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Table of contents :
Introduction: Islamic Futurism? A Study in Political Aesthetics
1 ISIS and Futurism: An Impossible Comparison?
2 The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
3 From Cyberpunk back to Futurism: The Trajectory of ISIS
4 Fascism, ISIS, and Futurism
6 Terrorism and Cyberpunk
7 The Real Machine Versus the Virtual Machine
Conclusion: Artificial Optimism Then and Today
About the Author
The Political Aesthetics of ISIS and Italian Futurism
The Political Aesthetics of ISIS and Italian Futurism Thorsten Botz-Bornstein
Lanham • Boulder • New York • London
Published by Lexington Books An imprint of The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. 4501 Forbes Boulevard, Suite 200, Lanham, Maryland 20706 www.rowman.com 6 Tinworth Street, London SE11 5AL, United Kingdom Copyright © 2019 by The Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the publisher, except by a reviewer who may quote passages in a review. British Library Cataloguing in Publication Information Available Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data Available ISBN 978-1-4985-6436-6 (cloth : alk. paper) ISBN 978-1-4985-6437-3 (electronic) ∞ ™ The paper used in this publication meets the minimum requirements of American National Standard for Information Sciences—Permanence of Paper for Printed Library Materials, ANSI/NISO Z39.48-1992. Printed in the United States of America
Introduction: Islamic Futurism? A Study in Political Aesthetics 1 ISIS and Futurism: An Impossible Comparison?
2 The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
3 From Cyberpunk back to Futurism: The Trajectory of ISIS
4 Fascism, ISIS, and Futurism
5 Islam 105 6 Terrorism and Cyberpunk
7 The Real Machine Versus the Virtual Machine
Conclusion: Artificial Optimism Then and Today
Epilogue 175 Bibliography 179 Index 195 About the Author
Introduction Islamic Futurism? A Study in Political Aesthetics
“We had stayed up all night, my friends and I, under hanging mosque lamps with domes of filigreed brass, domes starred like our spirits, shining like them with the prisoned radiance of electric hearts. For hours we had trampled our atavistic ennui into rich oriental rugs.”
These are the first sentences of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti’s Founding and Manifesto of Futurism. Soon the idyll is disturbed by the “famished roar of automobiles” and the group decides to leave the mosque chasing “after Death” like “young lions” [Marinetti 1909] (in Rainey et al. 2009: 49–50). The juxtaposition of an orientalist idyll, a modern techno-world, and death is intriguing and reminiscent of the aesthetic universe most recently produced by the propaganda of the Islamic State (ISIS).1 ISIS does not only excel through the extensive use of high-tech weapons, social media, commercial bot, swarmcast, and automated text systems. By putting forward the presence of speeding cars and tanks, mobile phones, and computers, ISIS presents jihad life as connected to modern urban culture. I want to show in this book that the aesthetics of ISIS is “Futurist” by deriving certain ideas on politics and aesthetics from Italian Futurism. Futurism glorified cars, industrial machines, and modern cities while praising violence as a means of leaving behind imitations of the past in order to project itself most efficiently into the future. Early Futurism’s “superman” was supposed to be a machine-like, immoral, and insensible being. Italian Futurism emerged in 1909 and counts, like cubism, Dadaism, and surrealism, among the great avant-garde movements of the twentieth century. It disappeared in 1944 with founder Marinetti’s death. Futurists emphasized the use of technology and violence in both their art and their manifestos, and Futurist ideology fused artistic and political engagement. Futurists claimed vii
to loathe everything traditional, glorified cars and modern cities, and emphasized speed, technology, and youth. In Founding and Manifesto of Futurism Marinetti asks his disciples to “destroy museums, libraries, academies of every kind” and to “free this land from its smelly gangrene of professors, archeologists, tour guides [ciceroni] and antiquarians” (Marinetti 1909: 52). The Futurist war on the old was meant to prepare “for the birth of an industrial and militarized Venice, capable of dominating the great Adriatic, the Great Italian lake” (“Contro Venezia passatista,” in TIF 33–34, quoted in Poggi: 77). Futurism bears an admittedly ambiguous link with fascism. Marinetti became one of the first members of the National Fascist Party when his own “Futurist Political Party” was absorbed into Mussolini’s “Italian Fasci of Combat.” In 1919, a group of proto-fascists, which included Marinetti, invaded the offices of the socialist daily newspaper Avanti in Milan and smashed its presses and equipment. Four people were killed and thirty-nine were injured (see Paxton 2004: 6–7). Marinetti classified the event as “unforgettable in Italian history” (D’Orsi: 116). Futurist also publicly burned the flag of Austria, and in 1911 Marinetti issued a manifesto in support of the colonial war, which included the slogan “Let the tedious memory of Roman greatness be canceled by an Italian greatness one hundred times more powerful” (Untitled Manifesto TIF 339). Many Futurists yearned for a war they hoped would rid them of the AustroHungarian oppression. Italy was still reclaiming territories under AustroHungarian control. At the same time, Futurists actively supported the Italian invasion of Libya, which denotes the same ambiguous attitude toward colonization that we find in the ideology of ISIS. In 1911, Futurist Luca Comerio made a war film about Libya and in 1912 Marinetti flew to the Libyan front. Emerging posthumously from his private correspondence, Marinetti expressed that the colonial massacre of Tripoli’s defenseless inhabitants in Libya was “the most beautiful esthetic spectacle of my life” (Conversi 2009: 92). Twenty-three years later, in 1935, the fifty-nine-year-old Marinetti flies again to Africa, this time to Ethiopia as a war volunteer “to prove his fidelity to fascism.”2 COMPARING THE INCOMPARABLE The purpose of this book is to deliver an acute analysis of the phenomenon of radical Islam and of ISIS in particular by reading the most recent episodes of Islamic terrorism and religious radicalization through the prism of political and aesthetic developments that took place in the first decades of the twentieth century. A large part of those developments are concentrated in Italian Futurism. I want to show that a complex tradition of radical Islam intends
to go back to “Futurism.” For this purpose, I look at this tradition’s writings but also at the most recent propaganda strategic communications campaign of Islamic terrorism, which has had a seemingly magnetic appeal on young Westerners during the last decade. However, can they really be compared? True, Futurism has a bad reputation. On the occasion of the Futurism exhibition at the Tate Modern in 2009, James Hall wrote in the Times Literary Supplement that “Futurism is badly dented by its indiscriminate addiction to new technologies, and its hatred of anything old. It is seriously crumpled by its love of war (. . .) by its active support of Italian imperialism and for fascism” (in Perloff 2012: 9). I do not intend to denigrate Italian Futurists even more by linking them to the one of the most brutal and most anti-intellectual varieties of terrorism the world has ever seen. It is only too obvious that the context and the scope of Futurist theories and actions are completely different. First, Futurists were great artists and intellectuals who clearly deserve the central position they occupy in the history of modern European culture. Futurist aesthetics managed to set landmarks in art and architecture and influenced international artistic movements like Bauhaus, De Stijl, and Russian Constructivism. The eminent German theater director Gustav Hartung held that “all modern artistic movements in the world have Futurism as a spiritual ancestor” (in Verdone 2009: 116). Futurists can even be seen as the predecessors of digital art, of performance art, and of mixed media art as they very early experimented with the combination of artistic and industrial elements. They invented novelties like visual or tactile poetry. ISIS, on the other hand, merely shocks the world with images of brutalities and a mentality that seems to go back to the mores of the Middle Ages if not worse. No twist of the perspective can seriously maintain that Futurists ever behaved like ISIS. Second, Futurists were never terrorists.3 One might credit some Futurists with the term terrorismo espressivo (expressive terrorism), as Franco Ferarrotti does (2016: 18), but suggestions of violence remain verbal most of the time. Though Marinetti describes “the thrill of killing three Arab soldiers with his own hands” (Rainey 2009: 13), Futurists rarely committed brutal actions in real life. The abovementioned assault of the Avanti headquarters by the freshly founded Fasci di Combattimento remains a rare incident.4 Occasionally suicide bomber fantasies emerge: “Inured to fear and craving new adventures, the habitué of velocity would not hesitate to perform heroic acts in war, even going so far as unflinchingly to instigate his own death,” writes Poggi (2008: 12–13). Next comes “the desire to dominate time and space by imagining oneself as a speeding projectile, and in the assumption of a state of perpetual, combative ‘readiness’ to parry external blows” (11). In 1918, Marinetti glorifies, in a letter to the composer Francesco Balilla Pratella, “the gay power of a twenty-year old youth who throws the bomb” (Berghaus 1996:
103). Marinetti alludes to the elite troops called “Arditi” who were special assault units during World War I and who had developed a close relationship with Futurism.5 This does indeed establish resemblances with today’s terrorists. D’Orsi holds that the Arditi “were a bit hero, a bit scoundrel, dagger between the teeth and bomb in hand (. . .), as much despising death as ready to inflict death on the enemy.”6 The Futurists gathering around the Florentine revue Lacerba were even more radical.7 In 1913 Giovanni Papini writes in an article called “Life is not Sacred”: “Victims, victims, victims. Victims are absolutely necessary. Without the sacrifice of many men, humanity will turn backwards. We need corpses to pave the streets with all our triumphs” (in D’Orsi: 87). Again, those suggestions come remarkably close to the ethics of suicide bombing; however, no bomb was ever thrown. The terrorism remained verbal. Third, the ironical dimension that is so important for Futurism is entirely missing in jihadism. Futurists are playful and parodic, and their style is often aristocratic or determined by the sophisticated habitus of middle-class intellectuals. Few things can be more opposed to ISIS. At the same time, it would be wrong to depict ISIS as a bunch of fanatics whose existence is entirely incomparable with that of the educated and culturally sensitive Futurists. A certain disdain of fanatics who are brainwashed and have no intellectual capacities has often prevented Western observers from understanding the motivations of the terrorists’ actions. Jean Baudrillard pointed this out when writing about the apparent “inability to contemplate for one moment that these ‘fanatics’ might commit themselves entirely ‘freely’, without in any way being blind, mad or manipulated” (Baudrillard 2002: 52). While common fighters (and foreign converts in particular) might often (though far from always) have a low level of education,8 one should never forget that ISIS emerges from an old tradition of radical Sunni Islam whose programs and reflections have often been highly sophisticated. Also, at its height, ISIS was much more than a shadowy terrorist cell: it was a proto-state9 striking its own coinage, having its own car number plates, and receiving attention and support from a large part of the Muslim community. Strictly speaking, ISIS is not a terrorist organization, but, given that its members have managed to coordinate efforts in different social domains, ISIS is an insurgent organization that was once able to manage a state. This corresponds with its strangely “liberal” behavior when it comes to recruitments. Will McCants points out that clandestine terrorist groups are “usually picky about who joins, worried that it will be penetrated by spies or destroyed from the inside by idiots. Because it saw itself as something more than a terrorist group, the Islamic State had opened wide the doors for membership” (McCants 2015: 28). The aim of the present comparative approach is to find “Futurist” patterns in the aesthetics and writings of ISIS and to reinterpret the status of this terrorist
organization by adopting a fresh perspective on certain parts of the modern culture they produce and within which they are acting. Futurist political and aesthetic strategies will thus be used as analytical tools. In many respects, Islamic terrorism and Futurism emerged in similar cultural contexts and both stuck to similar political and aesthetic lines. This philosophical and relatively abstract comparative approach is supposed to uncover parallel structures in phenomena that appear dissimilar when seen from the outside. One difficulty for this study is represented by the link between Futurism and fascism, which is ambiguous in historical and intellectual terms and needs to be handled accordingly. First, not all of Futurism is fascist because the turn toward fascism occurred at a relatively late stage: Futurism emerged when fascism did not exist, and earlier Futurists cannot be called fascists for that simple reason. It is better to say that a part of fascism is Futurist. Second, many Futurists never made the fascist turn and remained leftist, anarchists, or something else (the mentioned Mario Carli founded the ultramonarchist journal Il Principe preaching Machiavelli’s doctrines;10 Giovanni Papini became catholic and wrote The Life of Christ). The fascist connection concerns mainly the personality of Marinetti and his immediate followers and not the entire movement; and even Marinetti’s relationship with fascism is highly contradictory. This is not to say that Marinetti was the only fascist. Many Futurists became absorbed into fascism and among them were, according to Gramsci, the most important representatives of Futurism. Of course, this led to the neutralization of Futurism’s most original avant-garde ambitions (e.g., it turned out to be difficult to reconcile the concept of parole in libertà with the new authoritarianism). Before entering further details, I want to list what I believe to be the main parallels between ISIS and Futurism. • Though both are techno-oriented, ISIS and Futurism have moralistic concerns regarding the “danger of corruption by the materialism, mechanization, and hedonism” inherent in “Americanism and its degraded popular culture.” The last sentence is not taken from ISIS propaganda but from Stanley Payne’s description of Futurism in his A History of Fascism (Payne 2003: xvi). • Both ISIS and Futurism share a disdain for the ruling class; at the same time, both are critical of socialism. ISIS rhetoric contests all Western discourses (capitalism, communism, nationalism, and democracy), and officially, ISIS fights against the Arab Socialist Ba’ath Party (Ba’athism), which is currently leading the government in Syria. • Both ISIS and Futurists tend to present their beliefs as civilizing missions and, as a result, they produce highly subjective and biased accounts of the outside world. However, at the same time, both remain marginal groups and are not willing to create genuine mass movements or even mass
cultures. Though the spirit of ISIS and Futurism is markedly revolutionary, any rhetoric appealing to the masses is missing. • Both movements believe that culture must have a militant function. This idea is based on a common anti-liberal philosophy. Futurists shared the militant approach with the movements of the modernist avant-garde. The word “avant-garde” provides a hint because, obviously, it has military connotations. In the cases of Italian and Russian Futurism, the militant character is manifest as both went through revolutionary experiences. However, there are reasons to say that the rest of the historical avant-garde is determined by militancy, too. In his now canonical Theory of the Avant-Garde (1984), Peter Bürger defined the avant-garde as an intensely militant artistic project because the artist was not supposed to withdraw into the sanctuary of art for art’s sake. This feature characterizes not only Futurism but also cubism, Dadaism, as well as surrealism because all those artistic movements fought against “the thesis that art in bourgeois society is ‘functionless’” (Bürger 1984: 95).11 To reflect this attitude against the ideology and, in particular, the aesthetics of ISIS can yield new insights into the character of this terrorist movement. • Both movements share the common myth of an empire that needs to be regained. Though Futurists were (just like ISIS) forward-looking, they were also, as Franco Ferrarotti confirms, “vaguely nostalgic of a glorious past that had not been renewed.”12 The myth of the unification of Italy (the Risorgimento) as a yet incomplete political and moral revolution fueled both Futurism and Italian fascism; and it has an equivalent in the myth of a “lost caliphate” that is so important for ISIS.13 While fundamentalists are frequently referring to this myth, the fascist myth of “Italianism” (though admittedly not shared by all Futurists) made Mussolini say in 1922 that “our myth is the nation” (Gentile 2003: 60). What took place next was the “politicization of modernist avant-garde” (Gentile) through which Italy was supposed to take the great protagonist role of twentieth-century history (see Gentile 2000: 4). I will show that both mythologies can be seen as “modern.” ISLAMIC FUTURISM Some scholars have suggested Islamic fundamentalism is “Futurist” because here “traditionalism becomes a by-product of modernity” (Inayatullah and Boxwell 2003: 13). I want to go one step further and examine whether one has the right to label the propaganda work of ISIS as “Islamic Futurism.” A reading of the last episodes of Islamic terrorism and religious radicalization through the lens of Futurism will help demonstrate the modern character of
those movements. The idea that ISIS is not medieval or retro-oriented but progressive and Futurist plunges us into the discussion of whether “progressive conservatism” is possible in religious movements and elsewhere. This topic will be amply discussed in chapter 5, but a few cues can be given already now in this introduction. Can any fundamentalism be modern and progressive or does fundamentalism not necessarily hark back to an ideal past and remain therefore conservative? How does radical Islam, and ISIS in particular, bring tradition and modernity together? Western spectators often have difficulties grasping the modern, anti-traditional input in fundamentalism and tend to see it as simply anti-modern and regressive. However, many conservative Islamic activist groups have based their vision of an ideal Islamic state not on a retrospective or nostalgic model but on a utopian model. The pattern of the “Islamic modern” can be found in the Iranian revolution as Ayatollah Khomeini saw himself as a progressive innovator of Shia thought. Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism contains a utopian input since its eighteenth-century founder ‘Abd Al-Wahhab saw traditional Islam as a degenerate version of pristine Islam and wanted to inaugurate an entirely new phase of Islamic culture. Similarly, the Muslim Brothers from Egypt see themselves as an “avant-garde that was ahead of and even above the ordinary masses” (Ahmed 2011: 53). The “Islamic Futurism” that I attempt to reveal in the propaganda of ISIS is linked to the spirit of those “avant-garde” fundamentalisms. Also in this context, “avant-garde” can be defined in the sense of Peter Bürger as an intensely militant artistic or religious project, which does not withdraw into the sanctuary of art for art’s sake or of religion for religion’s sake. None of the comparisons that follow are random, but each of them is supposed to demonstrate the modern character of this most recent and most publicized emanation of radical Islam called ISIS. METHODOLOGY This book examines the politics and the aesthetics of two social movements.14 By doing so, it addresses the political dimension of taste in the way suggested by Pierre Bourdieu in his work on social distinction (La Distinction. Critique sociale du jugement, 1979; Engl. 1984). However, it also deals with the aesthetic dimension of politics. When politics is seen as “aesthetic,” it does not merely refer to ideologies or institutions but appears as a political culture. In this sense, the present work must be understood more as an anthropological study than a study in politics. The main question that this book attempts to answer is whether ISIS can be seen as Futurist. The approach concords with what Olivier Roy has explained in his most recent book Le Djihad et la mort (2016): that ISIS violence is
fundamentally modern and that it needs to be understood “in parallel with other forms of violence and radicalism to which it remains closely related, such as generational revolt, auto-destruction, radical rupture with society, aesthetics of violence, inscription of the socially isolated individual within a larger globalized narrative, and apocalyptic sects” (Roy 2016: 23). It is this approach (which is “transversal” in Roy’s terminology) that leads me to a comparison of ISIS with Futurism. However, when digging into the historical realities of both movements, it appears that a “vertical” dimension—as opposed to the transversal one—cannot be entirely denied either. The verticality in question will not permit the spelling out of constants concerning Islam or even radical Islam (by defining it, for example, as violent “by nature”); the relationship should rather be defined as a spiral-like verticality, which turns the present approach into a hermeneutic investigation constantly going back and forth between individual manifestations and a larger context. Is ISIS Futurist? This question is provocative, and a suitable methodology needs to be crafted by considering many factors.15 Can phenomena coming from different eras and different social spheres really be compared? As mentioned, Futurism was a creative artistic movement whereas the members of the Islamic State are terrorists. Furthermore, Futurism is a product of troubled political cultures typical of the twentieth century with roots reaching into the nineteenth century whereas ISIS emerged in the context of postmodern globalization. (On the other hand, both Futurism and radical Islam have roots in nineteenth-century philosophies, which grew on different territories, but which have important elements in common.) No matter from what angle both movements are approached, dissimilarities will always outweigh the similarities. However, I believe that the similarities that do exist are very instructive and deserve to be analyzed because they can bring about a fresh understanding of ISIS as well as of other branches of radical Islam. The researcher faces difficulties of another kind when it comes to the definitions of Futurism and fascism in historical, political, and cultural terms. Even if we could agree on general definitions (which is rather unlikely), the relationships between those movements are extremely complex and controversial. As a result, a neutral account of the situation that satisfies everybody is impossible to obtain. The terrain of fascism and Futurism has always been extremely slippery in the world of scholarship. What did fascism and Futurism really want and what were they opposed to? Themes like anti-traditionalism versus traditionalism, individualism versus hierarchies, libertarianism versus authoritarianism, or anti-moralism versus moralism have sparked many discussions without any of those discussions able to make unanimously clear to which side of the battle the respective movements do actually belong. Fascism was clearly attracted by authoritarian solutions that are normally ascribed to the right-wing spectrum. Notably, the post-Nazi image of fascism
is that of a prototypical right-wing movement. However, Italian fascism was cofounded by revolutionary syndicalists and left-wing dissidents and Futurists were part of this mix. Even the idea of the exaltation of violence is a socialist and communist reference in the first place. Above that, it is a modern idea, a fact that conflicts with all attempts to see those movements as conservative and anti-modern. Futurism represents the synthesis of those contradictions as it always attempted to reconcile opposites in a utopian fashion: nationalism and anarchism, nationalism (or an aggressive form of jingoism) and cosmopolitanism, militarism and libertarianism, authoritarianism and humanism. Much of this is true not only for the Italian, but also for the Russian Futurists. World War II and the rise of fascism plunged Italian Futurism into an existential crisis that could have led to its dissolution as it did for Dadaism in 1924. Instead, Italian Futurists tried to accommodate a large amount of contradictions inside the movement. Marinetti could now appear as a half-hearted fascist. How can all this be accounted for in a study on the Futurist character of Islamic terrorism? Probably it can’t, but the mosaic of differences and parallels hints toward one certitude: purely historico-empirical approaches will not provide a satisfying answer to the question of whether ISIS is Futurist. Instead, it will be more useful to trace a certain Futurist state of mind in the form of a sensibility or a cultural orientation and to check whether this state of mind exists in “ISIS culture” as well. Lista speaks with regard to Futurists of a “fenomenologia tipologica” and believes that there are “theoretical and expressive specificities that Futurism has had in Italy” (Lista 2009: 14). The Futurist mindset is composed of technology, violence, and an artificially maintained optimism—and this is also typical for ISIS. If there are parallel ways of thinking in radical Islam and Futurism, those parallels are more likely to be found by philosophers. Of course, there is always the danger of generalization. Not all Futurist “ways of thinking” find an echo in ISIS. However, it must be possible to spell out certain shared features that do form a family resemblance. ISIS, FUTURISM, AND CYBERPUNK The principal objective of this book is to show that ISIS—and with it a large and relatively complex tradition of radical Islam—intends to return to Futurism and modernism. The situation that is going to be overcome can be called “postmodern” but also Cyberpunk. The disentanglement of this pattern will be the objective of chapters 3 and 6. Cyberpunk became a catchword or a symbol for a certain attitude current in postindustrial Western and Japanese
culture in the 1980s. Cyberpunk stands for crisis: it symbolizes the exhaustion of the industrial economy as well as the exhaustion of the avant-garde. This crisis is more radical than the crisis experienced by liberalism in the 1900s and to which Futurism and fascism reacted. Cyberpunk developed in the form of a nihilist culture in a postindustrial world where tangible goods have gradually been replaced with abstractions and images. In chapter 3, I will explain the following chain of thoughts: through Cyberpunk, the crisis of Western culture is no longer just a crisis of liberal values but a cultural crisis questioning the status of reality. The postindustrial world within which Cyberpunk emerged is an information society, and many young people experienced the world on the internet rather than in real life. The world has become an image: Philippe Muray holds that “even of sexual life there remain only images” (Muray 2002: 25) and that our “ancient real world” has been replaced with a new oneiric world (31). ISIS interferes in this crisis. ISIS suggests an alternative lifestyle which is—most probably unconsciously— inspired by Futurism. Futurists were living in the old world where wars were still real and not just cold wars or cyberwars. Winning a war was supposed to lead to a better life, which is not necessarily the case today. Futurism inspired an optimistic kind of science fiction and ISIS wants to return to Futurism by overcoming both postmodernism and Cyberpunk, which becomes manifest on several levels. Below I provide a list of five points that distinguish ISIS from Cyberpunk. Each of those points can be traced to the difference between Futurism and Cyberpunk: • Cyberpunk is afraid of the future because the future includes either uncertainties or undesirable certainties (e.g., aging). Cyberpunk sticks to the present, which it will pamper, recycle, and revisit. Postmodernism, of which Cyberpunk is a subgroup, introduces elements of the past into the present in order to hyperbolize this narcissistic process. Futurism is moving forward toward an optimistic kind of urbanity dominated by machines. It leaves the past behind and ISIS builds on this Futurist anti-Cyberpunk ideology. • The difference between activism and passivism is very important in Futurism. ISIS restages this difference in a postmodern context. Futurism is violent, fast, and concrete, and wants to overcome nature through technology. Futurism is active and optimistic while Cyberpunk is passive and pessimistic. The activism versus passivism pattern influences the perception of technology. In Cyberpunk, the world gets slowly overgrown by an abstract nanotechnology that has almost become organic. Cyberpunk even develops Biopunk as a dystopian vision of technology passively overgrown by organic matter or becoming organic matter. Nothing can be more opposed to the “fast” and active version of Futurist technology.
