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With over 11 billion views on TikTok despite being banned by the platform in 2022, the boxer turned so-called ‘self-help guru’, Andrew Tate, has surpassed influential figures like Kim Kardashian and Donald Trump in his viewership and Google searches. TikTok has become Tate’s rise to online fame as hundreds of fan accounts, continue to share his views even after the platform banned him, most of which focus on ideas around hyper-masculine behaviours and misogynistic beliefs that often end up endorsing control and even violence against women both on and offline. The Guardian reported that the viral content was coming from people associated with Tate’s online platform Hustler’s University which gave people commissions in return for marketing his content.

As a self-proclaimed misogynist, Tate has made a career out of pushing men into ‘toxic masculinity.’ In the same video where he called himself a misogynist, he said there was ‘no such thing as an independent female’. Tate, who also said women should ‘bear some responsibility’ for being raped, is having an unfounded impact on young boys across the world. Teachers have noticed a rise in male students repeating sexist remarks the influencer has made, as well as a rise in rape jokes in groups of boys as young as 7th graders. Boys this young may not fully understand the severity of what they’re saying, but the fact that Tate is already influencing them creates dangerous environments for the girls growing up around them. However, Tate has lately taken to creating content where he denies being misogynistic, and using engaging content such as humour and appealing to boys’ desires to be ‘cool’ to package up his videos.

The truth is, extremist right wing ideologies that aim to subjugate women have never been new, but it’s this new culture of ‘Tate-ism’ that has suddenly made it catchy amongst young boys and men to support his controversial takes. This mainstreaming of his ideologies has started to create a riskier  environment of online violence against women, and the wave is getting harder and harder to stop. 

Tate’s conversion to Islam in October 2022 led to his fanfare among Muslim men to increase, both among those Muslim men who were already ascribing to his ideals and also those right wing Muslim groups who used the idea of embracing all converts to quietly brush his past actions under the rug. Andrew Tate’s online brand comes at a time when it’s almost impossible to not see him on someone’s home screen. Those who love and align with his beliefs and those who hate or oppose them, all seem to be equally invested in consuming his content leading to increased engagement, and so increased promotion of his ideologies.

Extremist right wing ideologies that aim to subjugate women have never been new, but it’s this new culture of 'Tate-ism' that has suddenly made it catchy amongst young boys and men.

Despite suspicion of human trafficking, reports of rape and the recent arrest of Tate and his brother in Romania, Tate has gained a particularly focused audience with Muslim men due to his views on controlling women, such as his comment that he’d rather date 18 or 19 year olds because they have had fewer sexual partners. His extreme views regarding women bearing responsibility for sexual assault, among others, became the reason for his ban on multiple social media platforms, including Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and TikTok. Similar beliefs can be found amongst right-wing male dominated Muslim spaces where Muslim men are obsessed with the idea of imposing modesty and purity on women. A common example used my Muslim men is that of a piece of candy being likened to a woman in hijab, where the unwrapped candy has flies on it as a way of showing how covering up protects women. While many Muslim women choose the hijab for themselves, here it is the constant likening of women to objects and the dominance of Muslim men trying to control women’s actions and narratives that creates spaces for abuse.

Shabana Mir, an academic on Islam and gender, and author of ‘Muslim American Women on Campus,’ says, “If you consider WHEN he converted, it was when he was in the UAE, looking to exploit a moneyed market for his purposes. His events got boycotted, and he promptly converted. His followers were only too happy to find a rationale to support him as a 'brother.' But I believe they were already ideologically well-matched.” A video of Tate praying in a mosque got widespread support from many Muslim men, who all too eagerly supported his conversion, and were ready to quickly brush his problematic behaviours under the rug. Muslim incel culture existed before Tate, so it’s not that Tate has radicalised Muslim men, rather he has simply validated their hate even further. 

As Tate’s popularity online continues to increase despite bans, the connection between the beliefs he’s propagating on the internet and their very real effect offline emphasises the importance of questioning just how exactly online culture has made it so easy to support and spread hateful narratives, and why religious spaces are so often found front and centre in such situations. 

