Where do ISIS’s ‘British Jihadists’ belong in theoretical discussions of state and nation?
The origins of ISIS can be traced back to no more than two decades ago, principally bound to the personal political and spiritual ambitions of Jordanian founder, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi. Al-Zarqawi was actively engaged in directing dozens of suicide bombings at Shiite civilian targets. This secured his rise to prominence in the fraught political milieu of post-Saddam Iraq.
Although al-Zarqawi was later killed in a US bombing, the fractures instrumented by what was then known as the AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) persisted, leading to the rise of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. Baghdadi emphatically pursued al-Zarqawi’s machinations with great force, expanding operations to volatile Syria. ISIS in its present incarnation was consolidated, sequestering territorial control cemented by the declaration of a ‘state’ with al-Baghdadi as its caliph.
Intriguing, however, is the interlinked rise of the ‘British Jihadist’. Young Muslim men from Britain are actively entering the ISIS fold, seeking to play a role in its ‘holy war’; fabulous legends of which were washing up on Britain’s shores in the form of potent social media outreach promising reward and martyrdom, and more importantly, a higher purpose. And thus fighters from across Europe including France, Chechnya, Bosnia, Kosovo, and Turkey have been brought together. These young men are in turn feeding into the propaganda boldly and visually claiming YODO, as if to subliminally seek exoneration from their brutal actions and enlist the support of others like them.
Ensuing the brutal execution of American journalist James Foley by an ISIS militant, who was identified as a British citizen leading a group of British combatants holding foreign hostages in Syria, the United Kingdom’s national security has decried the engagement of ‘British’ youth in Iraq and Syria as a threat. Dubbed ‘Jihadi John’ by the press, the executioner is one of as many as 500 young British Muslim men who have joined the ISIS’s transnational mission exhibiting shocking barbaric cruelty against prisoners, while also rejecting Western, and specifically American hegemony and intervention in the Middle East.
Raffaello Pantucci, director of international security studies at the Royal United Services Institute, states to the New York Times,
‘Far from sharing the revulsion of most viewers, those who see ISIS as defending Islam from Western aggression found the video “empowering” … They say, “Look at what we can do, and the powerful Americans can’t do a thing about it.” They feel they’re part of a community that accepts this and thinks it’s a glorious thing to do.’
On the basis of their involvement in terrorism, the calls for British citizens fighting in Syria to be stripped of their British citizenship are beginning to echo forcefully, especially given the perceived threat of intended harm bound to their return to the United Kingdom. However, in our shared globalised present, characterised by the paradox of increasingly rigid but porous national borders, it is worth deliberating the significance of citizenship, where these once purpose driven formations are becoming increasingly redundant, especially in terms of national responsibilities and patriotism that were once expected in return.
In 2003, British Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare, in his exploration of colonialism and its post-colonial implications to the post-colonial African nation state, presented a poignant installation comprising a group of decapitated mannequins clad in European costume tailored out of vibrant African batiks alluding to the Berlin Conference of 1884-1885. Peering over a map of Africa, the headless conquistadores divided up the spoils of the continent along capricious lines of cartographic fancy.
Aside from its particular relevance to the skewed formations of a number of post-colonial states across Africa, Asia and South America, ‘The Scramble for Africa’ also underscores more ingeniously, the arbitrary nature of the boundaries of modern states. Coupled with the concept of nation, defined by ethnic and shared traits, the nation state stemmed out of the powerful pairing of polity and peoples. If nations and the interlinked ideologies are imagined, and by way of globalisation increasingly de-territorialised, what relevance do traditional national borders or paperwork for citizenship mean to the world today?
Within the context of the contemporary world characterised by the fluid, complex and varied manifestations of globalisation, the influence of the state in shaping the parameters of politics, economics, society and even individual personhood is waning with the movement and exchange of people, capital, materials and ideals. As a consequence, we possess extraordinary awareness and access to spaces and opportunities outside our own, unrestrained by the bounds of our citizenship. Identities in particular, are continually cast and re-cast in relation to the perpetually shifting paradigms of our incidental or chosen ideologies, be it political, economic, cultural or religious.
In such a setting, is the purposeful solidarity found in shared culture, and the state, a once pragmatic but essentially arbitrary boundary determining political and economic practicalities, inevitable? Is the nexus of nation and state in its modern form becoming irrelevant, with particular reference to religious or other ideologies that may increasingly define nationhood – the deterritorialised imagined community whose purpose and acceptance we might value more? It is worth questioning, if the nation state can cope with these transformations, particularly when in some instances citizenship might mean little more than a bureaucratic practicality confronted by an apparent higher order.
In light of this, we may question whether these British Jihadists would act any differently in the face of being stripped of their citizenship. Perhaps the pursuit of ‘going to war’ and seeking martyrdom is a novel privilege derived from their citizenship in the First World. Or, where we hail the endless opportunity of a borderless, globalised world, is being British and Jihadist mutually exclusive?
In an age defined by syncretism, must it be either, or?
Image from: http://lockerdome.com/6895118150158401/6915197424251924
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