ISIS, MASCULINITY, AND SOCIAL NETWORKING
The internet has become a means for individuals to align with one another over common interests. Middle Eastern groups such as Islamic Statehood for Iraq and Syria (ISIS) use social networking websites such as Facebook and Twitter in order to entice younger, more technologically integrated, persons into their respective networksi ii. By using these Western-originated – and thus more “uncensored” – viaducts, these organizations are able to enter social media markets that would be otherwise unattainable through typical means,iii as well as recruiting persons who see joining ISIS as a way of purifying a fundamentalist sect of Islam.iv As such, it is important to prevent the spread of ISIS not only at the ground-level, but within the digital domain, where much of the recruitment takes place.
ISIS AND MASCULINITY
Callaghan et al (2014) break down Syria’s social networking into four categories – Kurdish, Pro-Assad, Moderate, and Jihadist – based on a network of 652 nodes (servers) and 3,260 edges (viaducts) where categories are created based on the followings and creations of those who post tweets, comments, and videos throughout various social media networks.v Callaghan et al monitored tweets, YouTube comments, etc., and by classifying the “posters”, found that whereas women were often found in “revolutionary” networks, they were largely absent in “jihadist” networks.vi Consequently, jihadist networks are largely masculine organizations absent of feminist ideologies.
However, where does masculinity and social networking come into play with regards to ISIS? Ilyas Mohammed argues that the “shock and awe” mentality that ISIS uses in its video-documenting the beheading of westerners such as James Foley (and more recently, ISIS’ immolation of Jordanian pilot First Lt. Moaz al-Kasasbehvii), is one that is cold, calculated, remorseless, and designed to incite panic among Western populations .viii Such wanton displays of violence are a sort of “subversive” masculinity against the traditional masculine state-role the United States and other western hegemons currently possessix. Furthermore, these actions threaten the traditional status quo of secular states globally controlling the economic and political interests of smaller states. At the same time, ISIS’ “socially aware” involves other gendered relationships.
If ISIS’s “subversive masculinity” is a way to get Western states’ collective attention and instill fear upon their respective populationsx, then there is a very strong “traditional masculinity” that exists with dealing with feminine and “less masculine” (i.e. the LGBTQ population) within Syria and Iraq. The promotion of “traditional” moralist actions against women and children such as stoning unwed women in the name of honor, impregnating Yazidi women to break their bloodlines and introduce pro-ISIS bloodlines, removing children from their families and forcing them to watch their parents be killed by ISIS, are among the actions used by ISIS to demonstrate not only their power, but also devalue those who go against their view of an “Islamic State”xi. With regards to LGBTQ populations within Syria, Siegel (2015) states throwing, and then immolating, these persons to their deaths, are implemented as a strict form of Sharia that is essential to ISIS’s governance and legitimacyxii, with the videos a warning to other Syrians that “immorality” will be met with harsh punishmentxiii. If this is the case, then why are Westerners joining ISIS?
ISIS AND WESTERN SOCIAL NETWORKING
With ISIS’ actions against women and the LGBTQ community so prominent, it would appear unfathomable for westerners to join such an organization. However, the ability for ISIS to record their actions and use social media such as Twitter, YouTube, etc., demonstrates their advanced technological prowess.xiv So why would westerners, who have little to gain in terms of finance or global status, and know of the atrocities ISIS commits, be enticed by their social media activity and subsequently join such an organization? There may be several answers, ranging from theological backlash against their home state’s action and religious aspirationsxv, to simply desiring acceptance from a groupxvi.
The desire to “fit in” entices many persons deemed to be “middle-class yet outcasts” who are typically male and under the age of 40.xvii These individuals see groups such as ISIS as an opportunity to exist within a disciplined hierarchy and move upwards within the ranks. Conversely, women who join groups such as ISIS join with the intent of either marrying a “freedom fighter” or serving in all-female unitsxviii. Rand and Vassalo (2014) contend that one of the main reasons for “networked” individuals to enter these organizations is the relative ease in which they can enter and exit afflicted countries such as Syria, as well as to overcome educational and economic limitations that exist in the Westxix. For some foreign male “freedom fighters”, there also lies the opportunity to work with Sunni extremists in a concurrent – not agreeing – role against the Westxx.
