Abdullah X: Mind of a Spook, Heart of a Clumsy Wigger
Even if it’s just a web-based cartoon series, if it walks like intelligence agency propaganda, and quacks like intelligence agency propaganda...
By Jim Knipfel
A few months ago, as the news was full of stories about teens across Western Europe and the US unexpectedly running away to Syria to join the Islamic State, my wife noted that joining ISIS had become the new punk rock. In the early ’80s if you wanted to piss off your parents and give a big Fuck You to the world. You cropped your hair, donned some combat boots and started listening to Black Flag. These days the ante’s been upped some. It seems if you want to achieve the same effect, you need to declare your allegiance to ISIS and sneak off to Syria or Iraq to start lopping off a few infidel heads. Turns out the latter is much more effective.
In an effort to stem the flow of bored, disaffected Muslim kids being seduced by the Dark Side and going all jihadist on everyone, an anonymous supposed former Islamic extremist premiered a new animated series on YouTube earlier this year.
The premise of Abdullah X is simple. A young Muslim living in London is having an identity crisis. He can opt to be a real pain in the ass by becoming an Islamic terrorist or he can choose to become a decent, responsible, upstanding citizen who doesn’t spend his days raping babies and blowing shit up. Clearly inspired by Ali G (but without, y’know, the jokes), the crudely animated character (who resembles something from Disney and seems to grow more Anglo as time goes on) dresses and talks like a standard wigger, complete with headphones draped around his neck. The narration of each two minute episode amounts to a stern, finger-waggling lecture about why becoming an Islamic extremist is bad and stupid.
In one episode, for instance, he tries to undermine the standard interpretation of “jihad” by reading passages from the Koran which seem to condemn violence. In another he tells would-be recruits they have no understanding at all of the political situation in Syria, no concept of what the conflict is all about, and are only going over there thinking it’s gonna be a live-action version of World of Warcraft. In still another, he tells young Muslim males to treat their, um, “sistahz” with respect.
According to the shadowy figure responsible for Abdullah X, his hope is to steer confused kids away from making a potentially devastating decision. That’s all fine and good, but there’s simply something awfully hinky going on here.
As wartime government propaganda techniques go, using the most popular mass communication medium of the day (newspapers, radio, YouTube) to demoralize and undermine the Enemy’s fervor while speaking to them in their own terms is as old as warfare itself. In that way, Abdullah X is no different from his WWII Axis counterparts Tokyo Rose or Charlie and His Orchestra.
Another thing that makes me a little suspicious that all is not as it’s presented in Abdullah X is the amount of sorely outdated slang and pop cultural references that keep cropping up. I mean, who the hell remembers Ali G anymore? It all reeks of something written by a once-hip intelligence agent in his late forties whose still convinced he can pass for twenty-two. Lord knows his superiors won’t know any better.
Even the faux-crude animation is suspect. There’s still a badly-disguised slickness beneath the surface, but whoever was responsible obviously wants to give the impression this was all something just being whipped up in some guy’s basement. It’s more “authentic” that way, right? But they simply don’t understand the kind of animation software in common use nowadays, or the level of CG slickness demanded by the supposed target audience.
The ongoing rumors the series is nothing but a cheap and heavy handed front for a US or British intelligence operation have grown so persistent the supposed former extremist behind it all was even forced to spend one episode trying to dismiss them, but without really dismissing them at all.
The real killer, though, is that unlike his earlier counterparts, Abdullah X is wholly lacking in anything resembling a sense of humor. All he does is nag and chide and scold. As any 7-year-old can tell you, if all you do is nag and scold, the object of your scorn is gonna want nothing more than to get as far away from you as possible. And sure enough, after watching just a handful of shrill and damning episodes of Abdullah X, those bloody, action-packed two-hour ISIS videos start to look pretty good. I mean, who would you rather hang out with—some nit who’s just gonna keep picking at you, or some guy who’s gonna hand you a scimitar? It’s possible the cartoon may well be driving far more kids to ISIS than would ever have considered it before, just to get away from all the lecturing.
Which, if you think about it, adds a whole new level of possible insidious interpretation on top of everything. Because then, see? Then you have to ask: What benefit could a Western nation possibly reap by maintaining ISIS as a constant and growing menace that threatens to steal our children?
Published December 22nd, 2015
Jim Knipfel is the author of Slackjaw, The Blow-Off, These Children Who Come at You With Knives, and several other books.