Author - Jennifer S. Bryson

1
The Daesh Caliphake and Why They Resemble Marxist-Leninists
2
“ISIS” Bans Art and Literature, We Should Promote These
3
Gandhi, Campus Sexual Assault, and U.S. Advocacy of Women’s Rights Abroad

The Daesh Caliphake and Why They Resemble Marxist-Leninists

In order to understand the thugs trying to control northern Syria and Iraq today we need to recognize that they themselves consider what they are doing Islamic. Yet trying to make sense of their self-understanding does not mean one has to grant them the recognition, especially religious credibility, they crave. The ongoing name-jumble in the media for trying to find a way to refer to this group indicates that these thugs are failing to establish the prestige they crave in their claim to speak for Islam and in their claim to be a new player in the international realm of states. Muslims and non-Muslims alike scoff at the claims that they represent either the religion of Islam or a state, to say nothing of a budding empire.

Here is a guide to this name-jumble.

ISIS: Islamic State in Iraq and Sham (often mistakenly called Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). “Sham” refers to the Levant, a region larger than just the modern state of Syria. I admit to schadenfreude with the name ISIS, enjoying the irony that radical Islamists would found a “state” named after a pagan goddess from a polytheistic era.

ISIL: Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant. Same as above, with Levant being the English translation of the Arabic term Sham.

IS: Islamic State. This is the name these thugs prefer, but mainstream Muslims reject the claim that this is “Islamic” and not a soul in the international community recognizes this as a “state”. I think National Public Radio has been wise to establish a policy of referring to this as “the so-called Islamic State”. Also the Associated Press has chosen well in calling them “the Islamic State group”; calling them a group cuts them down to size – they are just a group, no more. I await the day  we can put “IS” in the past tense and call them “WAS”.

DAESH: This is the Roman script adaptation of the acronym from the Arabic name of ISIS. AP reports the fighters hate being reduced to an acronym and even have threatened those in the territory they control who use this acronym. In this we see a reminder of the totalitarian nature of their enterprise: they are obsessed with trying to control language in order to control thought. They feel they need to control language because they cannot win over hearts. This reminds me of my experience as an undergraduate at the Karl-Marx-University in Leipzig, in the former East Germany, where I studied in 1986-1987 during my sophomore year abroad from Stanford. I chose to enroll in the core Marxism-Leninism curriculum, a six-semester core required of degree-seeking students. Some of the students, the habitually rebellious Polish students and me among them, referred to these classes as “M-L,” since after all the German phrase “Marxismus-Leninismus” is a bit of a mouthful. Yet some of the students who were loyalists to this ideology took offense at this and considered our use of the acronym “M-L” an insult. They wanted to drill into our heads that this was about Marx and Lenin by constant repetition of these names. But when living in a dictatorship one savors every moment of rebellion possible, no matter how small it might seem. We stuck with M-L. I tip my hat to those reducing these thugs to the acronym Daesh.

Caliphate: Those controlling this territory across Syria and Iraq have declared that they have created an, or perhaps the, Islamic Caliphate, or what Sister Maureen Fiedler, SL, in her informative interview about the significance of this has dubbed “Caliphate Fantasy.”

Caliphake: A clever friend of mine suggested the best name I have seen yet, namely a riff on the term caliphate combining it with fake: call them a Caliphake. Or for a double-jab call them the Daesh Caliphake.

“ISIS” Bans Art and Literature, We Should Promote These

The new school curriculum for Mosul issued by the so-called Islamic State bans, among other topics, art, music, and literature.

In banning these I believe they are telling us in no uncertain terms what they fear. Nuance and complexity are precisely the threat their rigid, black-and-white mindset cannot handle.

We should heed this. While we may not be able to intervene immediately in Mosul itself at the level of local arts, in other areas of the world with populations vulnerable to recruitment into this movement we should support programs which foster capacity to handle nuance and complexity.

Foster the arts. Support local arts teachers. Help local communities host music festivals. Support local arts business such as publishers, book stores, and book distributors. Develop programs for aspiring creative writers. Make sure literature is available in public, school, prison, and refugee camp libraries.

