Jihad, Secularity, and Eschatology: A New Look into the Discourse of ISIS

By Cheikh Isselmou
Submitted to Session P4896 (Rethinking ISIS: War, Crisis, and Transformation, 2017 Annual Meeting
All Middle East;
Middle East/Near East Studies;
This paper seeks to bring recent debates of secularization to speak to theological and eschatological transformations in the discourse and practices of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIS). The traditional theory of secularization has been variably challenged and critiqued in ways that, I will argue, introduced a reformed/alternative theory of secularization which, in turn, emphasizes the more exogenous and syncretic nature of modern religious experiences. A prima facie component of this alternative theory, yet to be articulated as such, is the identification of discursive "religion" as pre-condition of power rather than mere relocation or rationalization of religious categories. To the extent that alternative theory of secularization draws on arguments of disruption and rationalization of memory, on convoluted endogenous idealization transformations, or on exogenic Foucauldian power dynamics, the new debates of secularization allow us to incorporate the most radical and ostensibly impervious radical religiosities in the unfolding of the secular. Consequently, I will be negotiating my way through this framework to look at the ISIS’ internalization and, equally, Islamization of erstwhile, but now globalized, Protestant eschatologies, to advance political and strategic goals. I will argue that other than serving as a mobilization strategy, the eschatology of ISIS, conveys more story of disruption of memory and invention of tradition, identified by many as central in the process of secularization. Simultaneously I am also arguing that such disruption and invention cannot be read off the syncretic, namely Christian fundamentalist, nature of many of the globalized religious experiences. My primary sources for advocating this polemical point will be ethnographic reports on ISIS’ as well as on ISIS discursive materials, namely its newspapers, online broadcast, pamphlets and brochures of mobilization and so forth.