“If you need me to prove my humanity, I’m not the one who’s not human.”

— Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan

I realize I’m very late in doing a pedagogy thread for you. I will fix that soon (hopefully tonight), because the poem posted above?

That was where I started my class’ lecture - on Shamima Begum.
Tonight, I’ll give you the “Shamima Begum class” pedagogy thread, Twitter.


Because it - for reasons soon to be very obvious - is painfully, searingly relevant right now. We start with “respectability politics.”

I haven’t slept since last night - this time, it’s not workaholism.

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.
First, you need the context - why did I decide to teach a class about the Shamima Begum case, and how does that relate to #Christchurch?

In short - I felt I had no choice. And here is how that feeling started.
2 minutes before the end of my class, a student raised her hand and - wholly off-topic - asked “Professor, what do you think about the UK and Shamima Begum? Do you agree with them?”
I replied “we have two minutes left. That’s not enough time for me to give you my thoughts on Shamima Begum.”

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:”
“Stripping Shamima Begum of UK citizenship was an asinine decision made by craven politicians cynically placating a terrified public unknowingly manipulated by propaganda.

It was counterproductive in the extreme, and there will be blowback. Mark my words.

Have a nice day.”
Class ended. Another student approached me (not the one who originally asked the question).

“Professor, I just want to let you know...”


“You’re wrong. You don’t understand.”
“Okay...” I replied.

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.”
As veteran followers know - I also have “feelings” about ISIS and “feelings” about immigration and “feelings” about Islam.

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 cleared my schedule to allow this student to have his / her go at me.

I was actually on an editorial deadline for a commissioned article about Shamima Begum.

But this mattered. Immensely.

Student comes in, sits down, and explains his/her reasons for telling me I’m wrong and I don’t understand.

I sit and I listen.

It takes about half an hour. It’s what you would expect.
Finally, the student finishes.

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.”
(This is a very small school. Professors quickly gain reputations - when you’re doing CT stuff with the UN on ISIS, well... it’s very hard to fly under the “Interested in the Middle East for all the Wrong Reasons” student radar.)
No one interject here to bad-mouth the student. I will not tolerate it.

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.
I say: “has anyone told you why I started working on ISIS in the first place and why I never wanted to?”


“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.”
I warn the student that what I am about to say is very personal, very disturbing, and say I’m happy to simply send articles.”

Student asks for me to tell the story.

And I do. In detail. It takes me two hours.
I will never forget the student’s face at the end of that meeting.


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 write a mass email to my class, with an anonymous poll.

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
In that email, I am explicit.

“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.”
The vote was unanimous:

Shamima Begum.

So, I put together the most uncomfortable 75 minute lecture I have ever given.

They were warned. They chose.
This - by the way - is an Art History class (with a focus on politics and the Middle East).

Believe it or not, that is EXTREMELY RELEVANT - to Shamima Begum’s case, in particular.
(I’m warning you: this is a VERY long thread, but — like the class itself — it is necessary and it is urgent. Expect intermissions.)
Now I need to tell you a bit about the student demographics - small, elite institution: overwhelmingly wealthy and overwhelmingly white.

Yes, that absolutely matters to how and why I taught this class.
Class day arrives. I know they’re all excited (in the worst possible way).

I make no jokes. I am ice cold.

I remind them that they were warned.
I start: “Close your eyes. I need you to be very, very honest. You know I don’t judge you - but I won’t allow any of you do judge one another, so: Eyes. Shut.”

“Raise your hand if you can honestly say you have a Muslim friend - not an acquaintance.”

1 hand. Out of 25.
“Open your eyes. I’m not surprised. Very, very few of you have ever had a close Muslim friend.”

“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.”
I continue:

“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.”
“It was the day after Trump’s election (and for the Trump fans in the room, no, this isn’t partisan. I’ll be critiquing Obama soon enough).

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.”
There’s a damn good reason for this. At the time, I was full-time ISIS propaganda analyst.

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.
“That matters, students. As a result of that world famous STEM university’s status - more than 3/4 of my students were international. Most of them were Muslim.

International students from the Muslim Ban countries.”
I walked into that classroom knowing I needed to be there, and dreading it.

