An ad appeared offering Vietnamese brides for $1500 on the Chinese online shopping site Taobao during Single's Day. It disappeared later, but the large male/female ratio in China has created a market and trafficking. It isn't surprising to see it appear online.
Every academic I asked about the Islamic State’s ideology sent me to Haykel. Of partial Lebanese descent, Haykel grew up in Lebanon and the United States, and when he talks through his Mephistophelian goatee, there is a hint of an unplaceable foreign accent.
According to Haykel, the ranks of the Islamic State are deeply infused with religious vigor. Koranic quotations are ubiquitous. “Even the foot soldiers spout this stuff constantly,” Haykel said. “They mug for their cameras and repeat their basic doctrines in formulaic fashion, and they do it all the time.” He regards the claim that the Islamic State has distorted the texts of Islam as preposterous, sustainable only through willful ignorance. “People want to absolve Islam,” he said. “It’s this ‘Islam is a religion of peace’ mantra. As if there is such a thing as ‘Islam’! It’s what Muslims do, and how they interpret their texts.” Those texts are shared by all Sunni Muslims, not just the Islamic State. “And these guys have just as much legitimacy as anyone else.”
All Muslims acknowledge that Muhammad’s earliest conquests were not tidy affairs, and that the laws of war passed down in the Koran and in the narrations of the Prophet’s rule were calibrated to fit a turbulent and violent time. In Haykel’s estimation, the fighters of the Islamic State are authentic throwbacks to early Islam and are faithfully reproducing its norms of war. This behavior includes a number of practices that modern Muslims tend to prefer not to acknowledge as integral to their sacred texts. “Slavery, crucifixion, and beheadings are not something that freakish [jihadists] are cherry-picking from the medieval tradition,” Haykel said. Islamic State fighters “are smack in the middle of the medieval tradition and are bringing it wholesale into the present day.”
The Other France - George Packer's New Yorker essay on the breeding ground for some of the French jihadists. It ran in the magazine a few months ago, but is currently outside the paywall. Worth the read.
Religion is a puzzle to me. It is often invoked as a justification - often appearing opaque to outsiders. Poetry is part of Arab tradition and it has been mixed in with Islam.
Last Summer The New Yorker published Battle Lines a fascinating essay on jihadi poetry by Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel. It is currently outside the magazine's paywall. I can't understand or be an apologist, but I've learned a bit.
Furthermore, the old poetry is alive and well in the popular sphere. Among the most successful television programs in the Middle East is “Sha‘ir al-Milyoon” (“Millionaire Poet,” but also “Poet of the People”), which is modelled on “American Idol.” Every season, amateurs from across the Arab world recite their own verse in front of a large and appreciative studio audience in Abu Dhabi. Winners of the competition receive up to 1.3 million dollars—more than the Nobel Prize in Literature, as the show’s boosters are fond of pointing out. Last year, the program had seventy million viewers worldwide. The poems recited on “Sha‘ir al-Milyoon” are highly conventional in form and content. They evoke the beauties of the beloved and of the homeland, praise the generosity of local leaders, or lament social ills. According to the rules of the show, they must be metered and rhymed, and the judges’ comments often zero in on contestants’ technique. The show has produced a number of literary celebrities. In 2010, a Saudi woman named Hissa Hilal became an audience favorite after reciting a poem criticizing hard-line Saudi clerics. During the Arab Spring, an Egyptian man, Hisham Algakh, appeared on a spinoff show reciting several poems in support of the demonstrators at Tahrir. He became a media star, and soon his poems were being recited in the square itself.
The views expressed in jihadi poetry are, of course, more bloodthirsty than anything on “Sha‘ir al-Milyoon”: Shiites, Jews, Western powers, and rival factions are relentlessly vilified and threatened with destruction. Yet it is recognizably a subset of this popular art form. It is sentimental—even, at times, a little kitsch—and it is communal rather than solitary. Videos of groups of jihadis reciting poems or tossing back and forth the refrain of a song are as easy to find as videos of them blowing up enemy tanks. Poetry is understood as a social art rather than as a specialized profession, and practitioners take pleasure in showing off their technique.