My Week as an E-Jihadist: Michael Moynihan's Cyber-Pilgrimage to Extreme Islam

Over at The Daily Beast, former Reason staffer Michael C. Moynihan writes about spending a week surfing Facebook and the web as an electronic jihadist:

My first few days as an e-mujahid were prosaic and predictable. On the innocuous-sounding Facebook group “Islam for Teenagers,” a moderator complained about the baleful influence of Hollywood on Muslim children because “Cinderella comes home at midnight,” “Dumbo gets drunk and hallucinates,” and “Snow White lives with seven guys.” If this was meant as a joke, the commenters missed the humor. Elsewhere, one of my new pals precipitated a discussion on the Prophet’s supernatural intervention into the produce department: the Arabic word “Allah” had been discovered in a bisected piece of fruit.

Much of this sounded like standard Christian conservative moralizing and revelation (though the mocking of photos of George W. Bush reading a book upside down reminded me more of a left-wing blog circa 2006). Some of it, however, was considerably uglier. Scrolling across my newsfeed was an image of the World Trade Center towers with the caption: “Twins: I’d Hit It ... With a 747.” This was followed by a marked-up photo of a $20 bill that, it was claimed, revealed the letters J-E-W-S. It was unclear if this was an attempt at humor.

For Moynihan, the experience was less about radicalizing jes' plain jihadists and more about desensitizing existing nutjobs to maximum violence:

It seemed implausible that the Web had somehow made Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev into jihadists. But it did strike me that the world of online jihad could have had another effect on the Boston bombers: it might well have inured them to violence. The further I crawled down the extremist rabbit hole and the more caved-in skulls and headless corpses I saw, the more I found that my natural revulsion, usually an uncontrollable instinct, was easier to suppress.

And it wasn’t just my revulsion to violence that seemed to dull: the casual Jew hatred, homophobia (yes, there were references to the “sick” revelation that NBA player Jason Collins is gay), and sexism (“The beauty of a woman lies in her SILENCE rather than her SPEECH”) were so eye-glazingly common that after a week of uninterrupted consumption, I found myself scrolling past it without a second thought.

Whole thing here.

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of Reason.com or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  • 0x90||

    I'm guessing Moynihan may want to send a pre-emptive memo to the good folks at the NSA, just to document why his IP is showing up in all these nefarious places.

  • WTF||

    Why bother? They couldn't keep tabs on Tsarnaev even though they were tipped off by both the Russians and the Saudis.

  • 0x90||

    I generally find the state to be adept only at achieving precisely the opposite of its stated intentions.

    It aims to alleviate poverty and only exacerbates it. It aims to stabilize the economy, and only upsets it. It aims to protect its citizens from terrorism, and ends up terrorizing them itself.

    And so on.

  • Agammamon||

    Its to cover his arse for when the FBI sends an agent-provocateur around to tempt him into building a bomb.

  • ||

    The abyss gazed back at Moynihan.

  • ||

    A reference to his time as a Reason staffer, of course.

  • ||

    but does Moynihan know that?

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    Get a bunch of like minded people together and they can easily feed off each other's base ideas. Internet anonymity helps nurture that. But it doesn't seem that it translates into much real world violence, at least here in the United States.

  • ||

    I hate you so much right not FoE.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    "right not" FREUDIAN SLIP YOU LOVE ME. You loooooooooooooove me.

  • Almanian!||

    HELLO??!?!! Two words:

    TEA PARTY!!!

    *mic drop*

    /science

  • WTF||

    Now, the Tea Party is something they probably actually keep tabs on.

  • Fist of Etiquette||

    After the Tea Party blew up Oklahoma City, can you blame them?

  • Agammamon||

    Heh, but not us right? Right?

  • Tim||

    That Mandarin pic is becoming a new favorite here. Great work by Ben Kingsley, if you haven't seen it yet.

  • Loki||

    ****SPOLER ALERT, DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVEN'T SEEN IRON MAN 3****

    I like how for the first half of the movie they really make you think that the Mandarin was the real evil villain, and then it turns out he was just some loser actor that was hired by the real villain to both cover up the accidents they were having with Extremis and to gin up funding for his think tank. I honestly didn't see that coming. I really thought the Mandarin was the real deal.

    In a way it kind of parallels Bin Laden. We were supposed to believe that he was this great bogeyman that we were supposed to be afraid of. Then after SEAL Team 6 clipped him and the videos of this pathetic dude living in a dump watching videos of himself from his "glory years" and the revelation that he had a huge stash of hardcore porn came out. You couldn't help but think "This is the guy I was supposed to be shitting my pants over for the last 10 years? What a pathetic loser." Not sure if that parallel was something the movie makers did on purpose or not, but it was a pretty good little twist.

  • John||

    And Moynahan is surprised by this? Villains are interesting in the movies. In real life they are just losers and almost always tiresome and dull.

    Next up, Moynahan explores the world of the mafia to find out it really isn't like Goodfellas but instead a collection of really stupid and gross people.

  • Stormy Dragon||

    How is a collection of really stupid and gross people not like Goodfellas?

  • John||

    Compared to what they are really like, Robert De Niro in Goodfellas was like Frank Sinatra.

  • mr lizard||

    Sweet muzzle break on that AK there player. I swear if we just introduce terrorists to picatinny rails we'll be halfway to victory.

  • Azathoth!!||

    Violent radicalism is very much a minority phenomenon in Islam, of course. According to a poll recently released by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, “in most countries where the question was asked, roughly three quarters or more Muslims reject suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians.” It was the jihadist minority—not Islam as a whole, nor the countless Muslim sites that abjure violence—whose online world I wanted to observe

    There quarters of muslims reject suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians--roughly.

    So that means that, roughly, one quarter of muslims accepts suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians.

    As of 2010, there were 1.6 billion muslims in the world.

    That means that, roughly, 270,000,000 muslims accepts suicide bombing and other forms of violence against civilians. That's a lot.

  • Azathoth!!||

    The jihadist minority outnumbers the entirety of the military of the West.

    The 'minority'. The crazies.

    There are more jihadist crazies than there are adults in the US.

    just fyi......

  • ||

    And about the same percentage of registered voters voted for Obama in 2012 (25%). So even a minority can do considerable damage to a country, or the world.

    CB

  • Agammamon||

    ". . .the more I found that my natural revulsion, usually an uncontrollable instinct, was easier to suppress"

    I don't want to ding Moynihan but . . . this sounds exactly like a meely-mouthed sentence written by a gun-disliking liberal who "investigates" "gun culture".

GET REASON MAGAZINE

Get Reason's print or digital edition before it’s posted online

  • Progressive Puritans: From e-cigs to sex classifieds, the once transgressive left wants to criminalize fun.
  • Port Authoritarians: Chris Christie’s Bridgegate scandal
  • The Menace of Secret Government: Obama’s proposed intelligence reforms don’t safeguard civil liberties

SUBSCRIBE

advertisement