• It is in this anti-Cyberpunk universe that ISIS rediscovers the “real machine.” The Futurist machine is mechanic and real. The Futurist machine is not the virtual, postmodern bio-digital machine inserted into bodies that has become current in the Cyberpunk universe. The Futurist machine is edgy and noisy, and this is also the machine preferred by ISIS. • In parallel with the rediscovery of the mechanical machine, ISIS rediscovers the reality of the body. In ISIS wars, real, breathing bodies are steering real, steaming machines, which brings back a corpo-reality into a world in which reality had become more and more mediated by Cyberpunk technology, and in which bodily experiences had become virtual. • In this universe of bodily reality, ISIS also rediscovers space. As real bodies and real machines are moving around in the real space of the ISIS caliphate, ISIS reevaluates old, analog conceptions of space, which are in many respects opposed to cyberspace. At a time when every millimeter of earthly space has been conquered and colonized up to the point that we must go into outer space or into cyberspace to experience new adventures, ISIS shows us a geographical space that is not merely mental but real because it can be perceived by all of our five senses. In ISIS wars, real bodies driving real machines conquer real space inch by inch. ISIS has reimported a three-dimensional reality into the simulated world of Cyberpunk. • ISIS shows that revolutions are not limited to digital revolutions. To revolutionize does not mean to silently undermine digital systems. ISIS shows that even in our present cyberage revolutions can be real. The Futurism versus Cyberpunk theme will be developed in chapters 3, 6, and 7. Chapter 2 is more concrete and empirical as it compares ISIS propaganda material with elements of Futurist art. The analysis is mainly semiotic as it attempts to decipher the “rhetoric of the image” (Barthes 1964: 32) unfolding in the form of visual codes and connoted signs within the body of ISIS propaganda. The corresponding ISIS material will be contrasted with the more “symbolist” older jihadi propaganda to indicate differences and evolutions. The comparative study of concrete texts and images will also help to establish the political background by which those phenomena have been produced. Chapter 4 is devoted to another task: it attempts to disentangle the historical links between Futurism and fascism as well as between Islamic fundamentalism and fascism. Those steps are necessary to avoid a flagrant mistake: an analysis of Futurism and ISIS can easily spell out fascism as a common denominator of both, which represents an unacceptable simplification. Older and more recent scholarship on Futurism will be used to define the relationship between fascism and Futurism and their respective roles in early twentieth-century modernity. Chapter 5 will demonstrate that an
“Islamic modernity” current in radical Islam follows similar patterns. In chapter 7, again examining the Futurism-Cyberpunk problematics, I look for historical facts and philosophical ideas that are able to explain the aesthetic similarities stated in Chapter 2. Anarchism, puritanism, nihilism, the “subculture argument,” as well as a curious play with mass appeal are discussed as possibilities. FOUR MAIN THEMES This book deals with Islam, Futurism, modernity, and postmodern Cyberpunk. However, on a more abstract level, four themes will be developed within very diverse discussions. For matters of clarity, I want to summarize those four themes in this introduction. They are: (1) the aesthetization of violence; (2) the question of whether fascism, Futurism, ISIS, and Islamic fundamentalism are modern or non-modern; (3) the importance of technology; and (4) the role of religion in politics and the resulting sacralization of politics. The Aesthetization of Violence and the Philosophy of Action Fascists, like Futurists, tended to emphasize style and aesthetics in a warlike context. It will be shown in chapters 4 and 5 that the aesthetic ambitions of ISIS follow similar Futurist principles. Both Futurism and ISIS sing the love song of danger. The self-image of the ISIS fighter is not that of the soldierpawn, but rather that of the “cool,” narcissistic warrior well known from Futurist texts and art. To a large extent, this image is produced through a ritualization, as well as through the aesthetization (and sometimes spiritualization) of violence. An understanding of violence as an aesthetic-spiritual ritual was also typical for fascism. In 1922, just before the famous march on Rome through which Mussolini came to power, the Duce declared that “violence was a legitimate instrument of the state crucial for the spiritual preparation of the Italian people for their future glory” (in Kiallis: 39). Though typically fascist, the idea is originally Futurist; it occurs in a similar way in ISIS culture. Both Futurism and ISIS envision apocalypse as the prelude to a utopian future by emphasizing “daily, methodical heroism [and] a taste for desperation, for which the heart gives everything it has, a habit of enthusiasm, [and] abandonment to vertigo.” The latter sentence was written by Marinetti in his manifesto “Let’s Murder the Moonlight” (in Rainey et al. 2009: 55).16 Like ISIS, Futurists cultivate a “destructive will, a savage aggressiveness, and the iconoclastic fury of a new barbarian” (Gentile 2003: 31). In the case of Futurism, the new culture of violence is accelerated through the adherence to philosophies whose outspoken aim is to react against reason.
Of course, this philosophy is not exclusively Futurist. Several such “vitalist” philosophies were developed in Europe in the context of late nineteenthcentury revolts against positivism. They were all current at the time when Futurism was operating. “Vitalist thoughts” can be retraced to Nietzsche (Nietzsche himself can be considered Futurist if one thinks of his aversion to everything passéist and “Wagnerized”). In the twentieth century, vitalist thoughts are probably best exemplified by Georges Sorel’s theory of violence as well as by Bergson’s philosophy of life. Sorel combined Marxism with Bergson’s philosophy of the élan vital (vital impetus). His book Réflexions sur la violence was published in 1909, the year of the foundation of Futurism, with a preface by Benedetto Croce. Bergson had explained in his L’Evolution créatrice (1907) that the future is formed through an élan vital by action. Like Sorel, Marinetti was interested in Bergson and rendered the élan vital as “instinct of courage, power, and energy” (see Berghaus 2009: 27). The task of the Futurists was to “mechanize” the slancio vitale by seeing the machine as a representative of a vitalist force. I will discuss those concepts within the context of radical Islam. Activism has been depicted above as the antidote to postmodern Cyberpunk-style passivism. Incidentally, activism is also arguably the most important notion for the understanding of fascism. It is through its activism that fascism distinguishes itself from other totalitarian regimes, which are merely traditionalist and therefore relatively passive. De Felice cites as examples of the latter the traditional regimes of Latin America where, at least in most cases, an authoritarian leader wants the population to be passive rather than active (de Felice 1977: 23). In those regimes, we will also encounter more unidimensional connections with tradition, like in the Latin American caudillismo, which relates to a historical, authoritative, and conservative tradition (60). Fascism, on the other hand, is revolutionary and wants to activate the masses (the latter point—the appeal to the masses—makes fascism different from Futurism and ISIS, which are more elitist). Violence is not necessary, but it always remains a likely option for any philosophy of action. Activism is against tradition as tradition always inspires passivism. On the other hand, activism is no real reformism either, but it just wants to move forward. The curious mixture of old ideas inherited from the past and “factors that are new, transforming, and typical of modern mass societies” (de Felice 1977: 11) that we find in Futurism, fascism, but also in a variety of Islamist philosophies17 can be traced to this pattern of action that moves forward without considering real reform. However, despite the progressive attitude, many items from the past remain untouched and will even be idolized. This denotes another parallel between Futurism and radical Islam. Affinities between the futurist-fascist action-oriented cultural model and a tradition of “progressive Islam” (of which ISIS is part) are obvious. Harleen
Gambhir writes that “action precedes authority in this philosophy: Baghdadi is the caliph because of his military victories; the victories did not come because Baghdadi was the caliph. The legitimacy of the Caliphate hangs on military victory and consolidation success, as proof of God’s approval” (Gambhir 2014: 6–7). This is very similar to fascist and Futurist activism. The only person who can possibly formulate an opposition to this philosophy of action is the skeptic rationalist, whom ISIS would describe as an atheist, but whom Sorel typically saw as a skeptic like Ernest Renan who believed that “eventually everything will be explained rationally” (Jennings 2004: xi). Similar constellations apply to identitarian political movements occurring at present in Western Europe. Alexandre Devecchio writes in his study of the most recent French far-right culture: “Among identitarians, action comes before ideology” (Devecchio 2016: 199). Modern or Non-Modern, Left or Right? In chapter 5, I show that ISIS, just like Futurism, attempts to unite progressive and conservative attitudes. The question is whether the strong emphasis on technology is sufficient as an indicator for classifying ISIS as modern. The problem of “progressive conservatism” will also be discussed within the broader historical context of religious fundamentalism. Those considerations will demonstrate clear parallels with Futurism. Also, Futurists were “modern in their own way” as they were against “rationalist, liberal, and bourgeois modernity” (Gentile 2003: 45) that was current in Europe at the time. “Liberal” denotes here an idea of modern freedom strongly connected to both universalism and individualism as well as the respect of freedom of individual imagination, which is particularly important in art. Futurists and fascist fought against some of those freedoms to different degrees. They were not alone in doing so: Marxism also distanced itself from liberal rationalism on the grounds that the latter merely serves to idealize bourgeois society. It is therefore important to emphasize the following fact: most of the core thoughts of Futurism are simultaneously leftist and rightist since both sides desired the elimination of the bourgeoisie. Sorel, the French proponent of revolutionary syndicalism whose ideas have been used in leftist and rightist contexts, insists on the imminent decline of the bourgeoisie because it is decadent and immoral. This is why it has to be destroyed (possibly through violence) if we want a new morality to emerge. “War as a revolution” is a Nietzschean concept, and when it appeared in the writings of Sorel it inspired not only fascists but also anarchists and Marxists. Those thoughts, which are directly taken from European intellectual history, are very similar to those of radical Islam. One merely has to replace “bourgeoisie” with “Western atheists” to lay bare parallel developments.
Furthermore, terrorism itself can be traced to anarchism of the turn of the twentieth century: anarchist attacks are probably the first incidents of terrorism as we know it (see Atran 2010). In all those movements, the distinction between left and right fade into the background; especially the idea of violence has little to do with leftist or rightist political orientations. The larger concept looming in all those reflections is the destruction of the bourgeoisie with its degenerate capitalism; or it is supposed to destroy a Western liberal and atheist culture. The anti-liberal, futurist-fascist idea of modernity that has been described above will probably not be recognized as modern today by most people. Still, the cluster of concepts centered on the “war as a revolution” concept is modern. Europe’s contribution to civilization in the early twentieth century has not been of the humanist kind only: violent paramilitarism and ethnic and political cleansing are modern as well. In some cases, we might want to call those phenomena “alternative modernities” and I will explain that a similar search for an “alternative modernity” is rampant in fundamentalism. In ISIS it has even adopted Futurist shapes. At the end of chapter 5, I discuss whether this “alternative modernity” should really be called modern or whether it should be identified as a “progressive” spirit that remains incompatible with most modern values. Technology, Modernity, and Lifestyle The term “modern jihad” is not new, it first referred to foreign fighters fighting in the Afghan-Soviet war. However, in the case of the newest jihadi aesthetics, “modern” cannot merely be understood in the sense of “contemporary,” it is now deliberately linked to the image of high-tech savvy young people emerging from an urban environment. As a result, modern life appears very much as an enactment of style or lifestyle. In this sense, ISIS can be interpreted as an intensification of the “modernity as an attitude” philosophy that was also important for Futurists. One of the most remarkable features of ISIS propaganda is the implication of aestheticizing approaches toward politics with a strong emphasis on technology. A Futurist form of modernism has become palpable since the actionmovie-style and “bullet time” effects reminiscent of The Matrix became the trademark of countless ISIS videos. ISIS evokes in its media communications an aesthetic techno-universe full of machines and urbanity. It is technology that has allowed ISIS to create its terror network with an unusual efficiency. The international press keeps pointing out that ISIS is an “internet phenomenon as much as a military one” (David Talbot in the MIT Technology Review in 2015). ISIS uses technology better than most tech start-ups. Futurists would certainly use those most recent communication methods, too. Giovanni Lista writes that “a Futurist of today would be a fan
of computer-generated images” (Lista 2001: 10). In 1910, Marinetti threw eighty thousand leaflets from the tower of St. Mark’s in Venice demanding that the city’s palaces be ripped down. Communication-wise Futurists were always one step ahead. Religion and the Sacralization of Politics It is safe to assume that Futurists would have dismissed the religious scriptures that are essential for fundamentalists as typically antiquarian items. Their iconoclasm went against the archaic symbols of academism, and they would have deemed the fundamentalist piety toward texts inacceptable. On the other hand, the idea of Futurism as a new religion weighs heavily on this movement through its connections with Italian fascism, which adopted religious dimensions in its margins. The belief in a charismatic leader providing an absolute truth reinstates the proximity of fascism with religion, especially when a conceptual core and detailed programs are lacking. In many respects, the adoption of fascism was less about ideology but about belief. It is true that, in general, Italian fascism strove after very secular goals: to build up a strong Italy, to strengthen the power of the Duce, to destroy socialism, and to prepare the country for a war. However, spiritual goals were attended to, too. Italy was still a deeply catholic country and Catholicism was for fascism not merely an antagonist but also a reference. This distinguishes Italian fascism from German Nazism, which has always had strong pagan attitudes. The “religious” input applies more to fascism than to Futurism. Fascism as it was launched by Mussolini represents a quasi-religious concept of life. Fascists introduced liturgical calendars, symbolisms, and ceremonies. Though the fascist “religion” was supposed to be secular, much of fascist propaganda sounds like religious talk conjuring the existence of a nonempirical world. Some fascists believed that they could “rise above all limitations and the resistance of objective reality” (Gentile 2003: 86). The latter point is even true for German Nazis who were not pure atheists either but launched a true neo-pagan movement that bears resemblance with existing religions. It is this neo-paganism that distinguishes Nazism from the purely rationalist materialism of Stalinism. Fascism cannot be considered an exercise in social engineering merely attempting to provide new techniques of economic and social development. While real life under the blackshirt rule was certainly repressive, dehumanizing, and far removed from the spiritual “return to man” that its leaders were propagating, the state was always seen by fascists as a higher ethical and universal reality. This is true for both fascism and Nazism though the Nazi emphasis on Volk is missing in Italian fascism. Mussolini explained in his Napoli Speech held on October 24, 1922 that it was not necessary that fascism “be a reality. It is a reality in the fact that it is
a spur, a hope, a faith, a form of courage. Our myth is the nation: our myth is the greatness of the nation. It is to this myth, to this grandeur, which we want to translate into reality, that we subordinate everything” (in Gentile 2003: 60). Modern fascist man was a “citizen soldier” morally entirely dependent on the reality produced by the fascist state religion. Futurism shares those premises though without adopting fascist state rhetoric. Fascism projected itself as a modern religion for the “new Italian man,” which it wanted to create by “institutionalizing a secular religion necessary for the spiritual unity of a mass society that wished to confront the challenges of modernity” (Gentile 2003: 55). These thoughts were already outlined by Futurists in numerous writings of the period between 1909 and 1914 and therefore they precede fascism.18 In this sense, both Futurism and fascism are supposed to bring about a “spiritual revolution.” The sacralization of politics, which would later lead to the aesthetization of politics, has its origin in this parallelism of Futurist and fascist ideas about secular religions. All those points show that a comparison of Futurism with a religious movement like ISIS is very pertinent. This comparative study will elucidate the complex politico-religious formula underlying radical Islam by viewing it through a Futurist prism. When Mussolini announces that “fascism is a religious conception in which man is seen in his immanent relationship with a superior law” (Mussolini 1975: 56), he sketches a spiritual society that Michel Foucault (and with him many other Western leftist intellectuals) would later admire in Khomeini’s Iran in the form of a supreme “political spirituality” (Foucault 2005: 209).
NOTES 1. ISIS means “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” or “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant.” “Levant” refers to Syria, Jordan, Lebanon, Israel, and Palestine after its easterly location where the sun rises. Levant is “Sham” in Arabic, derived from the Arabic root meaning “left” or “north.” Sham became the name of the Levant (at that time Byzantine Syria) after the Islamic conquest. Since both Syria and Sham begin with an “s,” English translations of both “Islamic State of Iraq and Syria” or “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” have led to the same acronym. The organization adopted the name “Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant” in April 2013. The corresponding Arabic acronym Daesh (ad-Dawlah al-Islamiyah fī ‘l-ʿIraq wa-sh-Sham) is also used in foreign language publications, especially in francophone countries. From October 2006 to April 2013, the group was also known as the Islamic State of Iraq (ISI). On June 29, 2014, ISIS established its “Khalifah” (caliphate) and began referring to itself officially as the “Islamic State,” which is a “caliphate” based on its expansions to North Africa and Europe. Therefore, the acronym IS seems to be more appropriate. The appellation IS (al-Dawla al-Islamiyya) or also “the State” (al-Dawla) exists
unofficially since 2006. However, since “ISIS” has gained more traction in international media, I continue using the older term in this work. The term “Islamic State” is considered offensive to most Muslims because it conflates terrorism and Islam. 2. “per dare una prova di fedeltà al fascismo” (D’Orsi: 159). All translations from the Italian and French are mine unless otherwise indicated. 3. There is no consensus in the scholarly community about on the definition of terrorism and definitions may vary according to scholars, organizations, and nations. In this research, I define terrorism as along the lines proposed by Tuman as “the use or the threatened use of force designed to bring about a political change” (Tuman 2003: 11). 4. Marinetti was not present on the site but waited in his office (see D’Orsi: 103). 5. In the post–World War I period many Arditi became futurists. Mario Carli, founder of the “National Association Arditi d’Italia” (ANAI), wrote the famous essay “Arditi are not gendarmes“ in collaboration with Marinetti (Carli 1996: 93). The Association also published the weekly journal L’Ardito whose chief editor was Carli. In the manifesto from 1920 called “Che cos’e il futurismo,” signed by Marinetti, Carli, and Settimelli, one can read that“e futurista chi ammira gli ardi e agisce come gli arditi” (in D’Orsi 101). In the article “Partiti d’avanguardia: se tentassimo di collaborare” Carli writes that “l’arditismo coincide col futurismo nella spregiudicatezza con cui affronta l’avvenire” (Roma futurista 1919; quoted in D’Orsi: 100). D’Orsi concludes that the Arditi resembled futurists because of “lo sprezzo delle comodità e l’incessante elogio del pericolo—anche in virtù delle robuste dosi di cocaina che ricevono dai superiori” (96). 6. “. . . un po’eroe e un po’ canaglia, “pugnal tra i denti e bombe a mano . . . tanto sprezzante della morte quanto pronto a infliggerla al nemico” (D’Orsi: 95). 7. “Lacerbismo” is a movement intersecting with Futurism though it cannot be fully identified with Futurism. Lacerba was extant from 1913 to 1915. 8. See the World Bank report from 2016, which found that out of a sample of 3803 Western ISIS recruits (sample taken between 2013 and 2014) 43.3 percent had finished secondary school and 25.4 percent went to a university. Only 13.5 percent had not more than primary education, 1.3 percent were illiterate, and 16.3 percent provided no information (Burke 2016). 9. The 1933 Montevideo Convention on the Rights and Duties of States supports two types of statehood: declaratory and constitutive. A state is declared when the territory is clearly defined, the government exercises authority over the territory and the population, and the population resides permanently in the state. The convention also mentions that declaratory statehood is independent of recognition by other states. 10. Two futurists, Bruno Corra and Enrico Settimelli were the directors of this journal. Marinetti, though in the 1920s strongly against the monarchy, collaborated with Il Principe (see Gramsci quoted in D’Orsi: 18). 11. Bürger made this definition as precise as possible: “The concept of the historical avant-garde movements used here applies primarily to Dadaism and early Surrealism but also and equally to the Russian avant-garde after the October revolution. Partly significant differences between them notwithstanding, a common feature of all these movements is that they do not reject individual artistic techniques and
procedures of earlier art but reject that art in its entirety, thus bringing about a radical break with tradition. In their most extreme manifestations, their primary target is art as an institution such as it has developed in bourgeois society. With certain limitations that would have to be determined through concrete analyses. This is also true of Italian Futurism and German Expressionism” (Bürger 1984: 109, note 4). More on Bürger will follow in chapter 2. 12. “vagamente nostalgica di un passato glorioso che non si era più rinnovato” (Ferrarotti 2016: 20). 13. The “lost caliphate” of fundamentalists can refer to the destruction of the Abbasid caliphate in Baghdad in 1258 by Mongol forces as well as to the dramatic abolition of the Ottoman caliphate in 1924. The early leaders of Islam, in particular the Prophet Muhammad and the four “rightly guided caliphs” who led Muslims from Muhammad’s death until 661, symbolize the period of the golden age that has become mythical. Since the end of the Ottoman Empire various Muslim leaders and groups have called for the reestablishment of the caliphate. The ongoing emphasis on the caliphate by the Muslim Brotherhood is significant as the early jihadi ideologues and groups emerged from the Brotherhood and overtook the jihadi ambitions for reviving the caliphate. 14. Why both Futurism and ISIS should be called “social movements” will be explained in chapter 1. 15. A more explicit methodology will follow in chapter 1. 16. If not indicated otherwise, all futurist manifestos are quoted from Rainey et al. 2009. 17. I use the term Islamism in the sense in which it refers since the 1980s to movements desiring political action able to bring about the instauration of a state founded on correctly interpreted Islamic laws. 18. The beginning of fascism can be dated with the founding of the Fasci Italiani di Combattimento (March 23, 1919), the March on Rome (October 27–28, 1922) or the transformation of Mussolini’s government into a de facto dictatorship (December 1925).
ISIS and Futurism An Impossible Comparison?
The introduction has shown that the most recent episodes of Islamic terrorism and religious radicalization can be analyzed through a reading of Italian Futurism. It has also been pointed out that the project is very risky. It is therefore recommended to proceed within the grid of a solid methodology. In this chapter, I justify my aesthetic approach by explaining the scope of aesthetics in social phenomena as they appear in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. Some general thoughts on comparatism in philosophy and history will also be provided. I will then explain how a highly complex cultural phenomenon like Italian Futurism should be approached philosophically. I will give some suggestions on how the historical links between Futurism and fascism as well as between Islamic fundamentalism and fascism can be disentangled. Finally, I justify a comparison of ISIS and Futurism by recognizing both as social movements producing collective actions and relying on collective identities. WHY AESTHETICS? It is necessary to justify the aesthetic approach used in this study on politics and terrorism. First, the approach is not unusual if we consider that Edmund Burke, in one of the most important writings on philosophical aesthetics, sees terror as a psychological condition of the aesthetically sublime. In his Philosophical Inquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and the Beautiful (1759) Burke writes: “Indeed terror is in all cases whatsoever either more openly or latently the ruling principle of the sublime” (Burke 1968: 39). Terror establishes (together with Kant’s ideas on the connections between the aesthetic and reason and morality) the crucial distinction between the beautiful and the sublime. 1
Despite those fundamental overlaps I do not intend to elevate ISIS terrorism to the status of art. Michael Krona suggests defining “terrorist activities in the global network age as ‘performance acts’, just as any other commodity being produced, sold to and used/consumed by an audience” (Krona 2016). Formal resemblances do certainly exist. On the other hand, from an artistic point of view, the productions of ISIS remain inferior. What is interesting is rather that ISIS has introduced a novelty into radical Islam in the form of a “Futurist aesthetics” (note the quotation marks), which helps to explain ISIS as a popular international cultural phenomenon. All this concerns not just ISIS but terrorism in general. Burke felt that terror has a strong aesthetic potential. To the large public this became most obvious 250 years later when, in 2001, dazzling parallels between the footage of the Twin Towers attack and stereotypical action scenes of Hollywood cinema left spectators dumbfounded. On that day, many discovered that the repulsive can be aesthetically attractive. German composer Karlheinz Stockhausen proclaimed that this was “the biggest work of art there has ever been” because here “spirits achieve with one act something which we in music could never dream of, that people practice ten years madly, fanatically for a concert” (Stockhausen 2002). The discovery quickly became disturbing when Baudrillard explained that the Hollywood-like footage of the Twin Towers attack possibly titillated “the terrorist imagination that (without our knowing it) dwells within us all” (Baudrillard 2002: 18). The phenomenon is not entirely new. We have heard of Régis Debray’s visions of revolutions “as a coordinated series of guerrilla happenings” (Berleant 2009). Earlier, Aby Warburg had presented in his “Kriegskartothek” an extensive photo documentation on the World War I, which was to become the core of the Kulturwissenschaftliche Bibliothek in Hamburg. Georges Didi-Huberman calls Warburg’s documentation a “nightmare collection” but also admits that those images have a strong aesthetic appeal: “We see also, in this nightmare collection, the meaning of the visual paradoxes so characteristic of the Warburgian gaze. The aerial explosions, the terrifying new technology of this war, disseminate into the sky pretty little white clouds, very similar to those that any art historian is accustomed to seeing in a painting of the Italian Primitive painters” (Didi-Huberman: 35). Stockhausen draws on the tradition of the sublime since, as have shown Battersby (2003) and Roberts (2014), sublime art “is art in which the individual is sacrificed for the sake of the abstract and the spiritual. Sublime art is that which takes a ‘leap from security’ and pushes the individual beyond the ‘everyday’ and ‘towards resurrection’” (Battersby: 68). Willful estrangement and also a strong input of “coolness” are linked to these actions. Coolness in terrorism will be the subject of chapter 2. In any case, terrorist images change our habitual way of viewing the world. Through an “ultimate act of framing”
ISIS and Futurism
(Berleant) we see things differently. The 9/11 events have made our gaze aesthetic, which remains problematic in terms of ethics. According to Jon Roberts, “The ordinary person, thus, becomes enraged with the aestheticallyminded person because he refuses to gaze on suffering without trying to see it in the light of the aesthetic” (Roberts: 8). YouTube arrived in 2004, which made image-based narratives more influent than ever, and this globally. After 9/11, the ultraviolent Al-Qaeda chief Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (later Al-Qaeda’s emir in Iraq) made a further decisive step toward the aesthetization of jihad: he recorded successful attacks and overlaid them with traditional nasheed chants. Terrorism became a highly visualized sphere where aesthetics was not limited to symbols but submitted to standards of various aesthetic arrangements. For radical Islam, this development was rather unexpected since the use of images was traditionally forbidden. On the other hand, there is a long tradition of aesthetization in visual propaganda via images of martyrdom (see Vergani and Zuev 2015: 2) to which this new wave could connect. Occasionally, terrorism would even become “real art” in the hands of some Western artists. In 2004, an exposition on New York’s Sixth Avenue showed Iraqi Prison Photographs from Abu Ghraib in highly aestheticized ways. The exposition “Inconvenient Evidence” (curated by Brian Wallis) presented a selection of twenty photographs of Arab detainees as they were abused by US troops. Additional images showing the response of Iraqi civilians to the appearance of those images were also presented (see Apel 2005). The present study proceeds from the assumption that the cultural aspect of terrorism is as important as the political and military one. In the contemporary world, the word “aesthetization” often bears negative undertones as it tends to limit facts and contents to gestures and a primary layer of less important signs. Through aestheticized expressions, politics can be reduced to mere quotations and historical realities can appear as cults. Aesthetization can be seen as a typical attribute of “postmodern culture” especially since aesthetic gestures can be rendered superficial and meaningless through further semiotic decontextualization. Examples are the iconization of Che Guevara pictures or the modern “Mao Cult” that emerged in China in the 2000s. Those initially meaningful images have been emptied of their content, which makes them “aesthetic.” This decontextualizing form of aesthetization can make even terror stylish. Tom Wolfe noticed this as early as in 1970 when he ridiculed in his essay “Radical Chic,” the gentrification of the Black Panthers’ political program in upbeat Manhattan social circles (Wolfe 1970). On the one hand, in those examples, aestheticized expressions or “the aesthetic” in general appear as empty and meaningless. On the other hand, semioticians hold how things that are aestheticized, iconized, or gentrified can be very instructive and be worthy of scientific scrutiny. Apparently reductive
aesthetics gestures can contain vast amounts of hidden signifiers derived from history, politics, and reality. Julia Kristeva has shown this in her La révolution du langage poétique (1974) where she explained that since all aesthetics is socially symbolic, aesthetic transformation (most obvious in the form of subversion) always entails a political critique. As a matter of fact, this kind of politicized aesthetization is most current in the work of the historical avantgarde (of which the Futurists are part), and which was thoroughly politicized. As mentioned, aesthetics invited itself into the discussion of terrorism on September 11, 2001, when people claimed that the footage of the Twin Tower attacks looked like a movie. The 9/11 attacks launched the large-scale aesthetization and mediatization of terrorism that became the standard in the next two decades. One effect is that war studies morphed into media studies. Simone Molin Friis has shown that “it becomes increasingly difficult to understand war and violence without taking visual media into account” (Friis 2015: 726). Terrorist acts have become part of a communication strategy and a large part of the language of terrorism is today represented by highly aestheticized images. It is therefore not far-fetched to explore contemporary terrorism through the phenomenon of Futurism. Futurism is a notable example of the fusion of aesthetics and politics because in Futurism—probably more than anywhere else—an aesthetic doctrine was converted into political praxis (cf. Ferrarotti: 100). The Futurists were prophetic: in today’s world, politics and aesthetics appear to be more mixed than ever. The emergence of ISIS and its propaganda is one feature of this new paradigm. More precisely, in the case of ISIS, aesthetics is not merely part of propaganda but of a newly developed “terrorist culture,” and this terrorist culture is worth examining in its own right. ISIS terrorism is not only about geopolitics and ideology. It also manifests various levels of jihadi “soft culture.” Thomas Hegghammer, director of terrorism research at the Norwegian Defense Research, states that terrorist “military life is about much more than fighting” (Hegghammer 2015: npn) because many activities do not serve military purposes. It is also about “rituals, customs, and dress codes” (Hegghammer 2017: 7). Hegghammer speaks of bearded men reciting poetry, discussing dreams, and weeping on a regular basis. The “how” (aesthetics) of terrorism is as important as the “what.” Terrorism is not merely functional because how would we justify that beheading is merely functional and not cultural (8)? Of course, ISIS is not the only example. In Hegghammer’s edited volume Jihadi Culture: The Art and Social Practices of Militant Islamists (2017), eight authors present examples of “jihadi aesthetics.” Already in 2012, Zeina Maasri looked at the rhetoric of political posters in an article on Hezbollah propaganda and concluded that this rhetoric settles at “the intersection
ISIS and Futurism
of political discourse with visual culture in communication” providing a “combined semiotic and discursive analytic approach to the study of political posters” (Maasri 2012: 156). Hegghammer’s book considers Hezbollah and Al-Qaeda but not much of ISIS. Hezbollah has always consciously used aesthetic arrangements in its political struggle. Hilary Kalmbach has examined the rhetoric of Muslim leadership in interwar Egypt and found that “aesthetical styles formed a crucial part of the vocabulary of the performances through which leadership and group belonging was legitimized” (Kalmbach 2015: 160). Kalmbach insists on the importance of aesthetics in Muslim leadership, for example, in the case of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood Hassan Al-Banna, who wore a religiously inspired beard with a suit and tarbush but also neo-Islamic robes (169). In the realm of aesthetics, different cultures can be amalgamated more easily than elsewhere. Al-Banna’s symbolisms were particularly important at a time when Egypt passed into modernity, but aesthetic concerns remain as prominent today. Islamic preacher and scholar Tariq Ramadan is said to be very conscious of the aesthetic signals sent out by means of his dress, speech, and mannerisms (see van de Bovenkamp 2015). A much more intriguing overlap between terrorism and aesthetics has been pointed out by Jean Baudrillard, who detects, similar to Burke some centuries before him, in terror and art the same “metaphysical” essence. Baudrillard does not speak of the sublime but he finds that terrorism and the aesthetic share the same appeal because they are able to establish “singularities” by transcending the mundane, “normal” world of reason. Baudrillard points out that “singularities are not necessarily violent, [but] there are some subtle ones, such as language, art, the body or culture. But there are some violent ones, and terrorism is one of these” (2012: 73). Terrorism is indeed very efficient when it comes to the production of singularities because it tends to employ in its “art” death as a major device. And death always goes “beyond.” Death is an extreme singularity equipped with a metaphysical appeal, which most evidently reinforces the overlap of the ontology of death with the ontology of art. Futurists felt this, too. When reading Baudrillard’s statement, we are reminded of the Futurist idea that art always “refutes the recognized schemes and draws on violence, cruelty, aggression, and even injustice.”1 For Futurists, art acquired a new signification because violence and cruelty can make actions singular. Jonathan Strauss, in his book Subjects of Terror, has dealt with the “leap into spirituality” through sacrifice of the everyday “in the enjoyment of surrendering security.” Strauss sees sublimation when abstract reason and sensuous perception clash: “The sublime moment is thus a selfidentiﬁcation in which an abstract and impersonal self rejects a sensuously interested and personally interested self. This triumph is felt as terror, which in itself reveals
a profound aversion or resistance to this sublimation on the part of an individual” (Strauss 1998: 36). The procedure is very modern and indeed similar to avant-garde devices. Leaving behind our perceptual habits that are established through everyday life in order to make new aesthetic experience turns sublimation into an act of ostranenie. And in a contemporary context, this can very efficiently happen through terror. Of course, the moral deficiencies of this categorization of terror are only too obvious and were apparent already to Burke. If for Burke terror is a necessary determinant of the sublime, then this leaves obscure, as notes Battersby, “The question of the moral status of the ‘sublime’—so much so that Burke was, in effect, forced to reject his own account of the sublime when he came to write his Reflections on the Revolution in France between 1789 and 1790” (Battersby: 69). The link between aesthetics and violence has also been analyzed by Hans Ulrich Gumbrecht for whom “aesthetic experience necessarily implies an element of violence” (Gumbrecht 2004: 103). Following the Nietzschean tradition eager to deconstruct the Cartesian mind-body separation, Gumbrecht argues that aesthetic experiences are always corporeal and therefore always “violent” in some sense. The result is a heightened experience of presence in aesthetic expressions because the bodily experience is concrete and not abstract as are those experiences that are made, for example, on the internet in which time and space are purely abstract. Finally, Birgit Meyer highlights another relevant aspect of aesthetics when it is used in religion because of its ability to establish communities: “Although from a more conventional perspective it may seem counterintuitive to bring together religion and style, I suggest moving beyond a view of religion as primarily associated with content and style as primarily associated with form” (Meyer 2009: 10). Aesthetic is not merely the Kantian disinterested pleasure but aisthesis can be understood in the Aristotelian way as what designates “our corporeal capability on the basis of a power given in our psyche to perceive objects in the world via our five different sensorial modes (. . .), and at the same time a specific constellation of sensations as a whole” (6). It is for these reasons that Meyer is interested in “the emergence of new kinds of religious communities that evolve around mass mediated images and other cultural forms” (10). Meyer says that aisthesis is a corporeal capability that “signals a shift from the study of imaginations in terms of representations toward more visceral and material approaches of cultural forms in processes of binding” (7). Are some religions as well as Futurists not the prime example of those who saw aesthetics in precisely this way? Further, given the bodily involvement highlighted by both Gumbrecht and Meyer, terrorism, especially the terrorism of ISIS, which involves suicide bombing, turns out to be particularly relevant for this conception of aesthetics.
