Mellanöstern och Nordafrika Tidningen
Published On: Wed, Jun 1st, 2016

Deconstructing Salazar on ISIS

One of the most provocative and destructive intellectual critics of the late 20th century was Jacques Derrida, the iconic post-structuralist iconclast who created “deconstruction” as a weapon of mass literary destruction. I do not wish to debate the merits of deconstruction, the kind of close reading that has a hard time getting beyond irrational astigmatism, but to respond to what one of his students, Philippe-Joseph Salazar, has said about reconstructing ISIS.


In a recent interview in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Salazar suggests, apparently seriously: “I’m quite convinced that we can strike a deal with the caliphate. I’m thinking of sovereignty and preserving what we’ve got. If the safeguarding of France requires letting go of part of the Middle East and letting it be the caliphate, then that’s what it should be.” He goes on to say: “It is pointless in my view to call it a genocide. Or to call it massacres. It is what it is.”

“It is what it is”? It, meaning ISIS, is a destructive terrorist group started by former officers of Saddam Hussein’s regime with an intolerant ideology of death and destruction. Salazar is impressed by the quality of their propaganda, which he calls “highly erudite.” I guess this is because he notes that everything they say or do is based on the Quran. He adds that their erudition is “the assemblage of philosophical ideas, poetic ideas, aesthetic ideas, the ability to add beauty to a text.” How ironic that someone who is devoted to deconstructing a text should treat the Quran as a fixed monument as opposed to a religious text capable of multiple interpretations. His suggestion that France negotiate with ISIS reminds me of Chamberlain’s lamentable “try, try again” trying to appease Hitler. ISIS does not have a viable philosophy; their propaganda is a sham that turns Islam into a caricature of an Islamophobe’s worst nightmare.

The ultimate argument of Salazar, once one gets beyond the silly toying with ISIS as a serious worldview, is that if the young European jihadis had received a basic foundation in Western philosophy, like reading Thomas Aquinas, they would have realized how “rich” the culture of rationalism is. How long has Salazar been locked up in his Ivory Tower? I only wonder what potential converts would think reading Nietzsche. I, too, think it is unfortunate that the humanities get such short shrift today, but burying oneself in the 100 Great Books will not keep young men who are marginalized and largely ignorant of their own religion from becoming converts to a cultish cause. His observation that the Hemmingway-spirited Americans and British participants in the Spanish Civil War carried Virgil and Homer in their pockets is an astounding non sequitur. Thousands of Syrians, Iraqis and Yemenis are dead at the blood-soaked hands of ISIS: there is nothing poetic about such a travesty.

About the Author

- Anthropologist and historian with 40 years of experience researching and working in Yemen. Varisco is currently the President of the American Institute for Yemeni Studies, Senior Fellow at the Annemarie Schimmel Kolleg of Bonn University, and an expert advisor to MENA Tidningen.

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