Ching-Chong, Big Boss, and other jihadi pet names

Most readers of this blog will know that jihadis very often take noms de guerre of the type “Abu Muhammad al-Britani”. These are called kunyas and represent an age-old Arab naming tradition.

But in some jihadi groups we also find distinctly less pompous pet names. Recently, a series of trials against a network of radical Islamists in Norway revealed a fascinating array of nicknames used inside the group. Here are some of them:

– “Ching Chong” – used of a half Filippino convert of Asian complexion named Torleif Angel Sanchez Hammer

– “The Yellow One” (Gulingen) – also used of Sanchez Hammer

– “Filippo” – also used of Sanchez Hammer

– “Chile” – used of the Norwegian-Chilean convert Bastian Vasquez

– “Chocolata” – used of Djibril Bashir, who was of Somali extraction

– “Vanilla” – used of the more light-skinned Valon Avdyli, whose family was from Kosovo

– “Big Boss” – used of Shamal Haghghi, who reportedly was corpulent.

These names were used endearingly, only among good friends, and mostly while they were in Norway. The same individuals also had kunyas or other Arabic names which they seem to have used in slightly more formal settings, such as when they met with new people.

The names are interesting for several reasons. For one, they are secular and very informal and presumably could have emerged within any multiethnic bunch of guys in the West. For another, several of them are racialized and politically incorrect, reminiscent of the the n-word as used between African-Americans. Finally these names suggest a playful group atmosphere in which gentle teasing was common. To me they’re also further evidence that there is a distinct Western jihadi culture which has taken up many elements of European and American street culture, most visibly in the domain of dress. 

I have not come across many examples of this type of nicknames from other jihadi groups in the West, but that’s perhaps just for lack of sources. In this case I was lucky to get information from Erlend Ofte Arntsen, a journalist who attended all the trials and took notes of the chat logs and other evidence in which the nicknames came up. (By the way, Arntsen has written an excellent book about Norwegian foreign fighters in Syria which I highly recommend to anyone who can read Norwegian.) 

Make sure you read this great article by Joanna Paraszczuk on the poetry of Chechen jihadis.

I liked this poem by a widow mourning her martyred husband. It’s unusual in its emotional honesty:

Well, a year has passed by quietly.
But to my heart it seems but a day.
I live among people, I timidly
Try to be like everyone else. […]

I think as I look into the sky
That Allah changes everything in a moment…
And just as He changes time
He changes people’s fates
Today was lively and cheerful
And tomorrow the world abandoned you. […]

A year has passed, time is changing
But my heart will not change.
You will live in it for a long time.
Until my death.

I also liked this sarcastic one:

O, evil Facebook warriors,
Soldiers of the Whatsapp army,
O ye deputy sheikhs of Google,
You run in a vicious circle
Clicking on the top right corner.

Read the whole thing here. Also check out Joanna’s blog, From Chechnya to Syria.