In the annals of jihadi groups, the story is an old one: A disaffected Muslim youth returns to Islam, reconnects with his faith, finds himself outraged at the injustices done to his brothers abroad, and travels to a conflict zone to wage jihad. Think Afghanistan in the 1980s and early 2000s, Iraq under American occupation, and Syria today.
But when it comes to the propaganda campaigns that have drawn Muslim youths to these conflicts, here’s something we haven’t seen before: a graphic novel encouraging young Muslims in the West to take up jihad.
A video released by the online jihadi "Mustafa Hamdi" depicting one young man’s journey to Syria does just that, serving up a mix of aspirational thinking and sense of belonging to entice Muslims to join with Jabhat al-Nusra, the al Qaeda affiliate fighting in Syria against the Syrian regime.
The story — which was translated by the Middle East Media Research Institute and is the first of seven parts — centers on a young man named Mustafa who lives in an unnamed Western country and graduated high school four years ago, only to spend his days in his room playing video games. His father enters to tell Mustafa that he needs to make something of himself, reminding him that his brothers have entered respectable professions — one a doctor, the other an engineer. "I’m very proud of you, and I want a good future for you," the father tells his son. "Don’t disappoint me." Mustafa looks at the ground shamefully and despondently turns on the television.
Later, he meets his cousin, Marwan, a man dressed in traditional Muslim clothing. Marwan tells Mustafa that he is saddened that he hasn’t seen him around the mosque recently and encourages him to come by more often. "I know that living in a foreign country has its difficulties, but we must not forget where we have come from," he says. "We lead comfortable lives here, but Muslims are dying every day all over the world, defending Islam and the Muslims."
"You know that my family is still in Syria, trapped between the fighters," Marwan tells Mustafa over sounds of gunfire. "They have witnessed many barbaric crimes and killings, which no man can bear to see. I pray to Allah the Almighty every day that they will keep in good health, and I hope you will join me in prayer in the mosque. Our faith and our honor are more important than any worldly matter."
Three months later, we return to Marwan and Mustafa, who has found Islam once more. "It was your stories of the killing and torture in Syria that had an impact on me," Mustafa tells his cousin. "I can hardly believe what is happening to my brothers in Syria. These people are fighting and dying for the sake of Allah, and there is no greater honor than that. Allah will hold the aggressors accountable on Judgment Day."
A man overhears Mustafa’s conversation and interjects. "These words of yours are awesome, young man. You bring honor to your family and to Islam. But if you are ready to wage Jihad for the sake of Allah along with your brothers in Syria…"
Thus ends part one of "The Journey of a Mujahid with Jabhat Al-Nusra."
Here is the graphic novel in full: