All of us here know about ISIS, the terrorist outfit that controls parts of Syria and Iraq. I have also mentioned the MRA several times – Men’s Rights Activists. While we are certainly more worried about ISIS (and these worries are justified), a feminist is more likely to receive direct harassment and threat from an MRA. While researching about them, I was surprised by the similarities between the two groups – whose supporters hate each other.
In this decade ISIS has replaced Al Qaeda as the most dangerous Wahabbi organization. It started as an Al Qaeda ally in Iraq following the American invasion, and started to call itself Islamic State of Iraq in 2006. As it gained territories in Syria in 2013, it renamed itself Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. Another name for them, ISIL, replaces “Syria” with “Levant”, the Latin equivalent to the Arabic geographical name al-Sham.
Arabs prefer to call them Da’ish or Daesh, abbreviation of Dawlah Islam, since it sounds like negative Arabic words daes and dahes. The organization prefers to call itself Islamic State, since now they aim for world domination. Somehow the term “ISIS” is the most popular one in Indonesia, not only because it’s easy for our tongue but because we are not familiar with the Levant concept, and we have mixed history with the usage of Arabic words in everyday communication.
On the other hand, the Men’s Rights Movement started out as the backlash to the success of feminism in the 1920s, when white women in Western countries gained voting rights. By the end of 1970s, male sympathizers of feminism split into pro and anti feminists (this is a cautionary tale), and anti-feminism mirrored the history of feminism for the last thirty years. A supporter of the Men’s Rights Movement is called a Men’s Rights Activist, MRA.
Certainly I am more familiar with the MRAs than of ISIS sympathizers. My first knowledge of the MRAs came in October 2013, when the video game reviewer Carolyn Petit was severely harassed after her very positive review of Grand Theft Auto V video game, simply because she criticized the misogynistic story writing.
In 2014, as ISIS condemned the Yazidis into slavery and threatened Baghdad, feminist nerds in the West and their allies fought exhausting battles against the Gamergate movement, which declared that they were fighting the “SJWs” – Social Justice Warriors.
The world of Gamergaters and other anti-feminists turned to be more bizarre than I expected. They do not hate only feminists, but also hate black people, especially in response to the Black Lives Matter movement. Their rhetoric against Barack Obama and Muslims mimic Donald Trump’s sound bites. And they keep talking about the Red Pill, a reference of The Matrix where Keanu Reeves wakes up from ignorance and sees the true nature of the world.
The French anthropologist Dounia Bouzar works for the Ministry of the Interior to stop ISIS recruitment. She has found out that ISIS does not always use religious narrative in influencing Muslim Westerners. Indeed, it also uses the Red Pill story. Whether the narrative is MRA’s or ISIS’, the story is same. Vulgar white American women run the city while a secret organization (Freemasons, Jews, or Illuminati) runs the planet. To take the Red Pill is to fight back. To take the Blue Pill is to be emasculated.
Bouzar counseled French youth who love video games and fantasy franchises. One loves Assassin’s Creed, a French series that narrates the eternal battle between two secret organizations. Many wish to become a gun-toting hero that fights the evil cabal and gets a girlfriend in the end. ISIS promises them that: an adventure against the Illuminati and a town full of beautiful and friendly women.
MRAs match ISIS’ delusion well. Many claim that they have abandoned faith on American women, who have discarded their maternal instinct and femininity. Many believe that black people, Syrian refugees, and Planned Parenthood are parts of the plot to destroy the Western civilization. Many of them are not practicing Christians – they are likelier to be atheists – but believe that the cornerstone of Western civilization is a white society composed of nuclear families who read the words of St. Paul and Plato.
And so these two groups become the other side of the same coin. The French and Belgian attackers of Paris hoped to sow discord among Muslim and non-Muslim Europeans, to bring more Muslims into their fold - to take the Red Pill. MRAs, on the other hand, hope that the attacks will wake Western men from their slumbers and to take arms against Muslim migrants and their backers, the feminists. Many idolize Russia since they see Putin as a crusader of conservatism and believe that Russian women are safe from feminism (if you mention Pussy Riot, they would say that Putin has taught them a lesson).
When Robert Dear killed three people and injured many more by attacking a Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado, many feminists compared how the news is treated compared with Paris’. Of course Dear is not a “terrorist”, since he is not Muslim. Like Chris Herper-Mercer, Elliot Rodger, Dylann Roof, and other mass murderers I had mentioned in this website, they are “lone wolf”s. But these lone wolves were obsessed with the MRAs’ narrative of promiscuous women being careless with their lives at men’s expenses. Republican presidential candidates promised closed doors for Syrian refugees, but stayed silent on mass shootings committed by (white-identifying) Americans.
Both ISIS and MRAs are motivated by toxic masculinity, or hyper masculinity, or just plain delusion. Whatever it is, they believe that life is an action movie. Evil rises, hero rises, hero kills evil, hero gets girl. The tragic part is they have to threat and kill people to fulfill their fantasy.
Postscript: These Australian blog post and cartoon compare family violence with terrorism. Hat tip to Yenni Kwok.
Mario wrote about what is behind Indonesia’s irrational fear of communism.
* Illustration by David Goehring