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Jihadist Gang Graffiti

by Dawn Perlmutter

Young Islamists and their sympathizers are tagging, stenciling, painting, vandalizing and using every genre of graffiti to spread the global jihadist message. Similar to other gangs they are using spray paint to mark their territory, demonstrate their allegiance, advertise their gang’s status and power, memorialize fallen fellow gang members, praise violence and threaten their enemies. Jihadist graffiti functions as communication and recruitment and is popping up in cities around the world including: Toronto, London, Dublin, Derry, Glasgow, Augsburg, Munich, Moscow, Toulouse, Frejus, Helsinki, Rome, Crete, Jerusalem, Beirut, Salt lake City, New York City, Washington, D.C. Detroit, Chicago, Philadelphia, Oakland and many others. Islamist graffiti is a popular artistic form of rebellion that portrays the global jihad movement as hip and cool. It appeals to young people who do not consider graffiti vandalism but view it as artistic expression and an agency for popular resistance and change. Spray painting Islamist slogans and jihadist phrases goes beyond graffiti as protest art. Islamist graffiti is a symbolic warfare tactic, a successful stealth information strategy camouflaged as street art.

 

 

Although Islamist graffiti is relatively new to Western cities, the words, signs and symbols of terrorist groups have been proudly spray painted on their home turf for decades. Similar to gangs who mark their neighborhoods with slogans or symbols exclusive to the gang, Palestinian terrorist groups spray paint their emblems on the walls of Nablus, Gaza City and Ramallah, often not far from posters glorifying suicide bombers. Gang graffiti also frequently includes the territory claimed by the gang. Similarly Palestinian graffiti often depicts the map of Israel to represent what they consider to be their turf.

Gang graffiti often includes threats and challenges to rival gangs. Islamist gang graffiti functions the same way. On December 10, 2009, the words ‘Islam will dominate the world – Osama is on his way’ and ‘Kill Gordon Brown’ were spray painted on a war memorial in Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, England. On August 4, 2011 a swastika and the message “Islam will rule” were spray-painted on the Robbins Hebrew Academy, an elementary school attached to a Synagogue in Toronto. On May 13, 2008 stores, pavements and the walls of four synagogues in Stamford Hill and Clapton Common neighborhoods in London were spray painted with 40 pieces of graffiti that read “Jihad to Israel” and “Jihad to Tel Aviv. Often Jihadist gang graffiti is not even considered vandalism or threatening and goes unrecognized as hate speech or terroristic threats. This is because the most common words that appear in Islamist graffiti: Jihad, Intifada and Allahu Akbar, are regarded as non-threatening expressions of faith and/or resistance to oppression.

The word Jihad has been the subject matter in graffiti for years, often flying under the radar as street art. On June 15, 2013 JIHAD was spray painted in black lettering, nearly 20 feet high, on a wall along the northbound lanes of Interstate 95 in Delray Beach, Florida. In Oakland, California a graffiti writer who goes by the name of JIHAD is part of the PI Crew and has been painting large scale (master) pieces of the word JIHAD all over Oakland…

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