“Emo” is short for “emotional” and in the West generally identifies teens or young adults who listen to alternative music, dress in black, and have radical hairstyles and body piercings.
While they are sometimes stereotyped as “gay,” to Iraqis, “emos” are widely synonymous as such and were targeted by extremist groups who smashed their heads with concrete blocks early this year.
In March, Hana al-Bayaty of Brussels Tribunal, an NGO dealing with Iraqi issues, said the current figure of “emos” killed in Iraq ranged “between 90 and 100.”
But for local hairdressers, who have witnessed a change in style among their extremist customers in the eastern province of Diyala, an “al-Qaeda emo” has started circulating as a joke, according to Al-Sumaria News.
The transformation is viewed as a “positive change,” by a Diyala-based hairdresser known as Abu Salah.
For Abu Salah, Qaeda extremists have targeted hairdressers in the past but now they are seeking their artistic expertise.
Another hairdresser, Ahmad Jassem Wahab, from the capital city of Diyala, Baquba, sees that some youths pledged their allegiance to Qaeda just because they wanted to carry guns.
Wahab said these transformed youths are now back to their “normal lifestyle.” He estimated that 20 percent of his customers were with the armed militias and have since decided to follow an “emo” lifestyle.
Unemployment and boredom are reasons mulled by experts as to why some youths turn into militant jihadists.
“Most of these youths suffer from emptiness in their lives due to unemployment or routine which led some to commit mistakes in the past such as joining armed groups,” Iraq-based social researcher, Abdul Baki al-Laheeby, told Al-Sumaria News.
“The youths have put down their arms but they suffer from mental confusion for not having specific goals in life, and this might explain the phenomenon of them turning into “emos”…especially that extremism is their common denominator for their behavior, be it in carrying arms or having “emo” haircuts,” Laheeby added.
The mental state of these youths is also a concern for the Security Committee’s Deputy Chief in Diyala, Delaire Hassan. “It is normal for former members of armed groups to adopt the “emo” lifestyle, as they are likely to move from one extremism to another.”
Contrary to other hairdressers who were positive and open about the “Qaeda emo” trend, the hairdresser, Hadi Hassan, expressed his fear of declaring it publicly.
Others such as former Qaeda militant, Musaab Nouri, said that “Qaeda emo is a joke created by Baquba hairdressers to make fun of Qaeda,” denying any tangible proof for the existence such trend.
Diyala gained some significant for Qaeda insurgents in 2006, when the slain Qaeda leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was head of the group in Iraq. He designated the province as the capital of the Islamic caliphate he planned to establish in the country.