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Why Are So Many People Writing Bizarre 'Open Letters' to ISIS on Facebook?

People are doing their bit in the fight against the Islamic State by writing to their friends on Facebook.

by Sam Kriss
Dec 2 2015, 5:40pm

"You are punks"

Are you doing your part in the fight against ISIS? Are you, for instance, refusing to call them ISIS? For a while now, world leaders have preferred not to say ISIS, which is sinister and glamorous and sounds like the villain in a budget superhero movie, and opted instead for ISIL, which sounds like conjunctivitis medicine. But it turns out that what ISIS really hates is being referred to as Daesh, an Arabic acronym that sounds a bit like daes, someone who tramples or crushes, and dahes, someone who sows discord. Please, they're begging, don't call us Daesh, we hate it, it's our only weakness; get Suzanne Moore to stop saying "Daesh" in the Guardian and we'll do anything you want.

What other things might ISIS hate? We have to find out, so we can start doing it immediately. Start with the obvious: Muslims hate pigs, right? Racists have been throwing bacon at mosques for years now, but after the attacks in Paris one inventive Californian proudly posted evidence (or possibly an old, unrelated photo) of the row of pig's heads he'd supposedly laid across his street to protect his neighborhood from the global Islamic menace. (Question one: Did he really think Muslims couldn't just step over them? Question two: What happens when he needs to drive somewhere? Question three: Where do you even get 20 pig's heads, and what happens to the rest of the pig?)

What else? You pour warm beer and double cream into a single funnel, the tube coiling directly into your open mouth: I bet those guys in ISIS are really gonna hate this! Sorry, honey, I know you don't like it when I leave the toilet seat up, but ISIS dislikes it even more. We could take in Syrian refugees, we could try to stop the flow of arms and cash fueling the conflict, or we could watch Family Guy while pissing in the bathtub, something that famously makes ISIS absolutely furious. Once citizens in wartime were told to cut back and make do, sacrifice their private needs for the national effort; now if ISIS hates the West for its smug, childish brutality, we're going to win by being more smug, more childish, more brutal, more bloated, more obnoxious, more selfish, more stupid than we were before.

This is the world that the Open Letter to ISIS on Facebook inhabits, at once blindly pigheaded and incredibly lonely. Statistically speaking, you have probably either seen or composed one of these: Thousands of people, apparently under the strange misapprehension that all their friends have joined ISIS since the last school reunion, have taken to the internet to directly address the masked instantiations of metaphysical evil.

Finchie's open letter

Some of these have become inexplicably popular. For instance, the most recent to go viral, prompted by an ISIS video that included Ireland in its "coalition of devils" (along with other similarly aggressive imperial powers as Switzerland, Kosovo, and the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia). "What's the craic lads!" our author writes, immediately justifying a massive retaliatory strike against Dublin. He explains to ISIS that the Irish are peaceful folk, unlike that other country immediately to the east, but should ISIS try to attack anything other than Bono's house or County Leitrim "in the name of Alan, (or what ever he's called)," they will "beat the shit out of all of you using mammies wooden spoon."

The letter has done the usual rounds, being featured on the Lad Bible and on countless of those creepily algorithmic clickbait sites—occasionally with the baffling title "This Irish Guy's Open Letter to ISIS Has Everyone But ISIS Laughing." Because ISIS aren't laughing. They read it, and they're really pissed off.

But that was, at least nominally, only a bit of fun. There are others—too many others—which are either deadly serious or a joke far more finely and deftly ironic than any of us deserve.

Take the letter purportedly written by (of course) an anonymous US Marine, warning that, "that pudgy, middle aged guy wearing khakis in the mall, who unbeknownst to you, is a former 0311 and armed, will dump your sorry ass before you have a chance to scream 'allahu snackbar.'" Just reading it, you can feel the erotic anticipation of that doughy, defeated schlub as he pushes a squeaky cart between home appliances and paper plates, wishing more than anything for sudden gunfire and blood on the linoleum, praying for ISIS to start murdering his neighbors in an Omaha mall, so he can save the day, so he can be a hero, so people will love him again—or the next best thing, so his death can be more interesting than his life.

There's also this supremely awkward video message, in which a guy bobs around in his garden, limply waving an American flag, clenching his fists, and sometimes weaving up close to point at ISIS directly through the camera and yell "you are punks."

But by far the greatest and most baffling is an utterly insane five-minute missive by one Emily Longworth, which at the time of writing has had over 9.5 million views. "Dear ISIL," she says, with the cold and deathly serious expression of someone striking a grave blow against tyranny. "I wanted to be one of the first to congratulate you on your graduation from the level of scum to the peak of pusillanimous maggots." Undeterred by the fact that this doesn't make sense, she continues in this vein, but the kicker is right at the end. "Quote for you from my father. 'ISIS members: every one of you is a pig-eating son of a whore. Fuck you'." That's right, ISIS, I'm going to tell my dad on you. She's watched the horror go on for too long: Finally it's time to take action. Headlines flash in her mind: ISIS forces desert en masse after being called scumbags online; ISIS surrenders directly to Emily's dad.

What's going on here? It's obvious that your open letter to ISIS isn't helping anyone, so why make one? As Hegel knew, any encounter with the other prompts a demand that they recognize you as an autonomous self-consciousness. We speak because we are powerless. All online communication is a cry for recognition—strip away the clever irony or the contrived coquettishness and it's a desperate plea: see me, affirm me, love me, please love me. This is why people send fawning tweets to social media interns at big companies; this is why people comment "hello sweetie you look very nice pls send me a message" on celebrity Instagram pictures; this is why people comment on VICE articles.

You write an open letter to ISIS because you hope against hope that they might actually read it. You want to piss them off, but more than that you want to talk to someone, to be validated, even by a gang of genocidal takfiris. Just you try to invade my specific Midwestern suburb, you write, I'll be waiting for you. Come on, my gun's ready. Please come. I'm so alone.

Follow Sam on Twitter.

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