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 couldn’t tell my international (brilliant STEM) students ‘No way, 100%.’

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.”
Question 2:

“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.
“So, students - what I had to tell my other class was this:

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.”
“Almost none of you have close Muslim friends - so the Ban is abstract to you.

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.”
“So, remember that’s the only time I have cried in class and why.

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.”
“So before we get to the actual lecture, we will be listening to two poems.”

“They are poems written 18 years apart - one by an American Muslim woman, the other by a British Muslim woman.”
“Poem 1: Suheir Hammad - ‘First Writing Since.’

This is a poem she wrote about 9/11. You guys were toddlers.

This was 2001.”

I will give you, Twitter, time to listen to Suheir’s poem in full before I move on - just like I gave my students.
By the way - she’s on Twitter. Follow her: @yosuheirhammad
“Please, God. Don’t let it be anyone who looks like my brothers.”

“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 person asks me if I knew the hijackers.

“One more motherfucker asks me what Navy my brother is in.”
“My baby brother is a man now. And on alert. And praying - five times a day - that the orders he will take are righteous. And will not weigh his soul down in the afterlife.”

“What will their lives be like now?

‘Over there’ is ‘over here.’”
The poem ends. Half of my students are crying. We’re still at the intro of lecture, people.

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.
I repeat Suheir: “can I just have half a second to feel bad?”

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.”
“Flash forward.

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.

Listen silently.”

This is Suhaiymah Manzoor-Khan’s “This is Not a Humanising Poem.”

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.
Remember, Twitter. This is still the introduction of class.

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.

I repeat a few lines from her poem as well.

“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.”
“Because if you need me to prove my humanity — I’m not the one who’s not human.”

And I pause. I wait.

They sit with their discomfort. I make them.
“Is that radical? Am I radical?

Because there is nowhere else left to exist now.”
“So, students. What did you notice - what changed in the 17 years between those two women’s poems?”


One voice, almost a whisper, tentatively: “it’s worse...it’s so much worse.”
I then pivot, do a subject 180 - I tell them a bit about my own childhood biography.

“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?’”
“Guess how many (unintentionally) vile things I hear everyday that would never be said in front of Suheir or Suhaiymah?

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.”
“Now, let’s return to Shamima Begum for a second because this class is, after all, about her.”

(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.”
The post shreds the “Western” Muslims who took hardline stances.

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 students, I want you to know - you aren’t the only group who falls for ISIS propaganda, and is manipulated by your emotions.

So are the terrified Muslims living in the West.

Everybody is in their feelings. That’s how this propaganda thing works.”
“What changed from Suheir to Suhaiymah - other than a period of 17 years? It’s way worse.

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.”
”Remember what Suhaiymah says at the end of her poem?

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.
I change the slide — to this.

ISIS. In their own words. On what they want, and how they want to get it.

“Nowhere else left to exist now.”

Class has officially begun.
[Intermission. My phone is almost dead. To be continued.]
I warned you. This thread will be extremely long - because it is long overdue, and extremely important, particularly right now.

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.
Okay, so - I went to feed a friend’s cat (he’s out of town), and she escaped.

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’m presenting the exact same lecture, point by point, as I gave in class.

I’ll finish the thread, then break it up into segments for you so it’s not as heinously long.

They are as follows:
1) What is ISIS?

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
0) Recap of the Prelude & Intro (If you’re just joining us)

— 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

1) What is ISIS?

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.

This is a big part of why ISIS attacks in the “West” - to divide, polarize, and incite revenge violence in a vicious cycle.

We’ve seen this before: Iraq’s insurgency. I call it “Zarqawi 101.”

ISIS just globalized it.
You all know that “ISIS” stands for Islamic State.

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.
A “state” doesn’t just mean a governmental apparatus. It also comes with a “nation.” Again, more than just armies. This isn’t Al-Qaeda. It’s not a network.

Islamic STATE.

You fixate on half the name - you miss the more important part.
What do we know from Benedict Anderson about nationalisms?

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.
What did we learn from Mahmoud Mamdani?

Nation-state entities are founded on “insiders” violently excluding “outsiders” to delineate the community.