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COMPARATIVE PHILOSOPHICAL STUDIES AND HISTORICAL REALITY Like any philosophical work, the present analysis is supposed to function through abstractions. Philosophical approaches are abstract but not superficial. Abstractions reveal unexpected similarities, but people working with abstract methodologies do not automatically assume that all things similar on an abstract basis must also have the same origin or motivation. On the one hand, philosophy tries to produce deeper insights by finding similarities abstractly. On the other hand, even in a philosophical work one should never forget that, for example, Futurism “really existed” and that it needs to be considered in terms of historical and philological reality. The methodological problems arising from these constellations are unavoidable whenever philosophers derive concepts from history and literature and use them for “their own”—in this case, comparative—purposes. Those problems are huge with regard to a diversified phenomenon like Futurism. The interdisciplinary clashes that can be anticipated are well known since Nietzsche. They have recently gained some popularity in the academic community of sinologists where highly publicized philosophical and philological approaches collided in the most spectacular fashion (see Botz-Bornstein 2014). Swiss sinologist François Billeter criticized French sinologist François Jullien’s attempts to import “conceptual approaches” into sinology. Jullien is famous for formulating the ideas of Chinese philosophers in terms of highly abstract concepts in order to insert them into Western philosophical discussions. According to Billeter, this approach “instrumentalizes” Chinese culture to the point of “remolding” it. Jullien would use Chinese culture as a basis for entirely new systems (Billeter: 18). Billeter believes that Western philosophers who penetrate into the domain of Chinese thought “select the elements that serve their demonstration and interpret them in a way favorable to their thesis” (38). It is worthwhile to insist on those problems here because they highly affect the methodology of the present comparative research. Our academic world is becoming increasingly interdisciplinary and philosophers, the masters of abstract reflections, are more and more tempted to analyze concrete phenomena. However, by definition, philosophical approaches are based on reasoning rather than on empirical research. Philosophers attempt to clarify situations less often through descriptions and systematizations but more often through highly abstract forms of thinking. The confrontation of philosophy with more empirically minded historicophilological disciplines is not new. Already Nietzsche decided to expand his horizons beyond philology and to submit classical texts to more conceptual analyses. When, in The Birth of Tragedy, he broke with traditional
philological rules, the philologist Ulrich von Wilamowitz-Moellendorff accused him of appearing “as a scientific researcher but the wisdom, which he obtains mainly through intuition, is presented partly in an authoritarian style, partly through reflections typical for journalists” (Wilamowitz-Moellendorf 1969 : 129). Philologists tend to believe that conceptualizations make the historical and contemporary realities within which certain statements are embedded bleak and abstract, and that individual authors and intellectual movements should not be transformed into simple structures. As abstract structures, they become self-sufficient phenomena and can subsequently be “used” for external purposes. I argue that adequate abstract-philosophical approaches will never attempt to foist their own visions on historical and philosophical realities, but rather sharpen those realties through their theoretical abstractions. Comparatism does not blur but enhance such sharper visions: by comparing disparate elements we are “breaking with a familiarity” (Jullien 2007: 34) and this, in return, entails self-reflectivity as well as critical thinking. HOW TO APPROACH FUTURISM I stop here with my considerations of methodological problems attached to the particular comparative approach presented on these pages. The ISIS-Futurism comparison will be handled in full agreement with the subtle thoughts on the justification of philosophical analyses of cultural phenomena. Unfortunately, these are not the only methodological problems enclosed in this study. In historical terms, the matter examined is confusingly complex. No matter how the subject will be handled, with regard to a complex movement like Futurism, any comparative analysis will have to accept some simplifications. But, of course, those simplifications should be kept to a minimum. Futurism existed for a period of 35 years and had more than 1,500 active supporters and contributors. This is a lot when compared with cubism, which lasted only four years or surrealism which had a relatively unequivocal program and was also geographically well delineated. Futurism was decentralized as it emerged in various Italian cities and was therefore confronted with a variety of social realities. Politically, Futurism is complex as it had anarchist, socialist, communist, and fascist members. Above that, Futurism of the 1930s recuperates a nationalist and patriotic rhetoric that seems to come right out of the nineteenth century (which Futurism originally attempted to flee); but it will be mixed with radical modernist ambitions. On the conceptual level, the Futurist movement manifests profound contradictions as it embraced the future but also cherished primitivism. Sometimes Futurism was poised between machine cult and machine angst. Furthermore,
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Futurist theories are not only manifold and contradictory but they also represent a massive phenomenon. There are more than 600 Futurist manifestos, and in the last 20 years alone more than 5,000 works on Italian Futurism have been published. The author of the present pages did not read the entire bulk of Futurist and Futurism-related literature. Still this book attempts to present a “real” image of Futurism and to consider the full breadth of Futurism’s pronouncements without reducing it to a few slogans serving a preestablished theory. On the other hand, some reasonable simplifications need to be applied in any philosophical work on cultural or historical phenomena. I am aware that comparisons of disparate phenomena produce methodological limitations. However, when conducted appropriately, those comparisons can lead to interesting insights. While I pay tribute to the intrinsic complexities of Futurism, the main objective of this book is to reveal uncommon traits in the newest wave of Islamic extremism by using Futurism as a conceptual tool. Futurism and “Marinettism” As many Futurists were pursuing highly diverging aesthetic theories and political ideologies, a generic idea of “Futurism” does not exist. However, a mindset opposed to past traditions, to sentimentalism, to parliamentary systems (often for “anarchist” reasons), and to pacifism, as well as the endorsing of male energy and courage and technology represent the “basic instincts” of Futurism. There are other components that are particularly interesting for this study but these components are more closely related only to Marinetti. Considerations of those differences will lead to the separation of “Marinettism” from Futurism. For example, the “misogynist, ultra-chauvinist, bellicose variant of Futurist technolatry” (Griffin 2009: 95) seems to be promulgated mainly by Marinetti and his most ardent neophytes. It is also in Marinetti’s work that we find the paradoxical mixture of an obsession with anarchy, violence, and disorder on the one hand, and nationalism bordering on imperialism on the other (see Ferrarotti: 100). Marinetti sympathized with anarchists and revolutionary syndicalists but was also an ardent nationalist and an admirer of the Italian statesman Fernando Crispi, whom he proclaimed as his “preferred great Italian patriot” (Marinetti 1969 [La grande Milano tradizionale e Futurista]). Crispi was among the main protagonists of the Italian Risorgimento and a supporter of Giuseppe Mazzini and Giuseppe Garibaldi, who were working for the unification of Italy in 1860. Crispi even promoted patriotism as a form of “secular religion” (see Gentile 1996). According to Lista, Marinetti was trying as early as 1910 to get elected to parliament through nationalist formations, which makes Marinettism look like an exceptional path that Futurism in general was not ready to take. As a
revolutionary, Marinetti always maintained an ambiguous political attitude because he was “polluted by a leftist political ideology and the aesthetization of violence of war, which lead right to fascism.”2 The rupture between him and anarcho-syndicalist Futurists occurred on the occasion of the colonial war against Libya and it ended with street fights between the two groups (see Lista: 32). Another important fact is that the “colonialist manifesto” in favor of an Italian Tripoli (1911) was signed by Marinetti only. According to Lista, Marinetti was merely looking for help from the anarcho-syndicalists in order to accelerate Italy’s participation in a war against Austria (Lista 2016: 15). TWO SOCIAL MOVEMENTS Some people might still have doubts whether Futurism and ISIS can be compared: the former is known as a political and artistic movement much researched by literary critics and art historians, whereas the latter is a terrorist organization whose productions have never attracted the interest of artistically minded people. In the present book, both Futurism and ISIS will be referred to as “social movements” and the use of this term needs to be justified. Social movements are group actions that offer advice about aesthetic and ethical behaviors and they typically do this through networks (see Della Porta and Diani 2006). I follow Sydney Tarrow’s definition of social movements holding that in in social movements ordinary people unite to “set in motion important political, cultural, and international changes” (Tarrow 2011: 6). Collective action becomes contentious because it “is used by people who lack regular access to representative institutions” (7). All of this is precisely the case for ISIS. Second, I see ISIS as a social movement because the “Islamic State” could never be considered a real state: it provided to adherents from outside its “state” zone not a fully institutionalized identity, but a collective identity based on a sociohistorical narrative that its participants consider important. Should the Islamic State really be established as a state, one can no longer call ISIS a social movement. During all stages, things were somehow in between. According to Tarrow, social movements are “collective challenges, based on common purposes and social solidarities, in sustained interaction with elites, opponents and authorities” (9, Tarrow’s italics). Social movements are determined by sociohistorical narratives that can be vague but are still found socially significant enough to spark protests. Football supporters and families have collective identities, but their identities are not based on important sociohistorical narratives but only on minor or private narratives, which is why football supporters and families do not constitute social movements.
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Futurism was a social movement too, which is why it can be compared with ISIS. In general, the movements of the historical avant-garde such as constructivism were not merely artistic but also had public and collective dimensions. Constructivism produced art in the context of the Russian Revolution, and Russian avant-garde artists like Tatlin and Rodchenko hoped to produce a collective art for the people. In the case of Futurism, the social movement aspect is further reinforced through its link with fascism. Fascism itself developed “above-party” social movements similar to ISIS, for example, the Squadrismo in 1921–1922, which was for many fascists “the experience of a militarized community, based on the spontaneous support of its members, who felt that they were united by bonds of elective affinity and solidarity. They were also brought together morally by a complicity in terrorist ventures, by patriotic fervor, and by the exaltation of war heroes and their dead comrades” (Gentile 2003: 81). The task of the squadristri was, among other things, to crush Socialist union meetings. Futurist unified actions such as the assault of the Avanti headquarters are similar. D’Orsi holds that the day of the attack “opened the door to fascist Squadrismo.” Harassments and vandalism occurred repeatedly and were endorsed by Marinetti (D’Orsi: 117). In spite of those parallels, some distinctions with regard to fascism need to be pointed out. Parts of fascism can be seen as a social movement but not all of fascism is a movement. It is therefore necessary to apply Renzo De Felice’s distinction between a fascist movement, which aims to produce vitality and activism, and a fascist regime, which is oppressive and repressive (de Felice and Ledeen 1976: 45). Since there has never been a “Futurist regime,” this distinction does not matter for Futurism. ANARCHISM, MASS APPEAL, PURITANISM, NIHILISM In the introduction, parallels between ISIS and Futurism have been established by analyzing abstract terms such as the aesthetization of violence, modernity, technology, and sacralization. I will now establish preliminary parallels between ISIS and Futurism by relating both to concrete phenomena such as anarchism, mass appeal, puritanism, and nihilism. Anarchism Anarchism and anarcho-syndicalism are most helpful for an understanding of the origins of Futurism, especially since they are purely modern phenomena. Marinetti liked to recite poems with anarchist themes at literary soirées or in the meeting halls of anarcho-syndicalist associations. It remains of course paradoxical that Marinetti’s anarchism “is colored with nationalism.”3 The
founder of Futurism was attracted by anarchy mainly because of its violent potential and the speed with which anarchism is able to change social conditions. Despite the obvious contradiction, the anarchist input in Futurism cannot be underestimated and it is particularly important with regard to aesthetic concepts. Berghaus sees a link between Futurists art-action and the anarchists’ “beaux gestes libertaires” (”beautiful libertarian gestures,” Berghaus 2009: 27). Marinetti himself seems to think of Futurism as an exaltation of anarchism, or perhaps as anarchism minus its idealized and utopian vision of the ideal world. Marinetti’s manifesto “War, the World’s Only Hygiene” (1911) begins with the sentences: And now I am obliged to tell you what it is that clearly distinguishes Futurism from anarchism. The latter, denying the infinite principle of human evolution, brings its forward looking viewpoint to a halt in the ideal of universal peace, a stupid paradise of people caressing in open fields or beneath billowing palm trees. We, instead, affirm that one of Futurism’s absolute principles is the continuous development and unending progress, both bodily and intellectual, of man. (In Rainey et al.: 84)
Anarchism is Platonic as it pretends to know where it is going being attracted by the light of a bright future. Futurism will rather advance in the manner of a Pyrrhonean skeptic. Without giving concrete utopian descriptions about the future, it is driven by an inner force pushing it toward infinite progress. Correspondingly, the proto-futurist Mario Morasso describes the heroic experience of the Futurist race car driver like that of a “barbarian king, his face covered by a hard visor, like a warrior, with his body leaning forward almost to provoke the race and to scrutinize not just the course, but destiny” (in Poggi 2008: 11). Anarchism can look conservative in comparison. Consequently, for Marinetti, people who design utopias are conservative my definition. A leftist-anarchist concept by which Futurism is clearly influenced is “Propaganda by the Deed.” The phenomenon is commonly associated with leftwing terrorism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, and it has a clearly anarchist origin. Propaganda by the Deed represents an important source of the Futurist aesthetics of violence and consolidates the indirect link with terrorism. Anarchist authors advocating the Propaganda by the Deed concept in Italy included Errico Malatesta, Luigi Galleani as well as the individualist philosopher and poet Renzo Novatore (Crofton 2015: 218).4 The journal L’individualista, which supported anarchist ideas, was published by Futurist Pietro Bruzzi, who was one of several Futurist artists falling to fascist forces later. Propaganda by the Deed suggests that bombings are the most efficient means of attaining political goals. Futurists did not throw bombs but
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they translated the concept of Propaganda by the Deed from the realms of politics into artistic controversy and verbal violence. “Anarchism and ISIS” is an ambiguous topic, more ambiguous than fascism and ISIS (see below). On the one hand, the radical authoritarianism of ISIS can be considered the contrary of anarchism as it tries to create a strict social order within the borders of the state. On the other hand, the Propaganda by the Deed fits this Islamic political movement very well, first, because it is one of the driving forces of terrorist actions; second, since Propaganda by the Deed is linked to Futurism and their ideas about violence, it can serve as a justification of violence for its own sake. Also, the disrespect of international law or even the most common ethical standards of humanism makes ISIS “anarchic.” Above that, one should not forget that ISIS is the upshot of anarchy: the toppling and weakening of totalitarian Baathist regimes in Iraq (2003) and Syria (2011) created a situation of anarchy beneficial for the installation of the totalitarian regime of ISIS. Still another element establishes a link between ISIS and anarchist movements. This “state” looks more like a small community of individualists who came together to live an alternative lifestyle. Here it is reminiscent not only of leftist movement of the 1960 but also of early Futurism as it was projected in the first Futurist party program as well as in Marinetti’s Democrazia futuristica (written nine years after having ridiculed the anarchist vision of universal peace and a stupid paradise). Gentile summarizes the communitarian efforts emerging from the Democrazia futuristica thus: The “Futurist democracy” (. . .) was not a modern mass democracy; despite its pretensions to modernity, it resembled the ideal of a small anarchic community. By abolishing the family through free love and the adoption of children by the State, such a community would guarantee for all an equal starting point, leaving them to each individual total freedom to realize and continually surpass himself. The heroic citizens of this anarchic and individualistic democracy would be trained, in a futuristic fashion, for the love of risk, for personal physical defense (hence the abolition of police and prisons), for individual and spontaneous creation in the various fields of human activity. (Gentile quoted in Blum 1996: 131)
Mass Appeal and the Shocking of the Masses The conditions in which ISIS and fascism emerged are comparable. The former rose to power because of popular protests in Syria and a chaotic situation created by exterior forces in other Arab countries. Though ISIS became a social movement later, at the beginning, its existence was due not to the articulation of a popular movement but rather to the destruction of the Syrian popular movement and the people’s revolution. This means that ISIS started
as an elitist military group that would turn into a social movement only much later. Fascism, especially in connection with its Futurist first phase, followed a very similar trajectory, and Futurism, as the arguably most elitist movement connected to fascism, manifests here a further parallel with ISIS. Some might object that Futurism and ISIS have developed within completely different social strata: in the case of ISIS, the poorly educated and discontented were looking for primitive and violent solutions, which is not the case for the more elitist Futurism. However, this is false for two reasons. First, as has been stated above, ISIS adherents from the West are not always as impoverished and uneducated as outsiders often think they are. Second, even if ISIS is defending a part of the world’s poor populations, by doing so, ISIS continues showing clearly elitist features. Both Futurism and ISIS find the traditional elites’ pretensions to civilization arrogant. Therefore, progressive movements like Futurism and ISIS tend to consciously develop their own elitism. For this, both rely heavily on the authority of elitist groups of individuals that have been ideologically configured beforehand. For both movements, leadership, the state, as well as the state’s culture are perceived as traditional elitist productions that need to be rejected. They will be replaced with “popular-elitist” movements. Popular elitism is based on the idea of being “chosen,” which is not the option of “traditional” dictators. In the case of radical Islam, the claim to have the right religion or the right version of a certain religion is a matter of elitism. Nazis believed to be a chosen people, too. Having the monopoly of being an enlightened minority provides entitlement, and in both cases this entitlement is supported by spiritual values. Kiallis calls this the “mythical core of elitism” (Kiallis: 37) and it applies to both Futurism/fascism and radical Islam. In both cases, elitism serves as the basis of a “we against the rest of the world” attitude. This is the anatomy of “popular elitism” or “mass elitism.” Despite the elitism, both movements can rely on a peculiar kind of mass appeal. Mythologies in which heroism is the norm and not the privilege of an exceptional being (as Eco writes about the particularity of “Ur-fascism”) are dear to both fascist and Islamist ideologists. Strict hierarchies in which every subordinate leader despises his underlings are supposed to further reinforce those cultures of elitism. Seen through this prism, the case of Futurism can look truly peculiar. Futurism—as elitist as it was—is also the first artistic movement attempting to directly address the mass audience. Mass approaches were still very unusual at the time. One needs to keep in mind that most other artistic movements developing in the 1910s—especially cubism—had decided to follow an uncompromisingly selective and “traditionally” elitist approach. Marxist theoretician Georgi Plekhnakov believes that cubism was the “most elite, and most absurd stage of decadent art for art’s sake” (quoted in Rose 1984: 121).
