Religious Militancy Overseas and Its Messages at HomeHistorians in the News
tags: religion, extremism
Kali Handelman is an academic editor based in London. She is also the Manager of Program Development and London Regional Director at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research and a Contributing Editor at the Revealer.
Suzanne Schneider is Deputy Director and Core Faculty at the Brooklyn Institute for Social Research, specializing in the political and social history of the modern Middle East. She is the author of Mandatory Separation: Religion, Education, and Mass Politics in Palestine and writes broadly about political violence, militancy, and American foreign policy.
I’ve been waiting for Suzanne Schneider’s book, The Apocalypse and the End of History: Modern Jihad and the Crisis of Liberalism, ever since I worked with Schneider on her first article for the Revealer back in 2015, “The Reformation Will Be Televised: On ISIS, Religious Authority and the Allure of Textual Simplicity.” Schneider is uniquely capable of combining the deepest expertise with incisive critique in writing that is not only accessible, but a pleasure to read — and her book fully delivers on that first article’s promise.
The Apocalypse and the End of History is a rich inquiry into the history and current nature of political violence. Taking as its premise that to understand violence abroad, we have to take a much closer look at home, the book methodically explains the interwoven roles of religion, neoliberalism, democracy, economics, colonialism and media in producing not only “jihadi” violence, but drone strikes and mass shootings. The book is not about flat equivalences, but about asking challenging questions about how we got here and where we’re going. I always learn from my conversations with Schneider and am very glad that we had a chance to talk about her book on the occasion of its publication.
Kali Handelman: This might be a wildly unfair question, especially right out of the gate, but… If there were one thing you could change about the way we talk about jihad, what would it be?
Suzanne Schneider: I know you said one thing, but I’m going to respond with two that are intimately linked (so it’s not quite cheating): first, jihad is not a singular phenomenon that assumes the same form over time, such that the ISIS jihad is not functionally the same thing as the Bosnian jihad in the early 1990s, which is itself very different than the one declared by the Ottoman Empire in 1914, which likewise differed from medieval declarations of jihad during the Crusades. Recognizing jihad as a diverse and historically evolving practice makes it possible to cast aside the biggest misconception in the West, namely that it is an instantiation of medieval barbarism left over from less enlightened times. On the contrary, and this is the second thing, I’ve come to the conclusion that should be far more unsettling, namely that today’s jihad–at least in its Islamic State guise (and I really want to underscore here that I am specifically talking about ISIS)–is a hypermodern phenomenon that has a great deal to teach us not about the past, but about a possible future.
KH: This book is, in a sense, a response to the question you pose in the introduction: “Why have the last several decades proven so generative for a particular type of religious militancy, and what does this fact indicate not merely about conditions ‘over there” but about those far closer to home?’ In responding, you argue convincingly that we are in the midst of a global change in our relationships to violence and thus, we need to consider much more deeply what you call an “uncomfortable proximity” between “home” and “over there” — that is, to put it bluntly, between mujahideen and mass shooters. There are a number of references to media, again, “ours” and “theirs,” in the book. Through these references, you put “our” Glenn Beck, Bill Maher, Braveheart, and Aladdin and “their” Dabiq and al-Naba in close proximity to one another. I wonder if you could put a finer point on the role of media — film, TV, news, marketing newsletters, etc. — as it impacts our changing relationship to violence? What does this media do? And what does it tell us about our “uncomfortable proximity”?
SS: I think readers of the Revealer probably already know this, but it is worth underscoring the extent to which new forms of spectacular violence exist in a relationship of codependence with the media channels that cover them. There are a number of facets to this relationship but we should note that it is bi-directional: Suicide attacks and on-screen excecutions are tailor-made for a world with instantaneous communication networks, a 24/7 news cycle, and globalized social media — but so too the profit model of capitalist journalism incentivizes sensational coverage. So there is something mutually constitutive in nature about contemporary terrorism, media, and spectacle — that is the first thing to note.
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