Collage by Marta Parszeniew
Quick Q: When you log onto UK Muslim forums to launch global jihad, what’s the best jump-off?
Personally, I like to warm up to it. Gently grease the wheels over multiple posts. Start with a “hi how are ya - I’m a n00b just checkin out UK Islam on the interwebs” kind of thing. Post a few links. Join a few jokey threads. Crack on towards “Oh, I hear jihad’s gonna be big this year.” Then, “Say, are you au fait with the caliphate, mate?” Then maybe, “Hey. Top five anti-Western political ideologies, everyone?” Call me old-fashioned but I’d certainly save the radical incitement for right at the end. If I’m going to encourage people to commit ISIS-style summary murder, I first like to know that the community is going to dig my vibe.
I admit I’m a minority. This weekend, for instance, person or persons unknown entered UK Muslim website Ummah, created a login: Abuaisha10. And then, as their first message, posted the following, under a thread they’d started, entitled, "I am pledging allegiance to the caliphate".
“salam my sisters and brothers we should get out of this evil country and pledge our allegiance to sharia law and get out of evil west. who wants to join me so we can wage war and jihad against the corrupt west.”
At which, the combined forces of jihad (as represented by a few people talking about what they were up to for Ramadan), fell about the place laughing. “Why is your registration IP coming from Evening Standard Newspapers?” one of them asked. “It says Daily Mail for me,” said another. The two papers, once both owned by the Rothermere family, still share an office in Northcliffe House. “Report to MI5” said “Hadid”.
The forum post that started all the fuss
It is not known whether Abuhalaalmecca10 was actually reported to MI5. According to forum administrators, who soon took down the thread, poor Abu didn’t respond to any requests for clarification, but did verifiably read through the replies on the thread. Presumably with a growing sense of dread curdling in his stomach. A sense that this little post-lunch sortie into social media had gone from two-minute experiment into drive-your-career-off-a-bridge in the space of one whoopsie.
Except it didn’t happen like that, because that is not how IP addresses actually work.
Sure, at the start, as this piece of comedy gold started to cycle through the LOLpipes of the social internet, were all a bit delighted and bewildered by the thread, (soon deleted but screen-grabbed). The Morning Star ran a big article on it. Yahoo ran a smaller one. Everyone was only too keen to confirm their own prejudices to themselves.
But then if you thought about it for more than six seconds, the idea that someone from the Mail been idiotic enough to start baiting Muslims in search of a cheap “UK Muzzies Openly Plot Jihad On Internet” headline just didn’t add up.
First there’s the obvious fact that at Northcliffe House, they may be dumb but they ain’t stupid. This isn’t a quality of work you’d associate with working your way to the front counter at McDonald’s, let alone onto the staff of a national newspaper. Beyond the journos, the building is also home to any number of randoms, second and third tier stringers and assorted back office types. Perhaps one of them had thought rather too far outside the box? Perhaps they were doing a bit of amateur smear against the Mail itself? The bowels of DMG contain plenty of folks with good degrees tapping out Kardashian sidebars –there are more than enough axes out there to be ground. And of course, no rational analysis would include the fact that no one could definitively rule out the possibility that a genuine radical jihadi was on the loose at Daily Mail Group HQ. Perhaps Paul Dacre was staring through the office plexiglass into the newsroom at a man in a dishdasha prowling through rows of monitors muttering about “dirty kuffars”, and wondering who’d hired him.
Not likely at first, but on further investigation, completely impossible. I talked to VICE’s IT guy, Toby, and he did a kind of reverse-lookup – if you put the IP addresses given into a web-browser, it takes you to the Daily Mail site. And that never happens – that’s just not a thing in the real world.
No one hosts their internal company servers – the ones where journalists and office bods live – on the same ones as their website. The office severs you normally put next to the office – in a stock cupboard, maybe with a big aircon unit blowing in the corner. And the website ones you put in a more optimised place. You store them professionally, in Milton Keynes, or Canary Wharf, or somewhere big and dull and central with really great pipelines. Because that makes sense.
A post on the forum
Suddenly, it seems like the whole thing has been a get-up by people who want to smear the Mail. Dacre’s not a villain – he’s a helpless victim. Looked at in that light, was it darkly significant that thread fingers occasional Mail journalist Richard Ferrer – a former editor of Jewish News? The cranks on neo-Nazi forums were already calling this as part of The Great Jewish Conspiracy to rattle the West into supporting Zionism as the antidote to radical Islam.
But that already assumes a level of naivety. Looked at from the perspective that the whole thing is a con trick to finger the Mail, it could just as easily be any number of suspects. One body, so many motives: a couple of amateur Islamists trying to rattle the DMG cage? A couple of ultra-left cranks who would do anything to smear their bête noire?
Or is it none of those – is there actually another level of faux-naivety to the thing: did they want to be discovered? Is this a breadcrumb trail deliberately meant to lead us back to fingering Islamists or ultra-left cranks? Who exactly are we meant to be hating on here?
At which point the entire amateur-detection exercise disappears up its own fundament: as we all know, black power is behind the Jewish Conspiracy. Behind them: Communism. Then just lizard-people all the way down to hell itself. Very quickly, one little blob of text has become an unpeelable onion of conspiracy and counter-conspiracy.
The only principle you can reasonably invoke is the internet’s version of Occam’s Razor: that the explanation that involves some bored kids mucking about is most likely true. If some 16-year-old thought up a great idea for a lolz, ended up starting a Race War in contemporary Britain, then went back to stalking Instagram for pics of his crush in a boob tube at Wireless, that’d be all in the round. The truth is out there. And it is generally quite banal.
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