Bashir Saade – ISIS and Game of Thrones: The Global between Tradition, Identity and the Politics of Spectacle

Political Theory Research Group seminar series: 6 Apr 2016

Photo: Anonymous Iraqi citizens in Iraq

Bashir Saade’s paper offers a far-reaching discussion of issues surrounding identity, authority, and tradition, considered with reference to ISIS. A central objective of Bashir’s paper is to examine the relationship between modern audio-visual technologies and cultural identities, more specifically he looks to address how ISIS combines cutting edge AV practices with repeated attempts to harken back to historical social configurations. Related to this is his attempt to assess the extent to which ISIS can be said to be an Islamic organisation. Here he considers how ISIS ideologues employ highly selective excerpts from scriptural and historical texts in order to legitimise acts of extreme violence.

These twin concerns lead to a more fundamental inquiry into how traditions ought to be categorised. One approach focuses on how traditional practices are passed down through texts. Rejecting this approach, Bashir instead favours a focus on how traditions are sustained  through cultural practices which themselves shape how canonical texts are interpreted and applied.

Our discussion looked at the factors which shape identities, particularly those associated with ISIS membership. The role of local and global forces was considered, alongside the conceptions of Islam favoured by ISIS members. Philosophies of religion which emphasise non-chronological, eschatological conceptions of time premised on ‘eternity’ were suggested as a way of making sense of the seeming tension between the traditionalism and modernism of ISIS. These points dovetailed into a related discussion about the extent to which organisations such as ISIS ought to be assessed in largely ideational terms, rather than in more structural or sociological ones.

Written by Andrew Drever


Bashir Saade is a Teaching Fellow in Politics at the University of Edinburgh.