The Unbearable Lightness of Terrorist Chat

This is inimitable Harper’s: contrasting the unbearable lightness of a medium (in this case, chat) with the often sublime depth of its subject (here, terror). One of the June issue’s "Readings," titled "Sheiks and Geeks," details "online conversations between jihad enthusiasts." Like young men and women everywhere, these ardent correspondents are notable at once for their excitability and their narcissism. They are Romeo and Juliet with guns, and mission. Perhaps we will realize in reading things like this how very little separates our children from others’ around the world, rather than the opposite. We all want something to care about, yet here adolescent, and post-adolescent passion is not for Playstations; it’s for Ak-47s, and legacy.


Lewis Lapham’s brilliant quarterly journal grew out of, in part, the Harper’s "Readings" model. These selections are well-chosen pieces that all of us who read and think should see, for education or entertainment—or both. Each month, Harper’s presents not one or two but several "I wish I had seen this" moments for their readers; Sheiks and Geeks is only the latest in a very long line.

Here is a brief excerpt; the full texts are in the magazine. NB: spaces and typos as written. Harper’s points out "triple spaces indicate line breaks in the chats." And, "the old man" is Osama bin Laden. This "conversation" takes place between "jihad enthusiasts" and Tarek Mehanna who, in addition to other notable accomplishments (being arrested for conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists), translated and distributed pro-Al Qaeda texts, including "39 Ways to Serve and Participate in Jihad."

SHEIKS and GEEKS

February 2, 2006

ABU MUNDHIR: we’re real popular now   we got our stuff pinned on big forums

TAKEK MEHANNA: Sweetness

ABU MUNDHIR: we are al qaeda in iraq   media wing   hehe

MEHANNA: man, I don’t think   we deserve that title maybe   if we are lucky   we get to clean their toilets

ABU MUNDHIR: lol   yeah   I would be the happiest man in the world if   the old man just let me hang around with him   and clean   his toilet   love that guy

April 28

MEHANNA: that book   about the Shaykh   the orange one   I read it in the Harvard coop the other day   and started crying

AAB: which book is this

MEHANNA: Messages to the world   I realized that I look to him   as being my real father, in a sense   from the moment I saw him   the hair on my arms   stood on end   without even knowinb who he was

AAB: wow really

MEHANNA: anyone with manhood   feels the same way

While some thought the digitization of New Yorker pieces foreshadowed the end of the world (depth, it was thought in the olden days, not meant screen-reading), contemporary terrorist chat is that fear writ small, a haiku-cum-elegy for poor communication meets deadly message. Our FBI monitors these things, for which we must bless—if not envy—their dedication.

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