Javaad Alipoor uncovers some unsettling truths in his one man show The Believers are but Brothers: primarily, the dangerous connection between the Internet and the terrorist group ISIS. Following the paths of three young men, Javaad narrates a dark tale of modern radicalisation.
The show toured the Edinburgh Fringe this summer, receiving excellent reviews, and is now on at the Bush theatre in London. The static, simple set consists mainly of a few computers; a larger virtual screen looms above a desk where Javaad sits, his back facing the audience.
In a style more akin to a lecture than a play, Javaad directly engages with his audience. He delves into a narrative of the three men who are caught up in the realms of the dark web, highlighting how easily they can access corrupt information – just a few clicks away.
The angry young men in his story get sucked in through the online chatroom 4Chan, a far-right website which feeds of provocative videos and spreads memes across the internet. Javaad uses his platform to draw attention to current issues that 4Chan pose, such as ‘fake news’ and the spreading of terrorist propaganda.
Periodically, choruses of dinging and pinging echo around the theatre. Diverting from convention, Javaad creates a WhatsApp group with the entire audience. He sends memes and questions to the audience, enabling us to engage with the show.
The ‘Believers’ WhatsApp group draws attention to the abuse which thrives in an anonymous, encrypted space; hammering in his message, which is slightly more complex to follow in his dialogue. The Believers are but Brothers exposes the power of the Internet to manipulate our politics and condition our society with dangerous imagery.
As the story evolves, the darkly comical tone mocks the authorities who empower online trolls – Trump – and enable the spreading of racist and misogynistic messages. Javaad also touches on the problematic representation of women in the violent video games that he displays on his screen. Either sex objects or damsels in distress, always in submissive positions, women are portrayed in an extremely unhealthy way to gamers.
Javaad also mocks the young men, who have slipped through the cracks in the UK and failed their jihadist training in Syria. They live out the war lounging around in villas – Tweeting – as if taking a ‘gap year’.
Although The Believers is far from heartwarming, I am comforted that Javaad Alipoor is drawing attention to the issues which lurk in the Internet. His performance reminds us that we should not underestimate its manipulative and far reaching power.