ISIS’s magazine, Dabiq, preaches mainly to the choir. As Robert Evans observes in Cracked, its copy is clogged with jargon and Scripture. “Most articles,” he writes, “start with a solid two or three paragraphs of ‘all this happened only by God’s will’, ‘praise Allah for granting us victory’.”
In ISIS-speak, all Westerners are “crusaders,” so I will say with perfect knightly courtesy that there’s no excuse for this. Piety need not rule out accessibility. The Wanderer kept Joe Sobran on board for decades; Touchstone attracts no end of first-rank talent. But, since the number of professional wits and scholars sympathetic to ISIS looks to be pretty meager, I recommend ISIS take things in a slightly more popular direction.
It should set up shop at Patheos, in a channel all its own.
Why not? According to its motto and mission statement, Patheos aims at “hosting the conversation on faith.” In pursuit of that end, it’s opened channels for Catholics, Evangelicals, Buddhists, Hindus, “Progressive Christians,” Mormons, atheists, and Jews. It also has a channel dedicated to “Spirituality,” which would seem to be a euphemism for “everything that raises Ross Douthat’s blood pressure,” including “yoga, astrology, mindfulness, health and healing, and spiritual practice in everyday life.”
Last but not least, it has a channel for Muslims, of which my friend Dilshad Ali is managing editor, and to which another friend, Rabia Chaudry – the closest thing to Athena in a hijab ever to press finger against key – contributes frequently. Rabia assures me that pretty much her entire crew, by ISIS standards, has earned a good takfir-ing, meaning they’ve committed some act tantamount to apostasy and can expect a date with the headsman. Rather than invite that kind of tension around the virtual water cooler, Patheos would do well to give both ISIS and its resident Muslims their own safe space.
Anyway, cross-channel conversation would be beside the point. ISIS is nothing if not evangelical. British former solicitor Anjem Choudary, who aspires to become its chief Western mouthpiece, has dignified its murderous rampages as live-action Chick Tracts, their true aim being, in Graeme Wood’s summary, “to scare the shit out of [enemies]…because doing so hastens victory and avoids prolonged conflict.” Its missionary work in French prisons, where it recruited Charlie Hebdo gunman Cherif Kouachi, and Amedy Coulibaly, who killed four in a kosher supermarket at the Porte de Vincennes, is well known by now.
But ISIS’s aims reach beyond simply murdering its enemies to discourage the others. It is building a state and a society meant to reflect the first-generation Ummah like a carbon copy. Along with hoodlums with a bent toward the transcendent – the kind of people, you may remember from high school, who’d cough out a lungful of bong smoke and giggle, “Man, ain’t life some funny shit?” – it trawls for a better class of dupe to populate it. Rolling Stone reports how ISIS’s very own social-media superstars, including the now late Ifthekar Jaman, as well as Abu Hud, and Abu Qaqa, created videos and an e-book “to enlist Western akhis and ukhtis for…the greatest adventure of their lives.”
I would love to see these masterpieces of propaganda on display in a public forum where the makers would get real pushback from consumers who aren’t pie-eyed teenage shut-ins. It would test not only the substance of the product but the character of the producers. If – as I can’t — they can manage comboxes swarmed by seasoned smartasses who scoff at every typo and gloat over every logical fallacy, then, yes, maybe they’re really the warriors they claim to be.
Moreover, it should give lots of folks a chuckle to see these two-legged hyenas humbled by standard Western editorial guidelines. Imagine scrolling through a list of articles with titles like:
Offensive Jihad: You’re doing it wrong
Ten Reasons We Should Pledge Baya’a Now.
Jahil: It Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does.
For better or worse, the Internet has served as the great leveler, enabling bloggers to knock print journalists down many pegs while opening lucrative career paths for fanfic writers. Let it make itself truly useful for a change and offer these catalysts of the apocalypse a chance to prove they can express themselves with our tools and according to our rules without looking like, well, just another bunch of hacks.
Yes, damn it, I want to see these fiends, so all-powerful in their rogue statelet, composing numbnuts titles tarted up with hyperactive modifiers, e.g. “Fifteen Jaw-Droppingly Kafir Practices of the Kurdish People’s Protection Units (Number Twelve Will Shock You!).” There’s nothing like the listicle format to throw beheadings, stonings – and, yes, crucifixions – in the tawdry light proper to them.
And what about confessional pieces along the lines of Salon’s Life Stories and xoJane’s “It Happened to Me” – the kind where real drama gets doused and drowned by melodrama? I want to see whether these punks have taste enough to avoid writing ledes like “As the dark eyes of the Turkish customs officer searched mine, I clutched the bag containing all that remained of my old life.”
And who knows? I might be charmed to see a sassy ISIS mommy blogger, the sort of person of whom it could be said, “Well, maybe Marwa isn’t sunnat 100% of the time, but she’s got such a fresh voice, and she’s so honest.”