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February 13, 2015


Dave Weeden

I've thought for a long time that this whole thing needs a sociological study. So I agree that the religious bit is a sort of wrapper. But I also think it gives meaning; it's not a hindrance, it's essential. I suppose everyone wants to belong to a club, with rules - and rituals. They want to say, I'm doing this right. Gamergate doesn't offer that.


That's pretty much what they're doing, as seen from inside the jihadi bubble. al-Qaida always wanted you to be on board with the ideology and expected a bit of serious study and indoctrination before you were part of the team. Ideology mattered and when they split, all (all!) of the major jihadi clerics went with AQ rather than IS. To this day, the best that the IS has mustered is a second-rate Bahraini cleric that hardly anyone had heard about before 2013.

In terms of foreign fighter recruitment, IS is basically vulgarized self-starter jihadism born out of the gore-fest that was the Iraq War. No long term stuff, no sophistication. You get God's Kingdom right here and now, instant massacre and individual gratification, as befits the age of Twitter. Just buy a ticket to Turkey, get a cheap Kalashnikov, pull a ninja mask over your face, hit the ground running in Raqqa and abracadabra -- you're no longer a highschool dropout, you're a holy warrior and God's special favorite kid. And of course, if you don't like air travel, you can just do it at home.


This article says it's a bit more complex than that:


The writer formerly known as IOZ on the Atlantic article. I don't know the truth but I know who's a better writer.


the Atlantic piece reminded me of one of the things which puzzled me most about the late Revd Dr Ian Paisley. He was a man who believed that the Pope was the Antichrist. This wasn't a metaphorical, political or in any way non-literal view - he actually believed, and wrote in detail about his belief, that the Pope was the devil incarnate.

And yet, his actual political program only related to about one-sixth of the island of Ireland, and he never explicitly endorsed violence. It always seemed to me to be a pretty mild reaction to the imminent danger of being being ruled by Satan himself. I took away the lesson that rooting round in other people's weirdo theological beliefs is not in any way a good method for getting useful information about what sort of things they're likely to do.


This debate seems to polarise around some fairly stark positions on what can be learnt from an organisation's religious/ideological texts ranging from Wood's belief that ISIS's eschatological timetable can be sabotaged for considerable strategic gain, to dismissals of any utility in examining their theological justifications.

What I think Cook gets wrong is he takes the project of return to the ways virtuous founders on face value, rather than situating it in historical context as a classic rejection of modernity, with all the ironies that entails. IOZ is right that this leads to some serious Othering when in fact, We've Seen This Before.

Wood's evocation of the Reformation and the wars of religion the sole products of theological disputes is similarly risible; what both extremes of this debate skate over is that the intertwining of worldy objectives and heavenly imperatives is a messy business, at various points self-reinforcing, contradictory and sometimes both.

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