You seeing Zarqawi 101 yet? No? Maybe this will help.

Slide change.
Now, do you see what Zarqawi 101 looks like when ISIS globalizes it?

Can you spot the (many) problems here?
Want to know how you lose a war - in a single Tweet?

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.
I am not friendly professor today. You ask no questions. You do not interrupt. We are not here for fun. We’re here to be uncomfortable. That’s the only way to learn.

Stated differently: fuck your feelings. Fuck mine too.

They have no place in strategy - only in propaganda.
I don’t curse in the classroom. But I’m not the “Me” you’re used to today. I’m Hardass CT Ice Queen.

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.
Get out of your fucking feelings.
Propaganda works when your emotions override your capacity to use reason, logic, and strategy.

Fuck your feelings.

That’s how they’ve got you - hook, line, sinker.
Example 1:

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.
Example #2:

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.
Close your eyes. Raise your hand when I mention the group who can claim the highest death toll in Syria.

I run through a long list. ISIS, of course, wins by a landslide in the students’ view.


Slide change.
ISIS would love to claim half the death toll as... the state of Syria.

[And no, Twitter — this is not an invite to try and argue with me about Asad. Take that elsewhere. Not the damn point.]

So, students: why did you all say ISIS? Because they played you.
You think ISIS is, statistically, the most murderous party in Syria — because that’s exactly how they want you to see them. You are swallowing their propaganda at face value.

Speaking (again) of “states,” this brings me to my next point.
What does a state need, people? Beyond an army and a governmental apparatus?

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.


Slide change.
The president of Syria is married to a dual citizen.

Why did you all just laugh at this headline? Especially after what we just discussed about the death toll?

Why does stripping Asma’s citizenship seem absurd to you?

You’re not going to like the answer.
This is Shamima Begum. She scares you.

Asma al-Asad doesn’t.

Look at those death tolls again. Tell me why you’re more afraid of this teenage girl. Any guesses? No? You already know.

I’ll explain what you’re all thinking, but what no one will admit.
Before I tell you, close your eyes.

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.
Here’s why Asma al-Asad doesn’t scare you but Shamima Begum does.

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.

Slide change.
The media, and you, are fixated with the ‘ISIS jihadi bride’ fetish.

You don’t have to admit it to me or one another - but we all know why that is. You won’t say it, so I have to explain it.

Short answer: Orientalism.
Deep down, you think:

Muslim men are violent.

Muslim women are oppressed, without agency.

By violent Muslim men.
Asma al-Asad doesn’t “look” Muslim to you. She looks, in your eyes...like...you.

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.
Yet again - that’s ISIS using your own bigotry as a weapon against you.

And you don’t even realize it.

Asma al-Asad is a grown ass woman. Shamima Begum was 15.
How’s everyone doing? You guys uncomfortable yet?

Well, prepare yourselves. Because it’s going to get a lot worse.

Especially for me.
Like I told my students (and reminder), I’m giving you the same lecture - by request: this isn’t funny professor.

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.

Last few points on ISIS’ para-state, and how citizenship works within their “affective kinship community” strategic calculus - for men (fighters or not), women, and children.

Here I will tell you about: an ISIS civic ritual.

Think of it as naturalization.

Slide change.
When someone arrives in ISIS-held territory, guess what happens? Your nation-state of citizenship passport? Destroyed.

Man. Woman. Child.

More importantly, it’s obliterated — on camera. With your face visible. There’s a record. And it goes viral: by design.

No. Going. Back.
For some, burning the passport is voluntary - a civic performance of affiliation with ISIS, over the nation-state of citizenship.

But not for everyone.

Most definitely not for those children. Minors can’t consent to things like sex, or relinquishing citizenship. For a reason.
What matters here is that your face is recognizable.

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.

Slide change.
Burning passports isn’t some ISIS version of the “Tide Pod” trend.


It’s by design. See these official HQ magazine pages? They promise a new affiliation that transcends nationalism’s problems... like “American racism.”

(Yes, this is bullshit. It’s propaganda.)
Note the bullet-ridden passports. This isn’t a random Internet challenge that went viral. It’s an ISIS civic ritual - designed to make sure that There. Is. Never. Any. Going. Back.


