Here's a bit of irony: The Islamic State (IS) is a fan of Krav Maga, the hand-to-hand combat system developed by the Israeli military. Apparently, it's one of the many things you're supposed to know if you're going to be a secret agent for the militant group.
At least, that is, according to a handbook titled How to Survive in the West, which has been credited to IS. The manual, which has been floating around on the internet for a few months, offers would-be "secret agents" in enemy territory tips and tricks for how to secretive and sneaky while preparing to get their jihad on. The problem is, if you go through it a couple times, it becomes apparent that if this handbook is a damning indictment of anything, it would be Hollywood.
These 70 pages of creative capitalization and questionable punctuation lead off with a philosophical pitch to justify jihad:
"The leaders of disbelief repeatedly lie in the media and say that we Muslims are all terrorists, while we denied it and wanted to be peaceful citizens. [Which has] forced us into becoming radicalised, and that will be the cause of their defeat and be the cause for the conquest of Rome."
So, the reasoning goes, the only way to prevent the West from accusing Muslims of being evil terrorists and killing everyone is to be evil terrorists and kill everyone.
This premise is a jihadi gloss on what almost amounts to an entire subgenre of film, the "A Man Pushed Too Far" vigilante justice type. The plot is a familiar one: a strong silent type tries to live a peaceful life until reckless hoodlums (or the Man or whatever) push, insult, or attack him one too many times. One day the heroic figure snaps, and metes out death and destruction to all the evildoers. Vengeance is had, explosions ensue, and another summer blockbuster is born. This narrative pervades the theological and ideological discussion that justifies jihad.
Having established the ideological and narrative underpinnings of jihad, the manual takes on the full spectrum of things the would-be jihadi/action hero out for justice needs to do if he's going to get going and conquer Europe for Islam. Judging from the book, global conquest mostly involves doing stuff that somebody saw in a movie that one time.
The section on disguise is a twist on the entire homebrew superhero idea portrayed in Kick Ass. In Kick Ass, normal, ordinary people take on secret identities as superheroes (or villains). The jihadi manual operates under the premise that your true, real self is the jihadist, and that the normal guy ("Al instead of Ali, or a neutral name like Adam") is the fake identity. Get past that teensy detail, however, and this manual seems to be barely capable of stopping itself short of superhero costumes. There's talk of wigs, contact lenses, and even the powerful "Moustache Disguise." Although the text doesn't mention it, surely the moustache disguise would be a great way to slip across borders; it would be critical if our hypothetical jihadist needed to infiltrate a '70s porn set.
And this business of blending in goes beyond just disguises, it also means hunting down some suitably white co-conspirators: "Befriend good decent white people who are dissatisfied with their governments," the manual advises.
So far, I don't know if IS has gotten very far with their campaign to recruit members of the Tea Party, but I suppose you can't blame them for trying.
Some of the cloak-and-dagger tips are better than others. The section on privacy has a couple of tips about not getting busted for looking up too much jihad-related stuff — and/or keeping porn-surfing habits secret. First, the manual says, don't do all your jihad-related surfing at home, although there's no guidance on whether you should be doing that at work or what. Second, when surfing, use the anonymous web browser Tor. But those ideas don't make up for the advice about using lemons to make invisible ink — that's strictly Nancy Drew/Hardy Boys stuff.
Clearly any smart terrorist-in-training isn't sticking to children's mystery fiction and adventure movies alone. News channels are a good start:
"The safest way to get a basic overview on Jihad is to watch the News channels (such as Al Jazeerah)." And the Internet: "The best places to find the most info. about the Jihad with the least amount of searches required is the Social media [especially Twitter]."
The middle section of the book is all the action-hero, blockbuster advice that any red-blooded teenage jihobbyist can't live without.
Running. Learning Krav Maga by watching YouTube videos. Desperately searching Wikihow for clues on how to be a stone-cold mujahid. Or really, just checking Wikihow for a clue, period.
But pointless blossoms into the spectacularly silly when the manual starts advocating strawman purchases of Nerf guns:
"You should buy Toy guns (Nerf guns), or Pellet guns or Paintball guns for Target practice. Maybe you can ask a child cousin, or a friend to buy them for you, but do not buy anything like this from Online because if you are suspected, your credit and buying history will be searched and they will ask you why you bought toy guns."
Now, if the police were being helpful, instead of arresting the terrorist hopeful, they would probably ask why on Earth anyone thought that a Nerf gun was going to teach anybody anything useful about fighting a war. Using a Nerf gun as a training analog for combat is like playing Hungry Hungry Hippos to research the ecology of the Serengeti.
