Humour in Jihadi magazines plays a significant role in the formation of collective identity and “creates a sense of internal cohesion” based on shared experiences. A study of 82 English magazines published by the Taliban, ISIS, Al-Qaeda and Tahrik-e Taliban Pakistan (TTP) finds significant differences amongst these groups in the type of humour they utilise. Unlike the common perception, militancy is not just about operations, objectives, and strategic thinking. It is also about rituals, costumes and dress codes, music, film and storytelling; “It is about sports, jokes, and food.” However, this “soft dimension of military life” has not received due attention from scholars. Looking inside any radical group, we can observe a range of daily social practices that have no obvious strategic purpose.
Jihadis use poetry, they speak about dreams, weep openly and value personal humility, artistic sensitivity, and displays of emotion; jihadi militants do not spend all their time on their bomb-making skills. The downtimes and the soft dimensions of militants’ lives are depicted in the media produced by the groups, which in fact have a strategic purpose. When a jihadi militant about to go on a ‘jihadi mission’—a suicide mission—is shown laughing and playing football with village children in a Taliban video, or militants are described to be laughing, smiling and joking in Al-Qaeda magazines, the question remains: what is the strategic purpose of depicting laughter, humour, jokes, and smiling militants in jihadi rhetoric? After all, jihad is a serious business, and the pages of magazines and minutes of videos are finite. Why spend time showing smiling militants or writing about their jokes?