Postmodern conflict and jihad as its counterpart

By Pablo Cañete

Globalization is often seen as a process towards homogeneity, nonetheless world is now more homogenous than ever before. Conversely, there are many countervailing trends that make us think if maybe “the more interesting and importants aspects of globalization are associated with complex and emerging forms of regionalization, localization and social discontinuity”.

It is not the world “countervailing” but “side effect” the one that we shall use when referring to all those regional movements. People feeling the collateral damage of neoliberalization in world’s peripheries is aware of concentration of wealth, mass media narratives and the global trends that seal their destiny and destroy their (modern) presumption of control over their own destiny (even in the developed countries). To those people, locus of control just fades away.

Given a framework of (not only economic) dispossession and cultural humiliation, global metanarratives of hate and supremacy tend to arise in subtle, histrionic and explicit forms. Then, geopolitics of hate and chaos varnished within a layer of (false) non-ideological premises become spurious and manifest. Now, more than ever, it is found a real ideological war that materializes not only in power politics, but in a global multidimensional warfare.

“The ideological affinity between the sub-nationalists fired by the religious as well as secular motivations has been augmented in this digital age of communications where geographical distances no longer act as bulwarks to their atavistic instincts.”

There has been a long discussion on Jihad vs McWorld as if they were a clash between tribalism and globalism, but nowadays jihad has nothing to do with tribalism. It may have been a splinter of globalization, but now it has its own definition of postmodernism and the end of history. Jihad no longer appeals to a narrative of abused local communities (such as Palestine or Iraq, mentioned by Osama bin Laden). It now combines the postmodern nihilistic “need of existence” with some simple metanarratives based on the eternal fight between good and evil. In fact, Jihad has now turned into McJihad.

In this scenario, Middle East is an evolving concept. Jihad changed its original essence from the early 1920’s to the 1990’s and from that time until now. Now is not only the willing to create and consolidate a state that moves jihadists, but the possibility of restoring (I would say establishing) a world-wide caliphate. Concrete concepts such as Nation or State are irrelevant in that scenario. Now the abstraction –the homogeneity– has reached those so-called tribal individuals.

There are many causes leading this state of the art jihad. Postmodern conflicts, said Martin van Creveld, were on decline as long as weapons of mass destruction existed; there was a need to preserve welfare; and the challenge to control inner economies became so difficult (see The Rise and Decline of the State, 1999: pages 337-354). In its place appeared guerrilla, proxy wars, terrorism, transnational crime, etc. all as manners to avoid the costs (both political and economic) of direct interstate warfare at the expense of world social indirect costs. In other words, human lives in resource providing/geostrategic states are the expression of externalization of conflicts in postmodern world.

Within that context, local rebel groups are fueled to an extent that they can sometimes become proto-States, adquiring their own financing system and emancipating (at least economically) from their sponsors. Marketing campaigns using new hi-tech propaganda reach every corner of the Earth, spreading a message whose effects result in thousands of foreign fighters in Syria, in local allegiances with the Islamic State, terrorist attacks in European countries, etc.

Middle East, the West and Europe are main inherited concepts of geopolitics that no longer apply to nowadays (at least not in the way it had been used before). Having in mind new global processes, Middle East affairs, such as “Islam”, are no longer connected exclusively to Muslim/Arab States. Europe’s number of immigrants is neither the cause of this, nor the percentage of Muslims living within its borders (many of them converted). It is the very nature of sociopolitical globalization the cause (and not the effect).

Political thought is no longer restricted to the boundaries of physical realms. Now, the internet upgraded social networks with virtual networks (such as Twitter or Facebook) that surpass old school forums within the deep web. While the West still looks at symptoms and not at origins, bombing and spreading massacre will be seen as the only means of action. Assuming that conflicts are just taking hold due to the recurrence of modern/state based politics will presumably expose the need of new approaches.

In fact, modern terrorism has its roots deeply buried on proxy war and the Cold War era. There are very few terrorist groups that can actually survive without state sponsorship or collusion. It’s also true that many terrorist groups have been created by state actors. Ironically, State borders and the lack of cooperation spoil an effective fight against terrorism. Even though terrorist safe havens are usually consequence of failed or debilitated states, very few effective measures have been adopted by the International Community to face this challenge. Many of the initiatives undertaken lack the holistic approach this challenge requires. Very little has been done in fields such as counter-narratives –and it is becoming increasingly compelling. Global Jihadist shall be defeated by global means and that implies state cooperation. The International Community is the only appropriate scale to face this challenge. It is soon (if not utopian) to talk about global State integration, but those who try to defy International Security and Peace have already destroyed national borders.

In this respect, is not all about disrupting violent narratives, but also understanding why radicals are so willingly to engage into violent extremism. Jihadism is neither a European problem, nor MENA’s. In fact jihad shows itself in very different ways –though it has an increasingly uniformed ultra-violence fashion– that range from terrorism to “security providing” or organized crime.

It’s also important to figure out the degree of radicalization present in postmodern societies, overall within urban areas. While industrial cities tend to integrate and dispel major inequities, actual cities’ logic has more to do with segregation, discrimination (see When Islam and Democracy Meet, 2004 from Jocelyn Cesari, page 24-25). There is also a noticeably filmic narrative towards Manichaeism present in films that range from Diney’s Aladdin (you only need to listen to the first minutes of the film to realize about all racism and misconceptions the film has –even more in the Spanish version–) to contemporary cinema (for instance, see American Sniper).

For sure, it is not possible to establish co-causality –and correlation is always too vague and imprecise for analytic purposes– between narratives and political violence, but it’s obvious that there is in fact a relation that even terrorists such as Ayman al-Zawahiri establish. Confronting ideologies has been proved useful and recurrent during the Cold War, where one could easily divide the world into three lesser worlds. Now that the world has come to be multicultural (due to logic of migration and to the economic benefits it has) and Muslims are part of “the West”, it’s completely necessary to develop inclusive narratives that can address new identities/delocalized identities.

** Pablo is journalist and author of the book “Los rostros del Islam. Una introducción al mundo musulmán contemporáneo”

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