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Jihobbyism: What’s In A Name?

08/12/2009

Two well-respected and prolific watchers of the soft, jihadi underbelly of the internet are having a respectful conversation about the use of a particular term to describe those who subscribe to the e-jihad.

Jarret Brachman and Aaron Weisburd know of which they speak.  Both are seasoned observers of the internet jihad and have not flinched from tackling their adversaries head-on; both are hate figures on the jihadi forums as a result.  Aaron describes Jarret’s current strategy of baiting online jihadis as ‘the curious art of poking homicidal freaks with a sharp stick’, and this pretty well sums up his approach, which frequently deploys humour and ridicule as a means of calling out some of the patently ludicrous antics of our internet friends.

Aaron has now called Jarret out―for his use of the term jihobbyist, which he sees as downplaying the risk that some of these individuals pose.  Jarret countered by suggesting the word has ‘increased the overall nuance in public discussions about what constitutes support for al-Qaida.’  Aaron’s response to this reiterates his initial position but adds that as public discussions are mainly brokered by the mainstream media, Jarret’s assertion is somewhat weakened.  He also makes this pertinent comment, referencing David Kilcullen along the way:

… keep in mind that along with labeling there is self-labeling. These aspiring ‘guerillas’ are not so accidental.  They go to great lengths to construct an identity for themselves and feast on hate and violence.  It’s as though they suffer from PTSD, only it’s a self-inflicted wound.

Which goes to the heart of the grievances that fuel jihobbyists, or whatever you wish to call them.  I’ve glossed over the subtleties of Jarret and Aaron’s arguments, so I recommend readers go direct to their posts.

I’ve used the term jihobbyist myself, although I’m more of a fan of pyjamahideen  I stole that from Bruce Sterling in another context, and I think it retains the insurgent flavour of which these individuals are so proud.  Neither term is flattering and both do indeed risk the label masking the reality.  For some elements of the e-jihad crowd they may be applicable but―as Jarret and Aaron would both agree―these terms are only shorthand, rather than a typology that should be followed without critique.