States. Citizens. Ritual.

[Intermission - I’m still trying to find this asshole cat.]

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.

Still haven’t found the goddamn cat. But I’d honestly like to get this part - 3 & 4 - over with as soon as possible. It suuuuuuucks.

This is the epitome of “not a pleasant story.”

So strap in.
So, here’s where we are:

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.
Students, I understand “feelings” about ISIS.

Trust me, I do.

I knew this guy - his name was Jim, RIP.
He was basically a damn saint.

I also knew the next victim: Steve, RIP.

That’s the one that really got me in my feelings. He was my irreverent, offensive homie.
Keep in mind, I have the ice queen demeanor the entire time, even for this part.

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.
Here’s the thing, students. When I watched my friends die - ISIS propaganda got me in my feelings.


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.
Thing is, students...

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.
You’re about to see some personal messages of mine, with a friend - who covered conflict zones.

War reporters tend to have fucked up senses of humor.

Darkness is catharsis. So you need to know that going in.
So these are typical “friend” messages.

Basically, we were asshole trolls to one another - for years. I value that.
Steve kept trying to convince me to come along with him. He already knew it would be his last trip to Syria.

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.
I knew he was going to cross the border. I knew he wasn’t prepared. I knew this was a fucking disaster waiting to happen.

I didn’t try hard enough to talk him out of it. I also kept refusing to join him.

I have to live with that forever now.
“I won’t even bother with ‘be safe.’”

What a sentence to live with for the rest of my goddamn life, amirite.
Reminder, students - I told you that we’d all be uncomfortable today.

And that includes me. Now you’re beginning to see why.
This is the second to last conversation we ever had.

“Don’t freak out. Syria will be easy.”

Yeah, guys. I understand what it’s like to have “feelings” about ISIS.
This one is the hardest.

Because for years, Steve and I had this ongoing joke about roadkill. We’d check in from time to time, depending on whatever countries we were in - through texting pictures of dead animals and saying “lol I hope this isn’t you.”


I warned you.
In the last conversation he and I ever had, he told me “you should’ve come with me.”

And I said “I know.”

He crossed into Syria later that same day. For the last time.
I bailed on Steve. I bitched out.

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.”
Those last two messages? With our inside “hurhur look roadkill it’s a pic of you” immature stupid twisted joke?

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).
The thing is, students of mine, that’s not the last time I heard from Steve.


This was.
Yes, it gets even more uncomfortable.

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.
Remember, students. I grew up with Arabs and Muslims. They’re LITERALLY my family.

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 first thought was “this is my fault. That blood is on my hands.”

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.
I wanted REVENGE. Craved it.

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.
That fall, I wrestled with those questions leaning on a dear friend,
international journalist. Brown. Muslim.

I’m not naming him. He’s still alive, and that’s all that matters to me.

ISIS killed one of his friends at the same time as Steve. But his friend?

He was Iraqi.
Some of the names on this list stick out to you. I’m not subtle, so I used red font to make my point.

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.

Truth hurts.
I understand “feelings” about ISIS.

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.
Remember, kiddos - I told you: we learn from spaces of discomfort.

Not comfort.

So here we are. And here’s what that “10/10 would NOT recommend” experience taught me.
I was trained by inherited thought paradigms and biases from centuries of militarily mediated imagery (flashback to Napoleon’s Campaign in Egypt and Syria) to see white American and British lives as more valuable.

So were you.

And brown Muslims are my own goddamn family.
So why did I react to that video the way I did?

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.
[Intermission because I say so. This is my least favorite topic on earth, but unfortunately - it’s necessary. It’s ethically obligatory and a moral responsibility. But it fucking sucks and also I’m hungry.]


#4 up next.
Look, guys. I’m not offended at all if you don’t RT.

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.

Yeah, so: deal with an intermission for the entire night.

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.
You’re a dick. And you’re also wrong about many things - including my ethnicity.

So: Goodbye.

Super appreciate you clearing up the whole “trauma from friend’s execution when you should’ve saved him” with such an insightful “lol white self-hate.”

Updates - after the thread is (finally) finished, I’ll do the unrolled thing and post it to my medium.

