was born with a dictionary in her mouth.” She began writing poems in her teens, often in support of Palestine. When, in the spring of 2011, protests in Syria broke out against the rule of President Bashar al-Assad, al-Nasr took the side of the demonstrators. Several poems suggest that she witnessed the regime’s crackdown at first hand and may have been radicalized by what she saw:
Their bullets shattered our brains like an
even strong bones cracked then broke.
They drilled our throats and scattered
it was like an anatomy lesson!
They hosed the streets as blood still
like streams crashing down from the
Al-Nasr fled to one of the Gulf states but returned to Syria last year, arriving in Raqqa, the de-facto capital of ISIS, in early fall. She soon became a kind of court poet, and an official propagandist for the Islamic State. She has written poems in praise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, the self-styled Caliph of ISIS, and, in February, she wrote a thirty-page essay defending the leadership’s decision to burn the Jordanian pilot Moaz al-Kasasbeh alive. In a written account of her emigration, al-Nasr describes the caliphate as an Islamist paradise, a state whose rulers are uncorrupted and whose subjects behave according to pious norms. [Continue reading…]