— Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan
That was where I started my class’ lecture - on Shamima Begum.
Because it - for reasons soon to be very obvious - is painfully, searingly relevant right now. We start with “respectability politics.”
It’s a particularly sinister chronic insomnia that has everything to do with what is unfolding.
So I’m going to set up the intro of the pedagogy thread as I take a much-needed, long walk.
In short - I felt I had no choice. And here is how that feeling started.
The entire class pleaded with me - clearly fixated on the media fetish of ISIS ‘jihadi brides.’
I snapped at them: “Fine, okay. In one minute, here is what I think:”
It was counterproductive in the extreme, and there will be blowback. Mark my words.
Have a nice day.”
“Professor, I just want to let you know...”
“You’re wrong. You don’t understand.”
Student: “First of all, letting her remain a citizen will only increase radicalization. Secondly, what you don’t understand is that the British have feelings about ISIS.”
“Is that so?” I ask.
“Yes, strong feelings. Because terrorism. And immigration.”
I’m much more diplomatic with my students than I am here.
I said: “So do I. It isn’t office hours, but would you like to chat about this?”
I was actually on an editorial deadline for a commissioned article about Shamima Begum.
But this mattered. Immensely.
I sit and I listen.
It takes about half an hour. It’s what you would expect.
I ask, “you know I work in counterterrorism, and specifically on ISIS, right?”
Student: “Yes. That’s why I took your class. Frankly, it’s why I’m surprised you’re so wrong.”
I am giving you the context for my decision to allow students to vote on Regular Lecture or Shamima Begum Lecture.
That sucked, but it was necessary - and this conversation prompted it.
“Well, would you like to know?”
“Okay. I hope you don’t have a class soon. It’s a long story, and it’s not pleasant.”
Student asks for me to tell the story.
And I do. In detail. It takes me two hours.
Later, I received an email thanking me.
I also received other student emails, asking me why I had the opinion on Begum I do.
So, I make a decision.
I tell them that since I’ve received so many questions about such a complex topic, that I am giving them a choice:
1) Regular Lecture
2) Shamima Begum
“If you choose Shamima Begum, I am warning you - everyone in the room will be extremely uncomfortable, most of all: me.
It will disturb you. You will not get Stand Up Comedy Prof. You will get Counterterrorism Me. My affect will scare you.”
So, I put together the most uncomfortable 75 minute lecture I have ever given.
They were warned. They chose.
Believe it or not, that is EXTREMELY RELEVANT - to Shamima Begum’s case, in particular.
Yes, that absolutely matters to how and why I taught this class.
I make no jokes. I am ice cold.
I remind them that they were warned.
“Raise your hand if you can honestly say you have a Muslim friend - not an acquaintance.”
1 hand. Out of 25.
“That’s not your fault. That’s the environment you grew up in.”
“And before we get into Shamima, I need you to understand something. ISIS is playing you. And you’re falling for it.”
“This will seem strange on a day when I’m approaching you as an emotionless ice queen without the capacity to feel anything.
But I need to tell you about the only time I’ve cried in front of my students.”
I had not slept all night. I couldn’t decide if I should cancel class or not. I ultimately decided: it’s irresponsible NOT to be there.”
I begged to teach a Middle East Studies class during my lunch break - I wanted the hope of students.
I taught at one of the world’s best science and technology universities.
International students from the Muslim Ban countries.”
The first question: “Professor, will he put us in camps?”
I almost vomited. I couldn’t definitively say “no.” I had to say “I don’t think so.”
I had to say “I don’t think so.”
Because I knew who Trump was bringing with him into power, especially on the counterterrorism side of things.”
“Will we be allowed to come back to the US after break?”
And that’s the first — and only time — that I have ever cried in front of students.
Because I refuse to lie to them. So I didn’t.
I’m sorry. You need to make a Plan B, and you need to do it ASAP. There is a very real possibility that your dreams and hopes are over.
Because you had the supremely shitty luck to be born in the wrong place.”
But as a professor who genuinely cares about all of my students, there is no pain worse than telling students their lives are over. That their dreams are likely dead.
And for no fucking reason.”
I also remind you: you only know ‘Muslims’ through media.
It’s not your fault (especially because ISIS is masterful) but - you fall for propaganda that uses your own unrecognized bigotry as a weapon against you.”
“They are poems written 18 years apart - one by an American Muslim woman, the other by a British Muslim woman.”
This is a poem she wrote about 9/11. You guys were toddlers.
