‘Rottenyahu’: Terrorist propaganda magazines using ‘humor’ in harmful messaging

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Humor is being used in terrorist propaganda magazines to reinforce identity and promote group bonding, new research suggests.

The study found that different terrorist groups use varying comedic tactics, while using “humor” to label global presidents; including “the Senile Crusader” to describe US President Joe Biden, and “Rottenyahu” to depict former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.


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The study, conducted by the United Kingdom’s University of Exeter, found that the Taliban, al-Qaeda and Tahrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) were mainly using humor in a similar way, using situational comedy, while humor in ISIS magazines was dehumanizing and mocking.

Around 82 terrorist magazines (published in English) were examined and the research team found that al-Qaeda and the Taliban in particular used parody and mockery to sway the curious and send their message by emphasizing an “us versus them” mentality.

This usually involves using aggressive imagery of people and countries to portray them as animals.

Published in the journal Behavioral Sciences of Terrorism and Political Aggression, the study was carried out by Dr. Weeda Mehran from the University of Exeter and her MA students Megan Byrne, Ella Gibbs-Pearce, Archie Macfarlane, Jacob Minihane and Amy Ranger.

“[Terrorist] media strategy uses situational humor to create solidarity – these are in-jokes often only understood by those who understand the jihadi ideology and political outlook so it helps create a shared identity,” Mehran said in a statement released by the university. “Shared humor creates an environment that fosters internal cohesion and creates social bonding.”

The extremist groups repeatedly used the term “dog” to describe President George W. Bush, “donkey” to describe Americans in general and wild animals to describe US troops.

The researchers also found that ISIS often labels US President Joe Biden as “the Senile Crusader” and al-Qaeda refers to former Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “Rottenyahu.”

They also found that the TTP was more likely to resort to sarcastic and ironic humor than ISIS, the Taliban and al-Qaeda.

In addition, al-Qaeda was the least likely extremist group to use sarcastic humor.

“Propaganda is used to encourage [terrorism] but it serves a much bigger purpose and humor is a key part. We found the use of three different types of humor – de-humanizing, sarcastic/and situational,” said Mehran.

“ISIS was more likely to use dehumanizing humor – portraying rivals as robots or animals and mocking them. This sets them apart from other groups who are more likely to use sarcasm and irony.”

The study determined that the regularity of dehumanizing humor used in ISIS’s magazine reflected their overall uncompromising and aggressive stance towards its opponents and outsiders.

“Situational humor is used strategically to enrich narratives of past events and develop a religious rationale for conducting jihad, as well as motivating individuals to carry out their operations. This humor emphasizes the comradery and brotherhood of carrying out ‘istishhadi’ [martyr] missions and depicts perilous and dangerous operations and efforts as peaceful, even joyful.”

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