The NYT reports today on the jihadi version of fansubbing. According to the paper, people like North Carolina 21-year-old Samir Khan cull all variety of al Qaeda-type material ”anti-American screeds, terrorist adventure novels, bomb-making videos,” translate them into English and repackage them with what the Times presents as a scary kind of new-media savvy. Long diverting rants are put into “flashy English,” as the Times puts it, and “grainy car-bombing tapes” turned into “hip-hop video.”
The paper seems in part to be reporting with wide eyes on the decades-old fansub phenomena, where a network of supporters of a media genre, most famously of Japanese anime, unofficially work together online across the globe to translate and promote and make available the latest work. Samir Khan, says the Times, is “part of a growing constellation of apparently independent media operators who are broadcasting the message of al Qaeda and other groups, a message that is increasingly devised, translated and aimed at a Western audience.” Khan’s blog, unlisted by the Times, is apparently one of the more heavily trafficked of the sites, drawing something like 500 regular users.
As you can imagine, the jihadi fansubbers face hurdles not met in other genres. Khan’s blog has been taken down by a few different service providers. He now runs off of Muslimpad, located first in Texas and now in Jordan and designed for “Islamic networking.” There is also the special coded language practitioners are forced to use. When you upload your latest car-bomb “propaganda rap video,” as the paper puts it, you do it from a cafe and then call your fellow fansubbers and tell them things like: “Hi, Johnny, your mom is traveling today.”
The Times piece is entertaining in the human detail it uncovers (eg, Khan’s dad has unplugged the jihadi blogger’s internet a few times and has now forced him to write a disclaimer, something like: “The views of the blogger are not the views of the house owner, etc…”). It’s also entertaining for all the funny crusty little ways the writers manage to semi-consciously implicate hip-hop and youth culture in the threatening message they have to relate about the terror fansub network. Why is it not a “propaganda music video” instead of a “propaganda rap video,” for instance? Because the word “rap” just carries more exotic punch to those Manhattan writers and readers, doesn’t it.