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Art, Not Just Geopolitics, Is Key to Understanding ISIS

2 minute read

Battle Lines: Want to Understand the Jihadis? Read Their Poetry – The New Yorker

ISIS, Al Qaeda, and other Islamist movements produce a huge amount of verse. The vast majority of it circulates online, in a clandestine network of social-media accounts, mirror sites, and proxies… Analysts have generally ignored these texts, as if poetry were a colorful but ultimately distracting by-product of jihad. But this is a mistake. It is impossible to understand jihadism—its objectives, its appeal for new recruits, and its durability—without examining its culture. This culture finds expression in a number of forms, including anthems and documentary videos, but poetry is its heart. And, unlike the videos of beheadings and burnings, which are made primarily for foreign consumption, poetry provides a window onto the movement talking to itself. It is in verse that militants most clearly articulate the fantasy life of jihad…

Art is the truest reflection of a society, what it dreams of, what it fears, and what it aspires to become. Analysts study the ideology, the politics, and the economics of jihad, but we ignore the poetry as if it’s a diversion rather than a valuable map of an inner landscape that remains unexplored. This New Yorker article by Robyn Creswell and Bernard Haykel takes a closer look. It’s literary analysis as social profiling, and it’s fascinating. My pick of the week.

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