On January 28, 2015, the Department of Religious Studies and AIMES (SCU's interdisciplinary minor program in Arabic, Islamic & Middle Eastern Studies) co-sponsored a panel entitled "ISIS/The Islamic State: History, Symbolism, and Ideology."
Professor Elijah Reynolds (Modern Languages), in his talk on "Brand Recognition and the Da'esh Crime Syndicate," gave attention to the issue of nomenclature. Rather than "legitimize" ISIS by referring to this terrorist group as "Islamic" in any way, argued Professor Reynolds, it's better to call it by its Arabic acronym "Daesh," a word that for Arabic-language speakers echoes a word that also means "trample, crush, tread underfoot"---a term that evokes the hugely destructive force of this organization. He also argued that rather than understand this group in terms of religion, it's more appropriate to think of it as a "crime syndicate," like drug cartels in other parts of the world--that is, as an organization primarily concerned with making money.
Professor David Pinault (Religious Studies), in discussing "What Makes ISIS Attractive?", while acknowledging the political and economic dimensions of this Islamist organization, argued that the religious aspect of ISIS must be kept in mind in order to understand what has drawn tens of thousands of young Muslims to the ranks of ISIS from around the world. Drawing on his work in Indonesia interviewing members of the "Islamic Defenders Front" (a militant group on the island of Java currently competing for "market share" with ISIS) and on his study of ISIS's online "newsletter," Pinault argued that ISIS's attraction lies in its appeal to young Muslims who are idealistic but who also, in their desire for ideological clarity and purity, reject modernity and its attendant complexities (anonymity, individualism, and pluralism; the responsibility for constructing a viable spirituality amidst competing worldviews; and the need to tolerate doubt and ambiguity in our multivalent, cacophonous 21st century).
The 45 minutes of Q-and-A that followed the presentations demonstrated that the audience took a lively interest in the topics raised by the panelists.