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.