This was 2001.”
“People saying, this was bound to happen. Let’s not forget US transgressions —- hold up. I live here.”
“Can I just have half a second to feel bad?”
“One more motherfucker asks me what Navy my brother is in.”
“What will their lives be like now?
‘Over there’ is ‘over here.’”
I can tell - from their faces - they’ve never thought before, really thought, about Muslim Americans as... fully human.
Suheir Hammad changed that in 5 minutes. Uncomfortable. Told you.
And I pause. I wait.
My students sit, in pin-drop silence. I make them remain with that deep discomfort for a minute.
And then: “moving on.”
We were in the US, right after September 11. 2001. You were babies.
Now, it’s 2018. 17 years later. You are college freshman. And we’re in the UK.
It’s the full video that started this thread.
Like I did with Suheir, and like I did with my students - I’ll pause to let you listen to it in full, before I continue.
After Suheir’s poem, I saw tears on their faces.
After Suhaiymah’s poem - written 17 years later? I saw: shame. And anxiety.
I saw deep, deep discomfort etched on my students’ faces.
“No. I put my pen down. It is not the poem I want to write. It is the poem I am being reduced to.”
“I refuse to be respectable.”
And I pause. I wait.
They sit with their discomfort. I make them.
Because there is nowhere else left to exist now.”
One voice, almost a whisper, tentatively: “it’s worse...it’s so much worse.”
“You guys know I wasn’t raised entirely by my biological parents, right? Did you know that part of the people who ‘raised me’ are...Muslim? As in: ‘my family?’”
I’ll give you a hint: it’s...a lot.
Why is that?
Because you see me as semi-white. As American. You see me as YOU.
So you don’t self-censor.”
(Don’t worry. We’re almost through the intro.)
“I’m going to read you a Facebook post I wrote about her; it’s addressed to Muslims in the US and UK - who I know. Who I love.”
I call out respectability politics: “stop trying to prove your humanity to those who will only dismiss it as taqqiya.”
I remind them; look at my Twitter @‘s. Half my handle is in Arabic.
People assume things.
So are the terrified Muslims living in the West.
Everybody is in their feelings. That’s how this propaganda thing works.”
Respectability politics don’t work.
Born-and-raised American-or-British, constantly forced to try to prove your humanity your entire life in YOUR country?
That shit is EXHAUSTING.”
She says: ‘Am I radical? Because there is nowhere else left to exist.’
Now the intro’s over, students. Let’s move on - to ISIS.”
I change the slide.
It’s not my average pedagogy thread - this time, I’m giving you the entire class, with slides.
But I need to take breaks, for you know...food, etc.
I’m chasing down a monstrously adorable wild furball around the woods so I’m delayed a bit.
But here’s the plan for the rest of the thread:
I’ll finish the thread, then break it up into segments for you so it’s not as heinously long.
They are as follows:
2) Citizenship, repatriation & “jihadi brides”
3) Evil ™ - ISIS propaganda made FOR YOU
4) Why I have “feelings” on ISIS
5) Propaganda ISIS makes for Shamima (& co)
6) Child soldiers, trauma & neuroscience
7) Logic, rationality & solid CT strategy
— why I taught a class on Shamima Begum
— Islamophobia & the failure of respectability politics
— What non-Muslims (who don’t know any) say when they don’t self-censor
— Why it matters
Remember this slide? This is ISIS strategy, in their own words.
They want to eradicate any coexistence (the ‘grayzone’) between “Muslim” (their version, FYI) and non-Muslim.
Inciting revenge violence is their MO. They’re not subtle.
We’ve seen this before: Iraq’s insurgency. I call it “Zarqawi 101.”
ISIS just globalized it.
But the thing is - you’re so fixated on the “Islam” part of that name, you don’t even realize there’s another word: “State.”
ISIS wants a state. And states need more than armies. They need: civilians. Women. Children.
Nation-state entities need fictive kinship - emotional bonds to others that make “them” feel part of something bigger: “insiders” (and that demands “outsiders”).
How do emotional bonds grow across distance? MEDIA.
Nation-state entities are founded on “insiders” violently excluding “outsiders” to delineate the community.
You seeing Zarqawi 101 yet? No? Maybe this will help.
Dehumanize your opponent to the point where they’re so irrational, barbaric, and “beyond all explanation or logic” they can only be eradicated. They can’t have strategy. Because they’re monsters.
You never saw them coming.