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Cubism could never see itself as a popular movement and especially not as a popular political movement like Futurism. Cubist modernist experimentation tended to be appreciated by small highly educated groups. Critics of Futurism were often repulsed by the Futurists’ “lust for American self-promotion” (Gentile 2003: 31). Futurism went “popular” but, paradoxically, it would never abandon an important portion of its elitism.5 Futurism cannot be understood as a straightforward mass movement. For very similar reasons, ISIS is no straightforward mass movement either. This represents a quality that makes ISIS distinct from fascism. Fascist Islamic regimes do exist: they are represented by totalitarian regimes trying to mobilize the masses by referring to sharia law simply in order to stay in power. ISIS is not doing that and therefore it is closer to Futurism than to fascism. Fascism is a mass movement though even here there are limitations. Fascism attempted to mobilize large sections of the population though, at the same time, its opposition to leftist groups yields the impression that the focus was also on the destruction of another mass movement—especially that of the communist working class. In ISIS, the emphasis on elitism remains constant throughout. The appeals of ISIS are not appeals to the people but appeals to vanity, to use expressions from rhetoric. There is no evidence of ISIS building or attempting to build a real mass movement. As a social movement, ISIS remains attuned to relatively small sections of populations contained in different areas. Given the constant highlighting of its Islamic moral underpinning, one must conclude that ISIS is indeed elitist. This sect can be joined only after having passed a minimal ethico-religious test (i.e., one must be Muslim and recognizable as such). In this sense, ISIS cannot be scheduled as fascist. The mixture of mass appeal (which never aims at sparking a real mass movement) and an elitist feeling of superiority plus the aesthetics of violence that will rather repel the masses, is peculiar and makes ISIS more Futurist than fascist. On the side of Futurism, the anti-mass-appeal strategy is obvious in the famous claim that Futurists consider it a “pleasure getting booed” (Marinetti in “War, the Only Hygiene”). Like ISIS, Futurists enjoyed being hated when spreading their propaganda and relished in deliberately provocative and incendiary proclamations. Both ISIS and Futurists are looking for occasional allies among the masses, but their ultraviolent behavior excludes the creation of a real mass movement. The primary aim of addressing the masses is not to win their sympathy but rather to formulate, through a confrontation with the masses, an exclusive and elitist identity within the modern world they are propagating. Accordingly, Poggi writes that the exaltation of violence as the basis of a cult of heroism was meant to function as an antidote “to this frightening dissolution of identity in the encroaching mirror image of a homogeneous, abject mass” (Poggi 2008: 34). The aim of Islamic State propaganda
is similar: it is not merely to attract young recruits, but also to terrify “normal” people in the rest of the world. In a modern context, this strategy agrees with the finding of media scholars stating that any film propaganda would rather reinforce already held opinions, but that it is relatively ineffective if it attempts to influence public opinion (see Reeves 1999: 239). The controversy between ISIS and Al-Qaeda revolved precisely around this topic. In 2005, Al-Qaeda’s leaders in Pakistan grouped around Bin Laden dreaded the excessive violence that Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the godfather of ISIS and first “emir of Iraq,” inflicted on the population. They were worried that “if they continue in this way, they (. . .) lose the people,” allowing the enemy to turn the populace against them” (McCants 2015: 3). Zarqawi couldn’t care less because his approach was futurist-elitist. Puritanism Despite its libertarian penchants, Futurism applies a Victorian-style puritanism that can normally be expected in the nineteenth century. This is a further paradox of Futurism. For Futurists, puritanism is a matter of control and selfcontrol, which becomes clear when Marinetti writes: “We need to reduce our need for affection to that low level already achieved by certain forty-year-old bachelors who assuage their foolish hearts’ thirst with the energetic gambols of a frisky poodle. Future man will reduce his heart to its purely distributive function” (“Multiplied Man,” in Rainey et al.: 91). In Futurism, motors and machines replace women because the former (and not the latter) “have a personality, a soul, a will. You have to caress them, treat them with respect, never mistreat or overwork them.” The Futurist fighter is supposed to get absorbed into the cosmic vibrations of a technicized universe and he will do so by dehumanizing himself and by becoming an insensitive machine. The Futurist is asked to “drastically reduce the need for affection” (“Multiplied Man”; 91). Poggi speaks of “the aspiration to create heroic forms of male subjectivity through fusion with machines and metal, and the related cults of speed and war; the polemical discourse surrounding the rejection of feminism, lust, luxury, and love; and finally, the collapse and reconfiguration of prewar utopianism in the Fascist period” (Poggi 2008: xi). Marinetti also urges the Futurist to dress anonymously, metallize or electrify his voice, and in all ways imitate motors and their rhythm until ultimately, he has “disappeared” as a person (“Dynamic and Synoptic Declamation,” 1916, in Rainey 2009: 219). Techno-love and self-dehumanization are supposed to lead to puritanism. Boccioni’s (and his fellow artists’) attack on “the nude in painting” is among the most extreme manifestations of puritanism: “Artists are obsessed with the desire to expose the bodies of their mistresses have transformed the Salons into arrays of
ISIS and Futurism
unwholesome flesh.” The painters conclude that this is just as “nauseous and as tedious as adultery in literature” (Boccioni et al. 2005: 64). The asceticism of techno-love is linked to misogynic themes running through all of Futurism. The “disdain of woman” (despite certain ironic connotations) represents one of its principle driving forces. It will be shown that anti-woman themes would later be played down by Marinetti. However, in general, whenever Futurism is confronted with important transformations in women’s social roles, women’s sociopolitical progress is combated. While the disdain for women was less serious as is often assumed (see chapter 7), Futurist asceticism remains relatively serious. In principle, Marinetti “sought to erect a barrier against the claims of sentiment and lust” (Poggi 2008: 30) because women are subject to irrational impulses. In the end, only the violent techno-man can withstand female attraction. This is not an eroticism of technology or techno-eroticism known today in the form of the most recent posthuman expressions. It is an eroticism of techno-destruction based on ideals of asceticism. Futurism strives “to fuse flesh with metal and to thrill to the erotic frisson of velocity or an exploding bomb” (Poggi 2008: 30). There are striking similarities with the puritan ideology adopted by ISIS via Wahhabism and other conservative Islamic movements. Both ISIS and Futurism reconfigure an exclusive concept of masculinity as a nonhuman and mechanical entity destined for speed and combat while femininity is defined as fertility because women are believed to be incapable of other social functions, especially not of those that require competitiveness. Technological virtues like aggression, speed, dynamism, and—most importantly—violence, are antithetical to the feminine element. Man is machine and woman is earth. For Futurism, “the feminine is the enemy of the future,” writes Berardi (2013: 17). Futurists tend to locate the feminine in the Italian sensual past, that is, in the traditional Italy that needs to be overcome. Therefore, the Futurist techno-eroticism requires the replacement of the beauty of women with the beauty of speed and destruction. Marinetti explains precisely this in his piece “Against Feminine Luxury [Lust]” (1920), where “the excessive stupidity of women and the devoted imbecility of men, who together collaborate in the development of feminine lust, prostitution, pederasty, and the sterility of the race” are condemned. The condemnation is pronounced “in the name of the great virile, fertile, and innovative future of Italy” (in Poggi 2008: 190). However, “becoming insensitive like a machine” does not imply having no emotions. Marinetti criticized the dances of the Futurist artist Valentine de Saint-Point because he considered them “static, arid, cold [and] emotionless” (Poggi 2008: 243). The point is that Futurism wants emotions to be dynamic. “Becoming insensitive like a machine” does not mean to be static but rather to have emotions like a machine. Only a perfect machine will not shy away from violence and destruction. Futurism is not emotionless but it wants hot
emotions of destruction and these emotions are best produced through mechanization. In one point, however, ISIS and Futurist misogynisms differ. In the case of ISIS, misogynism leads to an exploitative attitude toward women, which cannot be said about Futurism. The Paradox of Nihilism Alberto Fernandez writes about ISIS that “the seemingly authentic black flag, the savage videos, and the black dress: all this is not nihilism, but extremely violent idealism” (Fernandez 2015: 11). What is “violent idealism”? Is it not the same as nihilism? Suicide bombers do not even try to escape or to survive. Olivier Roy highlights the nihilist component in his most recent book Jihad and Death because, obviously, terrorists want to die. At the same time, they are idealist because they do not attempt to inflict much damage to the economy or the defense forces of the countries in which they perpetuate their attacks. They are not pragmatists. Is the main driving force therefore not idealism? Jihadists die for an idea. The phenomenon of “dying for an idea” needs to be examined very carefully. In the early twentieth century, nihilism served as a guide to a contradictory attitude toward the future. A nihilist rebellion against consumption, security, and sterile bourgeois life, coupled with warnings of Americanism and its degraded popular culture, permeated relatively large sections of European society. Those nihilist tendencies helped to prepare the cultural foundation of World War I. However, the cultural foundations of World War I can also be found in the competitive and racialized nationalism that became current from 1900 onward. It is very surprising that those antagonistic elements—nihilism and competitive nationalism—did not clash. True, nihilism was more minoritarian than the preponderant nationalism, but still nihilism and idealism had to be combined in some way. Futurists expressed much of this strange and paradoxical combination in their art and writings. Finally, optimistic nationalism/racism and rebellious nihilism would be fused within a complex concept of “violence for its own sake” as well as in Marinetti’s concept of “artificial optimism.” According to Poggi, artificial optimism is an optimism “that never fully repressed its negative counterpart” (Poggi: xi).6 Futurists can therefore appear as nihilists because they negate certain liberal values. However, they also reject decadent social tendencies that they detect in liberalism. In this sense, Futurism is not decadent but optimistic. Futurists are particularly life affirming when it comes to the life of nations. However, their optimistic nationalism never turns into utopianism. As mentioned, Futurism never offered a concrete model for a future state and Marinetti ridiculed such utopian attempts in his writings against anarchism. This
ISIS and Futurism
means that a nihilist part consisting of cynical and destructive comments is combined with a conspicuous nationalist optimism. The strange combination of optimism and nihilism is only possible on the condition that neither optimism nor nihilism is fully acknowledged. On the one hand, nihilism is rejected because Futurists push for an exalted feeling of a new plenitude and an “affirmation of vitality in the life of those individuals and nations who would fling themselves into the vortex of modernity” (Gentile 2003: 46). On the other hand, the act of “flinging oneself into modernity” can appear as nihilistic in its own right. The avant-garde specialist Renato Poggioli writes that a sense of crisis drives avant-garde artists “to desire an explosion, apocalypse, or catastrophe, envisioned as the prelude to a utopian future. The impulse to destroy figures is the necessary catalyst for the creation of a new world order, and compels the avant-gardes to position themselves temporally in relation to the future” (Poggioli 1968: 69, quoted in Poggi: ix). What is this if not nihilism expressed through optimism? True, Poggioli confirms this about any movement of the historical avant-garde but it is obvious that Futurism practices this tactic more than any other avant-garde movement. Futurists would find straightforward nihilism “feminine” simply because it cannot produce the right kind of violence. “Normal” nihilism tends to produce chaotic feminine violence but not the male, disciplined form of violence. Only artificial optimism or “nihilist optimism” will produce the desired results. NOTES 1. “rifiuta gli schemi conosciuti e attinge alla violenza e alla crudeltà, all’aggressione e all’ingiustizia perfino” (Verdone 2009: 8). 2. “inquinato da un’ideologia politica di destra e da un estetizzazione della violenza e della guerra che conducono in linea retta al fascismo” (Lista 2016: 12). 3. “si tinge di nazionalismo” (Ferrarotti: 100). 4. Crofton also mentions other anarcho-futurists such as Dante Carnasecchi, Leda Rafanelli, Auro d’Arcola, and Giovanni Governato. 5. This contradictory approach would be modified only after 1915 when a—what historians now call—“futurismo moderato” adopted “a less antagonistic attitude towards the general public and [sacrificed] certain aspects of the Futurist avant-garde program in order to appeal to as broad a section of society as possible, particularly the soldier and officer populations” (Daly 2016: 9). 6. Poggi’s book Inventing Futurism is subtitled “The Art and Politics of Artificial Optimism.”
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
“Since the beginning of the modern era, terrorism is a battle with images. The power of the pictorial production develops in parallel with the influence of a terror attack,” writes German art historian Charlotte Klonk (2015). In this chapter, the aesthetics of ISIS propaganda will be examined more empirically. The aesthetic elaboration of time and space, the elaboration of movement and cinematic manipulation, as well as the play with primitivism are principles of both ISIS and Futurism. All three are supposed to create a new relationship with reality at a time when reality had become highly mediated. Paul Virilio asked for “a renewed calling into question of the vital importance of depth of field as well as depth of time in the (contemporary) present” (Virilio 2010: 75). Futurism responded to such a lack of “depth of time” in its own way. ISIS follows a similarly Futurist path. “CALIPHATE CINEMA” The Beirut-based Al Akhbar newspaper has described ISIS as “the cinematic caliphate.” What are the main characteristics of ISIS “cinema”? First, the aesthetics is submitted to the cults of irrational violence and of technology. This is the most essential “Futurist” slant of ISIS. A polemical account of Futurist paintings issued by the rivaling group “La Voce” in 1909 fits the overall aesthetic impression of jihad videos: take “fifteen cars, seven planes, four trains, two steamships and two bicycles, various electrical generators, a few red-hot boiler engines: add your best flower of impotence and pomposity; blend it all into a lake of grey matter and aphrodisiac dribble, bring the mixture to a boil in the emptiness of your soul” (quoted in Gentile 2003: 30). 21
Islamic State cinematic productions are not merely documentaries meant to inform but are highly aestheticized. ISIS videos are always “optical” in the Futurist sense because they are dynamic and related to moving objects. A Futurist touch is also achieved through a willfully colorful and fragmented presentation of reality. In the feature-length Flames of War, whose purpose is to explain the IS’s seizure of the Syrian Army, the color is so saturated that the combatants appear to glow with light. A similarly curious aesthetization reminiscent of Futurism appears in the video Let’s go for Jihad (2014). An apparently random play with overexposure produces light effects very similar to Futurist “lines of force” (see below). “Exploding” light patterns cover the image every time the spectator is led from one frame to the next (fig. 2.1). This experimental light aesthetics continues for the whole first sixty seconds. Such devices are modern or avant-garde in the sense of ostranenie or “Verfremdung.” The same is true for the randomly inserted violent scenes that constantly appear—be it only for fractions of seconds—in otherwise emotionally neutral footage on politics in the video Flames of War II. The sixty-two-minute-long video The Clanging of the Swords Part IV, which is the single most important video of the year 2014, has been cited as instrumental in preparing the ground for the fall of Mosul (Fernandez 2015: 6). It begins with overhead shots in Fallujah taken by a camera attached to a drone (fig. 2.2). The video, which develops the themes contained in the action sequences of the ISIS video series “Windows Upon the Land of Epic Battles,” produces Futurist fantasies similar to Tullio Crali’s painting Nose Dive on the City (1939) or to what Futurists had called an “aeropaint.”
Figure 2.1 Let’s Go to Jihad “Light Explosion.”
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
Figure 2.2 Tullio Crali: Incuneandosi nell’abitato (in tuffo sulla citta) [Nose Dive on the City] (1939). Source: With permission from Museo di Arte Moderna è Contemporaneo di Trento è Rovero, Archivio Fotografico e Mediateca Mart.
Opening Scene from The Clanging of the Swords Part IV.
Modern Media The recruiting material distributed by ISIS via the internet has fascinated many journalists and bloggers. Like for Al-Qaeda, successful communication
is the key to success, and ISIS invests heavily in its media. ISIS had a radio station in Mosul (Al-Bayan Radio) that was mainly used for broadcasting readings of the Quran and for giving battlefield updates (Milton 2014: 50). Each province (wilayah) within the IS territory has its own regional media bureau. If ISIS’s successful recruitment strategies have become a serious challenge for the international community then especially because ISIS employs a multifaceted online media strategy for its targeted populations. Since the establishment of the “caliphate” in June 2014, ISIS’s Al Hayat Media Center (founded in 2014) has published the online magazine Dabiq1 and by July 2016, fifteen issues have been produced. Dabiq is published in Arabic, English, German, and French. Producing an online magazine is not a novel approach to recruitment; Al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP) had already revolutionized English language messaging in radical Islamic contexts with its print media source Inspire. However, the Dabiq series differs significantly from the Western-language campaign of Al-Qaeda. Launched in 2010 by Al-Qaeda technology pioneer Anwar al-Awlaki, Inspire was primarily designed as a practical guide for individual terrorists planning attacks in the West. It provides, for example, instructions for bomb-making. Though Inspire has some theological content, it does not attempt to launch new large-scale religious, military, or political visions. Dabiq, on the other hand, is full of religious justifications and apocalyptic claims because its aim is to provide a cultural and moral basis of the caliphate. The caliphate itself is the main topic in Dabiq, which is often lengthily described in geographical and cultural terms. Though Dabiq’s aim is to attract more recruits to the territory, it would be wrong to see the magazine as mere propaganda. In its writings, we find the formulation and the justification of a state vision. Dabiq is the official magazine of a state while Inspire remains a terrorist gazette. The contrast between Inspire and Dabiq is particularly strong in aesthetic terms. Apart from modifying media tactics by combining print and social media, ISIS submits itself to the rules of contemporary graphic design. In print publications, ISIS is eager to adapt to the most recent media trends and uses graphics and photography reminiscent of those found in online publications like Vice and Adbusters (see R. Zakaria 2014). The Carter Center found that by its tenth issue, nearly 45 percent of Dabiq’s images “were being re-appropriated from major Western media sources such as The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times” (Carter Center 2015). Contrary to Al-Qaeda, for ISIS, aesthetics becomes a means of communication in its own right. Dabiq style is also inspired by “neoliberal” advertising forms that are current in commercial media of corporate retailers like H&M. The latter often connect glossy images to radical and important social causes embedded in multiracial and multinational agendas. Images of young people of different races are supposed to symbolize diversity and multiculturalism. The problem
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
Still from an Untitled 2015 ISIS Video.
is that the alleged “liberalizations” produced through this commercial rhetoric emerge within a neoliberal environment where media and advertisements are required to be deregulated and where profit is more important than anything else. ISIS propaganda takes the cue from those neoliberal media, which is why it can appear as “modern” in some sense. This is not limited to Dabiq. An untitled ISIS video from 2015 shows fighters with different racial features standing under the heading “United by Islam” (fig. 2.4). The scene can appear like a terrorist parody of commercials by the Italian fashion chain Benetton. Al-Qaeda propaganda looks old-fashioned in comparison. Hezbollah propaganda had already attracted the attention of journalists in its 2006 campaign because it clearly employed mainstream global advertisement rhetoric and aesthetics. At that time, the New York Times wrote that “the campaign supersedes the expected Islamist rhetoric by being aesthetically and tactically comparable to global advertisement. Like a modern brand image, ‘The Divine Victory’ is ‘catchy’ and ‘neat’” (quoted in Maasri 2012). ISIS has pushed this system further. The nod to Benetton is not entirely random. Clothes are important for ISIS. The black dress worn on parades can look like an unconscious reference to Futurism. Pippo Rizzo’s painting Squadrismo (fig. 2.5) presents stylized menacing dark figures in movement. Armed soldiers in squadristri uniform (black shirt, fez, and a blackjack) are marching forward. In this painting, the equality and uniformity of the men’s rhythm/pace has become an aesthetic quality. There is a strong resemblance with the highly mediatized pictures of ISIS soldiers marching through conquered Syrian and Iraqi cities. Always dressed in black with white sneakers (occasionally with black hoods), the
Figure 2.5 Rizzo.
Pippo Rizzo, Squadrismo, Post 1919. Source: Courtesy Archivio Pippo
ISIS men are highly aestheticized the more so since the black dresses are not combat uniforms but have been chosen for display purposes. First, black uniforms would not be convenient for combat in the summer months as they soak up sunlight. Second, looking closer, the black pajamas turn out to be simple cotton pants and shirts or sweatshirt (fig. 2.6). These “uniforms” have not been chosen for military purpose. Technology and Urbanism The most consistently progressive element in ISIS propaganda is technology. Here it differs from that of other (Islamic or non-Islamic) religions or cults as it is not so much concerned with imagination and exotic fantasies but accentuates the maximal exploitation and demonstration of available technology. Even the ubiquitous traditional nasheed (a capella) hymns are auto-tuned using advanced computer software. Like for Futurists, the motorcar has become “a classic Freudian fetish” (Poggi 2008: 167). Long rows of identical cars (preferably pickups and SUVs) occur in most footage and have become the trademark of the ISIS imagology. ISIS has looted tanks and hi-tech weapons from the Iraqi army and bought more material from the West. These machines are constantly paraded through the cities they have conquered. The proliferation of weaponry in Iraq, historically due to mismanagement of
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
Figure 2.6 ISIS Soldiers Marching through Raqqa in March 2013. Source: Still from the video “ISIS: The ‘world’s richest terror group’ in 60 seconds,” produced by The Telegraph.
Saddam’s army during the Iran-Iraq war, would benefit ISIS later. Equally beneficial was the disbanding of the Iraqi military following the US invasion that resulted in the misappropriation of arms by soldiers. From 2003 to 2007, the US and other coalition members brought massive amounts of weapons into the country even though the army was poorly structured. On October 11, 2016, the French paper Le Monde reported that two members of the French Special Forces had been attacked by explosive drones constructed by ISIS (Guibert 2016) in Erbil, Iraq. The explosive drones were not military ones but self-made objects derived from commercial types. The new type of warfare represents not only a threat but also feeds into a techno myth that ISIS intends to develop when spreading montage photos of drones parading with ISIS convoys for its propaganda campaign. The high concentration of technology in videos is partly due to the fact that half of all jihadi films document battles and attacks (Finsnes 2010). However, most other footage is techno-oriented, too. Images of young men clad in black drifting on tanks while their dramatic black long hair is flowing in the wind emphasize an adventurous kind of liberty that more traditional forms of Islam are unable to offer. The soldiers’ strange break with military dress code indicates an overruling attachment to an urban style more than to the rationale of military discipline or to the imperatives of religion. The emphasis on urbanity remains important. The identity of ISIS is urban and in this it diverges from both fascism and earlier Islamic movements, which makes comparisons with Futurism more necessary than ever. Both fascism and Islamism insist on communitarian aspects of society (which earned them
the reputation of being anti-modern in the eyes of some) and cultivate a nostalgia for the rural social organization. The importance of the ummah for Islamic thought will be explained below. As a matter of fact, most totalitarian regimes follow this communitarian line, most probably because communities are easier to govern and to control than urban masses. Urban masses have been the cradle of communism and other popular movements when the proletariat tried to shed the shackles of exploitation. Fascism, many branches of Islamism, as well as other totalitarian regimes tend to channel those energies into more communitarian figurations. The result is a marked anti-urbanism. In the 1920s, when both fascism and Islamism emerged, urban decadence would most typically be linked to an urban moral decline exemplified by Jazz and the Roaring Twenties. For Islamists like Sayyed Qutb this was experienced and denounced as an example of the decadence of Western culture. Though ISIS talks a lot about the ummah, aesthetically, its propaganda goes the other way by presenting jihad life as connected to modern urban culture, which even includes hip-hop and other subcultures. We have come a long way from Palestinian resistance posters that were, until recently, representative of Arab struggle. Those posters were using an iconography still in line with the international revolutionary and anti-imperialist movements in Cuba or in the Soviet Union (see Maasri 2009: 38–45) and have no urban subcultural appeal. Those Palestinian “transnational” posters looked outdated and historical already in the 1990s. In the new aesthetic context created by ISIS they have become unthinkable. The linking of ummah and aggressive urban subcultures is paradoxical. It has to do with the key concept of “progressive conservatism” that will be explained below with regard to both Futurism and ISIS. Futurism and ISIS are dominated by a further paradox. Though both are opposed to “civilization as we know it” and seem to make big efforts to get out if it, Futurism and ISIS will not turn toward what could most obviously be considered as the opposite of civilization: nature. This again distinguishes those movements from Nazism, which was based (like Futurism) on a vitalist philosophy of the will but also of nature; Nazism even consistently spiritualized and sanctified nature, which is very anti-futurist. For Nazis society was a natural body and the task of fascism was to transform this healthy nature into an equally healthy culture. Often this culture would be presented as an ideal preindustrial life. Adorno and Horkheimer have called National Socialism a “revolt of nature” (1972: 3) that they saw as directed against capitalism and industrialism. The “naturism” is directed against urban culture in the first place. As a result, contrary to Italian fascism, Nazi ideology could easily turn into a revolt against modern civilization and technology. Fascist philosophy of nature is reminiscent of the thought of present-day conservative Christian evangelists who are staging a similar “revolt of nature” when they insist on
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
the importance of body politics (distinct opinions about abortion and gay rights). Like for the Nazis, their revolt is based on the presumably right knowledge of nature. Both ISIS and Futurism differ from the Nazis in this respect. For Futurists, technology-driven civilization might be barbaric to some extent but there is no reason to refuse it. Driven by artificial optimism, Futurists will rather decide to exalt it. The romantic concept of spiritualized nature is abandoned for good. The young Marinetti was still influenced by Belgian symbolism’s cosmic rites of nature (Härmänmaa 2009: 341) and French symbolism. Symbolists like Charles Baudelaire, Stéphane Mallarmé, and Paul Verlaine believed that art should contain absolute truths described through indirect acts of symbolization. Symbolist aesthetics is metaphorical and suggestive and provides an abundance of objects with symbolic meaning. In the symbolist manifesto, “Le Symbolisme,” published, like the Futurist manifesto, in “Le Figaro” but twenty-three years earlier, its author Jean Moréas announces that symbolism is hostile to “plain meanings, declamations, false sentimentality and matter-of-fact description” (Moréas: 1). Marinetti abandoned all symbolisms, especially those incorporating nature. In Futurism, even experimentations with primitivism, which are rather prominent, are not supposed to lead to a more natural state of humanity. According to Marja Härmänmaa, Futurists abandoned most significantly the myth of Pan, which symbolizes the cult of nature, which they replaced with the cult of Prometheus and Ulysses. The latter symbolize civilizing power and heroic force (Härmänmaa 2009: 337– 341), which lead in Futurist painting to the replacement of natural landscapes with landscapes of steel and concrete. The parallel with ISIS aesthetics is obvious. Pan-theism is an impossible option for ISIS, first because monotheistic convictions will stand in the way. Both ISIS and Futurism decide to exalt civilization by acclaiming urbanity and technology. Modern urban technology is no longer seen as the source of decadence but supposed to overcome decadent civilization. The environments in which ISIS operates are little urban and views of nature and natural landscapes would have been a more logical backdrop option for jihad videos. In spite of this, ISIS makes big efforts to endow itself with urban connotations by putting forward pictures of modern weapons, speeding cars and tanks, mobile phones, and computers. For ISIS ideologists, nature is the least interesting element, but urban life is found energizing. This is not only incompatible with the veneration of nature and rural life encountered in Nazi propaganda, but also with the “hippy” aesthetics of New Age sects or the aesthetics of Christian rock. This is also one more reason why ISIS should be seen as an extreme case of “subculturation.” In subculture, as Hebdige explained, style is most typically found by following transformations that “go against nature” (Hebdige: 18).
