Jihad Selfies: British Extremists in Syria Love Social Media
After being publicly sacked by al Qaeda leader Aymann al-Zawahiri and accidentally beheadinga fighter from one of their main allies in Syria, it’s fair to say the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham (ISIS)’s PR campaign has suffered in recent weeks. So, like any half decent group of militant extremists, they obviously want to address this slip. Unfortunately, a traditional media outreach is very difficult for them, given ISIS’s policy of kidnapping journalists. So they’ve turned, like many before them, to social media.
Over the past few weeks, foreign fighters from ISIS and their subgroup the Muhajireen Brigade have been busy uploading selfies across Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter, in an effort to publicize their cause and win more recruits to the Syrian jihad. They offer a bizarre and fascinating look inside Syria’s most feared and least understood militant groups.
On paper, the Muhajireen Brigade are separate to ISIS, but they’re considered by some analysts to be a front group for the larger jihadist outfit. The social media evidence seems to support this view.
This picture (above) shows British fighter Ibrahim al-Mazwagi in battle with Omar Shishani, a Georgian Chechen who formerly led the Muhajireen Brigade, and is now ISIS’s military commander in Northern Syria.
Al-Mazwagi was killed in battle in February, aged 21. This is a collage made to honor him as a martyr, along with his friend and fellow casualty, Abu Qudama.
Above are two other recent British martyrs, Choukri Ellekhlifi, 22, and Mohammed el-Araj, 23. The pair are shown here at a jihadist internet café in Atmeh, a Syrian border town that is now firmly under ISIS control.
MrPimpGoodGame Is the King of the Instagram Selfie
At first glance, Benny Winfield Jr. seems like a normal 37-year-old who works as a customer-service rep, lives in the suburbs of Houston, and tutors children in his spare time. But online, he’s MrPimpGoodGame, the self-proclaimed “King of the Selfie Movement,” whose prolific Instagram gallery has garnered a cult following due to his signature look: an honest smirk and a shiny head. Although the selfie has been criticized among the ranks of pseudointellectuals, girls who watch Girls, and actual psychiatrists for its seemingly trivial implications on mainstream culture, MrPimpGoodGame takes it all at face value, because according to him, a selfie is face value.
Instead of talking to some Freudian dork about the psychosemantics of the selfie, I wanted to get in touch with a professional. So I web-chatted with MrPimpGoodGame to talk about his newfound fame, business ventures, and women.
MrPimpGoodGame: I was trying to be funny at first. I didn’t think it would take off like this.
Did you have a normal person Instagram before?
No, I’ve always been doing this because it’s what I do. My original account was PimpGoodGame and I was getting so much attention that I had to shut it down because I had co-workers on there. So then I started MrPimpGoodGame and really pushed the selfie movement.
What’s the movement about?
The selfie movement is about loving the way you look, even if you’re having a bad hair day. No matter what. It’s always appropriate to take a selfie.
Selfies - Kate Carraway’s Li’l Thinks
Illustration by Penelope Gazin
Anything that is commonly understood as the province of teenage girls or their proxies—any girl, really, with hair that has something to do and patented Dreamskin—is understood to be something dumb. A “selfie” is understood to be dumb, and it really is, but it’s also the ordering feature of the internet, or rather, of the individual internets we create and re-create daily in our own images. A selfie is a photograph taken by a person of themselves for use as an avatar, maybe, or more often for the kind of portraiture that seems gray and naked but is really a conceptually sophisticated, self-adjudicated pose and articulation; selfies are more exposing and exposed than whatever random angle another photographer might find on their or the eventual viewer’s behalf. (If that even happens anymore; if it’s even possible to have a photo taken without its subject demanding to see and approve it.)
“Selfie” is a conscious, natural pejorative; an anxious cutening of what is, essentially, a humiliation of Instagrammed self-regard. Contained in any selfie is an embrace of this type of embarrassment, or rather, an incorporation of it, where it is folded into an emboldened, satisfied who-gives-a-shitness (notably, this is also seen in the anarchic mien of barfing, smiling socialites who leave their heels stuck in sewer grates as velvety memento mori; they do good selfies). As the internet pervades even the littlest pockets of personal experience, so too has the idea that ever more specific, ever more aesthetically controlled visions of an individual—of a teenage girl with That Hair or otherwise—are virtually expected, almost required, and sort of appealing, despite the thing where everyone in a selfie is doing a Photo Booth face of smug, though adopted, insouciance, or wide-mouthed sex, or a grainy iPhone simulacrum of something approaching captured shame.