Campaigners and advocates against online violence have been quick to point out the dangers of Andrew Tate’s ideology on young men in particular who, in this current age of online information and gender discourse, seem more vulnerable to outside influences shaping who they want to be. Ruth Davison, the CEO of the domestic abuse charity Refuge, said that even if people don’t realise it, Tate and his followers are normalising dangerous behaviours, “It might look like harmless banter but it doesn’t stop there; it creates a culture in which violence is allowed to flourish and continue."

Pockets and packages of ideology

Around the same time as Tate’s conversion to Islam, a dangerous trend started on Pakistani TikTok, where young men were endorsing an audio that said, “Uss ne burqa nahi pehna tau mein ne kafan pehna diya” (She didn’t wear a veil, so I wrapped her in a shroud). Much like Andrew Tate, the trend capitalises on the surface level aspect of the hijab conversation in Islamic spaces which, despite being over-discussed, seems to find a home within extremist conversations every so often. While Tate hasn't spoken about the hijab, his topics remain similarly superficial – using traditional ideas of women needing to be contained to the home sphere and letting men ‘take care’ of them, to propagate his other beliefs. But while there are very few people who’d call the first TikTok trend correct in any way, what Tate does differently is the way he packages up his content. Tate’s entire premise on why he converted to Islam is focused on two things: Muslims being ‘intolerant’, which he packages as a positive characteristic akin to standing up for what you believe in; and women being mothers and obedient wives and only being contained in the home. These are all things Muslim men have also been trying to enforce on women as religious for years resulting in sidelining the women - including experts - who try to challenge them. 

Michigan-based consultant Omar Khan who, as a Muslim man, has made some observations about Tate’s rising popularity amidst his demographic, says, “I see Andrew Tate existing in several different spheres on the internet. There’s the red pill crowd, the hustle culture crowd, the self-help crowd, and more. The one thing that ties most of these spheres together is that they are typically male-dominated domains. And so, it’s unsurprising that men flock to his content and become subsequent fans of his.” Khan, who himself is vocally against Tate’s beliefs, is talking about how Tate’s involvement in other areas where Muslim men seem to be lacking other resources to rely on, has turned him into sort of a guru or an expert.

Tate’s entire premise on why he converted to Islam is focused on two things: Muslims being ‘intolerant’, which he packages as a positive characteristic akin to standing up for what you believe in; and women being mothers and obedient wives and only being contained in the home.

For many Muslim scholars, and Muslim women in particular, Tate is the antithesis of what Islam stands for; a message that they can’t get out because it’s being drowned by online algorithms popularising Tate’s attention grabbing and click-baity controversies. Maryam Amir, an Islamic scholar and champion of women in Islamic spaces, wrote at length about all the ways Tate’s misogyny is dangerous to Muslim women and how it goes against Islamic values, focusing particularly on how the danger is not Tate alone, but the Muslim men who have unequivocally praised and supported him. Ismail Kamdar at Yaqeen Institute further points out that lack of real engagement within faith spaces as to the responsibilities and roles of Muslim men is pushing them towards finding role models in the likes of Tate, who are playing on their disillusionment, validating their beliefs, and making them feel heard. 

But even when it comes to the scholars who are actively taking a stand against Tate’s ideals, they’re far and few in between the plethora of voices that are unabashedly celebrating him. Part of this is due to what Reverend James Walters, Director of LSE Faith Centre, describes as ‘online religiosity’ which, according to him, is flattening the hierarchy in many faith structures and in doing so, is also reducing accountability for so-called religious leaders. Walters gives the example of a young religious leader he saw on BBC who called himself a bishop and was arrested for taking money from his congregation under the guise of blessing them. “People preaching on Youtube are getting thousands more followers than parishioners in a church. I think that digital rise is part of the problem because there’s less accountability online. In order to wear a uniform, you have to go through a whole process, lots of checks and balances and accountability that is being lost in the online process,” he shares. 

Hate Beyond Ideologies

This online trend of so-called religious personalities turned preachers drawing big numbers of viewers and promoting harm and misogyny is hardly limited to Islam, but rather a trend that's being seen across most major faith spaces as online accessibility both give women a voice and make them easier targets. Religious leaders across faith spaces have found themselves fighting this increase in online hate. 

