The Believers Are But Brothers

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The Believers Are But Brothers
Published 13 Aug 2017

Beneath the surface gloss of family-friendly Facebook and Instagram there are murkier, increasingly hidden places for online communities to form. Javaad Alipoor's electrifying performance takes the audience to them, using a mould-breaking mix of digital projection, spoken word and instant messaging to shows how radicalism flourishes in encrypted worlds.

The show starts gently. Each audience member is added to Alipoor’s WhatsApp group, in a surprisingly intimate shared experience. He's a hugely likeable presence as he talks about the power of online communities, and explains how he and his left-leaning Muslim friends share an invisible camaraderie that’s forged through sharing their experiences. Meanwhile, the WhatsApp group fills with words of welcome and silly cat memes.

Later, Alipoor's invitation feels like a more complicated gesture. Addressing the audience directly, or sitting at a computer underneath his projection screen, he tells the stories of three men. Two have been radicalised by Islamic State, and the third by far-right 4Chan message board users. What they've got in common is a desperate need to be part of something, to fight like their gaming avatars in battles that spill off the screen.

He shows how fantasy, faith and irony collapse into a new language, used to goad online brotherhoods into action. You have to lean in and aim for total concentration: it's as fast as any shoot 'em up, and just as violent. It's also compassionate. Alipoor understands these desperate, angry men, and the genius of his performance is that by the end, I did too.