Humor used in English-language terrorism propaganda magazines to boost identity, study finds

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Humor is used in English-language jihadist terrorist magazines to build identity and help groups bond, research shows.

Posted in Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggressionthe study shows that Al-Qaeda, the Taliban and Tahrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) use humor similarly, using situational comedy, while humor in Islamic State magazines ( EI) is dehumanizing and mocking.

The academics examined 82 jihadist magazines published in English. They discovered that al-Qaeda and the Taliban in particular use mockery and parody to galvanize the curious by emphasizing an “us versus them” mentality. This usually includes aggressive images of people or countries as animals.

These groups have repeatedly used the term “dog” to describe President Bush, “donkey” to describe Americans, and vermin to describe American troops. ISIS has called Joe Biden a “senile crusader”. The former Israeli prime minister’s last name “Netanyahu” has been changed to “Rottenyahu” by Al-Qaeda.

The TTP is more likely than IS, the Taliban and Al-Qaeda to use ironic and sarcastic humour. Al-Qaeda is less likely than any group to use sarcastic humor, usually to ridicule its enemies.

The research, published in the journal Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggressionwas carried out by Dr Weeda Mehran of the University of Exeter and her MSc students Megan Byrne, Ella Gibbs-Pearce, Archie Macfarlane, Jacob Minihane and Amy Ranger.

Dr Mehran says that “propaganda is used to encourage jihad, but it serves a much wider purpose and humor is key. We found the use of three different types of humour: dehumanizing, sarcastic and situational dehumanizing humor – portraying rivals as robots or animals and making fun of them, which sets them apart from other groups who are more likely to use sarcasm and irony.

“Situational humor is used strategically to enrich accounts of past events and develop religious justification for waging jihad, as well as to motivate individuals to carry out their own operations. This humor emphasizes the camaraderie and brotherhood of carrying out ‘istishhadi’ missions and depicts perilous situations and dangerous operations and endeavors as peaceful, even joyous.

“Jihadist media strategy uses situational humor to create solidarity. connection.”

The study indicates that the regularity of dehumanizing humor in ISIS magazines reflects their overall aggressive and hardline stance on outsiders and opponents.

The Islamic State and the Taliban use different strategies to attract women to English magazines

More information:
Weeda Mehran et al, Humor in jihadi rhetoric: comparative analysis of ISIS, Al-Qaeda, TTP, and the Taliban, Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression (2022). DOI: 10.1080/19434472.2022.2075028

Provided by the University of Exeter

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