Rabbi Abusch-Magder, who has experienced online trolling frequently, says, “Often what trolls will do is start by asking innocent questions and then that person takes and uses your answers against you, and it can get pretty ugly. There are cases where people have to mobilise to get real world support for the things that start online, and things get really messy.” 

Most religious academics and leaders agree that really connecting to faith spaces can help right wing misogynists disconnect from their harmful beliefs. “You ask how [the popularity of Andrew Tate’s narrative] makes it harder for Muslims to connect to Islam. Unfortunately, the ’Islam’ that Tate and his redpill (a term used to describe an ultraconservative group of anti feminist men) akh (Muslim men) right embrace is, in my view, a whole other thing that is unrecognisable to most Muslims,” academic and writer Shabana Mir says. Whereas, when talking about a kind of traditional “Christianism” that many Christian men are turning to, Reverend James Walters adds, “Curiously one of the features of this seems to be that a lot of people embracing this overt Christian identity aren’t necessarily going to church or practising,” and says that one of the best ways to free yourself from such beliefs is to actually go to church.

Where Does Accountability Lie

We’re at a particularly crucial point in our digital age. There are now voices – and prominent ones – holding social media and big tech to account for the harms their algorithms have been causing to gender minorities and marginalised groups. While we’re not seeing policy level change yet, just the fact that this discourse is now becoming more commonplace is a big step. Still, there’s a long way to go. Digital rights activists have questioned social media platforms for not doing enough, with TikTok not banning the hundreds of fan accounts sharing Tate’s content despite its policies describing it as harmful. A 2022 experiment where a new TikTok account was set up showed that the algorithm immediately started recommending more and more videos tailored to young men, which included Tate’s content. In fact, 8 out of the first 20 videos a week later were of Tate. 

After all, platforms like TikTok need to be held accountable for the way in which their algorithm targets young people with misogynistic content, easing them into it until it no longer seems as harsh. Tech platforms undoubtedly need to do better, but they won’t care about a community that isolates its own. Some onus also falls on religious leaders – particularly the men because they are privileged with more safety, to change the tide. Yet the only people talking about it are women scholars or activists who’ve already been marginalised for the work they do and face exponentially increasing disinformation and trolling campaigns. “I see no conventional religious ’Islamic scholars’ countering misogyny. I see Muslim academics, activists, concerned community people raising the alarm – but you tell me, do you see any Islamic scholars countering the misogynistic narrative? I often go to the social media of people like Mufti Menk, asking them to address the urgent issue of misogynistic discourse and violent rhetoric. All I've seen from the most prominent scholars is vanilla statements that are acceptable to the lowest common denominator of the community. And even pandering to the worst of them,” says Mir. 

Omar Khan says, “In online spaces, women seem to get much more backlash when pushing back against Andrew Tate than their male counterparts. Not only is the backlash more frequent, but it’s more severe as well. If I push back against something Andrew Tate said, I’d likely have my masculinity questioned or accused of being a white knight or an SJW [social justice warrior],” adding, “However, I’ve noticed that women get called a lot worse and are often targeted with threats of violence or rape. I’m not sure how common it is, but I’ve seen it happen routinely with journalists or reporters reporting on his alleged crimes. I’m not sure I can attribute all that behaviour to Andrew Tate, but there’s something to be said about an individual whose fans use violent threats against women doing their job.”

I see no conventional religious ’Islamic scholars’ countering misogyny. I see Muslim academics, activists, concerned community people raising the alarm – but you tell me, do you see any Islamic scholars countering the misogynistic narrative? - Shabana Mir

For the most part, a lack of real engagement by religious leaders with the issues shaping today’s digital generation like gender justice movements, has created a void that is being filled by Andrew Tate and other voices like him. Faith spaces and leadership needs to call a spade a spade, whereas, Big Tech needs to equally pick up responsibility of controlling the spread of violent ideologies that propagate online gender based violence on their platforms. Having religious leaders dispersing the right message won’t mean anything if the algorithm favours other content instead. 

As Mir warns, “Tate is a businessman. He's found himself a market and a commodity that sells. It's the Muslim men who buy his commodity that are my main concern. Muslim scholars, community leaders, men in general, are treating this like a ’women's problem’. But Tate culture is spreading among youth, and soon enough, men will discover how it affects their families as well. By then it will be too late.”

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