Refugee camps are particularly important. Not only are there young people there vulnerable to recruitment into extremist movements, but also these are the populations which will need to play a vital role in rebuilding their societies post-conflict.

The arts, by flowing out of rather than opposing human complexity, can help foster a rich understanding of what the human person is. Complexity and ambiguity abound in human life. Developing capacities to comprehend and work with, rather than against, this inherent complexity and ambiguity in human life can contribute to cultures which are open to the complex, nuanced, and deeply human processes such as justice and reconciliation which are among the cornerstones of flourishing societies.

The so-called Islamic State is telling us what they fear. So we should bring it on. Wage art, wage music, wage literature – even if not directly in Mosul at this moment, then at the very least all around it until we can help bring art, music, and literature back to Mosul.

Gandhi, Campus Sexual Assault, and U.S. Advocacy of Women’s Rights Abroad

No, I do not recommend teaching non-violence as a remedy for the plague of sexual assault on American college campuses, as one might first assume from the title of this. The only problem I have ever seen with any self-defense class for women was whether I could fit the class into my schedule or not.

But addressing the assault aspect of sexual assault in isolation from the sexual aspect is insufficient. This has implications not only for our college campuses but for our international engagement in advocacy of women’s rights and efforts to improve women’s condition.

The point on which I think Gandhi offers us wise counsel is on the sexual side of sexual assault.  He observed:

If we begin to believe that indulgence in animal passion is necessary, harmless and sinless, we shall want to give reins to it and shall be powerless to resist it. Whereas if we educate ourselves to believe that such indulgence is harmful, sinful, unnecessary, and can be controlled, we shall discover that self-restraint is perfectly possible.

The discussions I see happening across the media today about campus sexual assault are void of consideration about what sex even is. This absence of sex itself from these discussions results not at all from any squeamishness about the topic – hardly – but rather from a failure to question the now commonly held assumption that the purpose of sex is entertainment (and in turn that the purpose of entertainment is individual pleasure).

Gandhi rejected disassociating sex from its procreative aspect. He asserted:

I know that there are modern women who advocate these methods [of contraception]. But I have little doubt that the vast majority of women will reject them as inconsistent with their dignity. If man means well by her, let him exercise control over himself.

“If a man means well by her…” — this requires that he consider more than just his own amusement, that he consider who/what she is in a full and comprehensive sense, including her capacity to procreate in partnership with a man.

I do not advocate a ban on contraception as a way to counter sexual assault. But I do advocate that we need to address the sexual side of sexual assault. We need to foster public discussions which address fundamental questions too often ignored today such What is sex? What is woman? What is man?

At a time when Americans are a leading global advocate for improving women’s condition through both our government and private sector organizations, we would do well to view the problem of campus sexual assault as a plank we need first to remove from our own eye. We should consider the global implications of sexual assault on our college campuses not just in terms of our own credibility on women’s issues but also as an indication that there may be an impoverishment in our own notion of woman which we may be implicitly exporting in a variety of programs.

Viewing sex as nothing more than entertainment reduces those who engage in sex to tools for providing entertainment. Men and women become simply a means to an end for each other, with the end being a hook-up, namely a sexual encounter often even shorter than a one-night-stand. The result of the sexual liberation has become the hook-up culture. The result of the hook-up culture has become a culture of sexual assault.

To what extent are our foreign programs in the name of women’s rights rooted in a foundation informed by the assumptions of sexual liberation? To what extent might our sex-related foreign programs be laying the groundwork in other cultures for a transition into sexual liberation followed by hook-up culture followed by spread of sexual assault? These are hard questions we need to probe more actively and more deeply today.

Violence does not happen in a vacuum. Sexual assault does not come onto our university campuses out of nowhere. One of several sources which fuels the injustice of sexual assault is a culture that reduces sex to entertainment, and in so doing reduces women to objects of sexual lust. I think Gandhi understood this, and I think we could do more to serve men and women and to have greater peace between men and women both on our college campuses and in the world beyond if we understood this and took substantive and sustained action to reject the reduction of sex to entertainment and women to objects of sexual lust. Right now here in America is a good place to start.

© Daniel Philpott The views expressed in this forum are those of the individual contributors and do not necessarily represent those of Daniel Philpott, CCHR, or the University of Notre Dame.