Here he is, a victim of an Israeli air raid, writhing in pain in a Gaza hospital, his slender frame dotted by wires and electrodes. And there he goes again, a day or two later: He’s a radiologist now, helping a blood-smeared patient into a small MRI machine. Since Oct. 7 he has died on camera—not once but twice—and then, like Lazarus, come back to life. He sired a (fake, plastic) child, then lost it in a bombing; found work as a foreign correspondent; picked up a gun and joined the fighting; laughed joyfully when Jews were slaughtered; wept bitterly when the Jews struck back; discovered his calling as a singer; led us on guided tours of his shelled-out hometown.
Who is he? He is Saleh Aljafarawi, 25, Gazan, Hamas supporter, and professional social media influencer. The genre in which he works is Pallywood, the term coined by scholar Richard Landes to describe a long Palestinian cinematic tradition, in which a wide variety of political parties and terrorist groups create fake dramatic videos and peddle them to sympathetic Western media outlets who pay for these comically obvious fabrications and then cynically or cluelessly present them as indictments of the Jewish state’s cruelty.
But such literal-minded answers miss the larger point. #MrFAFO—the acronym means “fuck around, find out”—matters because his work is the best prism we’ve got if we wish to truly gaze into the heart of darkness.
Because #MrFAFO, truly, c’est nous.
Why do we love him so? Why has he become the subject of so much attention, on social media and in the press? Because he is the pure embodiment of a greater truth: We live in an age that has progressed beyond rational argument. It should be obvious by now that so many of the creeps who purport to weep for Palestine don’t really care about Palestinians, dead or alive, or about Israelis, or about the historical and moral intricacies of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. What they want is an excuse to indulge in something deeper, more libidinal, ancient, and indeed erotic—hating Jews. They cheer for #MrFAFO not despite the fact that he’s so obviously faking it but precisely because of it. His performances promise liberation from the annoyances of a fact-based reality whose contradictions are inherently troubling, and instead affirm that old motto coined by Hasan-i Sabbah, the 12th-century founder of the Hashashin, or the Order of the Assassins—nothing is true, everything is permitted.
If that statement strikes you as just a bit too breathless, take a moment to observe #MrFAFO’s art qua art. Suppose for a moment that you are a Palestinian propagandist, and that you wish to create videos for the sole, wholly understandable, and entirely rational reason of embarrassing your enemies and generating sympathy for your cause, which you believe to be totally just. What sort of video would you make? Maybe something like the Beit Lahia Witch Project, drawing on the generic conventions of found footage to deliver snippets of soul-searing suffering that gives viewers the feeling that they’re looking at real people bleeding and crying and dying in real time. Or maybe you’d borrow the emotional valence of TikTok, where the young and the unripe mimic earnestness by flailing their arms because they care so much. Or you’d create a scene like the heart-rending footage of a 12-year-old boy, Mohammed al-Durrah, being sheltered by his father before being shot to death by Israeli snipers, an event that has been conclusively shown by several generations of investigators, beginning with James Fallows of The Atlantic, to have been deliberately staged and weaponized.
FAFO, he’s made of different stuff. His eyebrows are always slightly raised, as if he’s just seen something that amazes him. His arms are always outstretched, reaching for something that lies just outside the frame. And then there are the props: a blue helmet that reads PRESS; an oxygen mask; a physician’s vest; a fanny pack. FAFO wears each new item as if it was the expression of his innermost being, as if his survival depended on them, like Buster Keaton driving that jalopy on a bumpy road and holding on to the steering wheel even as the entire vehicle disintegrates beneath him. As the critic David Thomson wrote, the silent comedy giant “plainly is a man inclined towards a belief in nothing but mathematics and absurdity, like a number that has always been searching for the right equation.” The same goes for FAFO, which is why it doesn’t matter if he’s dying or dancing. The only constant is him and that great face of his, obeying Ovid’s dictum: Omnia mutantur, nihil interit—everything changes, nothing perishes. Only mirthless sticklers believe in ideas that are always present and always true.
FAFO’s fans ain’t sticklers, and they’ve no use for facts. Don’t trouble them with the truth that Hamas beheads babies and rapes women or show them footage of Gazan men being offed because someone suspected them of being gay. Don’t tell them that Hamas has located its main command bunker underneath the al-Shifa Hospital, a fact that has been repeatedly documented. The business of separating argumentation and propaganda from reality is a tedious and bothersome constraint. The over-the-top comic-hysterical ludicrousness of FAFO’s performances represents freedom from the stifling business of interpreting reality on progressive terms, of believing women and respecting minorities and checking your facts and your privilege—and all the other silly code words that allow you to gain entrance to the clubhouse.
