‘Jihadi Jack’ Letts – allegedly the first white British male to go and fight for ISIS – is a fan of the graffiti artist Banksy.
Well, of course. And I’ll bet if you’d had a conversation with him before he went off to Syria to pose for the obligatory cool photo of him posing against the desert with his index finger pointing heavenwards you would also have found he was also a fan of most of the following idiotic notions: the Israeli oppression of Palestinians is as bad as the Nazis; there’s a rape epidemic on Western university campuses, perpetrated by white males; global warming is a major problem which is being ignored as a result of denialism funded by sinister Big Oil interests; Russell Howard’s Good News is a really insightful take on current affairs; Margaret Thatcher turned Britain into a harsh, uncaring place and destroyed whole communities, including the miners; @glinner is well worth following on Twitter; the Gulf Wars were “all about oil”; Jeremy Corbyn talks a lot of sense; Michael Moore is a great champion of the little guy; capitalism is greedy, disgusting and evil; the two principal causes of Islamic extremism are Islamophobia and heavy-handed Western foreign policy; Conservatives are selfish and don’t care about the poor; America is a fascist global bully but Obama has been a good thing; if you eat food that isn’t organic you might as well eat poison; Banksy’s Dismaland got it exactly right about the State of Modern Britain…
How can we be sure he believed all this culturally relativistic, guilt-ridden, ahistorical, self-hating anti-Western drivel? Because it goes with the territory of being a half-educated middle class kid in our decadent, dumbed-down modern culture. I call it the Student Wanker’s Starter Pack – that collection of received ideas that all school-leavers are handed before they go to university so as to ensure their safe spaces aren’t invaded by dangerously contrary opinions and so that they can all get along, buoyed a powerful communal sense of their own virtue, sensitivity and caringness.
Few contemporary cultural figures embody this nonsense better than Banksy, the anonymous graffiti artist who has made a fortune by painting guerrilla murals on such daring and vitally important social justice themes as: sweat shops are exploitative; the police can be heavy-handed; war is bad and peace is good; capitalism is, like, really wasteful and greedy and commercial; the Disney is tacky and features a mouse with big ears; etc.
Last year the liberal tastemakers – aka the Wankerati – went mad for his pop up exhibition Dismaland, where punters coughed up to be insulted by attendants at a grim, anti-Disney theme park and to be duly shocked by exhibits like the overturned fairy pumpkin carriage with a dead blonde princess sprawling from the wreckage. What few visitors seemed to realise was how tame and achingly conventional this supposedly edgy show was. Satire is meant to challenge. But all this show did, all Banksy ever does, is give his audience permission to wallow in the rightness of their own opinions – and feel as though, by doing so, they are being boldly counter-cultural and daringly intellectual.
As Mike Nudelman put it:
“Banksy’s popularity endures simply because he’s preaching to the choir. There’s an insatiable demand for his brand and people are happy getting what they want. They also like feeling smart, and his overwrought images continue to be rooted in the same, familiar liberal values that people are all too eager to agree with.”
So yes, of course Jihadi Jack is a Banksy fan. This isn’t, of course, to say that Banksy’s overrated art is in any way responsible for Isis or Islamism generally. What it most definitely is, though, is a manifestation of the kind of cultural and intellectual decadence which have made their rise possible and which, in the eyes of naive, impressionable young men like Jack, have made their nihilistic certainties so dangerously seductive.