Philip Halldén, Jihad, retorik och poesi i digitaliseringens tidsålder. Estetiska dimensioner i alQa‘idas kulturkamp (Jihad, Rhetoric and Poetry in the Age of Digitalization: Aesthetic Dimensions in the Struggle of al-Qa‘ida)
In this essay I aim to show how the struggle of the Salafi-Jihadist movement (“al-Qa‘ida”) has been pursued not only by military means, physical violence and terrorist attacks, but also by cultural, intellectual and aesthetic interventions. This battle has been directed against rival cultural and intellectual tendencies in Saudi Arabia and other Muslim societies whose political and cultural elites are often perceived by the jihadists to be “apostates” or at least contaminated by “un-Islamic” influences. Forms and genres of expression are important issues in this context. The use of classical Arabic and archaic genres of eloquence, rhetoric and poetry here constitutes part of a polemical stance against rival currents. The essay provides an insight into the cultural values cherished by representatives of al-Qa‘ida and what they believe they are up against in this particular field of contest. It involves the question of what kind of poetry and rhetoric appeals to militant Islamists. This is an issue which has been largely neglected. The academic study of Islamist movements has been dominated by political science or sociological approaches, in which aesthetic dimensions tend to be overlooked, while humanities-oriented studies of Arabic literature, rhetoric and poetry tend to focus on quite different trends and more “benign” currents of literature. However, as I try to demonstrate in my essay, the subculture of Salafi-Jihadism is in a sense a truly poetical and rhetorical one, and by paying attention to this dimension we may reach a more complex understanding of the phenomenon.
In addition, I discuss a theoretical contradiction inherent in the use of “new media” for conveying seemingly archaic forms and messages. While Salafi-Jihadists show a passion for classical Arabic and traditional genres of rhetoric and poetry, as well as pretending to be the sole upholders of the pristine and “true” Islam of the so-called “pious ancestors” (al-salaf al-salih), they are utilizing digital audio and other kinds of “new media” to convey their message on the Internet. This reveals a certain ambiguity or even ambivalence, although it may not always be consciously expressed as such. It is also, metaphorically speaking, an issue which can be approached in terms of different aspects of “mnemotechnology” as expressions modeled on the Qur‘an and other sources of Islam (previously stored in biological memories) are being reproduced in new contexts, as for instance when a speech crammed by quotations from the Qur‘an and traditional poetry is recorded, published and then in turn preserved on hard drives, tape recorders and other storage media. The use of new media enhances the reach of communication, but this enhancement comes at a price. Listening to a remixed sermon in mp3 format, accompanied by Flash animations on a computer screen is not the same thing as taking part, for instance, in the communal and ritual event of a Friday sermon in the mosque. While the contents and style may seem traditional or archaic, the very formats of mediation and publication are new phenomena in history.
Uppsala: Svenska Litteratursällskapet , 2010. Vol. 131, 330-352 p.