What is true for nature is also true for the traditional cultures present in the environments in which ISIS is operating—those elements will rarely be shown in ISIS videos but the orientalizing elements are almost limited to the nasheed chant, which is surprising given that the center of ISIS operations is situated in the Middle East. Occasionally, the nasheed chant is even “deorientalized” when, as in Let’s Go for Jihad I (2014), a two-minute long passage is sung in German. The text has not just been translated for this purpose, but fragments from traditional German war songs have been incorporated. The images of ISIS tanks drifting inside deserted cityscapes can appear like a reenactment of the Futurist vocabulary. The empty city and the speeding vehicle are Futurist clichés. Futurist painters “strove to depict movement and militarism, and the urban design associated with this movement was conspicuously devoid of people,” write Dalke and Blakenship (2009). The speeding tank has a parallel in the Futurist racing motorcar exalted by Futurists as a vehicle whose “frame is adorned with great pipes like snakes with explosive breath—a roaring motor-car that seems to run on shrapnel is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace” (“Founding and Manifesto” in Rainey et al. 2009: 53). ISIS has also adopted the Futurist ideal of the techno-man, that is, “the Futurist male, ‘multiplied’ by the machine, [who] would exemplify a new superhuman hybrid adapted to the demands of speed and violence” (Poggi 2008: 161). Marinetti famously celebrated the “mechanic who lovingly washes the great powerful body of his locomotive” and who must be praised because his are “the attentive, knowing endearments of a lover who is caressing a woman he adores” (“Multiplied Man”: 90). ISIS reenacts the Futurist myth of the techno-man in the form of the jihadi fighter sleeping with his Kalashnikov. It also clearly parallels the Futurist idea of “l’Amore come Guerra” (Berardi: 29). In the context of a religious movement like ISIS, this is not merely “aesthetically beautiful,” but it is also religious. In ISIS discourse, aesthetization morphs into sacralization resulting in technology adopting quasi-religious dimensions. Futurists took a similar path by elevating “speed from its former status as a new principle of beauty to that of a substitute for religion” (Poggi 2008: 253). FROM SYMBOLISM TO FUTURISM OR FROM AL-QAEDA TO ISIS ISIS aesthetics represents a clear break with earlier jihadi propaganda. First, Al-Qaeda videos look extremely amateurish in comparison, which is probably the most striking difference. In a video that bears no title, shot right after the 9/11 attacks (released on December 13, 2001 by the United States), Bin Laden is shown for nine minutes talking with his fellow fighters about the
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
attacks. The video is shot in a square frame, date and time are displayed at the bottom, and the conception of the video must have looked outdated already in 2001. Aesthetic arrangement was not considered important; the aim was merely to declare. Nina Couvert finds that Al-Qaeda’s visuals are merely declaring whereas ISIS videos show (Couvert 2015). Al-Qaeda did not have much to show but much to declare. When reading Dabiq one has the impression that ISIS confronts us with the reverse situation. The development leading from the aesthetics of Al-Qaeda to that of ISIS is more dramatic than the one that Zeina Maasri had observed in Hezbollah propaganda during the entire period from the 1970s to the 1990s. The latter changes were mainly due to the modernization of the media as well as to the party’s accommodation into the Lebanese political system following the end of Lebanon’s civil war: “The previously hand painted martyr portraits gave way to computer generated graphics forming a template in which faces could be easily photoshopped. The graphic turn in Hezbollah’s posters is in line with a major shift in the graphic design practice, altered by the technological innovations of digital imaging” (Maasri 2012: 176). In ISIS videos, the political message has become aestheticized in the same way in which political declarations became aesthetic by being transformed into manifestos by Futurists. The ISIS video has become a Futurist manifesto. It is useful to consider the correct definition of “manifesto” given by the Oxford English Dictionary. Majorie Perloff reminds us of this definition: MANIFESTO: A public declaration or proclamation, usually issued with the sanction of a sovereign prince or state, or by an individual or body of individuals whose proceedings are of public importance, for the purpose of making known past actions and explaining the reasons or motives for actions as forthcoming. (Perloff 1984: 66)
Originally, a manifesto only had to declare (often manifestos even begin with the words “we declare”). However, in the hands of Marinetti, manifestos also began to show, as he was using onomatopes and other aesthetic devices. Finally, this Futurist elaboration turned the genre of the manifesto into a text that is “not quite ‘theory’ or ‘poetry’ but that occupies a space between the traditional modes and genres” (Perloff: 66). In the same way, ISIS pushes the terrorist video from an original declaring mode to the showing mode indicated by Futurism a century earlier. This development was first announced by Al-Shabab video productions in the late 2000s, which underwent a refashioning in the hands of techno-savvy American jihadis such as Omar Hammami (who also invented the genre of “jihadi rap”). Those jihadis introduced stylistic elements from Western culture into their videos, which led to the coining of the word “MTV jihadism” (Stenersen 2017: 123). The MTV
epithet is not vain. Despite the remarkable push toward popular culture, those videos rarely narrate. The speed and the experimental spirit that is so fascinated with distortions and aesthetization works against clear narratives. Like MTV clips, ISIS videos have much to show but little to narrate. With regard to speed, the videos are reminiscent of the super-fast editing of the montage films of Russian film directors of the 1920s. The recent video Flames of War II: Until the Final Hour (2017) appears to have rationalized this constructivist concept by producing a rapid-fire of sequences accompanied by the sound of a firing machine gun. However, the difference with Russian films of, for example, Dziga Vertov is that in ISIS propaganda the aesthetization is more random. First, this aesthetization does not seem to be inspired by a clear ideology, except if one sees violence as an ideologically defined expression. Second, the rapid montage of images that Russian avant-garde directors like Kuleshov, Eisenstein, and Pudovkin advocated as an organizational principle was supposed to create a narrative, for example, through a collision between shots. Jihadi videos do not even attempt to narrate. Mostly, the emotional effects are the results of “first degree” signifiers. They work neither on the level of symbolization nor on the level of meaningful juxtaposition. In 2006, the US Military Academy at West Point published over 300 jihadi propaganda images—most of them from the sphere of Al-Qaeda—accompanied by brief analyses of each (Combating Terrorism Center at West Point 2006). The aesthetics of Al-Qaeda media jihad goes back to the Afghanistan war in the 1980s but was further developed in Bosnia, Algeria, Chechnya, and other places. The overall impression of the images discussed by the West Point Academy is that of a romantic, literal, and naïve presentation of a mythical world. Sunrises are frequent and layouts with superimpositions, softened contours, and fading colors are used on almost every picture. This aesthetics does not follow the rules of modern graphic design at all but is completely retrospective. At the same time, there is no indication that it is supposed to be a “retro-aesthetic.” The colors are primary ones, and sunrays or other symbolisms of purity are emphasized on most pictures. Holtmann states that “polychromatic mixing of colors appeals to Islamic aestheticism [as] it expresses paradise imaginations” (Holtmann 2013: 39). The fading colors contrast with the vivid red and orange used in ISIS designs. Red is the color of fire and blood and also symbolizes passion. In the Al-Qaeda material analyzed by the West Point Academy, all colors except orange (which is practically never used) are encoded with explicit symbolisms: black represents jihad and the caliphate and therefore religious piety, but can more generally also represent a “counter world and rebellious narrative” (Holtmann 2013: 35); blue evokes a sense of hope and heavenly paradise; green is linked to the Prophet and synonymous with Islam itself but also represents paradise; red most often represents blood, war, tyranny,
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
oppression, defeat, and victory; white symbolizes purity, piety, and religious authority. Brown is rarely used but according to Holtmann it can stand for Islamic conquests and earth. In general, jihadis tend to use authoritative key symbols connected to myths of religion, community, and salvation. The symbolisms are most often embedded in a romanticizing visual language. Such symbolist devices were precisely what avant-garde art and especially Futurism attempted to overcome: Futurists strongly rejected the overly selfconscious lyricism of symbolism. This remained true even in situations where symbols were evoked. Fillia, who worked very much with color symbols, forced an urban vocabulary upon his paintings. As a result, he “may still be battling sentimentalism and naïve illusions, but as a Futurist he is energized by electrical energy, which radiates into his surroundings,” writes Adriana Baranello (2011). Futurism avoided evoking feelings through symbolisms but presented shocking elements able to provoke a violent response in the viewer. “We Abjure Our Symbolist Masters, the Last lovers of the Moon” is the title of a Marinetti manifesto from 1911. Though the great symbolist geniuses like Edgar Allan Poe, Baudelaire, Mallarmé,2 and Verlaine were recognized as intellectual fathers, Marinetti declared that “we despise them now for having swum the river of time with their heads always turned back toward the far blue spring of the past, toward the ‘ciel antérieur où fleurit la beauté’” (in Rainey et al. 2009: 93). Under the direction of Hammami, in videos produced by the As-Sahab Foundation for Islamic Media Publication in the late 2000s, symbols were abandoned, which becomes most obvious in The Beginning of the End: A Response to Barack Obama (2009). Stenersen describes this change of aesthetics: “An [earlier] al-Shabab video featuring al-Qaeda leaders would typically open with al-Shabab’s vignette and one or more Islamic or jihadi symbols—a Qur’an, Kalashnikovs, a cross that explodes, or a burning American flag. The introduction to The Beginning of the End is virtually stripped of such effects” (Stenersen 2017: 124). ISIS made this approach more consistent. As mentioned, Nina Couvert finds that Al-Qaeda’s visuals are merely declaring whereas ISIS videos show (Couvert 2015). This reflects precisely the difference between historical symbolism and Futurism: the former declared or made statements through poetic images having metaphysical connotations whereas the latter very often merely shows images able to express a certain (technological) attitude. The principle of symbolism is to present a refined and infinite mental world through poetical speech; ISIS simply shows shocking pictures. European historical symbolism pretended to communicate with some absolute, ethereal forces, and we clearly find this strategy in AlQaeda propaganda. Of course, symbolist ambitions do exist in ISIS propaganda, too, but they remain restricted to religious apocalyptic symbolism.
ISIS replaces sunsets and hazes with whirring engines and explosions. Further, the aim of ISIS propaganda is not merely to evoke a metaphysical world for its own sake but rather to establish the forces of a new Futurist ideology in everyday life as a utilitarian force. This overlaps with Futurist strategies of overcoming symbolism, too. Hezbollah followed this shift only half-heartedly and only up to certain point. In the “modernized” version of Hezbollah propaganda, there is a similar renunciation of symbolism. Maasri notes how “the visual rhetoric of the ‘Divine Victory’ billboards does depart from the group’s earlier ‘radical’ and religiously inscribed model of media undertaking. The signs and aesthetics put to use in 2006 did not resort to the more typical Shii politico-religious symbolism that the party repeatedly utilized in political posters during its formative years” (Maasri 2009: 48–50). ISIS radicalized this approach. On the other hand, we might say that there is one thing in ISIS and Futurism that acquires connotations of metaphysical transcendence: the artistic cult of dynamism. However, this transcendence is not reached directly as it is in symbolism. While ISIS aesthetics makes a decisive step in the modernist direction indicated by Futurism, Al-Qaeda’s religious propaganda remains kitsch and is strongly reminiscent of visual material delivered by Jehovah’s Witnesses or New Age sects. With the latter, it shares the preference of purple as the dominant color though the jihadi purple is more subdued than the New Age one. Kitsch can also adopt other forms. According to Rüdiger Lohlker, AlQaeda writer Dhu I-Bijadayn, who is famous for the launching of the jihadi technical magazine Al-Qaeda Airlines, displays “a fascination with some gothic elements (skulls and bones) and kitsch” (Lohlker 2014b: 9). Al-Qaeda aesthetics resembles more that of the neo-fascists who differ from the older fascists because of their completely different relationship with modernity and technology. Instead of exalting technology, neo-fascists tend to romanticize premodern utopias. The skull and bones aesthetics is also present in neo-Nazism but absent in ISIS. According to Gentile, neo-fascists consider the modern simply as “an epoch of corruption and degeneration dominated by mass conformity, materialistic-oriented cultures, the civilization of the machine, egalitarianism, and denationalizing cosmopolitanism” (Gentile 2003: 183). This part of contemporary right-wing radicalism flees from modernity and eschews technology as well as mass media.
THE “FUTURIST” AESTHETICS OF ISIS The above comparison with symbolist Al-Qaeda aesthetics has made the Futurist aspect of ISIS propaganda graphically clear. I will now analyze some concrete techniques supposed to reinforce this claim.
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
The “Line of Force” Futurists developed a technique called “Line of Force” that was meant to convey sensations—especially those of speed—as they are experienced in time. This style has been found uniquely suitable for the illustration of World War I combats. The catalogue text for the first Futurists’ Parisian exhibition in 1912 contains a text entitled “The Exhibitors to the Public,” which most probably written by Boccioni. The text explains that “the sheaves of lines corresponding to all the conflicting forces [follow] the general law of violence.” The author labels the lines occurring in Carlo Carrà’s paintings “lines of force” (Balla et al. 2005: 14). Those lines of force became very important in Futurist painting. “Lines of force” tend to radiate from the object toward the spectator or are placed as imaginary lines close to the moving object. In general, Futurism applied Cubist methods to themes that were not Cubist at all: motion, time, and technology. The Cubist method implies that an object’s full significance can be best rendered by showing it from multiple points of view and at different times. The dynamics of movements within the static space of the canvas is captured through the simultaneous presentation of different positions of the object. Cubism was submitted to the influence of technical advancements like the telephone and fast transport, which revolutionized the perception of space and introduced the idea of simultaneity. Cubism deconstructed the linear perspective and reassembled the object out of fragments. The object’s submission to a multiple perspective created a multilinear perspective. However, despite its pretension to dynamism, in cubism, those lines remain static inasmuch as the object painted was most typically not dynamic. Opposed to this, Boccioni declares that an art able to capture the dynamism of movement rejects “the construction of the painting such as we have known it up until now, that is, up to cubism” (Boccioni 1914b: 109–10). While Picasso arrests the life of the object (its motion) and separates the elements that constitute it, Futurism attempts to combine cubist multilinearism with the object’s dynamic perception. Most of the time the object is dynamic itself and the line of force is the most likely result. The Futurist ambitions to see the world in terms of dynamism overlap with the social and political dynamism highlighted by fascism. According to Arendt, fascism remained (or had to remain) dynamic for the only reason that a goal had not been fixed. Motion became obligatory: “The practical goal of the movement is to organize as many people as possible within its framework and to set and keep them in motion; a political goal that would constitute the end of the movement does not exist” (Arendt 1973: 326). More generally, Arendt speaks of a “perpetual-motion mania of totalitarian movements which can remain in power only so long as they keep moving and set everything around them in motion” (306). Above that, depicting movement
instead of static states went hand in hand not only with Futurist art but with the anti-positivist activism of the time, which proclaimed that the world cannot be analyzed and reduced to fixed characteristics, but that reality is fluent and instable by definition. Futurism was supposed to reflect this new society. The lines on the canvas were blurred and so were the social links between individuals that were less clearly defined than in former times. Usually, lines of force are simply drawn as physical lines on the canvas, but they can also appear as linearly stylized light, dust, or smoke. As mentioned, lines of force tend to radiate from the object toward the spectator or are placed as imaginary lines close to the moving object, especially in paintings by Balla and Carrà. They create a dynamic of movements within the static space of the canvas. In Giacomo Balla’s Automobile in Corsa (1911), the car can barely be seen as it is covered under lines of force. The dynamic system of lines via which the Futurist reality is decomposed appears to be disciplined and uncontrollable at the same time. The effect is that of violent movements spread over time and place. Finally, the experience of motion becomes the object’s true essence: the lines become more important than the object itself (cf. Bowler 1991: 779). Sometimes the reality is more dynamic than the eye can bear. This is the Futurist way of depicting “the destruction of a world gone mad, blowing itself up, tearing itself apart into fragments” (Willette 2011). ISIS has similar ambitions to let images appear dynamic. Lines of force, as in the banner of the 2014 video “Let’s Go for Jihad!” (fig. 2.7), can be inspired by rays of light similar to those on Al-Qaeda posters; but they will most probably be reinforced by smoke and fire. Balla wrote that “the sheaves of lines corresponding to all the conflicting forces [follow] the general law of violence” (Balla et al. 2005: 14). ISIS videos manifest an interest in movement similar to that of Futurism. The diagonal lines in paintings of Giacomo Balla (see his Automobile in Corsa, fig. 2.8) create movement and speed. In the more abstract compositions of Luigi Russolo, diagonal lines are supposed to make the picture more dynamic. Similar devices appear on ISIS propaganda posters and on page designs of Dabiq. In ISIS videos, cinematic manipulations follow elaborate devices destined to make dynamic movement plausible. In the feature-length video The Flames of War I, the use of slow motion and image manipulation is supposed to glorify the fighters. There is a strong desire to present several aspects of one and the same topic at the same time. Often fighters are filmed from a first-person perspective but also from the side or below (see Serensen: 125). This indicates not only a play with perspective (which is a typical avant-garde device) but also a mixing of subjective and objective perceptions. Borrowing
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
Figure 2.7 Banner of the ISIS Video Let’s Go for Jihad! (2014). Source: Haya Alal (2016) Al Arabiya English, Jihad: A Call to Action.
Figure 2.8 Giacomo Balla’s, Automobile in Corsa (1911). Source: © 2018 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / SIAE, Rome.
the terms of Margaret Bruder, who has done much research on violence in cinema, one can say that ISIS aesthetics is “stylistically excessive in a significant and sustained way” (Bruder 1998). A common device in ISIS “cinema” is to film the death of an enemy first in normal speed and then show it again, slowly. Events, narrative or not, though preferably explosions, are repeated from multiple camera angles.3 Images of exploding cars with bodies flying through the air are often first shown in normal speed and then repeated in slow motion. Videos like Clanging of Swords IV and Flames of War I (2014) include several extended slow-motion explosion sequences. Some sequences are repeatedly played forward and backward in slow motion, which pushes the experimental sprit even further. The video There is No Life Without Jihad uses fast forward and fast backward movements not of dynamic footage like explosions but for social life themes like men approaching a group. This is supposed to make movement and time more palpable. The repetition of events from multiple camera angles denotes a preponderant interest in the experience of simultaneity or in the experience of varied types of sensations “all at once,” which is precisely what Futurists also aspired to. The presence is “spread out” over a time span much longer than the span covering the event in real time. The effect is not achieved through the simple use of slow motion but through a more sophisticated manipulation of time and space. Futurist presentations of speed seek a similar effect as they attempt to show the same object several times at different places, just as if our eye is too slow to grasp the “real” speed of the event. In Futurist photography, this same effect was obtained through complicated superimpositions, which led to the Futurist concept of photodynamism developed by the photographer Anton Giulio Bragaglia. Bragaglia explained that “we despise the precise, mechanical, glacial reproduction of reality and take the utmost care to avoid it. We are not interested in the precise reconstruction of movement, which has already been broken up and analyzed. We are involved only in the area of movement which produces sensation, the memory of which still palpitates in our awareness” (Bragaglia 1913: 38). Similar devices have been noticed in ISIS videos. Steve Rose describes the “transitions between clips [which] are sheets of flame and blinding flashes. Graphics fly across the screen. Sonorous, auto-tuned chanting and cacophonous gunfire reverberate on the soundtrack.” Finally, the violent images from The Flames of War I are edited into a “rapid-fire” resulting in “steroidal action montage” (S. Rose 2014). This is precisely what the Futurists would have liked to do had they had the technical means. It is interesting to note that anti-terrorism posters developed by NGOs and other organizations go in the exactly opposite direction. They tend to apply a sober aesthetics reminiscent of Soviet posters designed by constructivists like El Lissitzky. As red and black are almost the only colors used, these
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
campaigns seem to hark back to an avant-garde aesthetics that emerged in parallel with Futurism at the time of the Russian Revolution but, finally, superseded Futurism by emphasizing geometrization and abstraction.4 Constructivists were less fascinated by aviation and its spectacularly new visions but rather by the precise functioning of machines. While Futurism and ISIS productions remain very much concerned with composition—which might indeed be due to a symbolist (or Al-Qaeda) heritage—constructivists show contempt urge for synthesis. The approaches of Lissitzky and Malevich are more abstract as they emphasize the precision of “construction.” On the linguistic level, in Futurist poetry, the “rapid-fire” was produced through the imitation of telegram language. Telegrams were popular at the turn of the century and Futurist poetics makes its advantages explicit. For Futurists, who saw language as a self-referential system, the telegram style contributed to the immediacy of communication (see Niebisch 2012: 57). Marinetti compared telegram style to the malfunctioning of machines and saw in it the origin of modern poetics. In his “Destruction of Syntax” Marinetti speaks of the “rush of steam-emotion” that can create excitement. The language syncopated by STOP is indeed reminiscent of the English language as it is used in ISIS videos where jihadis constantly syncopate their speech with Arabic words like Alhamdullilah, Insha’Allah, and Allahu Akbar. The model for Futurist poetry was the linguistic economy of telegraph communication, which was supposed to liberate language from syntax; jihadi language seems to imitate the clipped language of the telegram especially when the approximate English creates an unusual word order. Both Futurism and ISIS “decompose” objects over time and space. Futurist cinema in particular has been declared a magic instrument capable of creating cosmogonies and opening perspectives: “In Futurist film, the most disparate elements will be used as means of expression: from slices of real life to spots of color, from the line to words in freedom, from chromatic and plastic music to the music of objects (. . .) we will decompose and recompose the universe as our wondrous whims strike us” (Manifesto “Cinematography the Futuristic,” 1916, quoted in Brunetta 2009: 56). ISIS editing has a similar effect. What Futurist paintings achieve through lines of force or photodynamism is achieved by ISIS with the help of Final Cut Pro or similar movie editing software. The result is a diffusion or dissemination of the violence over a larger time span. Videogame Aesthetics Paul Virilio writes in his War and Cinema that the main aim of early war cinema was to develop a mechanical eye able to redefine the world and discover its new tempos and rhythms. Virilio concentrates on the “lines of
force” because, originally, they were part of military vocabulary where they used to be called “faith lines” (lignes de foi). The soldier who is taking aim has to “align ocular perception along an imaginary axis that used to be known in French as the ‘faith line’” (Virilio 1989: 3). The faith line represents the “ideal alignment of a look, which, starting from the eye, passes through the peep-hole and the sights and on to the target object” (2). Though the word “faith” is no longer used because the line is today more objective and mathematically established through technology, the history of the line of force remains, according to Virilio, a line of “perceptual faith.” As in Futurism, the lines of force do not work toward a (cubist) geometrification of the image but toward a dynamic way of perception. In the realm of military action, the particularity of this vision of reality via lines of force or faith lines is that the world will be observed through the target tube of a weapon, or, to put it simply, through a weapon. This kind of vision is also most commonly applied in video war games, by which ISIS’s visual material is heavily influenced (many ISIS videos bear the names of popular video games). A picture of two ISIS fighters inserted into a still from the game Call of Duty symbolizes the video game affinities of ISIS culture and has become famous as it was widely circulated on the internet. In general, ISIS appropriates aesthetic codes from Western movies (preferably action movies) and video games. Javier Lesaca analyzed 845 videos that ISIS published between January 2014 and September 2015 and found that 15 percent have been inspired by real Western movies and video games (Lesaca 2015). ISIS even appropriates entire games. The video Grand Theft Auto (renamed Salil al-Sawarem = Clanging of Swords) is entirely made of sequences from the game Grand Theft Auto, reproducing only the most violent scenes and making the nasheed chant the only original contribution. When a game turns into a documentary supposed to show things happening in reality, we can speak of a de-virtualization of virtual reality. This graphically illustrates ISIS’s desire to make reality more real. Through “real life video games” young people are literally led out of their cyberworld into a more real world of real action. The shift from Cyberpunk to Futurism that this step implies will be the topic of chapters 3, 6, and 7. The Futurist line of force technique has further affinities with games. It produces a vision similar to the one most commonly applied in war games. Marinetti’s famous portrait by the photographer Elio Luxardo (fig. 2.9) looks as if the face is seen through a target tube. Watching the enemy through the crosshairs of a sniper rifle, taking aim and destroying him in a blast, is also one of the most favorite scenes in ISIS videos. From a film theoretical perspective, this video game-inspired technique creates the curious device of a “caméra-fusil” (gun-camera) as the counterpart of the “caméra-stylo” (pencamera) that was once celebrated as an intellectual cinematic tool by film theorists in the 1950s.5 Above that, the picture captured by the caméra-fusil
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
Figure 2.9 Elio Luxardo, Marinetti Futurista (ca. 1930). Source: © Copyright 2018 Fondo Elia Luxardo (Fondazione 3M).
is also a perfect description of photodynamism because everything that this camera targets is bound to explode. The video game becomes the technical device summarizing the spirit of an “alternative modernity” in the same way in which the airplane used to summarize this spirit for Futurists and fascists. Fernando Esposito, in his book on aviation and fascism, quotes Guido Mattioli who explains that “no machine requires as much concentration of the human mind, as much human will power, as the flying machine does. The pilot really knows what it means to govern. Hence there appears to be a necessary, inner spiritual affinity between aviation and fascism. Every aviator is a born fascist” (Esposito 2015: 3). ISIS would probably claim that every player of a video game is a born jihadist. Several of the qualities that were formerly attributed to aviation have been replicated today in video games, which is one of the reasons why ISIS has elevated the video game to such a supreme aesthetic device. We should not forget that, initially, terrorism came through the air. This is at least the opinion of Peter Sloterdijk who describes in his Terror from the Air how April 1915 classical warfare muted into terrorism. The German army used chlorine gas to exterminate a part of the Flemish population in Ypres, Belgium. Such terror had become possible through the use of airplanes; it became the matrix of all modern and postmodern war as well as of terrorism. Today terror comes not necessarily through the air but also through the internet, and games are important catalyzers of terrorist energies.
