Islamic State

Ghostly Metaphor: War at a Bargain

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Creditor’s Ledger Payments Book detailing creditor payments between 1958 and 1977 by companies commissioning work from Holmes McDougall. (Credit: Wikimedia Commons)

Like a ghost, the metaphors embedded in war talk go largely unnoticed. They are a specter haunting our speech and thought, just below the threshold of awareness. Calling attention to them can reveal an unexamined pretext for continuing to fight an interminable war.

Ghostly metaphors do not call attention to themselves as figures of speech. They operate furtively as though they are just ordinary words conveying literal meaning. With guard down, we allow them to shape the message and form our thoughts. When we draw on the literalized language of accounting to think about military matters, for example, we reason figuratively, drawing a tacit analogy between conducting business and fighting wars. (more…)

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U.S. Trounces Islamic State

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Credit: Library of Congress

The headline caught my attention: “Islamic State Getting Trounced in Battle for Arab Hearts and Minds, Survey Finds.”

The news story, written by Joby Warwick, appeared online on April 12, 2016 in The Washington Post. Warwick reports on national security and the Middle East.

In this story, Warwick features a new opinion poll that shows the Islamic State “is seeing a steep slide in the support among young Arab men and women it most wants to attract.”   The “survey suggests” that “overwhelming majorities”—“nearly 80%”—strongly oppose the Islamic State. That’s up from 60% a year ago.

More than half of the young Arabs surveyed ranked the Islamic State as the number one problem in the Middle East, and three-quarters predicted it would ultimately fail to establish an Islamic caliphate in Iraq and Syria. “The survey found” that even those who do sign up with the Islamic State are motivated by economic hardships and unemployment, not by religious fervor. Religion is a rationalization, not a motive. Respondents also “tended to rank stability over democracy as a coveted virtue for an Arab state.” (more…)

On the Category of Evil

Variant of the jihadist black flag. This particular version is used by the "Islamic State of Iraq" and by al-Shabaab in Somalia.

Variant of the jihadist black flag. This particular version is used by the “Islamic State of Iraq” and by al-Shabaab in Somalia.

The President considers what kind and how much of a military engagement the U.S. should undertake against the “cancer” of the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria. Meanwhile, high-ranking administration officials (the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, the Secretary of Defense, and the Secretary of State) characterize the Islamic State as a “barbaric” and “apocalyptic” terrorist organization that must be “contained,” “defeated,” and “destroyed” because it poses an “imminent threat.” This enemy is “beyond anything we’ve seen,” the Defense Secretary insists, “so we must prepare for everything” (The Guardian, 22 August 2014).

Columnist Richard Cohen, originally a supporter of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq, says now “we are once again up against the question of evil.” The slow and painful decapitation of photojournalist James Foley in the name of the Islamic State was an act of “pure evil.” This enemy “murders with abandon. It seems to love death the way the fascists once did.” It “massacres” Shiite Muslims and kills Yazidis, taking “as plunder their women as concubines.” (more…)