Jihadism and Sacred geography in the Middle East

One of the great fears of our time is the fear of Jihadist movements. One cannot deny the magnitude of their success in different parts of the Middle East and elsewhere since the failed “Arab Spring.” The appeal to the restoration of Caliphate seems more and more attractive for a new generation of European converts that they are most often totally ignorant of the Sacred tradition they have embraced. About Iraq, one can only be preoccupied by the decision of the Obama administration to wash its hands about the situation that the US have themselves created. What is however frequently ignored is that these movements represent a prodigious force of secularization.
It may seem a paradox (or even a ridiculous idea) to claim that Jihadists are a secularizing force. Don’t they want to impose the Sharia and to build Islamic States? It is important however to remember that secularization can have two meanings: the decline of religion or on the contrary the immanentization of the Sacred, the transfer of religious symbols and practices to the mundane sphere. It has long been pointed out that Islamist as well as Jihadist movements are “political religions”, whose goal is to realize on earth the eschatological promise of traditional religion, even if it means using the most unholy and the most modern means.
Another dimension of this secularizing effect of jihadist movements, more marginal but which should not be totally overlooked is the following. By destroying systematically sacred shrines in the lands they are conquering (more recently the grave of the prophet Jonas in Mosul) they are permanently secularizing the geography of the Middle East.
The notion of sacred space is important in religious anthropology. The destruction of the symbols of the Sacred in space, a movement started by reformist and revivalist movements since the 18th century but dramatically accelerated by the contemporary Jihadist movements, can only contribute on the long term, when these movements will have lost their military and political momentum to a secularization of the region. Secularization will mean however the spread, not of liberal, democratic values but of modern nihilism.
Nietzsche had prophetized that nihilism would be the fate of Europe in the 20th century. The desert of nihilism is now growing in the 21st century Middle East …

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