To dismiss the Islamic State as just another form of “terrorism” or “violent extremism,” to insist that it’s brutality is simply “immoral”, “nihilistic” or “apocalyptic” and therefore inevitably self-destructive, or to refuse to call it by the name it calls itself in the vain hope that by so doing will somehow undermine it, is counterproductive and deluding. Now, I don’t want to focus on the semantics or the meaning of words, but I do want to take an evolutionary and historical perspective, which considers no developments deviant or extreme unless they quickly die; for, those developments that continue to survive are the very stuff of historical change and evolution. From this perspective — and in the light of interviewing and running psychological experiments with IS and AQ (Nusra) fighters on the ground in Iraq, Syria and Jordan, as well as those who oppose and fight them — the current rise of the Islamic State is arguably the most influential and politically novel countercultural force in the world today. There are also particular aspects of IS that favor resilience: a robust policing organisation and social welfare structure, creative military tactics and its youth-focused media campaigns, and the spiritual appeal and force of the Caliphate.
About the Speaker:
Professor Scott Atran, PhD, received his BA and PhD in anthropology from Columbia University. He is currently Research Director of ARTIS International, Research Professor and Presidential Scholar, Center on Terrorism, John Jay College of Criminal Justice, and Visiting Professor of Psychology and Public Policy at the University of Michigan. He is tenured as Research Director in Anthropology at France’s National Center for Scientific Research in Paris, and he is also Senior Fellow and co-founder of the Centre for the Resolution of Intractable Conflicts at Harris Manchester College and the Centre for International Studies, University of Oxford. He has repeatedly briefed NATO and members of the U.S. Congress and the National Security Council staff at the White House. He has worked with the UN Security Council on problems relating to youth and violent extremism and he has been engaged in conflict negotiations in the Middle East.