Lately I’m enchanted with Abdel Bari Atwan’s book The Digital Caliphate. There is some amazing perception and study at work. I’m particularily interested in the concept of jihadi-cool.
The Islamic State, according to Atwan, is also presented as an emotionally attractive place where people “belong,” where everyone is a “brother” or “sister.” A kind of slang, melding adaptations or shortenings of Islamic terms with street language, is evolving among the English-language fraternity on social media platforms in an attempt to create a “jihadi cool.” A jolly home life is portrayed via Instagram images where fighters play with fluffy kittens and jihadist “poster-girls” proudly display the dishes they have created.
Atwan doesn’t quite get this correct– jihadi-cool isnt “attempt to create” like a social engineering experiment (eg, the infamous US Rand Muslim project). Cool cant be forced. The Urban Dictionary is permeated with arabic terms– khalas and bint or binty are really common. And Atwan misses the part about where everyone is also an Abu or Umm (father or mother). Procreation rules, marriage talk mixed with quranic quotes and marital naseeha. The mujahiddeen do really love cats and kids– also horses and lions– this is pretty obvious.
There aren’t a lot of jihadist “poster-girls” displayed– they all wear niqab, but sometimes its tastefully accessorized with an AK47 or a bomb belt.
Theres been a lot of research devoted to the Science of Cool– but mostly its obsessive about how to monetize coolness, like Steven Quartz’s nakedly capitalistic book . Perhaps jihadi-cool could be useful to explain why Humera Khanserai and Team CVE cant get any traction with a counternarrative.
1. Jihadis look cool– like ninjas or video game warriors– gangstah and thuggish even– the opposition doesnt. Its mostly middleaged white guys with a smidgin of scared straight ex-mujahids and a couple middleaged women.
2. Jihadis are mostly young– Team CVE mostly isn’t. The median age of muslims is a whopping 9 years younger than non-muslims.
3. Jihadis have cool weapons. And cool nasheeds.
4. Jihadis have young fiery imams that fight on the battlefield. Team CVE has ancient creaky dollar scholars and greybearded fatties nuzzling up to the madkhali trough while spouting John Kerry “airstrike fatawa”.
5. And this is the most important– salafi-jihadism made being pious cool. It became cool to quote aya and study Quran. And CVE has absolutely no defense against this. When IS started up last year there was a thing called Sahaba nights, where baqiya twitter grouped up and told stories of the Companions of the Prophet– the storytelling that Dr. Carroll is such a fan of.
I love jihadi cant– dem, bait, preeing, binty, akhi… its like Belter dialect in the Expanse. And it borrows from all languages– because jihad draws from all races and ethnicities. The voice of youth counterculture and revolution for an underclass. Like ghetto culture in the US– the inexorable evolution of cool.