I promise I will respond to you all, because the kindness you’ve shown me is deeply touching, and deserves a personal response.
I’ll knock out the remainder of this thread, and wrap it up (with Christchurch as well as why I’m still hopeful) tonight.

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).
My next break is in about 5 hours.

I’ll be finishing the thread then - and likely responding to all your deeply appreciated and touching replies (not the trolls) sometime tomorrow.
Okay. I don't know about you - but I'm ready to finish this thread and get it off my back.

So here we go:

4) Evil ™ - ISIS propaganda made FOR YOU - the presumed 'non-Muslim,' "Western" audience.
I use Evil ™ to describe ISIS' "Western"-facing identity.

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):
When Jim died (Rest in Peace & Power), that propaganda video was... Evil ™.
When Steve died (Rest in Peace & Power), that propaganda video was... Evil ™.
Here is what you need to know about the goal of Evil ™.

Remember “eradicating the grayzone?”
Remember “wiping out coexistence?”
Remember #ChristChurch #NewZealandMosqueAttacks?

That’s the goal of Evil ™.

Not ISIS recruitment.
#Christchurch - that’s the goal of Evil ™.

Not recruitment.

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.
Sit with this hideous, uncomfortable, shameful, possibility.

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?

So yesterday, I told you about the assumptions people make about my ethnicity, my background...what non-Muslims say around me without self-censoring...

That’s one reason why I know Evil ™ is working.

I hear it every day.

Guess what? ISIS recruited, yes - they recruited YOU.
Now, students, half my Twitter handle is in Arabic. People make assumptions. Lots of assumptions.

Here’s another reason I know Evil ™ recruited “us” for ISIS -

Here’s what it looks like when anonymity lets you make assumptions, and empowers your own bigoted love for Evil ™:
I receive Tweets like this hourly. 99% of the time, I ignore them.

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.
This gentleman was responding to my analysis of ISIS and the same story I told you earlier - about how and why I despise ISIS.

Because they murdered my friends.

Evil ™ in action: ISIS has him in his feelings.

That’s why he wants me to “fuck off and die as well.”
Remember my Facebook post to Muslims, about “respectability politics” - and how a hardline stance on Shamima Begum won’t convince any of the bigots that they’re human?

ISIS kills far more Muslims than anyone else. That’s a fact.

Facts don’t matter when you buy into Evil ™.
Crucial note - empathy, sympathy, compassion, understanding.

These words are not synonymous.

You cannot win a war against an enemy you don’t understand.
I remind you - this was also in response to a thread about ISIS and counterterrorism. Where I explain why I don’t like ISIS.

Evil ™ blinds traps you in emotion.

It makes you call me a terrorist supporter.
It makes you want me to get beheaded, too.

Fuck your feelings.
We’re almost at #5, so examine this Tweet about Shamima Begum. It’s about the danger of her child.

An infant.

What did I teach you about “How To Lose A War?”

Evil ™: when an infant in diapers, still shitting itself, and incapable of speech is already - to you... a monster.
At this point, students need a joke. So here’s the - brief - moment of comic relief.

“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?”

Moving on.
Point 5)

ISIS propaganda that isn’t meant for “you” - the presumed non-Muslim, ‘Western’ audience.

Don’t forget:

Evil ™ isn’t made to recruit Shamima Begum. It’s made to recruit YOU. And it works - very, very well. #Christchurch
So what are the Shamima Begums of the world supposed to see?

This, likely, is going to disturb you even more.
Close your eyes. Is the majority of ISIS propaganda violent?

Raise your hands if your answer is ‘yes.’


Open your eyes. Every single one of you is wrong.

It’s not.
Evil ™ - where ISIS type-casts themselves as the monster under your bed, the black clad uber-villain of all your Orientalist nightmares - again, that propaganda is meant to recruit YOU.

ISIS doesn’t recruit Shamima Begum with Evil ™.

ISIS sells her ‘home, a utopian dream.’
Qatar is a nation-state, powerful enough to host the massive media apparatus for Al Jazeera.

Why do you think ISIS plagiarized their logo?

[so-called] Islamic STATE.

