Diving deep into the emotional underworld

The believers are but brothers, BBC4, reviewed by Monica Lloyd.

Javaad Alipoor's programme, based on his online research, is crafted around three characters he creates to illustrate his findings. His insights show how artists can add value to the psychological task of understanding the root causes of extremist violence. Javaad deep-dives directly into the emotional underworld in which extremist identities are forged, confirming what other professionals have concluded: that the drivers of extremist violence are not ideology as they would have us believe, but rather a deep-seated and curated hate for those who humiliate them.

It comes as no surprise that in a rapidly developing internet age, virtual reality can be experienced as more fulfilling for some individuals than the real world. For those males in particular who have failed to succeed by the standards of the culture that defines them, the virtual world can provide proxies for what they lack at the same time as someone else to blame. This applies to two of Javaad's characters, though the third is more sinned against than sinning in as much as his fate is sealed when he is misperceived as a jihadi on his return from a mercy mission to Syria, thereby beginning a downward spiral into an eventual martyr’s death. The failed foreign fighter is also familiar. He seeks glory in Syria but fails to make the grade and becomes increasingly marginalised from the action, eventually gravitating to a tech role manufacturing propaganda for Al Hayat media when all other options have been exhausted. We last see him in a remote part of northern Iraq, having escaped from the fighting in Syria. We know that this will not end well.       

For me, such stories of Islamist jihadis who transition from the online to the offline space are familiar, but what was new to me was Javaad's last character from the Alt Right who graduates from gaming to cyber bullying, becoming embedded in the virtual world and able to peddle his menace from the comfort of his own bedroom. We learn that the tech savvy from the Alt Right have developed a sacralised narrative that not only blames the ‘grey zone’ of liberal values and democracy for denying them access to their birth right of ‘a car on every white man’s drive and an Aryan woman in every white man’s bed’, but also sacralises their mission as a ‘beta’ uprising in the name of Kek, the ancient Egyptian god of chaos, in the service of whom they believe they are able to reach through their computer screens to alter the social DNA of their enemies. They achieve this through ‘doxing’ – ‘searching for and publishing private or identifying information on the Internet, with malicious intent’. Their victims are women who are beyond their reach, who are blamed for the ‘incels’ involuntary celibacy, and subjected to misogynistic attack, though the incels’ menace also extends from cyber bullying to the manufacture of fake news intended to influence the outcome of elections.

This video raises for me the following questions:

  • How can society track down such individuals who operate largely on the dark web and bring them to justice? Does our legal system provide enough protection to those who are the victims of cyber bullies? Is further legislation required?
  • What role does the internet play for women?
  • They are less entrained by video games and have different cultural expectations for themselves.
  • What changes in education and in society at large do we need to make to counter the negative role of the internet and protect young people from becoming either perpetrators or victims?  
  • What are the political implications of these developments in society? Has the liberal elite lost the moral high ground? Do those of us who espouse liberal values and democracy need to be more aware of its fragility?

- Reviewed by Monica Lloyd, a Chartered Psychologist and Senior Lecturer in Forensic Psychology at the University of Birmingham

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