Social networking is also used by ISIS due to the difficulty that exists in tracing the location of not only the organization itself, but the location of various executions of those deemed in apostasy. When an individual goes on a social networking site (i.e.: Facebook, Twitter, etc.,) information about the user such as his or her internet protocol (IP) addressxxi, or the GPS location, internet service provider, device IDs, etc., of his / her data device (i.e.: smartphone, tablet, etc.,) is collected as wellxxii. Knowing this, ISIS and similar organizations have employed encryption methods such as TOR hidden services in order to prevent location information from disclosing their whereabouts.xxiii Although TOR does encrypt this data, the use of such services by ISIS and its “siblings” has resulted in it being perceived by states such as the United States as wholly malignant and under constant attack.xxiv Ironically, TOR was used as a means of providing news coverage of the goings-on of the Arab Spring when regimes began “censoring their internets,”xxv demonstrating that just as it can be used to cover up malice, it can also be used to promote civil and political liberties.
NON-VIOLENT METHODS TO ENDING ISIS’ MADNESS
A common practice for reducing the viability of organizations such as ISIS is to either engage in traditional warfare with such an organization, or to “strongly condemn” ISIS’ actions. The United States’ previous involvement in Iraq has come at a cost of between 134,000 and 152,000 civilian lives and another 50,000 to 75,000 combatant livesxxvi, cost the United States $1.7 trillion in principle through the end of fiscal year 2013, and potentially upwards of $4 trillion when health and disability payments are accounted forxxvii. As a result, the United States has largely kept a “speak loudly and carry no stick”xxviii stance, when perhaps the best non-violent means would be to engage ISIS not in the traditional domain, but within the digital domain.
The combination of social networking’s societal presence, the use of social networking by many middle-class outcasts, and the ease of which “networked” individuals can enter and exit afflicted states such as Iraq and Syria, demonstrates the importance of cyberspace for ISIS. The EastWest Institute recommends that “the ability to trace users’ who engage organizations such as ISIS via social networking”xxix be a focus of a fused effort by law enforcement and intelligence organizations such as INTERPOL to counter fighters with western passportsxxx. Canada has already passed legislation that will strip citizenship from any Canadians who travel to support ISIS, or ISIS-like organizations.xxxi
At the “cyber-level”, increased networking needs to go beyond fusing international law enforcement and intelligence organizations, and be handled by both the states from which these persons emigrate from, and the states which these persons immigrate to. Jessica D. Smith (2014) states that to break the political control, it would be more conducive to break ISIS by and breaking their lines of communication in order to force them into guerrilla warfare would be more conducive to breaking ISISxxxii. The cyber-activist group Anonymous has launched distributed denial of service (DDoS) attacks in order to overload ISIS’s servers and reduce their ability to distribute propaganda to impressionable persons.xxxiii Perhaps then, allowing cyber-activist groups such as Anonymous to work with states would be most conducive to eliminating the cyber-viability, and by extension the overall viability, of ISIS. It is not enough to simply attack the individuals and the protections of citizenship; the focus must be on its citizenship-revoking cyber-tentacles.
iCNN, “ISIS recruiting Western youth with English-language video” (video), June 21, 2014, accessed February 6, 2015, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jdgzCbrPqzQ.
iiCNN, “FBI: ISIS Looks to Recruit U.S. Citizens Online” (video), February 5, 2015, accessed February 6, 2015, http://www.cnn.com/videos/us/2015/02/05/tsr-brown-dnt-isis-goes-online-to-find-recruits.cnn.
iiiJames F. Tracy, “ISIS is America’s New Terror Brand: Endless Propaganda Fuels “War on Terror”,” L-Hora / Global Research, September 1, 2014, accessed February 6, 2015, http://www.l-hora.org/8/upload/isisa.pdf.