The Aesthetization of Violence In ISIS and in Futurism, violence is central and represents the basis of those movements’ politics and aesthetics. Like Futurists, ISIS cultivates in its videos a new “art of violence” for its shock value, and like in Futurism, violence appears in an extremely aestheticized fashion. Violence is stylized for the simple reason that everything is stylized in ISIS propaganda. Execution videos, showing graphic torture and murder, are choreographed, rehearsed, and edited. In Futurism, style was “the original and universal essence of a society and what transmitted its greatness to future eras” (Gentile 2003: 62). Similarly, the entire ISIS media phenomenon as it has been described in chapter 1 can be seen as a prime example of the “aesthetization of politics” in the way as it was outlined by Walter Benjamin in the postface to his The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction (1936). Benjamin associates the aesthetization of politics with fascism and, more specifically, with Marinetti’s Futurism. On the one hand, Benjamin’s identification of Futurism with fascism represents a simplification: it has been shown above that the aesthetization of politics, like various other items, took different forms in fascism and Futurism. On the other hand, the particular mise-en-scène of politics in public speeches, events, marches, and weekly newsreels that Benjamin crystallizes in both fascism and Futurism appears in a similar way in ISIS propaganda. In any case, we are sure to be in the realm of fascism and Futurism rather than in the realm of totalitarian communist propaganda, which is in in agreement with Benjamin’s theory according to which communism will rather engage in the “politicization of art” (44/242). Benjamin’s view differs from that of Gentile who believes that the “politicization of aesthetics [and not the aesthetization of politics] not only inspired fascism’s attitude toward avant-garde culture but stood at the very origin of the encounter between Futurism and fascism” (Gentile 2003: 44). The difference between the aesthetization of politics and the politicization of aesthetics might be subtle but Benjamin’s argument remains convincing in the present context. A politicization of art as it is practiced in communism leads to entirely different results—it does not lead to the irrational violence prominent in Futurism and in ISIS. The latter is rather a result of the aesthetization of politics. Furthermore, a more or less straight line leads from there to violence for its own sake. The latter is a rare phenomenon in social movements and almost unique to ISIS and Futurism/fascism. Only Sorel, Wilfredo Pareto, and Frantz Fanon suggested the application of this concept (see Arendt 1970: 65). Tarrow believes that violence is most of the time “an exacerbation of collective challenges [and] often the product of public clashes with police rather than the intention of the activists” (Tarrow 2011: 9). Normally, violence is a by-product or even an undesired by-product of subculture fights occurring
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
in the margins of social movements. Even George Sorel, whose thoughts on violence were an inspiration not only for early fascists and Futurists (see Roth 1967) but also for anarchists and Marxists,6 did not really preach violence for its own sake. Sorel saw proletarian violence as “a very fine and heroic thing” [“une chose très belle et très héroïque”] serving “the immemorial interests of civilization” (Sorel 2003: 75/Engl.: 85). Violence has the purpose of saving the world from barbarism. However, too much violence is a threat to civilization. Violence for its own sake is based on the idea that virtue is not the product of reasonable deduction and rule following but that virtue can be enacted by life itself. In other words, violence for its own sake puts forward an aestheticized version of life that is supposed to be virtuous by default. One is never violent for ethical reasons but for aesthetic ones; and virtue will follow once the static, ancient, and hypocritical rules of ethics are abandoned. Aesthetics will take over and ethics will be founded on and derived from this aestheticized version of life. In other words, the “for its own sake” option removes the topic of violence from purely ethical concerns and shifts the discussion toward aesthetics. The establishment of aesthetics as an autonomous realm has a solid foundation as it is consistent with the traditional understanding of aesthetics in European culture. In aesthetics, as it has been defined by Emmanuel Kant, one must focus on the form of the mental representations of the object for its own sake. Kant believed that the aesthetic object exists in itself and not for some extra-aesthetic purpose and it should be perceived as such. The Königsberg philosopher writes in his Critique of Judgement (1790): “Now, when the question is whether something is beautiful, we do not want to know whether anything depends or can depend on the existence of the thing” (Analytic of Aesthetic Judgment, Book I, § 2). Aesthetic should never be subordinated to other powers as it is valuable in its own right: “The delight which determines the judgment of taste is independent of all interest.” By applying those rules of aesthetic autonomy to politics and violence, that is, by saying that violence should be “merely” aesthetic, one creates a new concept: the concept of violence for its own sake. Futurist poets and painters were supposed to be “beautiful in their violence,” as writes Francesco Pratella in his “Manifesto of the Futurist Musician” (in Rainey et al. 2009: 75). A similarly aestheticized celebration of violence is manifest in ISIS videos where even the cruelest scenes are sprinkled with poetry. Armed struggle, which had almost disappeared from the list of core definitions of the Muslim identity7 in modern times, has once more become central and jihad can now be seen as a core pillar of Muslim identity; and jihad necessitates violence. However, it would be a misunderstanding to say that the purpose of the high degree of aesthetization is to make the violence more acceptable. It has been shown that the relationship between aesthetics
and violence works vice versa. This becomes very clear as soon as one considers that, first of all, the fundamentalist spirit is profoundly anti-aesthetic. The problem is that there is no propaganda without aesthetics. Therefore we need violence: for the fundamentalist mind, aesthetics becomes more acceptable when it is presented through violence. Strictly speaking, ISIS does not confront us with aestheticized violence but with an aesthetics that has been enriched with violence. Given the hostile attitude that fundamentalism has toward art, aesthetics enriched with violence is likely to be considered a suitable substitute of art—art is no longer art but violence. Apart from that it follows the same rules that art was supposed to follow in Western aesthetics. Fundamentalism remains dominated by anti-art prejudices and in the eyes of fundamentalists the worst aesthetic philosophy must be l’art-pour-l’art. This is even in agreement with the abovementioned militant character of avant-garde movements theorized by Peter Bürger. Aesthetics is inevitable in any propaganda. Logically, the ideology will shift toward an application of la-violence-pour-la-violence. The “for-its-own-sake” option also concords perfectly well with a certain form of Islam that rejects the presence of all alterity incompatible with its own creed and prefers to remain self-enclosed in its particular way of thinking. Death-Style Versus Lifestyle Many political groups employ violence but normally the violence is used to obtain certain goals. ISIS is fascinated by “pure” violence and Futurism followed a similar principle as it desired to integrate life and art by using violence. In these “lifestyle” philosophies, death becomes a very important variable. La-violence-pour-la-violence contains an anti-life component as the lifestyle philosophies of both Futurism and ISIS are constantly underpinned by the presence of death. When Croce declares to have found in Futurism “a conception or interpretation of life and therefore, in its own way, a philosophy,”8 he fails to mention how strongly this “lifestyle” is linked to the notion of “death-style.” Marinetti believed that “death is a positive ‘life’ force, [that] it gives energy and dynamism to the universe” (Berghaus 1996: 21). In this sense, the above philosophical models are not lifestyle but “death-style” philosophies. They are similar to those of Spanish fascists who used the motto “Viva la Muerte” (Long Live Death). Martyr deaths are not necessarily religious but far-right groups such as “Blood and Honour” or criminal groups such as Latino gangs have inscribed them into their culture, too (see Vergani and Zuev: 12). Eco believes that “the Ur-Fascist hero is impatient to die. In his impatience, he more frequently sends other people to death” (Eco 1995). Also Hassan Al-Banna was eloquent on the uses of death, and wrote in 1937 an essay famously punning on “the art of death” (fann al-mawt) and that
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
“death is art” (al-mawt fann): “The Qur’an has commanded people to love death more than life. Unless ‘the philosophy of the Qur’an on death’ replaces ‘the love of life’ which has consumed Muslims, then they will reach naught. Victory can only come with the mastery of ‘the art of death’” (in Mitchell 1969: 207). The temptation to die as a martyr points to a disturbing “selfsufficiency” of death and violence as well as death for its own sake, which lets the act of dying appear in an “aesthetic” light. The Presence of Cruelty: Artaud and ISIS More can be said about cruelty and the art of the avant-garde. Antonin Artaud, another eager writer of avant-garde manifestos, insisted on the aesthetic power of cruelty, which he put forward as a “representational” model in art. Though Artaud was a member of the surrealist movement, he also had a Futurist penchant when writing that “my mind, exhausted by discursive reason, wants to be caught up in the wheels of a new, an absolute gravitation” (1988: 108), and that “the truth of life lies in the impulsiveness of matter” (109). After World War II, Artaud was drawing strangely mechanized and electrified bodies. Those bodies were more fragile than anything that Futurists could have accepted, but still they were mechanical. Artaud believed that a certain aestheticized cruelty can make representations more real because it releases the unexpressed emotions of the subconscious. His theater of cruelty is a “theater in which violent physical images will hypnotize the spectator’s sensitiveness” and in which we are confronted with a theatrical reality “in which one can believe” (Artaud 1964: 9). This theatrical reality is not a presentation but “real.” Derrida explains in his famous chapter on Artaud in Writing and Difference how Artaud’s theater manages to overcome representation through cruelty: “The theater of cruelty is not a representation. It is life itself, in the extent to which life is unrepresentable (irrépresentable). Life is the nonrepresentable (non représentable) origin of representation” (Derrida 1978: 294; French: 343). This is very much in agreement with Futurist principles of representation through violence. Consider Verdone’s description of Futurist art as an activity which “acquires a new signified, which refuses the known schemes and draws on violence and cruelty. On aggression and even injustice, letting ardor and enthusiasm impose upon caution and prudence.”9 Like for ISIS, a curious principle of la-violence-pour-la-violence does not represent reasonable violence directed at the destruction of an enemy. To use the words of Olivier Roy, it is “more anthropological than political.” Roy, in his article on fundamentalism, alludes to the tribal violence that “aims to establish a complex system of priority, which can be expressed through other symbolic relationships” (Roy 1994: 148). As an anthropological fact, violence creates precisely the kind of necessity that Derrida wants to see in Artaud’s
work. Derrida quotes Artaud for whom cruelty signifies “rigor, implacable intention and decision,” as well as “irreversible and absolute determination” (Derrida 1978: 301; quotation from Theatre and its Double, p. 101). Apart from that, the ritually established la-violence-pour-la-violence is particularly convenient for still another reason: ISIS is obsessed with purity. La-violence-pour-la-violence is as pure as l’art-pour-l’art though it does not have to face the reproach of aestheticism. Benjamin had characterized l’art-pour-l’art as a “theology” obsessed with aesthetic purity (Benjamin 1936/2003: 17/215). As it is detached from social questions, l’art-pour-l’art enables a quasi-religious enjoyment of art. The same can be said about laviolence-pour-la-violence except that this is not an enjoyment of art but of violence. When violence acquires not only an aesthetic but also a ritual function, the result is the sacralization of violence. We join here the main idea of Benjamin’s text. Benjamin explains how in the modern epoch the autonomy of a work of art has been reinforced by its technical reproducibility. At the same time, he states the decline of autonomous aesthetic experience. The “aura” that includes the atmosphere of detached beauty in the context of aesthetic cults, gives a work of art its authenticity. Relying on its intrinsic power, it transcends ideological control or human interference. The aura disappears only partially with the disappearance of cults. Contrary to later theorists inspired by Benjamin, like John Berger, who believed that “the modern means of production have destroyed the authority of art” (Berger 1972: 33), Benjamin held that modern art’s emphasis on autonomy can also be understood as a renewed cult of the aura. This is particularly obvious with regard to the phenomenon of l’art-pour-l’art, which maintains a strong connection with ancient religious works (Benjamin: 16/224). Benjamin refers to romantic and symbolist aesthetic ideals, which are partially derived from Kant’s apotheosis of the artwork’s autonomy. According to Benjamin, in the modern world, art no longer functions in the realm of religious rituals; still it is able to function just “for itself.” This means that through technical reproducibility, art becomes even more l’art-pour-l’art. Very similarly, Marinetti affirms in his founding manifesto that European art has indeed achieved the end of what Benjamin would call “auratic age”: Automobiles are more beautiful than classic art (“a roaring motor-car that seems to run on shrapnel is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace”). Physical existence is the only reality there is, which is true even in art because all idealizations of art belong to a past era. The hypermediatization of ISIS propaganda videos benefits from precisely this pattern, and Benjamin’s thoughts about the reproducibility of art are here more pertinent than ever. ISIS propaganda evolved toward the
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
la-violence-pour-la-violence scheme whose end is the complete sacralization of violence. Crone holds that “the current rise of visual and social media” enables religious violence by means of “aesthetic technologies of the self, such as for instance jihad and martyr videos” (Crone 2014: 2). This is precisely a description of the above process. However, while for Benjamin reproducibility brought about a secularization of the image, in ISIS subculture, the images of la-violence-pour-la-violence adopt religious connotations. Futurists were—like all avant-garde artists—against l’art-pour-l’art, too, and thought that the world needs to be aestheticized by means of violence. The Futurist aesthetics is based on la-violence-pour-la-violence but not on l’art-pour-l’art. A curious ritualization of art becomes possible through the equation of art with violence. Logically, the most efficient way to aestheticize the world by means of violence is to declare art and violence identical. In “The Founding and Manifesto of Futurism,” Marinetti claims that “art can be nothing but violence, cruelty and injustice” (2009: 53). War should be seen as a collective festival and as a ritual, and World War I was “the finest Futurist poem that has materialized till now” (“In this Futurist year,” Marinetti 2007: 232). In 1915, at the outbreak of World War I, Marinetti praises in his manifesto “I poeti futuristi,” “the fantastic symphonies of shrapnel and the crazy sculptures that our inspired artillery forges in the enemy masses”;10 and in 1925, Futurist Fortunato Depero wins a gold medal for his painting War=Festival at the International Exhibition of Decorative Arts in Paris. The parallels with ISIS are obvious. The aesthetization of Islamic militarism cannot be carried out by “civilized” means but it needs a sacred form of violence. In both ISIS and Futurism there is a circular reasoning about the relationships between politics, aesthetization, and violence: (1) politics can be aestheticized through violence; (2) making politics violent is easier when the violence has been aestheticized/sacralized beforehand. In the end, for ISIS like for Futurists, violence becomes art and art become violence. Georg Seesslen therefore very aptly writes that for ISIS “terror is not the resistance of a pre-modern, anti-Enlightenment and anti-liberal movement against modernity. Rather it is the violent fusion with modernity” (Seesslen 2015). Futurism fits precisely into this pattern. The Futurist project to integrate life and art is paralleled by ISIS’s desire to integrate life and religion. In both cases the result is achieved through violence. ISIS propaganda always transmits the idea of a distinct lifestyle (or better: death-style) that the warrior should adopt. This alone can be seen as Futurist. Futurists also rejected art for art’s sake and always wanted art to be applied to life. When these principles are applied in a radical fashion, style and violence remain the only options. In the end, nihilism toward life leads both Futurists and ISIS to a curious “death-style” philosophy.
A “MODERN” SUBCULTURE In ISIS, the search for a “modern” lifestyle is supported by another paradoxical component. Though Roy (1994: 71) found those two elements exclusive, ISIS offers a strange mixture of revolutionary practice and virtue search, which, in return, leads to a lifestyle project that few people would have expected: Islam emerges as a protest culture for young people or as a modern subculture/counterculture. The subcultural aspect of ISIS can be detected when looking not at the geopolitics and ideology but at the “soft culture” of jihadism in the way in which it has been suggested by Thomas Hegghammer (see introduction). Angelo D’Orsi has called Futurism a “culture of refusal” (D’Orsi: 47). There is definitely something “subcultural” in Futurism if one thinks of the idealizing insistence on youth (il “giovanilismo,” “youthism”) that went as far as claiming that “war is the typical place for youths and that war is made by youths.”11 Further, subcultures and countercultures are “tribal” and often opposed to “rational” modern state systems or judiciary systems. Correspondingly, Alain Finkielkraut writes that radical Islam creates a “counter-culture as a common world by confusing human right and tribal rights” (in Devecchio 2015: 66). Subculture is usually defined as a possibly subversive cultural manifestation existing within a mainstream culture that opposes the latter’s “passively accepted commercially provided styles and meanings” (Riesman 1950: 361). Hebdige adds that it tends to end “in the construction of a style, in a gesture of defiance or contempt” (Hebdige 1979: 3). Hebdige’s explanations of subversion are inspired by the work of Julia Kristeva who highlights the technique of semantic subversion attributed to the modernist French poets Mallarmé and Lautréamont. Together with Arthur Rimbaud, those French fin de siècle avant-garde poets enacted an aesthetic revolution that led to cubism, Dadaism, surrealism, and Futurism. Sometimes the revolt gives way to crime. For Hebdige this culminates in a definition of subculture coming close to a proto-futurist statement: subculture leads to “the status and meaning of revolt, the idea of style as a form of Refusal, the elevation of crime into art” (Hebdige: 2). Hebdige says this about Jean Genet. Does it mean that subculture is Futurism by default? Subculture represents the matrix for revolt and for aestheticized crime and ISIS is animated by the same paradigm. One of the most important features of this new subculture is its urbanity. The other is glamour. The urbanization of jihadism began in the early 1990s when Islamists and guerillas adapted to modern, urban settings in several places. Already at that time, Roy had noted the use of modern weapons and communication technologies (Roy 1994: 4). Twenty years later, the ISIS version of jihad as a modern subculture is about to accomplish this development.
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
Technology is not the only item that is imported from the West. It has been shown in the preceding chapters that ISIS copies an entire aesthetic agenda from Western subcultures or countercultures. The image of the “cool” Jihadi is particularly prominent in propaganda directed to the West. ISIS’s Al Hayat Media (whose logo is a golden Arabic inscription strongly resembling the logo of the media chain Al-Jazeera), targets young non-Arabic speakers and distributes documentary-style videos in several languages.12 Often the films come with their own Hollywood-like trailers and adopt international broadcast standards. The Quilliam Foundation estimates that on average thirty-eight individual batches of propaganda are released every day by IS’s Media (Winter 2015). It is obvious that this public relation strategy contrasts with some fundamentalist ideologies, especially Wahhabism, which opposes imagery and whose cleric Shaykh al-Bazb wrote a whole book on the evils of photography and videos, claiming that photographers will suffer in hell (cf. Zeidan 2003: 57). However, the strategy is efficient in subcultural terms. Western recruits are not so much impressed by coherent political programs but are tempted—often subconsciously—by subculture qualities like the feeling of grandeur and coolness. Ian Buruma finds a “macho swagger” (Buruma 2015) in the presentation of some ISIS terrorists, and the pirate-like black flags proudly carried by long rows of adepts convey not only the usual military spirit of the conqueror but also a cool adolescent slant of juvenile ghetto style. A not less adolescent concept is the image of an idealized male youth as the masked superhero and crusader. Abu Musab al-Zarqawi was even a victim of this aesthetics. The first Emir of Al-Qaeda in Iraq posted a video of himself striding in Rambo style through a street blasting a machine gun. It was his last video because the footage enabled American to detect his location. ISIS has compromised on key Salafi principles to accommodate a particular form of urban, subcultural techno-pop style. Publicity communications are inspired by video games, street art, gangsta rap, and graffiti, which is a rare finding for religious movements of any kind. Rap-chant sung by AfroGerman gangsta-rapper Denis Cuspert (also named Deso Dogg, Abu Talha al-Almani or Abou Maleeq), or by Abdel-Majed Abdel Bary (also L Jinny) from the United Kingdom, accompanies violent scenes. Manni Crone detects “specific ways of speaking, walking, dressing etc. that provide [the targeted youths] with a specific appearance, which materializes their being part of a specific militant subculture” (Crone 2014: 299). Abdel Bari Atwan finds that “a kind of slang, melding adaptations or shortenings of Islamic terms with street language [which] is evolving among the English-language fraternity” (Atwan 2015: 14). Male narcissism and exhibitionism (which strikingly contrasts with the “cover-all” ideology for women) are central to this new jihadi culture. Danish extremists state in interviews that “when we walk in
the streets, people look at us like we are terrorists, people are afraid of us, [and] when some of my friends get on the bus the kuffars get off” (interviews by Hemmingsen 2014). For Hemmingsen, jihadism is a counterculture, and Claudia Danschke speaks of the emergence of “pop-jihad” in Germany (Dantschke 2013). Western fighters in particular, like to sport a particularly modern lifestyle on social media by using subcultural elements derived from American counter cultures. Western clothing items like hoodies and caps exists next to army clothing. In 2015, Western fighters represented nearly a fifth of foreigners fighting for ISIS in Syria/Iraq.13 According to Hamed Abdel-Samad, “The line between escapism and avant-gardism has now (. . .) become blurred—an unholy union that young German converts seem to find just as beguiling” (Abdel-Samed: 156). Glamour has become a main driving force (see Postrel 2015). In extreme cases, religion and politics are entirely neglected and ISIS lifestyle becomes bluntly hedonist: then selfies are taken in front of villas with swimming pools, women, and luxury cars. Overall there is a similarity with subculture of second-generation immigrants in Western countries (e.g., the French “cité”) whose values (music, drugs, and consumption) appear to be in constant conflict with those of Islam. I am not saying that those immigrants are terrorists, but there are clear similarities between jihadi culture and some forms of the subculture developed by this generation of immigrants in Western countries. In 1999, Olivier Roy diagnosed a lack of “cultural appeal” in Islam, especially for the younger generation because “Islamic religion can no longer be lived culturally and spontaneously in a self-evident fashion but is perceived as a body of religious imperatives” (Roy 1999: 26). The Imams would “break with the culture of the past that they perceive as a body of customs and loans that have perverted the primordial message” (22). With ISIS things have changed though not in the way one would have expected. The refusal of “Islam-culture” in favor of “Islam-religion” has resulted in the creation of a modern “Islam-subculture.” Ironically though totally in agreement with Roy’s findings, ISIS has recognized that a “fundamentalist culture” does not and cannot exist and that Western elements need to be borrowed. This is in keeping with a general religious trend that Roy has analyzed in his later work: “Religions are trawling for new cultural markers, in particular borrowed from youth culture” (Roy 2013: 12). Consequently, ISIS had to import Western subcultural elements in order to sell a comprehensive and attractive package of “progressive fundamentalism” to mainly Western youths. It is interesting to note a significant difference between Christian and ISIS fundamentalism in this context. Initially, Christian fundamentalists walked a path similar to the one described above. They too, abandoned their original, puritan opposition to culture and began to deliver rock music, soap operas, and gadgets like posters and mugs to a Christian audience. They began
The Futurist Aesthetics of ISIS
offering “New Age style” publications on psychology, self-help, and positive thinking that are only tangentially related to Christianity. The “Electronic Church” multiplied this entertainment industry, which can appear as a prototype for later ISIS ambitions. However, overall, the Christian projects are permeated by the pure and naïve optimism of “positive thinking,” which is different from the Futurist brand of “artificial optimism” that is part and parcel of this brand of this branch of modern Islam. As will be shown in the conclusion, Futurist artificial optimism is an optimism that never fully represses its negative counterpart (Poggi: xi) and can therefore quickly proceed to violence. For modern extremist Islam, hip-hop and Punk are more suitable than rock whereas the twisted attitude of a Futurist “artificial optimism” is entirely missing in the Christian counterpart. Even the (relatively aggressive) “Invisible Children” campaign that was organized by Evangelical Christians in 2012 heavily invested into hard rock culture but stayed away from hip-hop. Is this the only way in which “religious youth culture” can be established for young Muslims? Does it have to integrate such well-established Western elements? Often those elements are only loosely related or even antagonistic to the religion’s core message. Does religion, even radical Islam, really need them? Maybe the answer is yes. Even Iranian revolutionary music had to adopt elements from Western music to become popular. Revolutionary marches played on Radio Teheran normally follow the rules of Western military music (see Roy 1994: 198; and Ahmadi 2003), and this despite the revolutionaries’ anti-Western attitude.
NOTES 1. Dabiq is the name of a small city located in Northwest Syria close to Aleppo where, according to a well-known hadith, an apocalyptic battle will take place between Muslims and their enemies before the ultimate defeat of the Romans at Constantinople. The location also has parallel historical significance as the site of a decisive battle in 1516 between the Ottomans and the Mamluks, which led to ottoman victory and the consolidation of the last recognized Islamic caliphate. On October 16, 2016, Turkish-backed rebels recaptured Dabiq from the Islamic State. 2. Though Stéphane Mallarmé is a symbolist, he glorified as early as in 1897, in his Sur le beau et l’utile, the aesthetics of the machine, and should therefore be seen as a true precursor of Futurism (Mallarmé 2003). 3. The technique to film attacks from multiple camera angles has been introduced by Al-Qaeda around 2005 in Iraq (Stenesen 2017: 121). 4. Some futurists like Lucio Venna moved closer to constructivism. 5. Alexandre Astruc’s concept of the “pen-camera” establishes the expressions of cinema as an activity of writing. Astruc intends to grasp “any kind of reality” directly and not through signs. The caméra-stylo approach implies a complex dialectical
exchange of objective and subjective positions: in a film “recorded” by a caméra-stylo there is neither the evocation of subjective, intimate symbols nor is there an objectively “recorded” reality but the abstract language of cinema expresses itself directly. “By language I mean a form in which and by which an artist can express his thoughts, however abstract they may be, or translate his obsessions exactly as he does in the contemporary essay or novel. That is what I would like to call this new age of cinema, the age of caméra-stylo” (Astruc 1968: 18). See also Botz-Bornstein 2007: 46–50. 6. In a speech on the “beauty and necessity of violence” given in 1910, Marinetti refers to Sorel (Marinetti 1935 ; see also Eynsteinsson and Liska 2007). 7. The core definitions of Muslim identity in modern times are: to consider the Quran to be the verbatim word of God, to follow the Sunnah (the verbally transmitted teachings of the prophet as well as reports about him) and the Five Pillars of Islam. 8. “concezione o interpretazione della vita, e perciò, a suo modo una filosofia” (Bari 1934: 253). 9. “aquista un significato nuovo, che rifiuta gli schemi conosciuti e attinge alla violenza e alla crudeltà, all’aggressione e all’ingiustizia perfino, imponendosi sulla cautela e sulla prudenza, con l’ardore e l’entusiasmo” (Verdone: 8). 10. “le formidabili sinfonie degli shrapnels e le folli sculture che la nostra ispirata artiglieria foggia nelle masse nemiche” (Marinetti 1977: 19). 11. “la guerra e il luogo tipico dei giovani, la guerra e fatta dei giovani” (D’Orsi: 72). 12. Other media companies are al-Furqan and al-Itisam. 13. Estimates from January 2015 according to the International Centre for the Study of Radicalization (ICSR) in collaboration with the Munich Security Conference. Ingram (2016: 458) confirms this number and adds that the number of foreign fighters has doubled over a period of eighteen months since June 2014. These are only very rough estimates and to the best of the author’s knowledge there are no reliable numbers of foreign fighters in ISIS.
