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How ISIL is changing your way of seeing the world

Jihadism has given itself a new way of mapping the world. This form of representation has allowed it to rethink itself and grow beyond which we could imagine. The media seem to have accepted it, perhaps mistakenly thinking that it would be less disquieting for the European reader, who is used to the nationalist cartographic story. But we can’t stop wondering what would happen if we began to represent Europe, its conflicts, its political movements, and its commercial spaces similarly.

comic del EIIS publicado en twitterSurely, the saddest thing about the historical period in which we live is that the most decomposed and most destructive organizations are in the vanguard of generating consensus and social stories.

Jihadis, more than a decade ago, were the first to organize themselves in a really distributed way on a large-scale. Though the pressure of North American propaganda after the death of Bin Laden did everything possible to erase what was learned in ten years of netwar, and some analysts are again portraying Al Qaeda as a “traditional” organization, the truth is that at that point, American withdrawal fed decomposition in Iraq, and jihadis had already a large African corridor. Only the European strategic view — and surely out of mistaken motives and in dangerous contexts, could guess that the war had moved to a new level.

Look at the maps, not Facebook or Twitter

twitter eiilForget about the jihadist virtual propaganda machine and its capacity for recruitment across half the world. That’s already routine for a netocracy that’s been around for decades.

However, in that whole process, which is organic in a network like the jihadists’, the way of representing territory, or space — the great metaphor of power — is fundamental to understanding why the military operations area of the jihadis has expanded to a point that seemed impossible only a few years ago.

Maps are cultural constructs, ways of relating that condition the way we see reality, and how we see ourselves in it. The contemporary form of the map, which is at the very root of nineteenth-century nationalism, projects the ideal of the unity of territory and collective fate. The contemporary map is a “political” representation of the state and its aspirations (I still remember in high school, when they distinguished between “geographic” maps and “political” maps).

During the first stage of the emergence of the “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant,” the type of maps that the media used reproduced this very form of representation:

estado-islamico-territorios-1 estado-islámico-territorios-2

So, cartographic representation reinforced the idea of “State” with which the jihadist group adorned their name, associating it with the national idea of a state. But, paradoxically, the maps that ISIL’s propaganda showed were much more stylized, emphasizing territory much less than control of travel roues and waterways.

estado islamico estiliza

The implicit political message about the group itself and its growth reinforced the basic idea of netwar that we already had seen in Africa: borders are not borders; people live in cities and towns and travel along paths. Only those who move between them can consolidate power, because they control the paths. To control mobility, and with it essential supplies, is the base of a floating, agile, exhausting and resilient power. Territory is of no interest. It’s an empty desert (without people) and therefore, without value. Whoever controls nodes and vectors is the true state and today, from the city limits of Aleppo to those of Baghdad, that is a jihadist state. The map of the final program, the great territorial Caliphate, is only a consequence, an organic development, a limit that is built from the network.

A few weeks later, the hegemonic way of describing the war in Iraq on the map by the European press is entirely in terms of nodes and vectors:

estado-islámico-vectores

Jihadism has given itself a new way of mapping the world. This form of representation has allowed it to rethink itself and grow beyond which we could imagine. The media seem to have accepted it, perhaps mistakenly thinking that it would be less disquieting for the European reader, who is used to the nationalist cartographic story. But we can’t stop wondering what would happen if we began to represent Europe, its conflicts, its political movements, and its commercial spaces similarly.

Translation by Steve Herrick from the original (in Spanish)

«How ISIL is changing your way of seeing the world» recibió 0 desde que se publicó el martes 16 de septiembre de 2014 . Si te ha gustado este post quizá te gusten otros posts escritos por David de Ugarte.

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