Like his French counterpart, the racist and antisemitic comedian and filmmaker Dieudonné, whose knowing insanity helped inspire the killing of four workers at the Jewish Museum in Brussels in 2014, FAFO promises his followers a liberation from the basic laws of moral gravity. His work represents a quantum moral and aesthetic leap beyond the pseudo-realist footage produced by Pallywood media fakers during the Second Intifada, which turned the invented story of the death of a Palestinian boy at the hands of cruel Israeli soldiers into the 21st century’s first global blood-libel, or Mohammed Bakri’s Jenin, Jenin, the award-winning documentary-length compendium of lies, faked footage, and manipulative framing of a brutal Israeli massacre that never happened. In their fakery, the al-Durrah footage aired on French television and Bakri’s “documentary” acknowledge at least the concept of reality and its accompanying apparatus of rational investigation and proof: They are knowing lies that use the forms of evidence-based reasoning to fool the viewer.
Mr. FAFO isn’t trying to fool anyone. Rather, he invites them to join in his sickening delirium, in which the viewer can achieve a higher form of freedom by hating and libeling the Jews, without constraint or consequence.
No one watching Mr. FAFO’s performances can imagine they are watching something real. He is Mr. Deathwork, a term coined by the great American critic Philip Rieff, who used it to describe borrowing the sacred symbols of one era or culture only to first subvert and then destroy them. Finnegans Wake, say, is a deathwork—James Joyce, Rieff argued, wanted to write a novel that would abolish the future possibility of writing novels, because he understood that “culture is the form of fighting before the firing actually begins”; that’s why the Dubliner took such pleasure in his infamous pun: “Let there be fight,” embracing destruction as the ultimate act of creation.
FAFO’s videos are deathworks too: They take human joy and human suffering, the twin strands of all life-cultures worth preserving, and give us—borrowing from Rieff again—“de-creation,” or “fictions where once commanding truths were.” You’ve got real babies beheaded, baked, and kidnapped? Well, buddy, I have babies too, and they are made of plastic – which is a big hoot and a desecration to boot, especially when you and I will agree straight-facedly that my babies are real and the real babies are fake. And “where there is nothing sacred”—Rieff one last time—“there is nothing.”
But nothing is too heavy a burden for FAFO to bare. He’s no nihilist, merely strolling around Gaza in search of empty pleasures. No—FAFO and his fans are something more complex, and infinitely more terrifying: they’re pagans, meaning that they approach their desecration rituals not as an afterthought but as the main event. The person who has the power to take life with disinterested ease goes further than merely believing in God—he becomes God. Hitler’s minions knew this, which is why they went so far but never further. The mass extermination of the Jews, Himmler told senior SS officers in Poznan on Oct. 4, 1943, was “an unwritten and never-to-be-written page of glory in our history,” a necessity that nevertheless should remain concealed and denied as most human beings couldn’t sustain the sight of hundreds of corpses piled up together and still remain anything resembling human beings.
Hamas made a terrifying and starkly different choice. They filmed their murders with GoPro cameras not only because they wanted to use the footage to further demoralize Israelis, but mainly because filming—and watching—a human being mutilated and executed on camera collapses the careful corrals that keep us sane and decent and human. The young drug-addled maniac who ties father and child together and sets them on fire for all the world to see, in what is intended to be received as a moment of liberation, not just for Palestinians but for a global audience that indeed proved itself to be eager to consume and exult over such horrific images, may as well be chanting “Now I am become Death, Destroyer of Worlds.”
The Hamas pogrom, broadcast live, was the ne plus ultra of desecration, an example of savage, animalistic, anti-human behavior intended to inspire thousands of exultant imitators. Nietzsche and Marx, those fuddy-duddies, regarded desecration as a potentially redemptive act, an attempt to free mankind from the shackles of ossified morality and steely materialism. But Hamas is not interested in symbolism; it is interested in the final frontier of desecration: the human body. Hence the torture porn videos of heads being severed with gardening tools. And hence, too, FAFO’s focus on his own body, which so often in his videos is being injected, prodded, or otherwise abused, a farcical take on the horrors that lie just outside the frame.
You can deny the connection between embodiment and personhood, as we do in the West, by celebrating euthanasia or encouraging children to explore self-mutilation in the service of a feverish ideology. Or you can take it to its logical end by abolishing embodiment altogether by simply burning a human being alive and tossing the charred remains into a dumpster. But watching such monstrosities is still hard for most people; that’s why we have FAFO to gently ease us into believing that it’s ok. The body itself no longer matters; it can be killed and revived on camera whenever we wish – so why make a fuss about some Hamas atrocity footage, which might as well be fake?