From Cyberpunk back to Futurism The Trajectory of ISIS
FUTURISM OR “NO FUTURE”? A profound sense of crisis produces in both Futurism and ISIS jihadism an aggressive attitude toward the present state of society, a state that is supposed to be overcome through violence and an exaltation of technology. In this context Futurists intended to turn themselves into “primitives of a new sensibility” (“Futurist Painting: Technical Manifesto”). The slogan appears not only in this manifesto but also in several other statements made by Futurist painters between 1912 and 1914 (see Boccioni 1910: 29; 1912: 49; 1914: 176). Through this new sensibility “horror is transformed into elation, but elation so extreme that it suggests horror” (Rainey about the Futurists, 2009: 6). The latter sentence is conceptually very efficient and should be considered one of the most fundamental Futurist principles. It expresses the fundamentals of ISIS ideology equally well. At first sight, suicide bombings and the wish to die as a hero can appear as extreme manifestations of a “No Future” attitude and thus of nihilism. Should ISIS, therefore, not be opposed to Futurism because: how can a movement calling itself “Futurist” have no future? From this point of view, ISIS can indeed appear as nihilist and incompatible with the virulent optimism of Futurist artists of the 1920s. However, ISIS is not nihilist for the simple reason that purely nihilistic attitudes are incompatible with Salafism and jihadism. ISIS ideology is replicating the fundamentals of ideologues such as Sayyid Qutb (a founding member of the Muslim Brothers) and Abdullah Azzam (a founding member of Al-Qaeda), both of whom presented Islam as a perfect, all-encompassing guide for individual and collective life. There is no space for nihilism in those ideologies. For Salafists, only God can decide who has to die. 53
It is therefore more correct to say that jihadists play with nihilist motives (such as death, terror, and destruction) as they are confronted with a crisis, but that this nihilism is constantly overcome through optimistic activism and violence. Futurists maintained the same relationship with optimism and activism. The actions of ISIS can denote a nihilistic attitude only when observed from an outside point of view while in the eyes of the perpetrators, those actions are not negative and nihilistic at all. Ferrarotti has called the Futurist optimism a “bursting of vital energies” (“espressione di dirompenti energie vitali”) (Ferrarotti 2016: 60). Similar to Futurists, the adepts of ISIS transform horror into elation “but elation so extreme that it suggests horror,” to again use the words of Futurists. This means that what we experience as horror is for them pure elation. Then even violence can have an elevating and moral character as it is distinct from the random and brutal force of the ruling class: “Violence has both an ideological and amoral character and should not be confused with brutality or with bourgeois force,” concludes Ferrarotti.1 In the conclusion I will explain that this is neither regular optimism nor nihilism but “artificial optimism,” which is another genuinely Futurist principle. ISIS ISIS2 originated in 1999. Progressively distancing itself from its parent organization Al-Qaeda and finally cutting all ties with it, ISIS managed to establish under the leadership of Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi (now “Caliph Ibrahim”) a large presence in Sunni-majority areas of Syria as well as in Iraq. However, the development of ISIS has not always been progressive; in 2007–2008 the Iraq-based Islamic State group faced near annihilation (Lahoud 2014: 15). After years of struggle, ISIS could book spectacular successes in 2014 when it drove Iraqi government forces out of key cities in western Iraq and consolidated control over central Libya. For some time, ISIS was ruling over a territory as large as the United Kingdom. Since its beginnings, ISIS has received important support from foreign fighters, many of whom are Westerners, up to the point that its powerful position in Syria is partly due to the influx of foreigners. In 2013 and 2014, some of the foreigners would be transferred from Syria to Iraq, which considerably boosted ISIS operations in Iraq (Milton 2014: 43). Beginning 2017, ISIS lost ground, populations (taxpayers), as well as fighters in the lands it occupies. The influx of foreign fighters rapidly decreased since Turkey closed the border to Syria. In July 2017, ISIS lost Mosul in Iraq, and by November, ISIS had lost the largest part of its previously owned territories and resources. The caliphate might have disappeared but not the dream of the caliphate. Many young men and women in East and West remain fascinated by the idea and existence
From Cyberpunk back to Futurism
of the Islamic State. The support for the concept of the Islamic State continues. Even if ISIS becomes purely virtual—which is highly unlikely—it will remain dangerous because its intrinsic aesthetics and philosophy continue to attract people. The ideas and especially the images of ISIS will stay, be it only because of the self-generating power that images have acquired in a globalized culture where terrorism “clones” itself, according to W. J. T. Mitchell (2011). The concept of glamour, so important for Western recruits, has certainly suffered as becomes clearest in the video Flames of War II from November 2017. In this video, ISIS fighters are shown in the district of Tadmur (Central Syria) trying to conquer a minor city. Finally, they obtain entrance, but the city is deserted, and the inhabitants have not left much behind. The rhetorical emphasis shifts from glamour to the pride of being the few of the few as well as to the moral obligation to remain steadfast on the path of guidance until the end. In the near future ISIS will have to live without the concept of glamour. CYBERPUNK Cyberpunk is a sub-branch of science fiction most often depicting the fusion of high technology and low life in postindustrial urban contexts. Cyberpunk started as a literary genre with the works of Phillip K. Dick, William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Bruce Bethke who were building on the earlier work of George Orwell, Ray Bradbury, and J. G. Ballard. In the 1980s, Cyberpunk was popularized by movies such as Blade Runner and The Terminator, and later by The Matrix. By the end of 1990s, Cyberpunk had become a catchword or a symbol for a certain cultural attitude developing in postindustrial Western countries and in Japan. Today Cyberpunk is not merely a genre but stands for an aesthetic code or perhaps even an ethical code. According to David Tomas, “Cyberpunk centers around an alternative postindustrial culture predicated on the interface of biotechnologically enhanced human bodies, interactive information technology, and omniscient corporate power” (Tomas 1989: 113). This is a radical reconstruction of reality exceeding everything Futurism ever wanted. A further difference is that novels by William Gibson, Bruce Sterling, and Bruce Bethke no longer manifest the optimistic avant-garde potential that was essential for the earlier phase of Futurism. Cyberpunk abandoned any optimism.3 Politically, the Cyberpunk universe is opposed to socialism. Huge differences between the rich and the poor created by the ruthless rule of big corporations are tacitly accepted. For Cyberpunks, socialism appears as a ridiculous utopia. Neoliberalism, with all its nihilist and Machiavellian implications, represents the politics of Cyberpunk. This project clashes with Futurism on the political level because Futurism has a leftist origin and
never entirely abandoned its initial ideas about social justice. In 1920, when Mussolini shifted nearly the entire leadership of his Fasci di Combattimento toward the far right, pushing almost all leftists toward resignation, Marinetti criticized the “Fasci of having estranged themselves from the laboring masses and of offering insufficient support to the proletarian demands for social justice” (Berghaus 2006: 175). The interest in social justice is still present in Neo-Futurism and especially in Afrofuturism. Afrofuturism is represented by science fiction writers like Octavia Butler and Nnedi Okarafor who use tropes of science fiction and techno-culture in ethnic contexts and portray blackness as compatible with Futurism.4 Afrofuturism is not Afro-Cyberpunk. And the same interest in social justice is also dominant in modern Islamism. The emergence of Cyberpunk in the context of science fiction literature is an odd phenomenon. Science fiction has not always had the negative and dystopian view of the future that we find so dominant in Cyberpunk. For the largest part of the twentieth century, the agenda of science fiction coincided with the optimistic spirit projected by the Italian and Russian Futurists. As a matter of fact, the ideological origin of science fiction is Futurism. Thomas Michaud writes in his history of science fiction that “the Futurists’ belief in machines has served as the founding postulate of science fiction” (Michaud 2008: 215). True, dystopias existed long before Cyberpunk. Some early science fiction works foreshadow the Cyberpunk obsession with dystopia and a world in decline, for example Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World (1932), where technology and totalitarian systems control humans. Some decades earlier, H. G. Wells had presented the future as a time of catastrophes and degeneration in his classic The Time Machine (1895). However, during the first decades of the twentieth century, utopianism clearly dominated the field of science fiction. Robert Hugh Benson’s Lord of the World (1907) might be the last major attempt to paint the future in dark colors. In general, under the influence of Futurism, science fiction was positive-minded. Futurism vibrated an optimistic attitude toward a bright and technicized future and believed that a new and better world could be built once the old one had been destroyed. Futurism explored the benefic relationships between technology and society and put speed forward as a central and positive value of technological development. Though the Futurist influence is often more complex and indirect as Michaud’s statement might suggest, in popular culture, Futurist utopianism became commonplace. The American “pulp era ” science fiction of the 1920s–1930s was clearly Futurist: it devoted itself to excitement, sensationalism but also to technology education. According to The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, the writings of this era were “mostly cheerful” as were those published by the science fiction magazine Amazing Stories founded by Hugo Gernsback in 1926. Gernsback “proselytized actively for technological optimism” (see the entry on “Optimism and Pessimism”). John W. Campbell,
From Cyberpunk back to Futurism
editor of the Astounding Science Fiction, even categorically “required a constructive attitude towards science from his contributors” (Encyclopedia, same entry). The so-called golden age of science fiction stretched from the late 1930s to the end of World War II and produced famous authors like L. Ron Hubbard, Isaac Asimov, Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and C. M. Kornbluth. Futurism developed at the same time. The Futurists even produced some utopian science fiction novels themselves. Marinetti’s Mafarka le futuriste: Roman Africain (1909) described the antics of a North African dictator who had a very masculine relationship with Futurist technology. The novel exalts heroism and the myth of the Übermensch, and Mafarka seems to be a symbolic incarnation of Marinetti’s interpretation of the Bergsonian élan vital (see Verdone 1973: 13). Other Italian Futurist authors who experimented with science fiction themes were the Futurist feminist Rosa Rosà and Count Vincenzo Fani Ciotto (Volt).5 Futurist science fiction supposed that “the old antithesis of Life and Dream has finally been overcome,” according to Mario Carli (see Berghaus 1996: 139), and that a concrete modern lifestyle could be designed. This also accords with the original Futurist project to create a holistic concept of life or a lifestyle in a way that was current in many progressive circles in 1920s Europe. Some Futurists (including Marinetti) propagated holistic medical trends such as physical activity, exposure to sunlight, fresh air, and even naturism. This was reported by L’Italia futurista in 1917 (Sica 2016: 65). Marinetti also developed Futurist principles on cooking and nutrition (La cucina futurista, 1932). All this was supposed to multiply the human vital energy and to vitalize society at times of decadence. Carli insisted that once the war is over, the Futurist warrior spirit should be perpetuated by other means: sport, adventure, travel, enterprise (D’Orsi: 100–101). What would be the purpose of this warrior spirit once the war is over? Apparently, there is no purpose because the new lifestyle is just a manifestation of the slancio vitale. Of course, the “Futurist lifestyle” is not necessarily as peaceful and harmonyseeking as those descriptions might let suppose. The influence of Futurist aesthetics on science fiction is strong. For the largest part of the twentieth century, the Futurists’ love of machines has left its mark on the image of a glorious future. Futurist architecture exercised a decisive influence. Visions like those of the Futurist architect and artist Antonio Sant’Elia, who insisted on the static and monumental character of modern architecture, inspired science fiction writers for decades. Sant’Elia projected an ambiance that remains conspicuous in the literary works of the time: We have lost the sense of the monumental, of heaviness, of the static (. . .). The elevators should not be exiled like solitary worms to the space next to the stairs, but the stairs, as they have become useless, should be abolished and elevators should climb like iron snakes along the facades [to confirm] the taste of lightness, practicality, the ephemeral, and speed.”6
Thea von Harbou presented in her expressionist novel Metropolis (1925) Futurist views of a technologically advanced city and even H. G. Wells abandoned his earlier dystopian visions and turned toward utopia. His novel Men like Gods (1923) describes an idyllic, well-organized, peaceful—though admittedly anarchic—future state thriving through technological progress. The events of World War II made technological optimism impossible. With the dropping of the nuclear bomb on Hiroshima in 1945, utopia-based science fiction disappears. The year 1945 announces the terminus of the nineteenth-century belief in unlimited progress of science and of societies. The Cold War prolonged this dystopian paradigm. By and by Futurism loses the future. Today, we have no literary imaginary of what the world will look like in 2050 while still in the 1960, the science fiction predictions about the “Year 2000” were rather concrete. The so-called New Wave of science fiction (starting around 1965) tends to highlight anger and despair and concentrates on the most negative aspect of human civilization. Experiences of the war created a pessimistic mentality, which would become particularly striking in leftist circles. According to Hannah Arendt, This is the first generation to grow up under the shadow of the atom bomb. They inherited from their parents’ generation the experience of a massive intrusion of criminal violence into politics: they learned in high school and in college about concentration and extermination camps, about genocide and torture, about the wholesale slaughter of civilians in war without which modern military operations are no longer possible even if restricted to “conventional” weapons. (Arendt 1970: 14)
The pacifism and anti-violence attitude that would soon become the main characteristics of this new leftist culture are linked in a convoluted way to this Cold War world which exceled not in activism but rather in “passive destruction” bordering on decadence. During the Cold War, the arming of entire continents would progress in a silent, almost vegetal manner. At the end of the 1970s, the modern and optimistic visions of the future that had been typical for the avant-garde movements of the 1910s had become entirely dark, pessimistic, cynical, but also more ironic. In 1983, the new phenomenon would receive a name: Bruce Bethke published a short story called “Cyberpunk.” The shift from Futurism to Cyberpunk has not only literary implications. Given the link that earlier science fiction had—through Futurism—with the modernist tradition, it is correct to conclude that Cyberpunk effectuated a breach with modernism as well as with the entire European avant-garde tradition. Cyberpunk inaugurated the era of postmodernism in science fiction. The website definitions.net explains that the “avant-garde” can be considered as “a hallmark of modernism, as distinct from postmodernism” (see the
From Cyberpunk back to Futurism
“avant-garde” entry). Few aesthetic ideologies can be considered more antithetical to postmodernism than Futurism. Postmodernism, which is historicizing, and Futurism, which leaves history behind, are diametrically opposed. Akbar Ahmed, in his Islam and Postmodernism, points to the growth of the heritage industry through which postmodern societies attempt to maintain a bond with the past: “The growth of a museum culture (in Britain a museum opens every three weeks, and in Japan over 500 have opened up in the last fifteen years) and a burgeoning ‘heritage industry’ that took off in the early 1970s, add another populist (though this time very middle-class) twist to the commercialization of history and cultural forms” (Ahmed 2003: 18). All this represents the most obvious clash with Marinetti’s encouragement to, first, “destroy museums, libraries, academies of every kind” and to “free this land from its smelly gangrene of professors, archeologists, tour guides [ciceroni] and antiquarians” (Marinetti 1909: 52); but to be historical at the same time by adhering to nationalism and various traditional values. NEO-FUTURISM Who today will be in favor of optimistic, utopian modernism? Who will be a Futurist in a world of Cyberpunk? Neo-Futurism exists but it is a relatively marginal phenomenon. In architecture, Neo-Futurism represents a utopian movement mainly reacting against the non-modern ambitions of postmodernism. The critic of postmodern art theory Hal Foster suggested the term Neo-Futurism in 1987 to “convey the need to respond to a new conjuncture of the technological (electronic redefinitions of time and space, genetic transformations of life and death)” (Foster 1987: 14). Neo-Futurism also exists in the form of an intellectual and artistic movement in Italy where Futurism has been rediscovered “after having been forgotten for decades” (Guerra 2011: 90). Leading contemporary Italian Futurist Roberto Guerra writes that Italian Neo-Futurism strives to create “a happy and authentic avant-garde” (“felice avantgardia autentica”) in the sense of Marinetti and his associates. For this purpose, Neo-Futurism distances itself from the “depressione esistenziale” of Cyberpunk and Guerra calls Neo-Futurism “postcyberpunk” (28). The new Italian movement attempts to deploy techno-optimism with regard to all new technologies available and to create new epistemologies. The most obvious results are the engagement in transhumanism and the will to develop cybercultures in diverse contexts, for example, in the form of digital art, mind uploading, human hibernation, and connectivism. In this sense, Neo-Futurism wants to effectuate “una poetica neorinascimentale eletronica” (42) that follows the national scientific tradition of “Leonardo, Galileo [and] Marinetti” (54). Transhumanism was also on the agenda of Futurists, not only because
of Marinetti’s (relatively vague) descriptions of the “uomo moltiplicato,” but also because in the mid-1930s Futurists sought a leading role in the eugenics campaign promoted by the fascist regime. In his preface to Mafarka le futuriste Marinetti announces that “the hour has come where men with large temples et chins of steel procreate prodigiously, by the mere effort of their bulging will, giants with infallible gestures” (Marinetti 1909: xi). The aim was to create a “superuomo” to be achieved by expanding natural resources through technological means. The process of vital expansion, however, was to be contained “within clearly demarcated borders of gender and race” (Blum 1996: 88). Futurists created a national Federation of Energo-Naturist Groups. Neo-Futurists have inherited other items from the Futurists. They use the strongly anti-PC language typical for early Futurism and older themes such as the fusion of science and art (Guerra 2011: 12) as well as speed. For Guerra, the input of “traditional” Futurism remains essential: “Whoever negates the Futurist roots is substantially only a generic technophile whose ideas remain anchored in the old word” (91). Today like in the 1910s, Futurists should ask themselves whether “we have succeeded to liberate this country from professors, archeologists, tour guides and antiquarians” (37). Neo-Futurism maintains the anarchic and anti-bourgeois undertone of classic Futurism (“viva la lotte technoanarchica,” p. 74) as well as its criticism of a liberal (often leftist) culture. Today like in the past, Futurism is against “a certain belated paleobourgeois alternativism (alternativismo paleoborghese)” as well as against the “scorie del post 1968” (Guerra 2011: 12). Alternative hippy culture, as it is so often linked to techno-criticism, is despised as pessimistic. According to Neo-Futurists, these technophobe currents of alternative politics represent an irrational appeal to religion and stand for “the irrational fear of machines and the last flight of liberty of our industrial society, which is still polluted with religion. We transform ‘68 into a victorious computer [computer vincente]” (17). Any negativism contained in techno-skepticism needs to be discarded. What matters is “the optimistic explosion of the vitalistic impetus (impeto vitalistica) as ideological luggage” (58). Italian Neo-Futurism has a right-wing branch in France. Guerra points to French far-right ideologists Guillaume Faye and Alain de Benoist (25) because both have issued similar Futurist statements in the past. Faye’s “Archeofuturism” is particularly interesting for Neo-Futurists as it “amplifies a certain mytho-anthropological dimension of Futurism in the light of posthuman times” (25). Faye is celebrated as a real “anti-decadenti” (we remember that Futurism was directed against symbolism, which has a strong link with the later “decadents”). Guillaume Faye is one of the principal theoreticians of the French Nouvelle Droite (New Right) of the 1970s and 1980s and has predominantly been working on questions of cultural and biological identity. In his L’Archéofuturisme (1998), Faye offers a mixture of high-tech theories and
From Cyberpunk back to Futurism
traditionalist views, a mixture that is indeed reminiscent of Italian Futurism. Faye’s earlier works concentrated on anti-Americanism and anti-Zionism, which led him to declare his support for the Iranian revolution. His antiZionism even inspired him to suggest an alliance between European and Arab nations. Faye made this suggestion in his book Why We Fight.7 Who else believes in Futurism today? Apart from the Italian Neo-Futurists, UFO religions like Raelism and Scientology (the latter was founded by the “Golden Age of Science Fiction” writer L. Ron Hubbard) make use of a technological imaginary emphasizing success and perfection. Raelism is a new religion founded by Frenchman Claude Vorilhon and is most current in Quebec. Technology is supposed to free humans of burdens like aging and death as well as of work and pregnancy. In Raelism and Scientology, we see the reflourishing of pre-Cyberpunk techno-optimism. It is exactly the kind of techno-optimism that was current in science fiction before the 1960s, which had a close link with Futurism. In UFO religions, modernity (and not postmodernity) continues to represent a belief system equipped with a religious imagery. This system insists on the absolute values of progress, innovation, and happiness. In the Western world, only Neo-Futurists (and it is interesting to note that some of them have neo-fascist tendencies) subscribe today to similar myths. However, a non-Western counterpart exists, too. The most prominent group replicating those same myths in the non-Western world are Islamic fundamentalists working in the service of ISIS. FUTURISM, MODERNITY, AND POSTMODERNITY The shift from postmodern Cyberpunk back to avant-garde-Futurism that ISIS is trying to enforce represents a clear step in the direction of early modernism. I will show in this chapter that radical Islam—ISIS in particular— wants to leave dystopian, postmodern Cyberpunk behind and return to the more modern, utopian expressions of Futurism. The world of ISIS is neither that of Bladerunner nor that of Akira, but ISIS effectuates the transfer from dystopia back to utopia by using religious elements as well as a certain Futurist aesthetics. This evolution also has ontological dimensions as it signifies the passage from a virtual Cyberpunk reality to the more “analog” reality of Futurism. Forgotten are simulations and the crisis of modernity that had brought about the postmodern era. For ISIS, things are simply what they represent. Gilles Deleuze could already sense the postmodern in modernity when writing about the last phase of modernity: “Modern thought was born out of the failure of representation, as the loss of identities, and the discovery of all the forces that were acting under the representation of the identical. The modern world is one of simulacra” (Deleuze 1994: 301). Strictly speaking, this is
not modern but postmodern and it can only be overcome if one decides—as do ISIS and a relatively new anti-liberal, populist politics in Western countries—to recede to earlier, Futurist, phases of modernity. As mentioned, Cyberpunk became a popular and fully fledged aesthetic expression in the 1990s. The world view of Cyberpunk is cynical. In this it is opposed to Futurism because in the latter—like in terrorism—even explosions can evoke positive associations. Umberto Boccioni’s painting Elasticity (1912) represents an explosion in all its chromatic beauty without any connotations of destruction or doom: it is a beautiful explosion of colors. The Futurist aesthetics of the machine does not simply appropriate the innocent Chaplinesque machine for political purposes. Chaplin’s mechanical dance with machines leads to occasional misfortunes while in Futurism machines can be evil, which is why Futurists even had an occasional machine angst (Berghaus 2009: 28). Terrorism develops this aspect. Machines are used as torture instruments and airplanes and cars are used as killing machines. Because of this negativity, many people see ISIS terrorism as part of a “No Future” culture or even identify Futurism with nihilistic Cyberpunk. However, Cyberpunk is different because it does not use machines by actively following a political or religious goal. Cyberpunk disasters tend to take place in the aftermath of nuclear wars and this imagology has had an entirely different impact on the perception of machines and of technology in the twentieth century. As Cyberpunk emphasizes the aesthetics of catastrophes and ruins, the machine does not fight for a certain vision of the future but becomes part of the general disaster. This is opposed to both Futurism and ISIS terrorism, where the machine is always supposed to win. In Cyberpunk, the machine no longer rules over the world but tends to disintegrate, either by being fused with organic matter, as it happens in nanotechnology and as it is even celebrated in Biopunk, or simply by being torn to shreds. Nicolas Zurbrugg noted the theoretical scope of this shift in the perception of technologies as it has been formulated by postmodern philosophers in the twentieth century. In agreement with the above reflections on the parallelism between Futurism and modernity, Zurbrugg interprets this shift as a passage from the historical avant-garde to the cultural movement of continental techno-criticism pointing out that there is a “discontinuity between Marinetti’s early celebration and Benjamin’s, Baudrillard’s and Virilio’s subsequent denigration of technoculture. [As a result] the postmodern can be seen as an ‘anti-modern’ era, increasingly distanced from the kind of cultural authenticity generally associated with ‘tradition’ and ‘ritual function’” (Zurbrugg 1999: 96). Cyberpunk ceased to build on Futurist visions but cultivated links with other cultural phenomena. It received strong influences from the New Age culture of the 1960s and 1970s, a period that was strongly marked by political and scientific relativism as well as by antiauthoritarianism. In Cyberpunk, those leftist
From Cyberpunk back to Futurism
cultural sensibilities are combined with the aesthetics of Punk culture of the 1980s. Another cultural particularity of postmodern culture is métissage, which is an important theme in Cyberpunk. The multilayered mixtures of the postmodern world create a multicultural flavor incompatible with any kind of purism. Once the principles of postmodernist montage are applied, it is also possible to amalgamate highbrow and popular culture. Or it is possible to amalgamate the alienating and the accessible. The outlook of postmodern culture has always been open and liberal, which means that postmodern culture is anti-purist. This represents a further point differentiating it from Futurism, from far-right “archeofuturism,” as well as from radical Islam. Some scholars, as well as the general public, have attempted to depict Italian Futurism differently. On websites bearing names like “Cyberpunk Underground Italia,” Futurism is celebrated as a form of proto-Cyberpunk. This is strictly speaking nonsensical because the modern cannot be linked to the postmodern in such a way. Implicit in Cyberpunk is a postmodern aesthetic paradigm enabling adventurous stylistic mixtures; it can easily end up in an “anything goes” attitude. For Futurism, on the other hand, only few things “go”: the agenda must be progressive, optimistic, and turn its back on history. In spite of this, some people have detected an “anything goes” attitude in Futurism. Steve Dixon, author of Digital Performance, believes that “Futurist thought laid many of the foundations of what today we understand as a postmodern aesthetic” (Dixon 2007: 50). I would object that an avant-garde movement like Futurism cannot be seen as postmodern because for the moderns, the overcoming of premodernity signified a rejection (and not an acceptance) of stylistic mixtures. More precisely, Futurism rejected those stylistic mixtures that were (already) common in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. Futurist attacks of these stylistic strategies are amazingly similar to attacks of parallel practices common today in postmodernism. A quotation from architect Sant’Elia complaining about the “meaninglessness of the word neo-classicism” makes this particularly clear: After the eighteenth century there was no longer any architecture. A silly mixture of the most diverse stylistic elements, used to mask the skeleton of the modern house, is called modern architecture. The new beauty of concrete and iron will be desecrated with the superposition of carnivalesque decorative junk that is justified neither by constructive necessities nor by our taste.8
Sant’Elia speaks out against the “kaleidoscopic appearing and reappearing of forms” which can indeed be read as an anti-postmodernism statement avant l’heure. At the same time, I have to admit that a few minor reasons why Futurism could be seen as a postmodern project do exist. The situation is interesting and needs to be examined more closely. On one point, I agree with
Dixon that Marinetti’s manifesto “The Variety Theatre” (1913) describes an artistic philosophy closely akin to the contemporary postmodern sensibility, proposing a form of theater that can look deconstructive. These are the passages from Marinetti’s text that Dixon puts forward. Futurism wants an ironic decomposition of all the worn-out prototypes (. . .) [revealing] the necessity of complication (. . .) the fatality of the lie and the contradiction. (. . .) It whimsically mechanizes sentiment, disparages and tramples down (. . .) every unhealthy idealism. Instead, the Variety Theatre gives a feeling and a taste for easy, light and ironic loves. (. . .) The Variety Theatre destroys the Solemn, the Sacred, the Serious and the Sublime in Art with a capital A. It cooperates in the Futurist destruction of immortal masterworks, plagiarizing them, parodying them, making them look commonplace by stripping them of their solemn apparatus as if they were mere attractions. (1971: 180–183 quoted in Dixon 2007: 50)
Here, Dixon finds a “postmodern sensibility” (50). True, the destruction of logic as well as the insistence on irony, and so on, look postmodern, but it is important to understand that in Marinetti’s text those devices are presented as weapons able to overcome the aesthetics of the premodern. Another reading of this text should therefore put forward the sentences that appear right at the beginning of this manifesto. Here Marinetti says that Futurist theater “is lucky in having no tradition, no masters, no dogma, and it is fed by swift actuality” (180). These are definitely no historicizing postmodern precepts but indicators of a radical sense of modernity. Furthermore, Marinetti reproaches contemporary theater that it “vacillates stupidly between historical construction (pastiche or plagiarism) and photographic reproduction of our daily life” (180). Again, this sounds rather like an anti-postmodern statement. THE TWIN TOWERS THROUGH FUTURISM Cyberpunk flourished in the 1990s. Equally in the 1990s, a new movement began to appear in the international media and quickly became an important topic: Islamic terrorism. The world became fully aware of the existence of this radical movement when Al-Qaeda inaugurated the twenty-first century by destroying the World Trade Center in Manhattan. The twenty-first century, which represents the mythical age of Cyberpunk, could not have been inaugurated in a more Futurist fashion: airplanes were sent into the skyscrapers. In Italian Futurism, from the 1930s onward, airplanes and aviation became the most outstanding incarnations of a particular aesthetics. “Aeropittura” works (air paintings) by Tullio Crali (e.g., Aeroplani sulla metropolieliche, Tricolore, Bombardamento Aereo or Volo Radente [strafe]) show airplanes
From Cyberpunk back to Futurism
swirling around modern skyscrapers and possibly crashing into them at any moment. Similar paintings were produced by Giacomo Balla (Balbo and the Italian Transatlantic Flyers), Giulio D’Anna (Dynamism of Train, Ship and Plane), and Tato (Metropolitan Airplane, Sorvolando in Spirale il Colosseo). For Futurists, aviation represented “the union of mundanity and flight competition, record, and exasperated attempts at technological innovation. Those were typical and proper for the Futurist décor.”9 Marinetti describes the almost mystical experience he had when an airplane flew over his head in 1909: “Yesterday an airplane flew over my head! From underneath, I could see the living man sitting on his seat, the legs spread . . . And suddenly something mysterious happened in my head . . . A little like a reverse vertigo. It was as if I had seen this man with other eyes than mine, like with his!?!?! I watched him flying away, always in the air.”10 Later the aeropittura would become a functional part of fascist propaganda (see Viola: 109). The World Trade Center attack announces the beginning of a Futurist aesthetics in Islamic terrorism. Though carried out by Al-Qaeda, terrorist aesthetics reached a turning point that ISIS would develop. The World Trade Center attack announces the age of terrorist Futurism. The Futurist input in 9/11 (fig. 3.1) concerns not only the use of airplanes. The entire explosion of the towers, so often shown in the media, can be perceived as an “explosion of colors” similar to the one in Umberto Boccioni’s Elasticity (fig. 3.2). The “elastic” and dynamic fire cloud emerging from the World Trade Center is orange just like in Boccioni’s painting from 1912. Therefore, the Twin Towers attack should be read as a symbolic message announcing the end of
Figure 3.1 Twin Towers Attack. Source: Still from the video “The Survivor” produced by The Telegraph.
