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The cultural construction of sympathiser social identities in the Islamic state’s virtual ecosystem: an analysis of the politics of naming

Middle EastWorldGroupsIdeologies


This study explores the politics of naming in the Islamic state (IS) media networks, looking into how sympathisers’ (munāsir-s) virtual identities are socially constructed online. Naming is a discursive practice which is purely ideological in that when sympathisers name themselves online, they re-imagine their roles and the boundaries of their national belonging alongside cultural representations of the organisation. By naming, they reify IS cultural heritage which is recontextualised from the historical legacy of the Prophet and Islamic Conquest. By naming, they also amplify IS hegemonic cultural frames and master narratives. In this sense, naming oneself in the IS virtual ecosystem is a significant rhetorical strategy that may fulfil at least one of the three main cultural functions. Names may (1) imitate historical role models, (2) reconstruct the sense of belonging to homophilic communities (brothers of the same faith) beyond ethno-racial geographies, and/or (3) convey a politically religionist bias in constructing the self vs. the other. The politics of naming is an online social learning process in which collective intelligence instructs sympathisers on how to create accounts with innovative iconic/connotative identifying aliases. In IS social ecology, naming may stand for a ritual call to adventure, the destination of which is already recognised. Sympathisers are interpellated as jihadi subjects to cross the threshold of their ordinary world and embark on a virtual journey to media jihad – hence, their recognition of their new subject positions in support groups and the potential manufacturing of their loyalty and disavowal (al-walā’ wa l-barā’).

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