Think. Don’t ‘feel.’
Remember Benedict Anderson on nationalism? How does this fictive kinship develop over space and time?

ISIS plagiarized Al Jazeera’s logo for several reasons, among them:

- 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.
Which one of these is ISIS? Which one of these is Al Jazeera?

Are you confused? You can’t tell?


That’s the point.
This is ISIS. Do you recognize the man? Maybe. Maybe not.

This man is journalist John Cantlie.

He was kidnapped along with Jim, back in 2012.

I pray he is still alive.
John Cantlie is pretty relevant to the Shamima Begum story - in ways you might not imagine.

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.
Evil ™:

Arguing John Cantlie “must have Stockholm Syndrome” now. He “must be an ISIS sympathizer” because he’s in their propaganda videos.

John Cantlie doesn’t have a choice.

He’s trying to fucking stay alive.
But I digress.

So if Shamima Begum isn’t the audience for Evil ™ - what does ISIS make with her in mind?

Glad you asked. Get ready.

Shamima Begum isn’t sold Evil ™.

For her, ISIS promises a homeland, territorial anchor of safety and protection for those in her imagined community of fictive kin: a nation.

Calling all doctors. Engineers. Specialists.


More than just an army: civilians. Nation.
In this video (meant for not “them,” not “us”), the ISIS member says — VERBATIM:

“We have lives outside of our jobs. If you cannot fight, you can rebuild. There’s a place for everyone.”

“You will provided for. Your family will live here in comfort - just like back home.”
This, students, is a “seasons greetings” video from ISIS-land.

It’s for Shamima. It’s not for you.

45 minutes of “Raqqa is a great place to raise your kids, multiracial, transnational peace, safety, bliss, wish you were here.”

Bullshit - but affectively powerful.

ISIS propaganda meant for Shamima Begum, not you.


“We control territory. We are sovereign. We police our borders. Your safety and security is assured here.”

States, by definition, monopolize legitimate violence within given territory (cf, Max Weber).
ISIS propaganda meant for Shamima Begum, not you.


An army. Police forces. Special operations units.

A state that monopolizes legitimate violence within a given territory — security for its imagined community: the nation.
ISIS propaganda meant for Shamima Begum, not you. Utopia.

- “Quit smoking. Public health matters to us.”

- “We dix your power lines. Phone not working? Call ISIS.”

- “Great schools with all-new curriculum.”

- “How, man-on-the-street, can ISIS better serve your community?”
ISIS propaganda meant for Shamima Begum, not you.


“Check out our new pediatric oncology unit for children with cancer.

“Smoking is bad; we care - here’s how to finally quit for good.”

“Here’s our newest maternity clinic. Let’s lower mortality rates.”
ISIS propaganda meant for Shamima Begum, not you.


“Economic autonomy is key to sovereignty. Let’s go back to the gold standard, and leave the dollar.”

“Here’s our consumer protection bureau, fighting price gouging in the market and destroying expired food.”

We care.
ISIS propaganda meant for Shamima Begum, not you.


“Let’s fight the War on Drugs.
We’ll keep your children safe.
Let’s get guns off the streets.”

“We care.”
What is a nation? A community, rooted in territory - that will pass down affective ties, knowledge, and “insider” bonds through the generations.

Cradle to grave.

Nursery schools to retirement homes.

ISIS propaganda meant for Shamima Begum, not you.

We are almost at #6 - child soldiers, trauma, and neuroscience.

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.
In Middle Eastern societies, nursing homes aren’t a thing - caring for the elderly is your duty - out of deep respect for the life they GAVE you.

So why is ISIS creating and publicizing old folks’ homes, as part of its “utopia” propaganda?

Yep - another answer you won’t like.
In 2003, the US invaded and occupied Iraq.

For years.

For no reason. In violation of international law.

Many, many Iraqis died. Their elderly relatives have no one to care for them.

But, ISIS says, “we care.”

ISIS propaganda meant for Shamima Begum, not you.

Disturbing, isn’t it?

Remarkably powerful. Really tugs at your heart-strings.

Gets you all...in your feelings.
Are you beginning to understand?

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.
[Oh, you think you’re sick of this thread? El.Oh.El.

