The Untold Genesis of ISIS: Regimes of Surveillance, Stereotypes, and Suppression

Politics & Society
re:publica 2016

Short thesis: 

This presentation attempts to explain the intellectual genealogy of the conflict through the lens of surveillance, the effects of profiling stereotypes, and political suppression – using real-life examples of Muslims today.


Since the declaration of the “war on terror”, how have security measures effected the development of terrorist organizations? Could the evolution of the terrorist "threat" from Al-Qaeda to ISIS tell us something about the unintended consequences of surveillance regimes?

The discourse of surveillance is ultimately linked to stereotypes and the meta-discourse on equality within human rights. Mass surveillance regimes may seem on the surface as egalitarian--after all, everyone is theoretically observed. But they in fact leave the discriminatory power for those privileged officials within the state apparatus whose immediate interests may conflict with long-term peace projects. Radical political activities are regulated depending on their immediate threat to Western "homeland" security, and this is inadvertently pushing the threat externally.

This can be seen in particular with regards to policing practices. A Muslim school boy who brings a self-made clock to school is arrested, as was the case with Ahmed Mohamed in Texas. However, a Jihadist who plans to fight the Baathists in Syria will receive military training, equipment, and arms--as was the case for Muhammad Emwazi, an Arab-British resident. Ahmed Mohamed moved with his parents to Qatar while Muhammad Emwazi then joined the Islamic State in Raqqa.

From these real-world examples, one can see how mass surveillance and selective suppression through stereotypes created a culture of alienated Muslims who do not see place for themselves within Western democracies, and hence creates the context for the "Islamic State" as the only viable alternative.

As a researcher of radical Islamic thought for the last fourteen years, I have focused on the intellectual and aesthetic sources of inspiration for Islamic movements. My previous project, *Modernity's Other*, argued that Islamic reactions to modernization was an intricate but uncoordinated interaction of factors: the military successes of the religious forces in Saudi Arabia, the discovery of massive oil wealth and the consolidation of the Monarchies and elites in the Gulf, and the ideologically-oriented redistribution of that wealth through Islamic charity networks.

For this presentation, I will be looking at the other side of the equation: how did the war on terror reconfigure radical Islamic discourse? How did the monitoring of Islamic forums, particularly within the protections of freedom of speech, manipulate their political orientation? And finally, how do stereotypes and suppression cultivate exactly those kinds of fears and aspirations created by the Islamic State?

Stage 6
Wednesday, May 4, 2016 - 12:30 to 13:00