Judging from the comments on Twitter, a lot of people are panicking over the map that's appeared on ABC News, purporting to show ISIS' "five-year expansion plan" for conquering vast territory. Let's stop this meme right now, shall we? ISIS didn't even make the map—and a neofascist group is circulating it.
This is one of those, "garbage in, garbage out" stories, since ABC News' source was Twitter:
The Islamic militant group currently marching across Iraq trying to seize territory in order to create an Islamic state has purportedly published a map showing their plans for the next five years.
The maps were widely shared on Twitter this weekend. They show parts of Africa, the Middle East, and even Europe shaded in black, to represent the territories that ISIS hopes will be part of its Sunni-run state.
The maps were published at the same time that ISIS announced the creation of a caliphate, or Islamic state, spanning the territory they control in Iraq and Syria.
Adding to the story's credibility, the ABC News web page cites the Twitter account of a neofascist group, "ThirdPosition," as one of its sources. Indeed, visitors to ThirdPosition's Twitter feed can learn such intriguing facts as that World War II began when "Germany overthrew its overlords. It adopted a seperate banking system outside Jewish cartel influence. That is why we made war."
So, if at this point the credibility of the ABC News report isn't wobbly enough for you, let's go to the experts.
As the digital news site Quartz reports:
"It's an old image put out by fans of the group," says Aaron Zelin, a fellow at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy who also maintains a blog, Jihadology.net, that analyzes primary source material produced by Islamist movements. "There is nothing official about it nor is there some alleged 5-year plan."
While ISIL obviously does have plans to control territory and impose its extreme take on Islamist politics, this particular map is just an ahistorical mash-up of past Muslim political entities. They range from the empire that emerged from modern-day Saudi Arabia in the 7th century to the Ottoman Empire, with its roots in Turkey, that collapsed in 1923.
It is also an ironic creation, considering that many of the polities whose territory is encompassed by this map endorsed brands of Islam and politics that would offend ISIL. To over-simplify, ISIL's ideology comes from the branch of modern Islam that seeks a purifying return to the early days of Islam, rejecting later "innovations" in the religion that, they believe, corrupt its original spirit.
But historically, many of these innovations arose in response to Islam's political needs in ruling an expanding empire. As early Muslim leaders dealt with internal divisions and absorbed territories with non-Muslim populations, Islam developed a canon of religious law, new varieties—Shi'a Islam and Sufi mysticism, both abhorred by ISIL—and ways to co-exist with Christians and Jews. That legacy has led organizations like ISIL and Al Qaeda to condemn the later Caliphates and the Ottoman Empire for diverging too much from what they see as pure Islam—hence their desire to start over.
But it can be hard to start over without changing. Much has been made of how ISIL is trying to learn from previous Islamist groups in Iraq, whose indiscriminate violence alienated even their co-religionists and led local Sunni Muslims to work with American troops to subdue the Iraqi insurgency in 2007 and 2008. But considering their penchant for mass executions, its not clear they've innovated enough to prevent another self-destructive backlash.