The internet is a vast place. Not only are there fun memes and puppy videos to grace our feeds every morning, there is the entire dark web, too.
I don’t know much about the latter — I am a theater major who vehemently resents social media, instant messaging and ad-polluted shopping sites. Veering off the beaten path has never been on my radar, but playwright Javaad Alipoor is an encyclopedia of knowledge on how the internet is undermining democracy and instantaneously reshaping the world.
The central storyline in Alipoor’s new play, “The Believers Are But Brothers,” follows two Muslim men residing in different parts of England and their experience of getting recruited by ISIS. I’ve found that trying to explain the complexities of their recruitment gives away the show and is far better depicted by Alipoor, so my best bet is just to implore you to go see it at the Arthur Miller Theater.
The show dumped a ton of information related to the world of the dark web on the viewer without slowing down to hold anyone’s hand, so it’s no surprise that “The Believers are but Brothers” was rewarded with the largest retention of people for any Q&A I have seen at my four years at the University.
While I sat in the theater, I could not shake the feeling that what Alipoor was doing was dangerous. He spoke so much truth about ISIS’ successful recruitment of young
Muslims in the Western world while simultaneously depicting a young, white supremacist who never leaves his computer screen. In doing so, he allowed the audience to realize how much damage comes from each side. Spoiler: both do an astounding amount of rallying for their respective causes online.
Therefore, as Alipoor dished out fact after fact in a state that swung red in the last election, I was frightened that maybe someone who did not agree with him could be inspired to protest or even incite violence.
Maybe that’s part of the show. If we are constantly attached to these devices and mediums of communication that have the potential to ensue such violence and hate, what is the difference? According to this show, the alt-right is far more advanced in digital manipulation that prompts the banding together of white supremacy groups,online hate speech and controlling elections. The left is far behind in the advancement of that sort of asset, if you can call it that. During the Q&A, American culture professor Lisa Nakamura said she believes the left underestimates the value of spectacle online that the alt-right has come to master.
I don’t think we are supposed to be overstimulated this much. There is a part in the show near the end where Alipoor is playing Call of Duty while the whole rest of the stage is lit up in all sorts of media for a couple of minutes. I couldn’t help thinking about how monstrous it all is.
Scenes jumped between direct address to the audience, Skype, Youtube and even WhatsApp. In each medium, the audience acted as an avid participant. At the beginning, Alipoor shared memes with us that any person under 30 would recognize like Pepe the Frog or Doge. By the conclusion of the play, however, these memes were boiled down to the basic ideologies that fuel the world’s most violent groups, like white supremacists and ISIS.
Memes to terrorism is a big jump, I know. I still have a plethora of questions that I want answered, but just like going down the internet rabbit hole, finding answers leads to more questions. Alipoor’s play feels a bit like going down the internet rabbit hole. At times, this made it hard to follow what train of thought he was going down.
The panel afterwards was led by Alipoor, Nakamura (known for her gender videogame class) and Alexandra Stern (author of “Proud Boys and the White Ethnostate: How the Alt-Right is warping the American Imagination”) and School of Information professor Clifford Lampe. All four had fascinating insights into how the internet is shaping humanity.
When asked if we are just looking too closely at the internet by blaming it for the evils of the world, the panel acknowledged the sentiment, but Alipoor restated that there are worlds being destroyed because of the technology.
“There is a way that we as humans, for better or for worse, are able to communicate that we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface of yet,”Alipoor said.
It’s exciting and frightening to think of what happens past the internet. We have the history of mankind at our fingertips, the ability to overthrow governments or create blackweb armies that can be just a few clicks away, so what happens next?
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go scroll through Facebook to shake off all this internet anxiety.