ivKellie Langwell and Kelsey Ruegger, “The Effects of ISIS on Family Structure Systems” (Poster of presented at the Fall 2014 Undergraduate Student Research Day at Chapman University., Orange, CA, December 10, 2014), accessed February 6, 2015, http://digitalcommons.chapman.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1024&context=cusrd_abstracts. Info on date and Location sourced from http://digitalcommons.chapman.edu/cusrd_abstracts/26/
vDerek O’Callaghan et al., “Online Social Media in the Syria Conflict: Encompassing the Extremes and the In-Betweens” (paper Presented at ASONAM 2014, Beijing, China, August 17, 2014), 2-5, accessed February 6, 2015, http://arxiv.org/pdf/1401.7535.pdf. Additional citation info found at: http://dblp.uni-trier.de/pers/hd/o/O=Callaghan:Derek?q=Derek+O%27Callaghan
viCallaghan et al 7
viiRod Nordland and Anne Barnard, “Militants’ Killing of Jordanian Pilot Unites the Arab World in Anger,” New York Times, Feb. 4, 2015, accessed February 6, 2015,http://www.nytimes.com/2015/02/05/world/middleeast/arab-world-unites-in-anger-after-burning-of-jordanian-pilot.html?_r=0.
viiiIlyas Mohammed, “Isis Behead American Journalist,” The Socjournal, September 8, 2014, accessed February 6, 2015, http://www.sociology.org/isis-behead-american-journalist/.
xiLangwell and Ruegger
xiiJacob Siegel, “In Graphic Photos and On Twitter, ISIS Members Record and Tout Executions of Gay Men,” The Daily Beast, January 16, 2015, accessed February 6, 2015, http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2015/01/16/in-graphic-videos-and-on-twitter-isis-members-record-and-tout-executions-of-gay-men.html.
xvMichael Noonan and Phyl Khalil, “North American Foreign Fighters,”Journal for Deradicalization 1, no. 1 (Winter 2014 / 15): 70-72, accessed February 6, 2015, http://journals.sfu.ca/jd/index.php/jd/article/viewFile/6/6.
xviNoonan and Khalil 69
xixDafna Rand and Anthony Vassalo, Bringing the Fight Back Home: Western Foreign Fighters in Iraq and Syria (Washington, DC: Center for a New American Society, August, 2014), 3-4.
xxRand and Vassalo 2-3
xxii“Facebook’s Data Policy,” Facebook, accessed February 6, 2015,https://www.facebook.com/policy.php.
xxiiiRachael Levy, “ISIS Tries to Outwit Social Networks,” Vocativ, June 17, 2014, accessed February 6, 2015, http://www.vocativ.com/world/syria-world/isis-tries-outwit-social-networks/.
xxiv“Thoughts and Concerns About Operation Onymous,” The Tor Project, November 9, 2014, accessed February 6, 2015, https://blog.torproject.org/blog/thoughts-and-concerns-about-operation-onymous.
xxv“Using Tor Hidden Services for Good,” The Tor Project, January 7, 2012, accessed February 6, 2015, https://blog.torproject.org/blog/using-tor-good.
xxvi“Iraq Body Count,” Iraq Body Count Project, February 10, 2015, accessed February 11, 2015, https://www.iraqbodycount.org/.
xxvii“Iraq: 10 Years After the Invasion,” Costs of War, accessed February 11, 2015, http://costsofwar.org/iraq-10-years-after-invasion.
xxviii With apologies to Teddy Roosevelt for demolishing one of the United States’ best quotes
xxxWael Abdul-Shafi and Raymond E. Karam, “Countering Violent Extremism: Ewi Expert Roundtable Discusses Strategies to Counter Isis in Iraq and Syria,” EastWest Institute, December 17, 2014, accessed February 11, 2015, http://www.ewi.info/idea/countering-violent-extremism-ewi-expert-roundtable-discusses-strategies-counter-isis-iraq-and.
xxxiLori Lowenthal Marcus, “Canada to Revoke Citizenship of Canadians Who Fight Alongside Isis,” The Jewish Press, last modified September 22, 2014, accessed February 11, 2015, http://www.jewishpress.com/news/breaking-news/canada-to-revoke-citizenship-of-canadians-who-fight-alongside-isis/2014/09/21/.
xxxiiJessica D. Smith “The Islamic State: A Counterstrategy for a Counter-State,”Middle East Security Report no. 21 (July, 2014): 24-25, accessed February 11, 2015, http://www.understandingwar.org/sites/default/files/Lewis-Center%20of%20gravity.pdf.
xxxiiiDarlene Storm, “ISIS is a virus that Anonymous plans to cure: Hacktivists hammer ISIS with #OpISIS,” Computer World, February 9, 2015, accessed February 11, 2015, http://www.computerworld.com/article/2881614/isis-is-a-virus-that-anonymous-plans-to-cure-hacktivists-hammer-isis-with-opisis.html.