Innovative The Believers Are But Brothers Delves into the Web of Modern Alienation and Extremism

His back faces the audience, the eyes are fixed on one of the screens on the table, he is intent on playing with a war videogame: Javaad Alipoor, already on the stage, doesn’t seem to care of the people coming into the room.

Few minutes after the due time for the start of the show, he finally turns his chair and starts typing on his smartphone. Contrary to theatre etiquette, the audience has been allowed to keep their devices on, with ringtones and glowing screens, and beforehand been invited to join a WhatsApp group, which would then be deleted with all the related data after the 90 minutes running time.

The Believers Are But Brothers is the innovative show inspired and developed from community workshops and research into the circulation of and engagement with online radicalisation.

The popular text service WhatsApp guarantees an end-to-end encryption, which means no one can snoop on the actual words/emojis/attachments exchanged between the sender and the receiver.

Alipoor is the writer and performer of this original piece, which won the 2017 Scotsman Fringe First Award and is currently in London at the Bush Theatre. He uses this app to interact with the audience. What happens during the show is a big live chat with all the members of the public.

While the actor, from time to time, sits on the stage in silence, hunched over the small screen of the mobile phone in his hands, the people in the stalls quickly type their replies, or promptly laugh loud for a meme or a silly comment. They are all spontaneous reactions – which is the bit that makes the play different every night – to a prepared script by Alipoor. WhatsApp, as these brief experiments prove, is an additional tool for freedom of expression, a safe place for sharing whatever comes in one’s mind.

Consider now what a wonderful unguarded preferential channel is this to pass around extremist material, intimidating remarks, threatening messages. The internet is an immense playground, where some have learnt to navigate and play more smartly than others.

Alipoor explores and describes the dark and offensive corners of the online world

With The Believers Are But Brothers, Alipoor doesn’t aim to impress or to act as the all-knowing teacher, rather to provoke and shake the common views on terrorists and fundamentalists.

The performer tells us the stories of three people - three men to be precise - geographically distant, socially diverse, with different upbringing and lifestyle. From a detained Arab, to a white American boy, the subjects considered cover quite an interesting human spectrum. The common denominator? Their participation and/or engagement with online extremism.

It is not just a religious matter, as some may be quick to label the problem. Not only Muslims or Arab people join ISIS forces, as not only Russian secret services supported the subversion of US supremacy.

Political battles, the migration crisis, the Middle-East wars, the underdeveloped countries in the grip of careless greedy multinationals, are far too big issues for an individual to feel part of. There seems to be no room for discussion and confrontation with the mass: the grey zone, democracy, starts to crumble. Masculine strength doesn’t have space in this extended and fantastic world of Internet, where everything is fake and true at the same time.

Communication via WhatsApp, Twitter, Facebook is far more direct than face-to-face conversation, and it has the added benefit of getting rid of revealing body language, required immediate answers, and the need of a true personal identity.

Trying to navigate in the wild territory of alt-right and fanatics, Alipoor explores and describes the dark and offensive corners of the online world. He attempts to disentangle the web of resentment and violence floating around today, just two clicks away.

Making use of actual footage and visuals from online reports, social media posts, and YouTube videos, the performer points to the propaganda websites and 4chan community where the border between criminal threats and fun memes is very thin, almost invisible. The distorted reality presented by tech savvy alt-right groups to the vulnerable man, disengaged and isolated while at the same time 24/7 connected with the entire world though a screen, becomes the provider of meaning he was looking for. So, the chains start.

Although provocative, Alipoor doesn’t offer a solution, rather a debate starter to reflect and prompt more action towards the use of technology and shallow judgments.

The title of the play comes from the tenth verse of Chapter 49 of the Quran. What is at the bottom of the script, indeed, is that humanity we all share. Sense of belonging, power, indignation, are common, not limited to one particular ethnic group. No sentence should be given without first considering and being critical over our own addictions and shortcomings, starting from the powerful devices in our hands.


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