ISIS and the specter of Zionism

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I’m not saying that Zionism and ISIS are identical or anything as simplistic. But in trying to find generalizing labels for ISIS, such as being a fascist organization, or a totalitarian state and so on, and in the effort to draw parallels between different political experiences one can more subtly propose that ISIS and Zionism have some features in common.

ISIS just like Zionism (at least if we take seriously their media production, in itself a matter of debate) does imagine that a land is promised to them, or should belong to “the Muslims” at large, irrespective of creed, culture, local tradition, etc. ISIS does project the notion that the Muslim homeland involves a rejection of what is not Muslim, or at least a seclusion from what is perceived to be a political other. From the first issues of their newspaper Dabiq, ISIS highly encouraged people to emigrate to this land, to perform “hijra”, based on the idea that the prophet Muhammad also moved from Mecca to Medina to found his community of believers.

Some may retort that Zionism was a secular ideology, yet the seriousness with which the Jewish movement treats passages of the Old Testament as part of the history of a political community is quite similar to what ISIS does with stories of the prophet and his companions, especially when it comes to relating these stories to a material experience involving the seizure of territory and management of population. In fact, the differences (how the religious uses secular textual technologies) as well as the similarities (what they actually do with it) can shed light on the peculiarity of state or other organizational formations in the Middle East.

The production of a climate of fear is essential to ISIS’s political strategy which involves pushing some people out of the territory they control (and thus turning them into refugees) and inviting others, who share their ideological views, to come and live with fellow like minded Muslims. Yet this was exactly what early Zionists practiced in different ways in the beginning of the twentieth century, with the most spectacular image being the Haganah and then the more virulently powerful Irgun, but also the less spectacular political tactics of various groups practicing land appropriations that follows similar rationales. These groups were definitely different from what ISIS is today, just as the context in which they operate, but the political logic is mostly the same.

Because these movements are essentially foreign and irremediably unpopular, their objective is to drive out an eternally discontented population, and to invite another that travels for mostly ideological reasons. In the failure to do so, these movements cannot survive on the long term, which is another reason why a politics of violence is inherent to their modus operandi. And ultimately, just like Zionists Jews imagined belonging to one secular rationalized community despite different geographies and histories, Muslims from all over the world travel to Syria and Iraq in order to belong to a similarly imagined community.

France and the Question of Culture

frenchcultureThe media has been swamped by a defense of French culture and values as being superior and enduring than the culture of those who were seemingly targeting it. I just want to propose some nuances that would advise to tone down this rhetoric.

Given that people like to call the Paris attack, a French 9/11, let’s draw some parallels here. When planes crashed in the world trade center towers on 9/11 of 2001 (and provided it wasn’t “an inside job” as some of my friends insist), it was not just America’s symbol of power that was targeted but American symbol of domination over the world. American imperialism is first and foremost economic, and its presence in the Gulf, its security for oil agreement is a testimony to that. What happened in Iraq is another case in point.

France’s “imperialism” has been cultural. Whether in its former colonies, yet most importantly in this case, at home. No other country has philosophized, legitimized and sacralized its way of living like France, so much so that even in the “White” Western world, people stereotype the French on this question. The point is that when attackers hit at the heart of “the Parisian life” they are not just reacting to France’s symbol of power, what French take pride of, but they are reacting to decades of domination and oppression in the name of this culture, as seen in the treatment of Muslims, their religion, way of life, and so on. So what matters is not culture itself (well that does not exist really) but what culture actually does, or how it is used. As an illustration, the Scots are proud of their kilt but they don’t force everyone to wear them, or at least they don’t mock people who don’t think kilts are their cup of tea.

Yet look at French TV, media and intellectual production at large. Over the years, Islamophobia has developed into a complex satirical art in itself (of which Charlie Hebdo is just an ugly frontman) and has been backed by concrete state discriminatory policies such as in the case of the veil all in the name of so-called “republican values”. Terrorism is targeting these symbols of oppression and turning it into a spectacle for global media consumption.

As a side note, whether attackers overthink the reality of these structures of dominance or act impulsively to perceived grievance is besides the point. From looking at the publications of “Islamic” militants they don’t show a higher degree of intellectual depth and reflection of social reality. Contrary to what ISIS and violent “Jihadi” observer theorize about, they are just angry and resentful. And this type of militancy gives them the possibility to channel this anger.

Sunni politics in Lebanon

There are three main (intersecting) orientations “mainstream” Sunni politics perceives (or deal with) more radical militant movements such the brief hollywoodean movement of Sheikh Asir, Jubhat al Nusra or Da’esh (ISIS).

1- To secretly feel that they are scoring points against their more traditional political enemy that is Hizbullah

2- To despise them but have no long-term political breath to do much about it and to prefer adopt piecemeal approaches, co-opting these groups for popularity/electoral reasons

3- To practice ostrich politics or avoid looking at the elephant in the room.

In either case, this is untenable especially with more powerful groups such as Da’esh that are highly strategic in their movements and that, by looks of it, definitely plan to eat little by little the border “Sunni” region of north Lebanon.

This will require a political consensus that neither the weak army institution of the army nor the various political force could muster during the short but turbulent history of  the tiny republic of Lebanon.

So if I want to be completely pessimistic, I see that the consociational democracy formula, which is slightly reworked arrangement of the “strength of Lebanon is in its weakness” motto (Pierre Gemayel’s infamous statement), may pave the way for larger Sunni politics. It just happens that it comes (as is often the case) in a very violent and brutal way).

The War with Images

My article at Opendemocracy on the use of images in war situations.

العقل والحياء والدين

وفي الحديث
أن جبريل عليه السلام أتى آدم عليه السلام فقال له
إني أتيتك بثلاثٍ فاختر واحدةً، قال: وما هي يا جبريل? قال: العقل والحياء والدين
فقال: قد اخترت العقل
فخرج جبريل إلى الحياء والدين فقال
ارجعوا فقد اختار العقل عليكما
فقالا: أمرنا أن نكون مع العقل حيث كان
من كتاب السؤدد – ابن قتيبة