IS and the crisis of identity

1 Nov 2017


Undeniably, one of the greatest security challenges of the twenty-first century is the threat posed by Islamic terrorism. But I use the word ‘Islamic’ here with caution. In fact, I shouldn’t be using it at all. It is time that we unwrapped the harmful association between the Islamic religion and the genesis of fundamentalism.


First, the obvious: many do not see IS as a religious movement, and where it is seen to be one, for many it offers a perverted and corrupted interpretation of the Islamic narrative. Nonetheless, the inherent connection between Islamism and terrorism continues to shape not only the discourse surrounding the issue, but also our response to it.


We need to take a step back. We should not be seeking to discover a link between Islamism and terrorism, but asking ourselves why terrorist ideology is so prevalent in these communities which have been, left behind by globalisation. Islamism, in this respect, should be seen as no more than a discursive medium employed for the dissemination of fundamentalist and extremist propaganda to those most vulnerable, namely the isolated, alienated, and disenfranchised.


In this sense, IS must be characterised as not a religious movement, but a fascist, nationalistic one. And one which has arisen as an inevitable response to the deepening socio-economic divisions present in the unstable Gulf region. Accordingly, Western globalisation (which in itself can be characterised as a form of relentless homogenisation) may be perceived as a threat to individual, community, and national identity.


When our identities are threatened, we naturally seek to protect them. IS offers a narrative which promises both a redemption and protection of identity from the external forces of homogenisation which threaten a traditional way of life.


Our identities, after all, are formed in relation to the societies and communities in which we exist. We desire both affirmation and recognition, and where we receive none, we behave in a way that demands it. Our very misrecognition of Islam, therefore, should be seen as the cause of Islamic fundamentalism — not Islamic ideology itself.


It is for this reason that IS has become so effective in both recruitment and operation. There is no shortage of isolated and disenfranchised individuals (and groups) seeking something to believe in. Fascism and nationalism offer to satisfy the very base desires of human beings, which have been left unnoticed by the globalisation of liberal ideology; the desire for recognition being the most fundamental.


Until recognition is given, and until the Western liberal societies give recognition to identity where it is sought, there will be no end to terrorism. Our own ignorance of communities left behind by the economic advancements of globalisation are harmful. The state-based, militaristic response currently offered is both anachronistic and insufficient, for conceptions of identity are not bound by borders.


A somewhat ironic consequence of globalisation is that, whilst it has raised the standard of living across the globe, the parallel technological revolution has heightened awareness of one’s standard of living. For many, particularly in the unstable Arab region, this means an increased awareness of their own marginalisation and and increased unwillingness to accept it.


When an alternative narrative offers recognition, a solution, and redemption of identity, it becomes all the more powerful.


We have left too many behind. Although quality of life has generally improved, it has improved disproportionately. No wonder, then, that antagonism towards the liberal West is so strong. We have failed to recognise the need for distinct identity, we have failed to recognise the dangers of economic and social marginalisation, and we have failed to recognise the consequences of the homogenising liberal agenda.


When we ask ourselves who to blame, we cannot look to the victim. We must blame ourselves, and only in doing so may we be begin to solve the issues of extremism and terrorism, by first acknowledging its causes.





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