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Jordanian comic book author joins the fight against extremism

Militant groups such as ISIS are capitalizing on the hero narrative which aides in their recruitment process

Published: Updated:

Comic books and hero narratives are part of the fight against the spread of extremist ideologies in the Middle East, as one Jordanian entrepreneur pushes for a counter-extremist narrative.

Comic-book author Suleiman Bakhit told the New York Times that militant groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) are capitalizing on the hero narrative which aides in their recruitment process.

These groups “preach terrorism as a heroic journey,”Bakhit said.

“The biggest threat in the Middle East is terrorism disguised as heroism,” he was quoted as saying in the New York Times.

Bin Laden’s story of leaving behind a life of wealth and comfort in Saudi Arabia follows that heroic narrative, Bakhit said.

“This is the same message, the heroic message, that they push to all the terrorists in Western Europe who go join ISIS. And this has such a huge appeal for a lot of these youth, unfortunately,” he said.

However, with ISIS, recruits are winners if they live or die. “You get killed, you’re reunited with the prophet and Allah,” Bakhit said.

“If you don’t, you’re still on your journey.”

Bakhit’s belief that comic books and video games can act as a deterrent led him to start the Aranim Media Factory in 2006, which published and produced comic books and video games.

“I went there and asked the kids, ‘Who are your heroes?’ ” he said as he recounted his field researcher.

“‘We don’t have any heroes, but we hear a lot about Bin Laden, about Zarqawi,’ ” he said they told him, referring to the Jordanian-born militant Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who headed the al-Qaeda in Iraq militant group, which later rebranded itself as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.

“I’m like, ‘What do you hear about them?’ The children replied, ‘That they defend us against the West because the West is out there to kill us.’ And this is the terrorist narrative and Propaganda 101.”

Bakhit said that while Jordanian authorities embraced his initiative at first, an attack by extremist minimized government support.

Prior to the attack, more than one million copies of his comic books were distributed through different schools in Jordan.

He was assaulted by Muslim extremist, which left him with a scar above and below his left eye.

“For every terrorist we kill, there’s a hundred more being born,” Bakhit said.

The recruitment techniques used by ISIS appeal to the emotions of potential militants, a tactic Bakhit said was “light years ahead of what we have, and no one is fighting it at that level.”