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Digital Subscriptions > Newsweek International > 8th April 2016 > POP GOES THE JIHAD


The bombings in Brussels show that most of what you’re being told about ISIS and the extremists is wrong


ANYONE SURPRISED by the recent murderous attacks in Brussels has not been paying attention. Per capita, Belgium is Europe’s hotbed of young Muslims who travel to Syria to fight alongside the Islamic State militant group (ISIS) and then return home, often ready to kill. But these European residents are a different kind of extremist. They aren’t your dad’s Al-Qaeda and aren’t really even ISIS; pretending they are ignores the reality of the threat and provides ISIS with a propaganda coup it does not deserve.

Many of these new-age killers were small children when the World Trade Center fell in 2001 and have spent much of their lives watching major wars in Afghanistan, Iraq and now Syria. Their knowledge of Islam is limited; they are more like jihadi hipsters than dedicated Islamists, or what some experts in the intelligence community call “jihadist cool.” They celebrate what the Dutch coordinator for security and counterterrorism has called “pop-jihad as a lifestyle.”

These are youths who gather socially, in friends’ houses or in organizations such as the recently dismantled Sharia4Belgium. They chat in invitation-only Facebook groups. They know more about Tupac Shakur than they do about Osama bin Laden; Belgians who travel to Syria to fight often revere the deceased American rapper on social media, identifying with his lyrics about life in America’s inner cities. But these attackers also have their own rap music, hip clothes popular with young Muslims that are sold by companies like Urban Ummah and slogans akin to what might be found on a bumper sticker (“Work hard, pray hard”). Their tweets often end with hashtags like #BeardLife and #HijabLife. From Syria, they send selfies to their friends showing themselves wearing kohl, a traditional Middle Eastern eyeliner.

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