The Islamic State is winning over the next generation of Sunni jihadists for two main reasons: Success and “coolness.” Many Islamic State supporters are foul-mouthed, highly sarcastic rappers and gamers who mesh their Islamist ideology with their affection for Western culture.
None of this is what comes to mind when you think of jihadists, who usually express hatred for Western culture, viewing it as a corrupting influence.
If current trends persist, Al-Qaeda will become known as “your father’s terrorist group,” an organization that has gone out-of-style.
The first American member of the Islamic Stae to be killed was Douglas McAuthur McCain. He wanted to be a rapper and tweeted about smoking marijuana. Friends described him as a jokester. Derogatory remarks and cursing flowed on his Twitter account long after he became religious. He expressed hatred for white people after watching The Help, a 2011 film about the Civil Rights era.
The British citizen suspected of being the Islamic State’s beheader of American journalist James Foley, Abdel Majed Abdel Bary, also wanted to be a famous rapper and filled his lyrics with cursing. He made music videos, using a Western band’s background track in one of them.
In one song, Bary expressed how he was angry enough to kill after his father was arrested. His father, Adel Abdel Bary, was a senior Al-Qaeda member arrested in the United Kingdom for his involvement in the 1998 bombings of two U.S. embassies in Africa. Bary expressed admiration for his father in a rap song, saying “give me the pride and the honor like my father.”
The jihadist use of entertainment and artistic expression mostly associated with Western culture isn’t new, but the Islamic State brings it to a whole new level.
Another Islamic State supporter’s photo has a Batman-like image with an Islamic State flag on his costume. He recently tweeted that the Islamic State could defeat the Justice League, a team of comic-book superheroes including Batman and Superman:
I recently saw an Islamic State supporter who relentlessly tweeted to pop star Justin Bieber. Another posted a photo of a jihadist in Syria drinking Red Bull. Multiple Islamic State supporters mourned the death of comedian and actor Robin Williams.
As the Clarion Project has reported, Islamic State supporters often post memes with humorous captions and sarcastic propaganda to mock their enemies. One compared a Shiite militiaman to Big Bird.
One of the purposes of this language is to relate to Muslims living in the West and to humanize the group. They often post pictures of Islamic State members with cats and dogs. To rebut charges of genocide against Christians, they posted pictures of churches left undestroyed in areas they control and staunchly denied reports that they were beheading Christian children.
In 2004, radical British Muslims called the Soul Salah Crew released a rap music video titled "Dirty Kuffar." It was distributed and even remixed by terrorist sympathizers around the world. The Islamist in Britain who originally uploaded it claimed Muslim youth were picking it up in droves at mosques.
“I do not know of any young Muslim who has not either seen or got this video. It is selling everywhere. Everyone I meet at the mosque is asking for it,” said Mohammed El-Massari, leader of the Committee for the Defense of Legitimate Rights in Saudi Arabia.
Ironically, Islamic State supporters have mocked a rival group, Al-Qaeda affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra, for allegedly preventing desertions by giving away Samsung Galaxy smartphones. Some Islamic State members have nicknamed al-Nusra leader Abu Maria Al-Qahtani as “Abu Maria al-Galaxy bin Samsung.”
The new generation of jihadists has a different style than one the West is used to seeing. It’s hard to envision Osama Bin Laden or Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in a rap video, telling an off-color joke or openly indulging in American entertainment.
Ironically, this new generation of jihadis wants to attack the same Western societies that provide their sources of enjoyment – and they have shown they will so in the most brutal and barbaric ways possible.
Ryan Mauro is the ClarionProject.org’s national security analyst, a fellow with the Clarion Project and an adjunct professor of homeland security. Mauro is frequently interviewed on Fox News.