Yalla Twitter Islamists!

Yalla Twitter Islamists!

Twitter can be a very interesting medium especially if you can read Turkish. Journalists have been fired on Twitter by their tweeting bosses due to their out-of-line tweets.

When one journalist is fired, or another wave of arrests arrives, Twitter becomes an ever-changing wall of graffiti. Several prominent figures tweet statements in support of colleagues. Some express how relieved they are by the arrests and ask for further punishment. Sometimes, you can smell the rotten joy of revenge on the shores of the Pacific.

Several tweeps are “typing freedom fighters.” That is, they constantly tweet about the number of deaths, particularly but not exclusively in Syria. Some are determined to be Twitter war hawks, asking for military intervention. Oddly, these hawks are rarely willing to join the Armed Forces. “Talk is cheap” is a long forgotten statement on Twitter. Twitter provides an incomplete yet intriguing picture of how the Turkish mentality oscillates.

In line with twittersphere rules, I pick a perpetually trending topic, TT. No surprise it is Islam. There is a group of women and men whom I refer to as “Twitter Islamists.” Initially I was perplexed by their behavior, but now I am quite amused. Allow me to explain. Usually gaining the badge of Islamist, just like any other dedication, requires quite a bit of effort. To be an observant Muslim, Jew, or any other religion necessitates commitment, time and sacrifices. You would assume being an observant Muslim to be a prerequisite to being a virtual Islamist. Twitter Islamists are of different shades of green but they share the following qualities. They are usually white-washed Turks. Their knowledge of Islam is very limited and mostly hearsay. Their lifestyle and morals are not very in line with their tweets. They are mostly professionals between the ages of 30 and 45. Hijab is optional, and need not be an attire for all seasons. Contemporary life has situated them in a gray area, between the secularists and Islamists. When they are tweeting, Twitter Islamists are harsh toward anything haram, when it comes to day-to-day life it is another story.

Some of my friends call them hybrid Islamist, wanna-be Islamist or faux Islamist, but I prefer the term “Twitter Islamist,” precisely because I believe they only pay lip service to Islamic ways, almost a reverse taqiyya indeed. It is my observation that most of them lack a proper understanding of political Islam. However, they understand well that advocating Islam online pays off.

So what makes those tweeps Islamists? Well, their tweets are loaded with quotes from the Koran, hadith and Mevlana, as well as religious words such as InshAllah, MashAllah, Allah, and Alhamdulillah. Before you can say “nice to meet you” their ID tags read Muslim. Is not almost everyone in Turkey Muslim? They are also very fond of American exceptionalism. Anytime someone speaks of an alcohol ban or abortion, they start tweeting sentences such as “In America, you cannot drink alcohol on your balcony and never in a park,” and “In America, abortion is illegal.” 

Why are they Twitter Islamists? We can call it falsification of preferences, or simply because it is the “right thing to do now,” because we all want to be on the winning side. Do they fool their thousands of followers with their high doses of virtual religiosity? They fooled me initially, but not many are fooled. For each Twitter Islamist you can find a cunning troll. Trolls are anonymous tweeps, or the antidotes of Twitter Islamists. They tweet to mock Twitter Islamists. It is indeed through their sarcasm and insights that you can see the depths of Turkish shrewdness and humor.

Communicating with several troll tweeps I have observed Twitter provides opportunities for smart young people to express themselves, cooperate with their peers from other walks of life and pull the masks off Twitter Islamists. I must say I am most thrilled by the way devout Muslims and radical secularists cooperate to expose Twitter Islamists. These two groups might have different lifestyle preferences but they share the Turkish spirit to stand tall against the fake! In youth we trust! Happy tweetin’ y’all!

Pinar K. Tremblay is from the Department of Political Science at UCLA.