Stated differently: fuck your feelings. Fuck mine too.
They have no place in strategy - only in propaganda.
But sometimes, obscenity is the only language to describe obscenity.
Obscenity is aiding the enemy as they use your own bigotry against you - and you don’t even realize it.
Fuck your feelings.
That’s how they’ve got you - hook, line, sinker.
You’re so freaked out by “Islam,” the word “state” never even registered.
On some level - even if you won’t admit it to yourself - you think “Islam” is the problem.
And that “Islam” = ISIS.
That’s what they want.
You say you’re worried about ISIS because of Muslim immigration.
Refer to Example #1.
What you actually said is “I think ISIS and Islam are the same.”
They got you. Again. You didn’t realize cause ... you in yo feelings.
I run through a long list. ISIS, of course, wins by a landslide in the students’ view.
Speaking (again) of “states,” this brings me to my next point.
Citizens. Civilians. Women. Children. The Next Generation.
Like, you know...Shamima. Speaking of which, you know what ‘jihadi brides’ are accused of? Social media support.
Did you know men- who actively fought - have been repatriated for years from ISIS territory - with very little (comparatively) media coverage and hysteria?
If yes, raise your hands.
None? Yeah, I know. Open your eyes.
It’s also why you had no idea that men who actively FOUGHT are coming “back” all the time.
I’ll give you a hint.
Muslim men are violent.
Muslim women are oppressed, without agency.
By violent Muslim men.
Shamima Begum, on the other hand - she looks religious. She wears a scarf.
And if no Muslim man FORCED her to join ISIS? Well, there’s really no other explanation to you than: she’s a monster.
And you don’t even realize it.
Asma al-Asad is a grown ass woman. Shamima Begum was 15.
Well, prepare yourselves. Because it’s going to get a lot worse.
Especially for me.
This is Counterterrorism Expert. You don’t interrupt. I’m not here to play games. I’m here to share my expertise, and how I got it.
Here I will tell you about: an ISIS civic ritual.
Think of it as naturalization.
But not for everyone.
Most definitely not for those children. Minors can’t consent to things like sex, or relinquishing citizenship. For a reason.
Your ties to “home” are severed — permanently.
Everyone knows you’re in ISIS-land. You’re a monster who can never come back - even if it wasn’t your choice.
Because there’s video.
States. Citizens. Ritual.
I’ll be back with:
3) Why I have strong - personal - “feelings” on ISIS (and why they don’t weigh into my CT analysis. They shouldn’t).
4) Evil ™ : the ISIS propaganda meant for YOU, not for Shamima.
This is the epitome of “not a pleasant story.”
So strap in.
3) Why I have strong - personal - “feelings” on ISIS (and why those feelings don’t weigh into my CT analysis. They shouldn’t).
Fun fact - the last thing I ever wanted to specialize in?
I wanted to teach ART, Islam, and the Middle East.
As you will see soon, that is very, very difficult for me.
I had to do it. It was the only way to get the message across.
It’s my job to “know better.” So why the hell can I blame you? I can’t.
After all, you don’t even know Muslims.
You’re fascinated by “terrorism” and “the Middle East” as some exotic, dangerous place.
I’m not. It’s literally my other home.
So, let me get back to Steve. And now I have to get very dark, very honest, and very personal.
Make it real.
War reporters tend to have fucked up senses of humor.
Darkness is catharsis. So you need to know that going in.
We just didn’t know why at the time.
Before it happened, it was cause he wanted to go to grad school. That’s not how things turned out.
And that includes me. Now you’re beginning to see why.
And I said “I know.”
He crossed into Syria later that same day. For the last time.
And I will live with that regret and the survivor’s guilt and the utter shame of that for the rest of my life.
Oh, believe me.
Don’t tell me “you don’t understand what ISIS does.”
They didn’t deliver.
By that point, Steve was a hostage. He would later be traded to ISIS, alongside Jim and other friends (of many folks on my Twitter).
Because now - I have to admit to you: what went through my mind when I saw this video.
I don’t lie to my students. Ever.
And this? Well... it’s really unpleasant. The truth is hard to swallow.
I’ve seen brown Muslim men I loved dearly die in front of me In conflicts.
But Steve’s death? It fucked me up a lot more.
And I had to do some serious soul searching about WHY THAT WAS.
My second thought? Oh, I’m ashamed of it. Deeply.
It was: “burn Syria to the motherfucking ground and I don’t care about collateral damage.”
