Why iPhone users are more likely to join ISIS than those who eat falafel

September 21, 2017 Opinion , OPINION/NEWS , United States

Kaique Rocha/Pexels photo



Ahmed Tharwat



Like Hansel and Gretel hoping to follow their breadcrumbs out of the forest, the FBI sifted through customer data collected by San Francisco area grocery stores in 2005 and 2006, hoping that sales records of middle eastern food would lead to Iranian terrorists,” reported Jeff Stein for Foreign Policy magazine. What is next, falafel breath detector at the airport?!


Trevor Aaronson (who I had on my show) in his book, The Terror Factory, poured through the court records of every terrorism-related prosecution in the U.S. in the ten years following 9/11, a staggering list of 508 defendants, according to the U.S. government, are considered terrorists. Aaronson was determined that he “could count only on one hand“ the number of actual terrorists who posed a direct and immediate threat to the United States, but this was the first time the FBI used ethnic food as a cultural informant.

What is amazing with advanced technologies and intelligence apparatus, in this one nation under Google, we still resort to this falafel squad mentality. In the age of iPhone, iPod, iMac, where seeing is believing, and everything is at the touch of a finger, shouldn’t the FBI get over the Iraq-Iran mentality and paranoia? History shows us that people join terrorist organizations for so many different reasons beyond their ethnicity and ideology. Frustrated, delusional British and so called western jihadists may join ISIS not because they are Muslims, but because each one of them is a frustrated individual, alienated in a western country with no clear identity. As French sociologist Oliver Roy brilliantly explained in his book, Jihad and Death The Global Appeal of Islamic State, “it is not radical Islam it is the Islamization of radicalism.”

The same is true in the case of Arabs from courtiers such as Tunisia and Saudi Arabia. The emptiness of their lives, their diminished sense of a wholesome cohesive identity pushes them to look for a cause bigger than themselves. So instead of doing ethnic food profiling as a means of tracing terrorists, the FBI should possibly take a look, not at delusional alienated individuals, who are driven by religious ideology to join ISIS or the Islamic state, but rather at secular jihadists, who are driven by a consumerist identity, like the Apple cult members, who waited days for the new apple iPhone 6. Those are more alike than a regular Muslim falafel consumer. iPhone cult members and ISIS fanatics have a similar profile and are motivated by similar cultish beliefs to those that motivate people to join ISIS.


Millions of people waited eagerly for the second coming of the iphone6. Syracuse.com listed some of the iPhones users’ explanations as to why they waited all night to be the first to get their culture icon iPhone. It’s tradition (values): Jerry Coe and Bob Kriesel, first in line at the Apple store around 6 p.m. Thursday, said they come every year and trade in their old iPhone. It’s Apple (sense of belonging): “nobody does what Apple does,” Mary Fishlock, first in line at the at store in destiny around 10 p.m. Thursday, said. “it has an Apple logo on it,” another person said, “what more do you need?”

It’s new (nuances): many customers said they simply didn’t want to wait for technology that can get outdated very quick. “[if you] don’t get it now, you could be waiting in line,” one man said. For love (thank you Jesus): a Cornell university student who only identified himself as James said he arrived at 9:30 p.m. Thursday to buy an iPhone 6 plus for his girlfriend as a surprise for her birthday. Moral support (camaraderie): some people in line weren’t even waiting to buy an the device, they were merely hanging out with friends or loved ones that wanted the new iPhone and they have to have it now: George Parra from Albany said he drove from the Apple store at Cross Gates mall because they were already sold out. He arrived in Syracuse at 4 a.m. and went home happy four hours later.


These are very much similar characteristics to those individuals who are joining ISIS, they want tradition, they want a sense of camaraderie, belonging. A Time Magazine reporter took a stab at this question with the headline “A growing number of westerners are joining the Islamist militant group – but why?“ The biggest reason for this is that ISIS has philosophically welcomed all Muslims as equals, as it’s building an Islamic state which does not have a particular Syrian angle.” “Also, ISIS’s leadership is made of people with very prominent roles that are foreigners so you’re not going to be discriminated against philosophically if you’re foreign.” “For many people who are lacking a strong sense of identity and purpose, their violent radical global narrative provides easy answers and solutions: it can be a very powerful message for people who are looking for answers,” says Matthew Levitt, the director of counterterrorism and intelligence at the Washington institute for near east policy.

As ISIS has created a utopia for the disenfranchised people of the Muslim world, iPhone and Apple products create a utopia for the disenfranchised of the secular consumer world. Professor Brett Robinson, who I had on my TV show, coined it in his book by the same name Appletopia for everyone, regardless of your socioeconomics. In his book Appletopia: media technology and the religious imagination of Steve Jobs, he explains the cultish culture of Apple.

Mr. Robinson observed that in 2011 by one estimate the most photographed landmark in New York city was not the Rockefeller Center or Times Square; it was the Apple store on Fifth Avenue. The shimmering glass cube is otherworldly. The $7 million structure stands thirty two feet high and features a glass spiral staircase wrapped around a glass elevator. A glowing Apple logo floats in the center of the cube. Inside the store, there are no shelves or boxes, just wooden tables with Apple’s glowing products on display. Faithful consumers wander the cavernous interior admiring Apple devices in a virtual “cathedral of consumption.” Those Apple jihadists following the Apple Daesh in his crusade to establish, the Appletopia state of digital caliphate with the new apple OS sharia. Here again Professor Robinson explains more succinctly how consumerism fundamentalism is taken over religion fundamentalism; “the cultural authority of the cathedral was giving way to the revolution of ideas unleashed by the printing press and books…the authority of the printed page is now giving way to the universality of glass screens;” that is the iphone culture.

American sociologist Philip Rieff has called the spiritual and religious aspect of technology “the triumph of the therapeutic.” Under these conditions, the moral ideal is a person of leisure, “released by technology from the regimental discipline of work so as to secure his sense of well-being in highly refined alloplastic ways.” The high priests of the Appletopia; the technology ISIS with their iPhone, iPod, iMac, Daesh, each of these cultural icons explained Professor Robinson…“supports the cult of the individual by offering psychological and technological salvation to a disenchanted world who could find a refugee and identity, in either joining the Islamic state of ISIS cult or the Appletopia state of iPhone cult!


“Disenchantment and nihilism is one point of similarity between modern day consumerism and jihadists. Much dissimilarity also has to be noted. Consumerists are pleasure hungry, and their pleasure still revolves around bodily needs; their preferred pleasure is certainly distorted because it involves humans via machines, not via normal personal interaction. But the machine can’t replace human interaction, and the brand never deliver its promises. The myth of the ISIS promised Caliphate recast into a modern story of heroism and nihilism.” Again here is Oliver Roy, “this very contemporary aesthetic of violence is less rooted in the history of Islamic thought than it is entrenched in a youth culture that has turned global and violent.”

When Apple/iPhone6 state don’t deliver its utopia to their followers jihadists, as is happening now already, The Independent newspaper reported, “In what’s already being dubbed ‘bend gate’, owners of Apple’s new iPhone 6 Plus are reporting that their new smartphones are being bent out of shape – just from being carried in their pockets.” If people are disappointed by this bending problem of their culture icon, then the likes of ISIS utopia may deliver the moral one.






Ahmed Tharwat

Ahmed Tharwat is the Producer and Host of the Arab-American TV show BelAhdan. His articles are published in national and international publications. He blogs at Notes from America,www.ahmediatv.com and his articles appear in national and international publications. Follow him on Twitter @AhmediaTV.

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