How do you think I feel?

Don’t worry. I’m almost done. And I cannot wait.]
So. Moving on.

6) child soldiers, trauma, and neuroscience
Let me remind you again:

Empathy, sympathy, compassion, understanding.

These words are not synonymous.


You cannot win a war against an enemy you don’t understand.
Shamima Begum was 15 when she left to join ISIS.

When she fell for the “utopia” propaganda.

Shamima Begum was a child.
“Shamima Begum shows no remorse in her interviews. Wow, her affect is so flat. How cold. How emotionless. What a monster.”

Do you... do you know trauma works?

I do.

Let’s talk children, neuroscience, and trauma.

Because we need to.
Fundamental to both the ISIS state-making project, and the production of child soldiers, is the role of neurological development before the age of 25.

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.
You, students, have brains that are still developing - specifically, those parts brain responsible for fully understanding the consequences of your actions. Your decisions. Balancing emotions and the capacity for logic, for reason.

Like Shamima Begum - you're years from 25.
Ever heard of "Cubs of the Caliphate?" This is, more or less, the ISIS version of the Boy Scouts.

You can't consent to sex at 10. Your brain doesn't yet have the capacity.

Child soldiers - think they "understand agency" when they're forced to kill?
Shamima Begum has witnessed grotesque violence and morally abhorrent trauma at an age well before the brain’s capacity to fully reckon with the consequences of one’s decisions, exert full agency, and cope with trauma.


This matters.
ISIS' "youth group" deliberately traumatizes children young enough to ensure that psychological scars make "reentry" into their home society IMPOSSIBLE.

ISIS “cubs” graduate in a ceremony... that forces children to murder.
Nothing about child soldiers is specific to the Middle East, or Islam.

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.

It. Works.
Once children have been forced to witness, or worse, participate in morally injurious acts like murder—deep psychological scarring sets in.

That is by design.

And when you call them "monsters?" That's also part of the design.
The profound guilt and self-hatred proves irreversible -- without considerable and sustained assistance.

This is why -- globally -- reintegrating child soldiers is so damn difficult.
If you really want to fuck someone up psychologically?

Do it before the age of 25.

That's one of the lessons here.
Remember - those kids were unmasked in viral videos, while their passports were tossed into a fire.

The ISIS civic ritual. Naturalization.

Underage returnees? Child soldiers in general?

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.
"Cubs of the Caliphate," Shamima Begum - or any underage participant in / witness of "moral injury" .... well ...

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.
It's easy to look at her and say "what a monster."

Understanding her is a hell of a lot harder.

Because: emotions.

But, again - fuck your feelings.

Because: propaganda.
Remember - how do you lose a war?

I already gave you the answer. I hope you memorized it.

It's on the only test that matters.
Monsters don't like Nutella. They don't like cute kittens. They don't make funny memes. Monsters don't have a sense of humor. That's a human thing.

But how come ISIS makes funny memes? Likes cute kittens?

Cognitive dissonance is pretty difficult to deal with - isn't it.
Cognitive dissonance is... horrifying.

Hannah Arendt, on the banality of evil:
Home stretch, people. No one is sicker of this subject than I am.

Moving on.

7) Logic, rationality, and successful counterterrorism strategy: why we NEED Shamima Begum.
Regardless of one’s "feelings" on Begum, she needs help—if, for no other reason than the biological reality of age, the ability to reason, and witnessing extensive trauma.

This is not an appeal to set her free, or suggest she face no consequences.
Remember—compassion, understanding, and empathy are not synonymous.
Nation-states like the US and the UK have zero credibility in much of the “Middle East” because of unconscionable foreign policy, flagrant violations of civil liberties, and human rights abuses—particularly in the “Global War on Terror.”

Those are facts.

Uncomfortable facts.
Nation-states like the US and the UK have also proven (I'm being VERY generous here): miserable failures in previous programs designed to “counter” ISIS propaganda.

Here's an article I wrote about one such epic shit show: "Think Again, Turn Away" - merip.org/2015/10/think-…
Such failures stem from the lack of understanding (and/or INTEREST in understanding) why - and how - ISIS appeals to those like Shamima Begum.

Remember - she sees utopia.