FAFO is a slasher movie Buster Keaton, here to license the ultimate fantasy for anyone obsessed with power and nothing but. Like all great filmmakers, he sublimates unspeakable desires in a socially acceptable way we can watch in the dark, where no one can see us. When is he happy? When he is powerful. When is he sad? When the consequences of his actions put him on the defensive.
FAFO may be in Gaza, speaking about Israel, but slap a green screen behind him and the same logic and aesthetic works anywhere else in polite American society: He may very well be a woman yelling about smashing the patriarchy or a person identifying as BIPOC shouting about the omnipresence of white supremacy or someone who’d watched a couple of videos and now identifies as genderqueer demanding that their they/them pronouns be parroted by all. The premise itself doesn’t matter. It falls apart upon first contact with reality—just try asking the young person accusing you of transphobia to explain the fact that distinct sex chromosomes are present in literally every cell of our body. What matters isn’t what’s true, but who gets to decide. By embodying the wretched of the earth, as a Palestinian resident of war-torn Gaza, FAFO assures his viewers that there’s no one more oppressed than he is, which, in the thwarted logic of our self-appointed intellectual and moral elites, means that there’s no one more powerful.
How did we get here? Why did we toss away centuries of commitment to rational thought? It can’t just be the siren song of our digital technologies, with their deep fakes and their sweet lies. Decades of blasting away at faith, family, and nation—our bulwarks against unreason—have left their mark. The same is true for falling in love with grim theories forged in war-torn Europe—naturally concerned, with the still warmish ovens of Auschwitz, with nothing but power—and importing them to our cheerful shores, where they turned from balms to bathos. It’s one thing to read Michel Foucault riff on Nietzsche seven years after the fall of Vichy, with many of its collaborators still knocking about. It’s another to attempt the same mental gymnastics decades later in Santa Barbara. Foucault himself, bless him, realized this: an avid and early fan of the Iranian revolution, he watched the bearded darlings he had hoped would deliver a spiritual antidote to capitalism instead throw people off of rooftops, and promptly broke up not only with the murderous mullahs but also with his fellow French philosophers, like Gilles Deleuze, who were still waxing poetic about Palestinian terrorism as a legitimate path to liberation. In the end, the real got to Foucault.
But not, hallelujah, to Mr. FAFO, or to his adoring fans. For them—for us—there are no hard facts, only hard feelings and soothing fictions.
But reality has an uncomfortable way of intruding on even the most delirious imaginations. In an ending only #MrFAFO himself could have generated, the artist’s success proved too much for his fans. He was getting too famous. He was becoming the story, not the storyteller. It was time for the same people who needed FAFO to channel their Jew-hatred to step in and fix this mess. It was time for them to deny #MrFAFO existed at all.
The glitches in the matrix were showing, and it was time to repair them—a job reserved for the lower-level party operatives once known as journalists. First up was Rolling Stone, the publication whose relationship with the truth includes running and then retracting an entirely fabricated story about yet another alleged victim, a young woman accusing big, bad frat boys at the University of Virginia—the cradle of the racist Confederacy—of brutal rape. The idea that FAFO is an actor, the magazine claimed, is a conspiracy theory. What proof did Rolling Stone offer? An interview with a British startup dedicated to fighting “misinformation” by using AI, whose representative—the sole voice in the story—argued that accusing FAFO and others of fakery is merely “dehumanizing” propaganda. In other words: Please trust the experts rather than your own lying eyes. The Voice of America followed, with similar evidence-free assertions by its own “fact-checker,” who cited no facts.
Always happy to assist the progressive messaging campaign du jour, the Anti-Defamation League—which had once professed to be an organization dedicated to ensuring the safety of Jews before it realized it could wax fatter by posing as “the Jewish branch” of the progressive DEI complex—pronounced Pallywood a “conspiracy theory.” It’s been nearly a decade since any sentient person familiar with the landscape of Jewish organizations has viewed the ADL as anything other than a Democratic Party messaging shop whose passion for fighting antisemitism is confined to one side of the partisan aisle. Even so, seeking to actively aid the PR campaigns of Jew-killing terrorists by labeling the accusations against them a “conspiracy theory” marked a new low.
Anyway, thankfully, idolaters are never history’s long-term victors. Sooner or later, they and their fans stumble onto the consequences of living out their bloody fantasies and the party is over. Sooner or later, perhaps in the not-so-distant future, reality will have its revenge on #MrFAFO.