In a specific type of propaganda that's notable for its fundamentalist dogma, fear and rampant radicalization, it's not easy to imagine two ISIS soldiers frolicking and fornicating in the Syrian outback.
But you don't have to stretch your imagination any longer, because ISIS: A Love Story is here to tell that tale.
A satirical story of extremist love in the middle of a war of terror, ISIS: A Love Story is a funny-yet-realistic take on interwoven events from the conflict. The book aims to paint shades of grey over the movement's black flag. There's even a few sex scenes.
Writing under the pseudonym Abu Salaam, the author was motivated by the Paris attacks to pen a war-torn love story. When the Orlando mass shooting occurred this summer, he felt he had to finish the novel.
"I realized that now was the time to finish and publish it," he tells Konbini.
Salaam believes humanizing ISIS soldiers can hep defeat their unrelenting terrorist organization.
ISIS: A Love Story follows two jihadi soldiers, Majnun and Ali. On a foray across Syria, the pair eventually swap their explosive martyrdom for steaming desert passion after Majnun is injured and Ali has to save him.
As the writer explains, it's "a gay jihaderotica love story designed to send an anti-ISIS message from a perspective within ISIS."
While it sounds like the plot for a cheap Mills and Boon read, Salaam didn't really write ISIS: A Love Story to be a typical romance novel. He wrote it to get a reaction. He tells Konbini:
"I wrote it as fiction to be an interesting and accessible window into the Syrian Civil War for people that aren’t currently interested in the non-fiction sources available."
Believing we can't beat ISIS without understanding their "deep unhappiness," Salaam says "they’re still as human as you or I."
He believes that offering an olive branch to victims of radicalization and portraying them as empathetic characters is the best way to ridicule the group.
We caught up with Salaam to get the 411 on the novel and his take on extremist empathy and the general lack of Syrian literature out there. Read the interview below.
Konbini: What’s the synopsis of ISIS: A Love Story?
Abu Salaam: The story follows two mujahideen, Majnun and Ali, on a foray across Syria. The story is meant to be read all in one go, it doesn’t linger in one place for long, so I can’t give away too much. It weaves a lot of real-life events, themes and places into a feasible fictional narrative.
From what you’ve told me of the story so far, it seems like you’re going for a faux-sincere, subtle piss-take parody – why is this? Will it help to get the message out there?
The implausible novelty of the title and idea are meant to draw in the reader’s attention. Once I have it, I share with the reader an actual legitimate love story with some subtle satire worked in. I wrote it as fiction to be an interesting and accessible window into the Syrian Civil War for people that aren’t currently interested in the non-fiction sources available. Hopefully this will get them interested.
"I think it should be less about ridiculing them and more about humanising them"
Is challenging ISIS with gay propaganda a successful way to ridicule them?
I think it should be less about ridiculing them and more about humanizing them. We need to realize that even though they’re part of ISIS, they’re still as human as you or I. A lot of these people thought they’d never be able to be happy or achieve their goals in their home countries, and that’s why they joined the organization. It’s by understanding that deep unhappiness that we can defeat ISIS.
You say you have an "intricate understanding of the Syrian Civil War.” How is this so?
I’ve followed the Syrian Civil War since it began. I continue to get daily updates from reddit.com/r/syriancivilwar. It’s a really informational subreddit and I highly recommend it for people interested in learning more on the conflict.
"We need to realize that even though they’re part of ISIS, they’re still as human as you or I"
Why do you think there is still a lack in literature about the Syrian conflict, and why don’t authors “dare” to go there?
I think the lack of literature on the Syrian conflict is self-reinforcing. No one’s read it so no one’s writing it. With this book I hope to inspire others to explore the genre.
Would you ever write ISIS: A Trans Love Story? That would really piss them off.
Haha. It’s an interesting idea but I think I’d be more interested in reading it than writing it.
ISIS: A Love Story is available on Amazon now in paperback or ebook.