Consuming the Jihad: An Enquiry into the Subculture of Internet Jihadism

Recent years have seen a great deal of interest in phenomena such as Al Qaida ‘terrorism’, Islamic ‘radicalism’ or, increasingly, ‘jihadism’ – on the Internet. However, as I argue in this thesis, much work in these areas has been problematic for a number of reasons. Much literature has been narrowly focused on the security issues which it pre-judges the content to raise, and has therefore taken some aspects too literally while ignoring others. Conversely, where authors have addressed ‘jihadi’ content or ‘electronic jihad’ as a phenomenon unto itself, they have had difficulty making sense of it within religious studies or political communication frameworks. In this dissertation, I propose an alternative approach. Deliberately eschewing frameworks based on pre-existing conceptions of religion or politics, I draw, instead, on the academic literature on fandom and subcultural media consumption. Using this conceptual lens, I attempt to analyse jihadism on the Internet (which I define in terms of online consumption of, and identification with self-described ‘jihadi’ content) as a subcultural phenomenon on its own terms. I argue that, without necessarily denying the role that beliefs and ideals expressed in ‘jihadi’ content may sometimes have in sustaining the physical violence of the ‘global jihad’, the cultural practices which constitute Internet jihadism have a tactical logic of their own which may not always coincide with the ‘strategic’ interests of ‘global jihad’. By better understanding what ‘ordinary’ jihadis, most of whom will never participate in violence, get out of their practices, and how they negotiate the apparent contradictions of their situation, I suggest that we may be better placed to understand not only why some jihadis ‘fail’ to negotiate these contradictions, but also, perhaps, to raise questions about how popular media consumption works more generally.

Tags: Al Qaida, electronic jihad