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he murder last Tuesday of the
Catholic priest Jacques Hamel as
he celebrated morning mass in a
church in the suburb of the
French city of Rouen showed that
Islamic State is the most aggressively in-
novative of the serious challenges that
democratic societies confront today.
The violent act broke two powerful
taboos. The first was that a priest was
killed while kneeling at the altar in a
chapel. Church sanctuary, recognized as a
refuge of safety from the Middle Ages
through the 17th century, no longer has
any legal force. Yet its breach still shocks.
Catholic priests have been murdered in
large numbers throughout the ages – at
the hands of Protestants (it was mutual),
Muslims, communists and Nazis. But the
isolated fact of a savage murder on a sub-
urban summer morning stuns by its im-
mediacy, and by being bathed in artificial
light by the news media. The second
taboo is age: The priest was 85. He had
won permission to continue his duties
after the normal retirement age of 75.
Age is no protection against murder by
random shooting or by a truck weaving to
kill as many people as possible, as in Nice,
France, recently. But the nature of these
methods of mass murder obscures the in-
dividual horror. In Father Hamel’s case, it
was vivid – and the method of killing, his
throat was cut, a signature of the assassin
(for which a synonym is “cutthroat”). The
two young men who carried out the killing
filmed it, a bloody selfie for later viewing.
Though not by them, because both were
subsequently shot dead by police.
In all these ways, Islamic State, or
Daesh, as it is also known, is brutally post-
modernist. This kind of post-modernism,
however, should never be compared or
confused with the kind of aesthetic post-
modernism used to describe the work of,
say, theYoung British Artists of the 1990s –
Damien Hirst with his shark in formalde-
hyde, titled “The Physical Impossibility of
Death in the Mind of Someone Living,” for
example, and Tracey Emin with “My Bed.”
They took objects, framed them and as-
sumed the media would also frame them
– if often to condemn their works as rub-
bish. But they were artists-cum-entrepre-
neurs, who now live peacefully as
multi-millionaires. The shark in formalde-
hyde, for example, sold for between $8
million and $12 million.
By contrast, Islamic State forces its
murderous art upon theWest, and also
uses the media. It tells unsettledWestern
states that their taboos, conventions,
courtesies and, above all, liberal institu-
tions and mechanisms are under attack.
The political scientist Francis
Fukuyama labeled the victory of liberal
capitalist democracy over Soviet commu-
nism as “the end of history.” He didn’t say
that nothing else important would hap-
pen. He did say, though, that all societies
would “end their ideological pretensions
of representing different and higher forms
of human society.”
Militant Islam, especially the form that
Islamic State has decreed it should take,
proves this is wrong. It bends all its
strength to dragWestern culture down to
what it views as a “higher form” of human
society. Islamic State’s more monstrous in-
novation is that its message – “to target
Crusader coalition states” in any way pos-
sible, with whatever comes to hand – is ca-
pable of rapid absorption.
Islamic State is fast losing ground and
fighters in Iraq and Syria, yet it’s succeed-
ing beyond its hopes in Europe. It’s doing
so because there are people, usually
young men of Muslim background, who
fall in love with violence, death and Is-
lamic State. It has plugged into a hellishly
rich vein of youths who feel that life has
nothing better to offer them than a glori-
ous murder, and a martyr’s death.
Islamic State acts within what a French
radical, Guy Debord, called “The Society
of the Spectacle,” in which representations
are everything, a state of affairs that can
only be combated “through radical action
in the form of the construction of situa-
tions.” The situations that Islamic State
devotees construct smash through what
they regard as the banal images and activi-
ties of daily life, to prepare for the victory
of a pure Isla mist society.
The crowning irony of the quest is that
the jihadists use radical post-modernism
to haul the democratic world back into an
authoritarian medieval inferno. In Iraqi
cities controlled by Islamic State, from
which some residents managed to escape,
women were confined to their homes and
covered from top to toe. Among other dis-
ciplinary practices, men caught smoking
have a bar of red-hot metal pushed into
their mouths.
Meanwhile, the strategy, to destabilize
liberal societies, is working. New bills are
progressing though the legislatures in
France, Germany and Britain. France’s
state of emergency has been extended.
Churches may soon follow the example of
many synagogues, and hire guards, or be
given police or army protection.
The philosopher-activist Bernard-
Henri Levy has recommended thatWest-
ern societies emulate the citizens of Israel,
and develop a “sixth sense” to detect im-
pending danger. Israel is the target of
Hams and Hezbollah terrorism, and its
neighbors are confronting serious civil
strife. That a leading French public intel-
lectual is seriously recommending Euro-
peans and North Americans adopt an
Israeli mentality illuminates how Islamic
State has “framed” us.
T
John Lloyd
Senior Research Fellow
University of Oxford
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ThePost-modernismof IslamicState
The strategy to destabilize liberal societies is working. New bills are progressing though
the legislatures in France, Germany and Britain
Opinion
News India Times
August 26, 2016
4
onaldTrump spent the first half of
a foreign policy address Monday
attacking President Barack
Obama, on whomhe placed pri-
mary blame for a variety of global
problems. Then he proposed a strategy to
defeat the Islamic State that was strikingly
similar to, well, Obama’s.
Trump traced the Middle East’s current
disorder to President GeorgeW. Bush’s deci-
sion to invade Iraq, and he lamented the
fact that, once the United States was en-
gaged, it did not behave like a neo-imperial-
ist and “keep the oil.” But the GOP nominee
put as much weight on Obama’s call to pull
U.S. troops out of Iraq before the country
had fully stabilized. The fact-checkers will
no doubt have a field day comparing
Trump’s retrospective outrage with what he
said about these decisions when they were
made. But, amidmuch other nonsense and
bluster, Trump struck on a kernel of truth:
Against the better wisdomof others,
Obama’s withdrawal enhanced the Islamic
State’s opportunity to run rampant across
northwestern Iraq and into Syria, and the
tide is only now slowly turning against the
militants.
Yet the tide is turning, and primarily be-
cause Obama has, in his second term, taken
steps that Trump now pretends to be invent-
ing. Trump promisedMonday to destroy the
Islamic State by calling an international
conference and enlisting the help of any
country – including Russia and Arab dicta-
torships – willing to assist in fighting the
radical organization and other extremists.
He proposed using U.S. cyber-capabilities to
hinder terrorist communications and prop-
aganda. He said his administration would
disrupt terrorist financing. The Obama ad-
ministration has done each of these and
more, including the reinsertion of U.S. Spe-
cial Operations forces. Trump offered no
policies that were novel and reasonable.
His real contribution to the debate, if one
can call it that, remains a disturbing obses-
sion with restrictive immigration policies fo-
cused on eliminating Muslimmigration and
heightening suspicion of Muslims already
here. Trump once again restyled his Muslim
immigration ban, this time in ideological
terms: Those who do not demonstrate a
commitment to American values would not
be allowed into the country. (Never mind,
for now, whether Trump could pass such a
test.) Trump would end immigration from
areas of the world his administration
deemed too dangerous, and he would create
a systemof “extreme vetting” for those con-
sidered for entry.
This is a transparent (and impractical)
attempt to recast his Muslimban in other,
less obviously offensive terms.
It’s also an effort to distract from the fact
that Trump really has nothing to add to
strategies already being pursued. Defeating
Islamist terrorists is an essential but diffi-
cult, long-term challenge. It will require the
help of allies, many of whomTrump has
alienated, and buy-in fromMuslims, whom
Trump has demonized.
Trump’sUnoriginal Anti-terrorismPlan
Washington Post
Editorial
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