Virtual Jihadi

In the widely marketed video game Quest for Saddam, players fight stereotypical Iraqi foes and try to kill Saddam. Al Qaeda did its own take, creating an online video game using the structure of Quest for Saddam but adding a new "skin" to turn the game into a hunt for Bush: "The Night of Bush Capturing." Now artist Wafaa Bilal has hacked the Al Qaeda version of the game to put his own more nuanced spin on this epic conflict.

Video of Wafaa's lecture at RPI
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Video shortly after Virtual Jihadi is shutdown at RPI
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Response to Student questions at RPI Town Hall regarding Wafaa Bilal
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Wafaa Bilal interviewed on Hello Beautiful! from Chicago Public Radio
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Wafaa Bilal interview with Al Roney
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A Few Words with Wafaa Bilal, by Regine
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Articolo: First-Person Terror, by Paolo Pedercini
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Wafaa Bilal casts himself as terrorist in Virtual Jihadi, by Brian Boyko
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Letters of support from various authors
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Wafaa Bilal: Speech in a Democracy, by Brian Holmes
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Photos from the Sanctuary for Independent Media protest
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Video from the Sanctuary for Independent Media protest
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In The Night of Bush Capturing: A Virtual Jihadi, Bilal casts himself as a suicide-bomber in the game. After learning of the real-life death of his brother in the war, he is recruited by Al Qaeda to join the hunt for Bush. This work is meant to bring attention to the vulnerability of Iraqi civilians to the travesties of the current war and racist generalizations and stereotypes as exhibited in games such as Quest for Saddam, along with vulnerability to recruitment by violent groups like Al Qaeda because of the U.S.'s failed strategy in securing Iraq. The work also aims to shed light on groups that traffic in crass and hateful stereotypes of Arab culture with games like Quest for Saddam and other media.

Virtual Jihadi is meant to bring attention to the vulnerability of Iraqi civilians to the travesties of the current war and racist generalizations and stereotypes as exhibited in games such as Quest for Saddam; along with vulnerability to recruitment by violent groups like Al Qaeda because of the U.S.'s failed strategy in securing Iraq. The work also aims to shed light on groups that traffic in crass and hateful stereotypes of Arab culture with games like Quest for Saddam and other media.

In these difficult times, when we are at war with another nation, it is our duty as artists and citizens to improvise strategies of engagement for dialogue. This platform is a piece of fiction that uses the video game format to create alternative narratives and perspectives.

Because we inhabit a comfort zone far from the trauma of conflict zone, we Americans have become desensitized to the violence of war. We are disconnected, disengaged while many others do the suffering. The game holds up a mirror that reveals our own propensities for violence, racism and propaganda. We can close our eyes, our ears and deny that it exists, but the issue won’t go away.