And: I. Know. Better.
But wait - why did this death upset me more than other equally alive loved ones? Why?
Am I a racist and a bigot but I don’t even realize it?
These are the kinds of questions you need to ask if you want to keep your soul. They are unpleasant.
You know their names. Their faces.
Those names in white? You don’t. Why?
For international media, their lives didn’t matter. ISIS knew that and banked on it.
The fact that I felt the way I did — even for a second? That horrified me. It shames me deeply.
I needed to figure out: WHY.
That’s how I started working on ISIS.
It’s also how I learned: fuck my feelings.
So here we are. And here’s what that “10/10 would NOT recommend” experience taught me.
So were you.
And brown Muslims are my own goddamn family.
ISIS weaponized all that lingering, Orientalist bigoted bullshit - against viewers: the “us.”
And it worked so, so well for a sec ON ME.
If I fell for it, students? I can’t blame you at all. But let’s fix that today.
#4 up next.
But also: you don’t need to tell me this is “dark.”
I know that already because...it’s my life, so I’m...aware.
Also also - this is precisely why I repeatedly warned you in advance: it’s dark.
Between the topic at hand, and chasing this idiot cat through the woods, I feel a migraine coming on.
Thanks for your patience. I’ll wrap up tomorrow.
I promise I will respond to you all, because the kindness you’ve shown me is deeply touching, and deserves a personal response.
I’ve got a ton of logistical things to take care of today. Again, I appreciate the patience. I know this is a lot (trust me, I know).
I’ll be finishing the thread then - and likely responding to all your deeply appreciated and touching replies (not the trolls) sometime tomorrow.
So here we go:
4) Evil ™ - ISIS propaganda made FOR YOU - the presumed 'non-Muslim,' "Western" audience.
Here's an article I wrote about it, if you want to read (how & why the propaganda YOU consume deliberately weaponizes your bigotry against you, and helps ISIS become the Monster under your bed):
Or maybe recruitment *is* the word to use. But not who you think.
ISIS didn’t kill my friends to recruit new ISIS members. They killed my friends to recruit YOU.
And it worked.
Now ask yourself - if you were horrified at media outlets circulating ISIS’ execution of my friends, but you didn’t think twice about watching #Christchurch...
Who do you consider ‘human’ - REALLY human?
That’s one reason why I know Evil ™ is working.
I hear it every day.
Guess what? ISIS recruited, yes - they recruited YOU.
Even when they interrupt my analysis of counterterrorism...to accuse me of being an ISIS sympathizer.
Even when they tell me to fuck off and die. To burn in Hell.
That they hope I get beheaded, too.
These words are not synonymous.
You cannot win a war against an enemy you don’t understand.
“This, guys, is why I tell you to be 💯 honest on course evaluations. You know I always say: you can’t hurt my feelings; I’m on Twitter. NOW you see what I mean, right?”
ISIS propaganda that isn’t meant for “you” - the presumed non-Muslim, ‘Western’ audience.
Evil ™ isn’t made to recruit Shamima Begum. It’s made to recruit YOU. And it works - very, very well. #Christchurch
This, likely, is going to disturb you even more.
Raise your hands if your answer is ‘yes.’
Open your eyes. Every single one of you is wrong.
ISIS doesn’t recruit Shamima Begum with Evil ™.
ISIS sells her ‘home, a utopian dream.’
- to make propaganda visually appear ‘legitimate.’
- to project an image of themselves as, like Qatar, a state powerful enough for a massive media infrastructure, and with it: the nation’s imagined community.
ISIS forced John Cantlie to play “journalist” — for THEM.
Yet I’ve seen plenty of media outlets condemn him for these videos, and argue he should be barred from return if found alive.
So if Shamima Begum isn’t the audience for Evil ™ - what does ISIS make with her in mind?
Glad you asked. Get ready.
But before we move on, let’s pause.
That retirement community image? It’s spectacularly powerful propaganda - the emotional impact is enormous.
Let me tell you WHY.
So why is ISIS creating and publicizing old folks’ homes, as part of its “utopia” propaganda?
Yep - another answer you won’t like.
Remarkably powerful. Really tugs at your heart-strings.
Gets you all...in your feelings.
Whether it’s you, or Shamima Begum...whether you’re looking at Evil ™, or utopia...it’s propaganda.
You’re buying this stuff on emotion and impulse.
And you don’t get a receipt - cause there ain’t no return.
Fuck your feelings.
