ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) has launched a new offensive through fashion. The terror group have created a line a t-shirts, hoodies, tote bags, razorbacks, strappy tops, and even baby clothes, clearly designed for a western market and easily available via online retailers. And as if the existence of such clothing isn’t difficult enough to digest, these products have a disturbingly high demand.
Obviously this isn’t the first time a terror or hate group has launched merchandise; Klu Klux Klan and Nazi clothing have been available for quite some time. This is different however because this is the first time such a line of products has been marketed at the young hipster demographic. These products are indicative of ISIS attempting to edge their way into a rebellious teen and/ or hipster market. Most of the clothing only displays the ISIS logo but some show strong ‘warriors’ fighting the ‘oppressors’, such images and ideals can be attractive to the young and troubled, a dangerous combo given that the disenfranchised youth has been ISIS’ main recruitment source in the west.
It’s dangerous, sad, and tragic when a young person feels so marginalised and detached from society and community that they identify with a group like ISIS then chose to display these views on a hoodie. But it’s also quite frankly… stupid. There’s a pretty significant contradiction here; ISIS strictly enforces traditional Islamic dress in areas under its control, the wearing of strappy tops and western style clothing would not be permitted so if you held such views you wouldn’t wear these items. Thus there’s an argument to be made that westerners sporting such clothing are either ignorant or just out to be controversial with no regard to the hate behind the statement.
While anti- terror laws in the UK would technically prevent anyone from wearing ISIS clothing in public (although unlikely that anyone would actually be arrested for this), the strong constitutionally protected freedom of speech laws in the United States would protect an individuals right to display these views no matter how hateful. Although I have no doubt that anyone in public wearing an ISIS t-shirt in the United States would be met with significant confrontation.
Of course it’s likely that the clothing has no direct tangible connection to the terror group on the front line but it symbolises group belonging, and positive advertisement for terror when people should be collectively promoting anti-terror. The idea that wearing these products are cool and advertising for such a cause is repulsive and dangerous especially in a time where political views are highly polarized and we are in a tense geopolitical climate.
Some might see this as just a form of rebellion and not such a big deal but constant exposure to this violent propaganda can draw more people toward extremist ideology. The most common way people are being radicalized is through highly persistent online recruitment. Seeing someone wear an ISIS t-shirt alone probably isn’t going to cause someone to become radicalized but seeing the ‘cool kids’ wearing something like this can be a dangerous start for the young and impressionable.
In response to the line of pro ISIS clothing there is a line of anti ISIS clothing displaying statements such as “FCK ISIS” and “ISIS Hunting Permit”. It’s easy to understand the sentiment behind this reaction, but might it be better if no one was wearing clothing glorifying violence whether it is from ISIS or toward the group. Granted the back and forth pro and anti ISIS punch line t-shirts are small potatoes in the larger sense of the situation but it’s just more fuel on the fire. The glorification of violence on anti ISIS t-shirts only further contributes to the dehumanization of people and toward a greater public sentiment that it’s ok to carpet bomb places under ISIS control with little to no thought to the civilian collateral damage. Let’s not forget that ISIS is known for hiding in densely populated areas. So turning an ISIS held area into a parking lot with drone bombs is unlikely to solve the ISIS problem but result in strengthening their recruitment propaganda by radicalizing moderates.
In sum if you want to be controversial or ironic wear one of those colourful print shirts of a defamed image of the Queen. Don’t contribute to hate and the glorification of violence. We need more love in the world.