Amil Khan writes: Abdel Majed Abdel Bary, the rapper suspected of murdering American journalist James Foley somewhere between Syria and Iraq, is the product of a British youth culture that has managed to merge two seemingly contradictory lifestyles: gangsta rap and jihad. Like Douglas McAuthur McCain — an American hip-hop fan who was recently killed fighting for the Islamic State — Abdel Bary represents a new and very scary evolution in modern jihadi history.
U.S. Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel recently described the Islamic State as a threat “beyond anything we’ve ever seen.” Yet we are only just beginning to grasp what is different about this group. One reason is that it includes men in its ranks whom you might expect to see in a nightclub rather than fighting in the desert for an organization that would, traditionally, whip you for listening to music.
As a result of this cultural elasticity, the Islamic State has succeeded in attracting supporters outside its natural recruiting pool. Both McCain and another Westerner, Denis Mamadou Cuspert, a German citizen who died fighting with the Islamic State — and had a previous life as rapper Deso Dogg with three albums to his name — became converts as part of this broader appeal.
I first began to look into this hybrid phenomenon in 2008 when I was a journalist researching a subculture that had fused the extremism and violence of gangsta rap with that of al Qaeda — or at least a version of it. During a months-long investigation for British television station Channel 4, I met dozens of young men across London who tended to have three things in common: a history of criminal activity, an ambition to be a gangsta rapper and a fixation with the terrorist group begun by Osama bin Laden. [Continue reading…]