Of what is Islamic State the name? Since September 2014, the self-styled caliphate and its adherents have captured and then lost thousands of square kilometres of territory in Syria and Iraq, killing – and in many cases enslaving and torturing – thousands of people in the process; faced aerial bombing campaigns by both the US and Russia; established affiliate groups in at least eight countries; and carried out (or won the allegiance of the perpetrators of) at least seventy attacks outside of Syria and Iraq. In the summer of 2016 alone, ISIS, or people claiming affiliation to them, launched seventeen separate attacks. ISIS is qualitatively different to any previous terrorist organisation. The forces of Islamophobic reaction, not least the new US president, have lost no time in occupying the hard-right space opened up by mainstream policymakers in response.
ISIS’ attacks, and the now-clichéd slick production of their ghastly propaganda videos, induce a feeling of political vertigo – of living in collapsing times. That the creation of this effect is precisely the intention of ISIS does not make it any less appropriate.
Amongst those who reject the securocratic response to ISIS, a sequence of displacement usually follows. No one seems able to argue the old saw that one person’s terrorist is another’s freedom fighter: on behalf of whose freedom are ISIS fighting? Instead one finds the impulse to decolonise mourning: insistent reminders that for every Orlando there is a Beirut, for every Paris a Quetta, as if once grief is equitably distributed a solution will be reached. Or else a kind of security politics from below: the arguments that ISIS is not being bombed properly; the (false) claims that Western powers have somehow created ISIS by arming the Syrian opposition, or those (true but inadequate) that the organisation is a result of the 2003 invasion of Iraq. Not all these responses are equally wrong: the gut reaction that something is falling apart is probably right. Where to begin with a materialist analysis of this horrifying mess?More