For several months now, I’ve seen and at times have very much so been a part of the cyclical outrage that gossips boastfully on social media when it comes to ISIS’ media production and use. Whether Instagram photos of kitties and guns, well produced videos of battles and beheadings, a trailer for a Grand Theft Auto-like video game or balaclava-faced young men with familiar accents, we cannot help but comment on just how ‘tech-savvy those jihadis are’. Their use of the omnipresent, readily and easily available technology just boggles us, amazes us and entraps us into the narrative of the savage using our tools against us. Why is it surprising, after all, that those who fight with ISIS, especially, use the very same technologies and media that were created with the intent of a global reach? To expand global reach?
If you can Instagram your lunch, why can’t you Instagram your war?
I, as mentioned, am guilty of falling into this hole of what I would call misplaced horror. There is a morbid fascination with which I explore ISIS supporters and purported fighters on social media; it is the same fascination that becomes anger that sometimes – not often – makes me take the bait and respond to the buffoonery I see in the name of my faith and in the name of, sometimes, the same struggle. They’re so normal, I often think. They celebrate violence; use fatal religious terminology without much thought of the consequences of language and ideology (or maybe selective thought) and boast of the spoils of war in a way I’ve read mostly about in books because, as privileged citizenries, we’re kept distant from war and military.
But despite those glaring and uneasy particularities, there’s a normalcy to so many of these young men and women who claim to be in Iraq and Syria, having allegedly travelled from the US, Canada and Western Europe. I see myself in their tweets — the ubiquitous ‘myself’ and not specifically just myself, although that’s sometimes there too.
It’s a normalcy that I, amongst countless others, just find so weird. We don’t get it. How can you tweet about missing your mom and Cocoa Puffs for breakfast and then, in the same feed, tweet about the Kuffar, about almost getting killed and your ‘new kicks for Jihad’?
None of this should actually be “weird” for us. People live in apparent contradictions on a daily basis; for so many of us, our lives are defined by the very contradictions we juggle. But we don’t think twice about those because those are our lived realities and so that’s what we know, what we see as ‘normal’.
We ignore how so many of these young men and women grew up in the same world as us, sometimes in the same societies as us. We created and promote citizen journalism as an important way to offer counter-narratives to mainstream narratives but cringe when those who bear arms follow the most popular and growing trends for information dissemination and awareness. Most of those who are in ISIS and who support ISIS believe they are upholding a truth (or several) — so why wouldn’t they want to share their lives and their experiences, with all the contradictions we pick apart, with everyone else and especially if they can reach those who may feel and empathize similarly?
The only reason we find the sense of normalcy amongst these individuals so weird is for no other reason than our human propensity to dehumanize whoever disgusts us; whoever threatens us.
People can disgust us, threaten us and even hurt us – but even then they remain and must remain human so we, too, do not repeat the same crimes and the same injustices.