How do you think I feel?
Don’t worry. I’m almost done. And I cannot wait.]
6) child soldiers, trauma, and neuroscience
Empathy, sympathy, compassion, understanding.
These words are not synonymous.
You cannot win a war against an enemy you don’t understand.
When she fell for the “utopia” propaganda.
Shamima Begum was a child.
Do you... do you know trauma works?
Let’s talk children, neuroscience, and trauma.
Because we need to.
Begum went to Syria at the age of 15. She's 19 now.
Her brain won't stop developing for another 6 years.
Yes. This matters.
Like Shamima Begum - you're years from 25.
ISIS “cubs” graduate in a ceremony... that forces children to murder.
Child soldiers are used this way all over the world.
They're most effective when you deliberately inflict trauma on them - and even more when you force them to inflict trauma on someone else.
That is by design.
And when you call them "monsters?" That's also part of the design.
This is why -- globally -- reintegrating child soldiers is so damn difficult.
Do it before the age of 25.
That's one of the lessons here.
The ISIS civic ritual. Naturalization.
They're not yet able to fully understand their actions, agency (or lack thereof), and handle trauma.
But they know they're guilty. They know they're damaged.
They know you know it, too.
They're aware of the stigma: society views them as beyond redemption.
No. Going. Back.
“Home” no longer exists. It doesn't want you.
Because you're a monster.
I already gave you the answer. I hope you memorized it.
It's on the only test that matters.
7) Logic, rationality, and successful counterterrorism strategy: why we NEED Shamima Begum.
This is not an appeal to set her free, or suggest she face no consequences.
Those are facts.
Here's an article I wrote about one such epic shit show: "Think Again, Turn Away" - merip.org/2015/10/think-…
Remember - she sees utopia.
YOU see Evil™.
That's all by design.
ISIS is vicious. But they're far from stupid, or irrational.
They are, in fact, the ONLY credible messengers.
Skip to section 5, page 14, for those recommendations. collections.unu.edu/eserv/UNU:6292…
By way of conclusion...
Dehumanize the opponent to such a point that their perceived monstrousness means no rational calculus could possibly exist. Can't reason with the irrational. So: eradicate them.
You will never, ever, see them coming.
Politicians concerned with re-election cave to a frightened public unaware they have fallen hook, line, and sinker.
Obvious playbook is obvious - when you think.
This isn't hippie / commie / kumbaya / SJW bullshit, people. It's precisely the opposite: an emphatic call for cold, hard, rational logic and strategy.
ISIS propaganda has you in your feelings. Damn near all of you.
ISIS knows that. They're really good at it.
That's why they're celebrating #Christchurch. They prayed for it.
At least, for a while.
But the ultimate question is—for whom does this propaganda, and the reactions it produces, most benefit? Cui bono?
Symbiotic extremists, that's who.
Fuck your feelings.
Go home and think about what we covered today.
Yeah, I am going to respond to this.
Because here's what you NOT GONNA do on my Timeline:
Insult my students. EVER.
2) They are very, very smart ADULTS.
3) Insult me all you want, but you DO NOT insult my students' intelligence.
4) They are mature enough to handle very difficult subjects with nuance.
BECAUSE I RESPECT THEM.
6) I decided to teach the class - because they are adults who can handle hard truths.
-- 'Terrorised poor kids' don't send you "thank you" emails -- en masse -- for "such an impactful and extremely uncomfortable class today."
You know who does that?
-- Smart adults capable of nuance, rationality, and critical thought. Not kids you patronize.
But I will NEVER let you attack my students. I don't tolerate that.
Now, I want to briefly give you what we ALL so desperately need right now.
I want to give you some hope.
I allow NO ONE to insult my students. They give me hope every single day. They teach me every single day - I learn how to rethink through them.
I decided to offer the same option to my other classes: their choice. Their vote.
There were many more among my three total classes - and even more office hours visits.
My students give me hope. So. Much. Hope. #Christchurch
Please note: hateful trolls are cropped out of the screenshots.
Look how few, comparatively, I cropped.
YOU. GIVE. ME. HOPE.
There is more light shining here than darkness. Hope. Our fears cast a far larger shadow than the fragile, brave, and (far more pervasive) light. Illusion.
HOPE. I thank you - deeply - for it.
So will my personal responses to your deeply touching comments. I've got to work first, so thank you - again - for the patience. And the hope. #Christchurch
Push yourself. Think critically. Remain human.