YOU see Evil™.

That's all by design.

ISIS is vicious. But they're far from stupid, or irrational.
Beyond any “empathy” for Begum’s actions or decisions, in the harsh light of logical assessment and the aim of successful strategy, ISIS returnees are the best weapon available for the war against ISIS.

They are, in fact, the ONLY credible messengers.
Why is the US not credible? Here's a great example.

Maybe a foreign nation-state that waged an illegal invasion and occupation in Iraq should...try not soap-boxing about "another foreigner terrorizing locals."

No one will believe you.

For a reason: history.
Returnees like Shamima Begum, students? They have credibility.

She needs help. Considerable help. She needs to be locked up.

But she is one of the only kinds of credibility "we" have. That is a fact, not a feeling.

I'm not just telling you. I also told the United Nations.
Here is my policy brief on these issues, with specific recommendations on messenger credibility, written for the UN on request.

Skip to section 5, page 14, for those recommendations. collections.unu.edu/eserv/UNU:6292…
Let's wrap this whole thing up, shall we?

By way of conclusion...
I remind you of how to lose a war: first, lose your head.

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.
Counterterrorism strategy that succeeds doesn't operate on emotion. It isn't policy driven by public sentiment.

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.
Fuck. Your. Feelings. Fuck mine, too.

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.
Politicians win reelections not on cold, calculated strategy, but the colder calculus of political expedience. Fear-inducing propaganda works very, very well.

ISIS knows that. They're really good at it.

That's why they're celebrating #Christchurch. They prayed for it.
Fear-inducing propaganda works very, very well, right?

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.
Finally, consider: was the apocalyptic cost of Evil™'s designer price tag truly worth that emotional impulse buy?

Fuck your feelings.

Go home and think about what we covered today.
Class dismissed.
PS - I’ll respond to all of you tomorrow. I appreciate the kind words, and they deserve a personal response. But I need to take the night off now, and do other work.

lol k

(Closing Twitter now. Example: these are the fascinating replies that don't merit a response. The rest of you, I promise I'll get to ASAP. Peace to you all.)
lol k
"Terrorising poor kids with a [sic] over sentimental overdramatized self-guilt trip"

Yeah, I am going to respond to this.

Because here's what you NOT GONNA do on my Timeline:

Insult my students. EVER.
1) My students are not 'terrorised poor kids.'

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.
5) I let my students vote about this topic. I warned them in advance. I was very, very clear. They decided - and they knew what they were getting into. I told them.


6) I decided to teach the class - because they are adults who can handle hard truths.
Guess what else?

-- '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.
You can drag me and insult me allllllllll damn day, eeeeeevery damn day.

But I will NEVER let you attack my students. I don't tolerate that.

Well....Good morning, Twitter.
((^^I'm joking -- mostly.))

Now, I want to briefly give you what we ALL so desperately need right now.

I want to give you some hope.

Postscript 1: Students

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.

After I taught the first Shamima Begum lecture, I received so many poignant, touching, deeply conflicted, extremely thoughtful emails and visits from students in that first class...

I decided to offer the same option to my other classes: their choice. Their vote.

Same result.
Here are just some excerpts from - 5 (only 5) - of the numerous student emails I received about "Shamima Begum" day.

There were many more among my three total classes - and even more office hours visits.

My students give me hope. So. Much. Hope. #Christchurch
Postscript 2: You.

You, Twitter. You give me so much hope.

I took several screenshots of some of the responses you left on this thread. I add them here in a mini-thread. YOU give me hope.

Please note: hateful trolls are cropped out of the screenshots.

Look how few, comparatively, I cropped.




























That is where I stopped - it's only a fraction of your replies.

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.

This thread (broken into shorter sections) will be posted tonight.

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.

I promise to post the segments thread tonight, but I need to answer you all tomorrow.

I am - frankly - overwhelmed right now. I just don't have words.

That entire thread was written, believe-it-or-not, coldly. Without emotion. You changed that. I can barely breathe.
I need sleep. So I am posting the segment threads in a new, more concise thread. This thread is now closed. See the new thread.

I am posting them now, and signing off.

I will reach out to you all tomorrow.


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