The silliness of strawman Nerf purchases transmutes into the makings of dark comedy when the reader is sagely informed that "Modern weapons are usually found from the 'dark underworld.'" The theory being that if you know drug dealers and emulate the derring-do in the passage copied from Inside the Global Jihad, My Life in al Qaeda - a Spy's story then you should be good to go.
The manual jumps from absurd to the dangerous when it shifts to bomb talk. The bombs are mostly low-grade affairs. Lots of scraping match heads and exploding deodorant cans. One of the diagrams actually calls out the "Lynx Spray Collection" (Lynx is what people in metric-speaking countries use instead of Axe) for use as fuel for a bomb. The book describes pressure-cooker bombs, putting stuff in microwaves, and other bits of tomfoolery.
At the one end, it's the kind of bomb-making that went into the Boston Marathon bombing, but at the other, would result in the kind of misfire that ends up earning the jihadist a ferocious kick to the groin by an intended victim. Any terrorist-in-training would probably be better served by watching Mythbusters and scrounging up a copy of the Anarchist's Cookbook than relying too heavily on this text for tips.
However, all that time spent on YouTube, hunting for bomb-making instructions, did turn out to have an upside: the discovery of the Jackass School of Subterfuge.
"Many people on YouTube do the most riskiest of things and have a video camera recording in the background. If the people get angry, they simply respond: 'Its a prank' and the person forgives them because a video is being recorded. So long as you don't look or act like a Muslim, you can get away with anything with just a video camera and the excuse a crime being a 'Prank'! Remember this."
Given the success of the Jackass franchise and the Borat movie, it's certainly not the craziest idea to come down the pike. There are far better candidates for that all over the place. For example, now armed with guns and bombs, an aspiring revolutionary jihadist needs to get up to speed on tactics. Thus, we are informed that, "Playing games like Call of Duty gives you knowledge of Techniques used in warfare on different Terrains."
Alternately, YouTube videos are cited as a good source for information on urban warfare.
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Well, if they liked the Krav Maga…
All of this will no doubt come in handy when jihad comes. See, it all starts with neo-Nazis attacking Mosques — which makes sense, because neo-Nazis are a great villain choice for a lot of movie plots. Then this mutates into a guerilla war and events occur, and once you capture the presidential palace, then the other team loses or something … and suddenly, Caliphate!
Okay, frankly, I'm a little fuzzy on the details here because the author is a little fuzzy on the details here. The text gets on to some passably accurate generalities about guerilla warfare. But all that text appears to have been copied from another, less dramatically silly, jihadist text, Black Flags From Syria, so I can award no points to the author for that stuff.
Now, global jihad isn't going to pay for itself, so getting cash is a priority. After leading off with a justification by way of disclaimer ("To any non-Muslim reading this, you may be shocked because Muslims are really the most careful about not earning haraam (forbidden) money."), the book lays out a series of tips for stealing money, credit card information, and passwords. However, it also urges caution if caught:
"It's important to note that during this time period, if you ever got caught. Do NOT make it clear you were stealing to support an Islamic group."
If hauled in by the cops, you should avoid going out of your way to make it perfectly clear to the cops that you were running a PayPal scam in order to bring down the West — solid advice.
The book closes with a message of inspiration, and exhorts jihadists-in-training to have some common sense — "If you share this book with others, rename it to something else safe (i.e. How to make cake, or something others will download like - An Islamic Book on Manners) and then zip the file… Always be one step ahead of the enemy through secrecy."
One gets the impression that someone or another didn't pay too much attention to that advice before sending this around. Which is unfortunate, because passing the manual off as an "Islamic Book on Manners" is devilishly witty.
If you ignore the fact that this book is about the pursuit of subjugating all of humanity under a regime run by hyperviolent maniacs, the instruction manual is actually kind of adorable in a kittens and hand grenades sort of way. It's pretty clearly written by a young guy who really wants to live a secret life as a holy jihadist 007 type, but would be hard pressed to find his ass with both hands. It's almost certainly not the product of the IS training and doctrine command. IS has shown itself to be remarkably competent in many areas while this is just jihadi fanfiction: A "How To" guide for live-action-role-playing jihad.
The one thing the book does explain really well (although unintentionally) is the powerful romantic pull of jihad to bored teenagers across the Western world. I mean, there are secret bases, guns, goofy weapons, explosions, the whole nine yards. The book is a veritable bucket list of cool action stuff from the movies.
But as endearingly serious and unintentionally hilarious as the book is, it's sure as hell not a realistic guide for much of anything other than losing fingers, racking up a petty criminal record, and attracting the attention of domestic intelligence and security agencies. If the author could bear watching just one more movie for research, I might recommend Four Lions, a dark British comedy about the wages of jihad for fools and incompetents.
Follow Ryan Faith on Twitter: @Operation_Ryan