'Jihaderotica': Author takes aim at ISIS with gay love story
Opponents have gone after the Islamic State with bombs, with interdiction, and by fighting its propaganda online. Here's a novel approach: gay sex stories.
An elusive fiction writer has published a narrative about the Sunni militants' ongoing jihad in Syria and Iraq that's as much Brokeback Mountain as it is Black Hawk Down. Yes, there's bloody battles, suicide bombers, and Yazidi sex slaves. But at the center of ISIS: A Love Story is the fervid romance that brews between two wayward radicals, one that's intended to titillate but also undermine the terror group's barbaric behavior and ideology.
Road signs showed that their route led to Raqqa.
Slaughtered Syrian soldiers roamed the desert to infinity. Their bodies moved, but their blank eyes stayed fixed on the Toyota.
Terrified by their surroundings, Ali and Majnun sought comfort in each other. Running hands over each other's warm bodies, the terror from around the ceased. The car sped on and the bodies swarmed but it didn't matter.
All that mattered is that they were together. Their hands wandered and their lips found each other's. Desire swirled in their minds.
Billed as "gay jihaderotica," the book, available in paperback on Amazon for $6.99, offers a dramatic look into the lives of ISIS fighters that moves between battlefields and bedrooms (and showers, and even tents). While others have sought to take aim at ISIS through clever, subversive means, none have gone so far as to take a swipe at the group through 120 pages of literary realism.
"The gay aspect of the story opens up a lot of potential for discussion of the treatment of homosexuals under ISIS," the author, who uses the pen name Abu Salaam, told Vocativ in an interview. "Still, it's meant to be evocative more than provocative." Since seizing territory in 2014, the militants have waged a relentless — and very public — campaign against gays. That's included executing men and boys accused of sodomy en masse. ISIS fighters have also hurled alleged homosexual couples to their deaths from the tops of buildings, a horrific scene that also appears in the pages of this book.
Salaam's novel follows the tale of Ali and Manjun, two young ISIS recruits, as they criss-cross the extremists' self-declared caliphate in Syria. Idealistic at first, the pair's commitment to the jihad falters as they square off against fellow Muslims in harrowing firefights, witness gory executions, and scramble to stay alive. Slowly, the men come to find solace and comfort in each other as they forge a romantic relationship.
Salaam, who says he has followed Syria's civil war closely since its inception, began to pen his debut novel following the Paris terror attacks last November. Drawing meticulous detail from news reports as well as his familiarity with Islam and the Arabic language, he wrote in sporadic bursts —all longhand — for about seven months. The massacre at an Orlando night club this summer, for which ISIS claimed credit, spurred him to finish the project, which is self-published, he said.
The book's narrative unfolds in direct, unadorned prose. It is filled with character-driven dialogue and scenes that exhibit a command for realism—right down to the make and model of cars and weapons that have been used on Syria's battlefield. While Salaam said he hopes his fictionalized account might spur readers otherwise uninterested in the spiraling Middle East conflict to take notice, it's the depictions of the protagonists' lurid love affair that they will remember.
In one such scene, Ali and Manjun are working an ISIS checkpoint in the city of Kobane — which, in real life, would become the site of a dramatic offensive against the terror group by the U.S. warplanes and Kurdish troops — when the paramours sneak off into a nearby tent. Manjun is performing oral sex on Ali when Omar, a superior, walks in on them.
Piecing together what he was seeing, Omar shook his head.
"I might have to report this."
Ali and Majnun reacted in unison:
Pulling up and zipping their pants, they slipped on shirts while Omar mused:
"I too have enjoyed the pleasures of a man, but it was not here. Not in the caliphate."
Before Omar has a chance to report the illicit act, he is conveniently blown up by a suicide bomber.
In his interview with Vocativ, Salaam insisted that such scenes are not aimed at provoking or undermining those who adhere to Islam's conservative ideology. Homosexuality remains forbidden in nearly every modern Muslim-majority country, and even carries a death sentence in some.
"While some might interpret the gay romance as offensive, in the story it's never portrayed as an object of mockery," he said. "This was never meant to be intentionally offensive to gays or moderate Muslims."
Still, Salaam recognizes that his work could land him in the crosshairs of Islamist extremists. He's gone to great lengths to protect his anonymity. When asked about his professional background or where he lives, Salaam declined to answer.
"They say any publicity is good publicity, but I'm not sure I want my next feature to be in Dabiq," he said, referring to ISIS' online magazine.
There is, of course, the off-chance that a fictional novel written about ISIS may resonate with its militants. "Maybe it'll actually be super popular in jihadi circles, like a sleeper hit with sleeper cells," Salaam said.
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