Figure 3.2 Umberto Boccioni, Elasticity (1912).
Cyberpunk and inaugurating a new interpretation of the future determined by “Islamic Futurism.” The imagination of Futurists and modern terrorists functions along similar lines. However, contrary to what happened in the first decades of the twentieth century, the new version of Futurism is not linked to communism or fascism but to the ideology of Islamism. Not everybody is aware of those parallels. André Glucksmann places on the cover of his book on the 9/11 attacks an eerie “Cyberpunk” picture of the destroyed ground zero. This is an aesthetic misfit because Bin Laden’s message was Futurist and not nihilist. Glucksmann attempts to explain in his Dostoïevski à Manhattan (2002) the “nihilism” of the terrorists, reinforcing the Cyberpunk appeal of the cover picture. Vice versa, Glucksmann depicts “the West” as prototypically anti-nihilistic and optimistic to a point that it could ignore for years the emerging nihilism hidden within Islamic
From Cyberpunk back to Futurism
terrorism. To make things more graphic, Glucksmann compares Al-Qaeda with Dostoyevsky’s Raskolnikov and the Twin Tower attacks with the fires of the Tsarist Empire. I believe that the contrary is true: the West is nihilist and addicted to Cyberpunk while Islamic radicals are Futurist and optimistic. I therefore side with Baudrillard’s analysis of the 9/11 events when he writes that “current terrorism is not the descendant of nihilism” but of optimism (Baudrillard 2002: 67). It is rather the West that has been vegetating in nihilist Cyberpunk ambiance, and ISIS tries to bring relief by providing an optimistic kind of modernism. The French anti-liberal writer Philippe Muray wrote right after 9/11 in his book Chers Djihadistes: “We had liquidated all our values; that was indeed the sense of our whole history, and you bring us back our phantom identity, our ‘integrity’, which you set against a disintegrated world” (Muray 2002: 95). The “Nihilist West” The idea of a “nihilist West” has a long tradition. It is at least as old as Nietzsche’s thoughts on “the revenge of the weak” and it has been amply discussed by socialist critics of Western culture in the twentieth century. As a rule, leftists tended to be more critical of “the West,” and the only reason why they would not join Nietzsche was that they found his attitude toward Western decadence too complacent and decadent in its own right. A good example of this are the writings of Marxist philosopher George Lukács, who criticizes not only the decadence of Western culture at large but also the typically Western complacent play with decadence occurring in late capitalist culture. Does this play with decadence represent the roots of postmodernism? It certainly does, and, as a result, Lukács’s descriptions of relativism and nihilism, current, according to him, since the nineteenth century, concord not only with the spirit of postmodernism but also with that of Cyberpunk: For a long while, only the progressive opposition critics had been exposing and condemning the symptoms of decadence, whereas the vast majority of the bourgeois intelligentsia clung to the illusion of living in the “best of all worlds,” defending what they supposed to be the “healthy condition” and the progressive nature of their ideology. Now, however, an insight into their own decadence was becoming more and more the hub of these intellectuals’ self-knowledge. This change manifest itself above all in a complacent, narcissistic, playful relativism, pessimism, nihilism, etc. (Lukács 1974: 13/ Engl.: 316).
The younger Lukács was influenced by anarcho-syndicalist Ervin Szabó. Szabó introduced him to the works of Georges Sorel, which might be the reason why Lukács’s positions sound modernist and are reminiscent of Futurist
statements. The passage can be read as a Cyberpunk versus Futurism confrontation avant l’heure. When Islamic terrorists attacked the Twin Towers they wanted to destroy the West’s decadent Cyberpunk culture or postmodernism. In many ways, they succeeded. After 9/11, malls, which can be considered as the temples of postmodernism, had to be turned into high security zones. In general, Islam is alien to the Western developments criticized by Lukács in the above passage. This emerges most clearly from descriptions in Akbar S. Ahmed’s book Postmodernism and Islam (1992). In the preface to the 2003 edition (written right after 9/11), Ahmed attempted to make the non-West versus postmodernism dichotomy as clear as possible. According to Ahmed, the discussion of postmodernism has simply had no chance to reach the main body of the Muslim world, and in this region the whole topic of postmodernity is still misunderstood and deemed unnecessary: Muslim societies, still mainly rural and tribal, were struggling to come to terms with nation-states (. . .) Indeed, the struggle in the Muslim world was still very much with the main issues of modernity—the relationship between a strong central state asserting its own version of the grand Narrative and tribal groups; the question of national identity; the debate about the limits of economic development as a marker of progress. (xii)
The above sentences from the preface of Ahmed’s book were spoken during a discussion taking place within the “decidedly postmodern décor” of the house of postmodernity guru Charles Jencks, where some leading intellectuals had come together to define their own position within postmodern culture and to which Ahmed had been invited. Ahmed reports how “the distinguished postmodernists present looked distinctly uncomfortable at my frankness. Their assumptions were ethnocentric and rested on the belief that all world civilizations would passively follow the path to postmodernism” (xii). On the other hand, Ahmed fully supports the thesis that postmodernism came to an end with the events of 9/11 when writing: “multicultural harmony, eclecticism and juxtapositions which were at the heart of what commentators called postmodernism were halted in their tracks on Sept 11, 2001 and postmodernism lay buried in the rubble on that fateful day” (ix). In other words, what Bin Laden started was a new grand narrative of good against evil, a narrative that would leave postmodern relativism behind for good. All this is not new but has a parallel in history, which is represented by the crisis of liberalism. At that time, Futurism was seen as a possible remedy. The Futurist movement peaked in 1913 because the epoch of liberalism (in Italy often referred to as “Giolittismo”)11 had come to an end. During the liberal era of Giolitti, political culture was believed to be stable, scientific, and based on
From Cyberpunk back to Futurism
logic. Now this logic would no longer be taken for granted. The patriarchic reasonableness could no longer be accepted as an absolute truth. To this hypocritical liberalism Futurism would oppose its own modernist convictions. History repeats itself. A hundred years later, in June 2014, ISIS proclaimed its caliphate in the Middle East. One of the reasons why ISIS could be so successful was that liberal powers had once again shown signs of weakness and instability. Western culture that was believed to be stable, scientific, and based on logic, looked much weaker than at the time of modernism. In some sense, this is no surprise as weakness and instability are part of the postmodern cultural program. Postmodernism attempts to construe rationality away from modern notions of reason, with their aggressive assertions about the “certainly true” and the “really real.” Nationalism is impossible for those reasons. Bérénice Levet writes that in liberal cultures, “nation and nationalism are obscene words used only by flag waving jingoists. Liberalist relativism, together with neoliberal education, has weakened the cultural foundations of Western nations in which even assimilation is refused as a colonial demand and replaced with multiculturalism” (Levet 2017: 77). Gianni Vattimo coined the term “weak thought,” which is supposed to prevent all kinds of “fake strengths” such as religious fanaticism but also the fixation on science and technology. Weak thought refuses theological and scientific rigidity and opposes all simplistic physico-mechanical visions of social life as well as all authoritarian structures. Deconstruction, decolonization, decontextualization, desexualization are the de’s of postmodern or post-metaphysical thought. It is easy for ISIS to interfere in this weakened, deconstructed universe. ISIS reinstalls “strong thought” in the form of finality, objectivity, unproblematic concepts, and interpretative adequacy into a world that has declared itself “weak.” ISIS overcomes postmodernism by equipping contemporary culture with an ultimate normative foundation. Populist movements in Western countries who are in search of more authoritarian governments and stronger identities are doing the same. Further Similarities and Differences between Cyberpunk and Futurism In Cyberpunk, the acceleration of speed leads to the acceleration of time. This is the basis of cyberculture, as was shown by Mark Dery in his Escape Velocity: Cyberculture at the End of the Century (1996) as well as by Paul Virilio in his La Vitesse de la libération (1995). Cyberpunk experiments with mind-body relationships suggesting new perceptions of reality and alternate realities. It is this fantasizing about different realities that distinguishes Cyberpunk from Futurism. Also Futurism is about experiments with speed and (at times) even about experiments with the body, but those experiments
are not supposed to generate an alternate reality. My thoughts on the relationships between Futurism and Cyberpunk are very much inspired by Franco Berardi’s book Dopo il futuro: Dal Futurism al Cyberpunk. L’esaurimento della Modernità (2013).12 Berardi explains that much of contemporary Western culture has shifted from an optimistic vision of the future that was still present in Italian Futurism, toward the pessimistic perceptions of the future of which Cyberpunk has become the ideology and the aesthetic expression. In this book, I want to show that ISIS intends to shift the vision back to Futurism. Berardi’s analysis is valid though it might be slightly simplifying with regard to Futurism because the internal complexity of this Italian movement asks for more nuanced views. It is important to explain some aesthetic details in order to do justice to the Futurists. To some extent, the seeds of a dystopian vision of the future were already present in Futurism itself as it was constantly expressing not only hopes but also fears about the future. Günter Berghaus writes that the Futurist machine god had “a Janus face” (Berghaus 2009: 27), and the division of Futurism into primo and secondo futurismo certainly helps rationalizing this duplicity.13 It is true that during Futurism’s second phase, the machine cult would appear as slightly tempered, and some of the narrow ideological constraints that Marinetti laid down in earlier decades were no longer valid. In general, after the destructions brought about by World War I, the enthusiasm for the technological utopia became more moderate in European societies at large, and the attitudes toward the mechanized society became complex even for Futurists. Punctually, it is even possible to speak of a Futurist “machine angst,” a term that can be derived from statements by Ruggero Vasari who wrote a play called “Angoscia delle macchine” (Vasari 1978; see Berghaus 2009: 28).14 Vasari insisted on the necessity to “go beyond Futurism because while, on the one hand, Futurism exalts the machine, on the other hand it experiences its horror! And why? Because mechanization destroys the spirit.”15 Sometimes Futurists depicted the machine as “a monster that wants to squash me, to burn me, to chew me” (Marinetti 1935: [1968: 1003]; quoted in Berghaus: 31). This is indeed an important addition to the Futurist conceptualization of technology.16 However, though critical voices by Paolo Buzzi, Enrico Cavacchioli, and Gian Pietro Lucini became more and more important in the later phase of Futurism, Futurism’s main image remains that of technophilia and the idolization of machines and not that of a technological dystopia. Since, according to Berghaus, one of the intentions of Futurism was “to cure Italians of their fear of dynamic forces of modern life” (19), the confrontation between Italians and a technological dystopia would not have had the desired healing effect. The machine might occasionally be depicted as dangerous (but then, in return, the Futurist man was able to tame it). There is— logically—nothing like a “No Future” concept in Futurism. Berardi’s main
From Cyberpunk back to Futurism
idea that Cyberpunk signifies the dystopization of Italian Futurism remains valid and my thoughts on radical Islam’s “Futurist” ambitions can be attached to this pattern. To be on the safe side it can be agreed that ISIS and radical Islam revert to the primo futurismo and a little less to the second phase. NOTES 1. “La ‘violenza’ presenta in entrambi un carattere ideologico e morale e non va confusa con la brutalità o con la forza borghese” (Ferrarotti: 98). 2. See note 1 of introduction for the use of the abbreviation ISIS. 3. One can argue that Cyberpunk is not entirely cut off from the avant-garde through a special link passing through Dadaism. Much of the cynicism and irony that we encounter in Cyberpunk existed in Dadaism, which peaked in almost the same year as Futurism. Dadaism undermines the idea of necessity and in Cyberpunk a corresponding playful aspect remains dominant: for Cyberpunk, nothing is necessary, and everything is possible. The limit of Cyberpunk compatibilities with the avantgarde coincides with the differences between Dadaism and Futurism. Dadaism differs from Futurism in that it does not enthusiastically push for an immediate renewal of social structures and of art but contents itself with negative statements. 4. Futurism itself has a strong psychological Africa connection if one believes D’Orsi who explains that futurists were “imbued with Africanism.” This emerges from Marinetti’s Tripoli chronicles and other writings. It emerges despite the violence that Italians enacted against the locals and which Marinetti supported (see D’Orsi: 22–23). The fact that Marinetti was born in Egypt and spent his entire youth in Alexandria might also be important. 5. It must be said that Volt’s main science fiction novel La fine del mondo is apocalyptic. 6. “Abbiamo perduto il senso del monumentale, del pesante, dello statico (. . .). Gli ascensori non debbono rincantucciarsi come vermi solitari nei vani delle scale; ma le scale, divenute inutili, devono essere abolite e gli ascensori devono inerpicarsi, come serpenti di ferro e di vetro, lungo le facciate. (. . .) gusto del leggero, del pratico, dell’effimero e del veloce” (Sant’Elia 2007: 8–9). 7. In Why We Fight Faye writes: “Good relations with the Arab-Islamic world cannot but take the form of an armed peace that never lowers its guard. The sine qua non of such a condition will entail the end of its colonization of Europe. As the Qur’an says, Islam needs to ‘put down its hand to avoid having it cut off.’ It won’t do this if there is a sword in its hand. The idea of a ‘European-Arab Mediterranean alliance’ based on allegedly common interests is a fool’s errand without any historical or economic basis. Europe has no need of Africa or the Middle East, which are a drag on her, a financial, economic, and human burden, and increasingly a menace” (Faye 2011: 71). 8. “Dopo il ‘700 non è più esistita nessuna architettura. Un balordo miscuglio dei più vari elementi di stile, usato a mascherare lo scheletro della casa moderna, è chiamato architettura moderna. La bellezza nuova del cemento e del ferro viene profanata
con la sovrapposizione di carnevalesche incrostazioni decorative che non sono giustificate né dalle necessità costruttive, né dal nostro gusto” (Sant’Elia 2007: 3). 9. “l’unione di mondanità e competizione aviatoria, record, tentativo esasperato retto dall’innovazione tecnologica, così tipico e proprio al décor futurista” (Viola 1994: 28). 10. “Ieri, un aeroplan e passato sopra la mia testa! Ho visto, dal di sotto, l’uomo vivo seduto sul suo seggiolino, a gambe larghe . . . È d’improvviso qualcosa di misterioso s’e prodotto nella mia testa . . . Un po come una vertigine all’inverso! Era come si avessi visto passare quell’uomo con altri occhi dai miei, com i suoi!?!? L’ho guardato allontarsi, sempre in aria . . .” (quoted in Viola: 29). 11. Giovanni Giolitti was the prime minister of Italy five times between 1892 and 1921, and his politics was characterized by the modernization of social and economic structures. 12. After the future. From Futurism to Cyberpunk. The Exhaustion of Modernity. 13. “Second Futurism” would begin after World War I. It no longer put forward “contestation” but “integration” (see Lista 2016: 21). The terms primo and secondo futurismo were not used by Futurists but were coined later by art historians. 14. The play is attributed to Futurism’s later period because it was published in 1931; however, it was written between 1923 and 1925 (Verdone 2009: 89). 15. “Io vado al di là del Futurismo perché mentre da un lato esalto la macchina (. . .) dall’altro ne provo orrore! E perché? Perché la meccanizzazione distrugge lo spirito” (in D’Orsi: 144). 16. Berghaus speculates about reasons for these amendments of Futurist ideology: it could have been a disillusionment with the fascist project of modernization (30); or the futurist cult of the machine itself “may have been a way of exorcizing the ‘shadow’ side of modernity” (28). Berghaus derives the latter ideas from C. G. Jung’s book The Fascist Mind.
Fascism, ISIS, and Futurism
Futurism bears an ambiguous link with fascism and the difficulties of evaluating this link without exaggerating certain components and downplaying others have been mentioned in the introduction. First, the definition of fascism is complex; second, for various reasons, the essence of Futurism cannot be derived from fascist doctrines. Before drawing further links between Futurism and Islamic terrorism, it is necessary to establish the phenomena of fascism and Futurism as carefully as possible. WHAT IS FASCISM? It is tempting to trace parallels between ISIS and Futurism to a common fascist root, but this perspective leads to simplifications. The link between fascism and Futurism is complex and fascist elements in Futurism should not be overemphasized. Apart from that fascism—especially interwar fascism—remains a conundrum for many historians, making some ask whether a phenomenon called “fascism” ever really existed (see introduction to Gentile 1922). Controversies concerning the nature of fascism arose in the 1960s (see Dahrendorf 1967: 402) and have never really been solved. Umberto Eco has called fascism “a fuzzy totalitarianism, a collage of different philosophical and political ideas, a beehive of contradictions” (Eco 1995). Agreements on a generic ideological minimum of fascism do not seem to be in sight (see Kiallis 2000: 27) or are unlikely to happen at any time (Delzell 1977: vi). Mark Neocleous even believes that “many commentators have given up trying to peer behind the veil of fascist appearance in order to identify the fascist essence” (Neocleous 1997: x). One consequence is that many definitions of fascism, where they are still ventured, tend to be too broad. Being 73
antidemocratic, anti-liberal, nationalistic, populist, militaristic, and fanatic characterizes many totalitarian movements, but it does not spell out uniquely fascist ingredients. Even the urge toward self-sacrifice and martyrdom is not merely fascist either. It goes without saying that the relationships that Futurism bears with all these clusters are even more complex. ISIS AND FASCISM ISIS, on the other hand, can more safely be traced to certain generic fascist ideas, be it only because it manifests strong affinities with militant extremist right-wing organizations. The resemblances are also supported by concrete historical links between fascism and radical Islam that will be discussed more closely further down in this chapter. Modern Islamism and fascism emerged at the same time in the form of comprehensive, world-shaping projects attempting to transgress the scope of mere ideologies and presenting themselves as complete life philosophies. Furthermore, ISIS and fascism are not merely militant, intolerant, and fanatic, but they also share some well-defined ambitions that dominated radical politics in the 1920s in Europe as well as in many other places in the world. I will begin my analysis by enlisting seven characteristic traits valid for both ISIS and fascism: • Revolution against the bourgeoisie • The weakening of the national state • Racism • Puritanism • Expansionism • Cult of youth • Myth and epos Two more common themes, which are anti-intellectualism and communitarianism, will be dealt with in more detail in separate sub-chapters. Revolution against the Bourgeoisie Both ISIS and fascism strive to overcome decadent bourgeois morality (labeled as “Western morality” by ISIS). In both cases this morality is supposed to be overcome by revolutionary means. The Weakening of the National State Comparisons of ISIS and fascism can be maintained with regard to nationalism (which represents an unconditional part of the definition of fascism)
Fascism, ISIS, and Futurism
though strictly speaking, ISIS is not a nationalist but a supra-national political movement. In ISIS writings and speeches “the idol of nationalism” is most vehemently rejected as a typically Western invention and defined almost as negatively as secularism. On the other hand, while it is true that Islamic fundamentalists are against the nation-state because they consider the state a cultural and not a religious entity, their own rhetoric sounds often purely nationalistic. Vice versa, the fervor with which fascists and other totalitarian regimes embraced and embrace the nation as an icon of absolute truth is reminiscent of religious fundamentalism. What links both fascists and ISIS with the nation-state more directly is that they benefited from its weakening. With regard to fascism, this is the opinion of Hannah Arendt who famously saw the weakening of the national state and of imperialism as a precondition for the development of fascism (Arendt 1973: 269). Racism In the 1920s in Europe, abstract “Kantian” thinking is increasingly despised. Decisions will rather be derived from observations of more concrete phenomena such as history, religion, blood, or the soil. Those elements will replace “reason,” which is increasingly seen as a fetish. In return, history, religion, blood, and the soil will become new fetishes in their own rights. One of the results of the “absolutization” and fetishization of history, religion, blood, and the soil is an obsession with purity. This represents a clear parallel with Islamism. In the case of the Nazis, the purity is racial; in the case of Islamists it is religious. In both cases, the result is the consistent demonization of minorities; this, in return, will be one of the sources of violence. Both fascist and Islamist “xenophobia” contrasts with communist internationalism. Ethnic or religious cleansing is the next step. Both fascism and ISIS are submitted to genocidal sectarian impulses, especially to radical anti-Jewish sentiments (the racial priority is more important in Nazism and much less important in Italian fascism). Puritanism Linked to the obsession with purity is puritanism. In both contexts, puritanism is most often expressed in the realm of sexuality. Not only Islamism, but also fascism can appear as puritan and “anti-hedonist” (Gentile 2002: 14). Misogynistic and patriarchal components of ISIS ideology are reminiscent of classic fascist movements. Puritan patterns like the disdain for women and homophobia (easily to be summarized as machismo) become dominant in both movements. The magazine Dabiq puts repeatedly forward the Westerners’ “hedonic addictions and heathenish doctrines [which] have enslaved them to false gods including their clergy, their legislatures, and their lusts”
(Dabiq No. 15). A disdain of women but also a certain fear of women become obvious in statements that women should not “work like men, rule like men” (Dabiq No. 15). The link with Islamic implications with fitna (chaos induced by women) will be examined in chapter 7. Also, the insistence on permanent war and heroism has an effect on sexual matters in both fascism and ISIS. To call fascists puritans is thus not far-fetched. Early works by psychologists like Wilhelm Reich concluded that fascism is a matter of sexual oppression (Reich 1978). Futurists are here related to fascists. Futurist Mario Carli’s (auto-) critique of Futurist “Arte vile” heads toward Reich’s hypothesis when he suggests that almost all of the non-Futurist artists are wretched or sexually degenerate: “When they are not lymphatic they are acid; when they are not acid they are neurotic, when they are not neurotic they are pederasts.”1 Expansionism Both fascism and ISIS are guided by an expansionism that will be sustained by warlike and megalomaniac impulses. Fascist and ISIS expansionisms cannot be reduced to mere colonialist strategies (as in the case of the British or the French), but they are guided by moral, cultural (and, in the case of the Nazis, biological) interests. These expansionisms are inscribed in larger ethical or religious frameworks: the purpose of fascist and ISIS expansion is to unite the whole nation (all Muslims) in a quasi-mystic fashion within its “original” territory (which is the caliphate for ISIS). Further, there is a strong resentment toward “the rest of the world” and the feeling of having been cheated by history, which produces an obsession with an (imaginary) glorious past. The latter applies not only to ISIS but to most radical Islamic movements. It is also typical for fascism but rare in, for example, South American totalitarian systems. Cult of Youth It is possible to observe a common cult of youth in fascism as Germany and Italy are constantly defined as “young nations.” The youth is partly stylized as an elitist group of individuals that have been configured through the movements’ new ideologies. This cult of youth is very present in ISIS, as has been shown in chapter 2 in the section on subculture. Myth and Epos Though both movements are forward-looking and do not want to recede to a premodern past, their activities usually unfold in an atmosphere of myth and epos attempting to transcend the mundane reality of the present.
Fascism, ISIS, and Futurism
FUTURISM Italian Futurism emerged in 1909 and developed quickly until its gradual decline that began in the 1930s. Futurism definitely disappeared in 1944 with the death of its leader Marinetti. In Futurism, the modernity aspect is even more pronounced than in fascism, which makes comparisons with ISIS particularly interesting. The systematic referral to a mythical past that is so important in fascism is missing in Futurism. Proto-fascist characteristics, which are the exaltation and aesthetization of violence and technology, the sacralization of politics, the insistence on modernity as well as the ambition to create a comprehensive lifestyle, do exist in Futurism, but they are not submitted to fascist pseudo-mythical dimensions. Linked to this refusal of romantic mythology is the Futurist choice of urbanism. While fascists often exalted an agrarian utopia, and cursed immoral urban life, Futurists were always fascinated with urban civilization. Futurism and Fascism Futurism bears a link with fascism mainly because the latter corresponded with Futurist ideas of modernization and industrialization. Marinetti was one of the first members of the National Fascist Party. However, Futurists were not fascist before World War I. Futurism provided an intellectual grounding of fascism because the encounter between both occurred in the period of fascism’s formation before World War I. Futurism existed for ten years prior to fascism and the most important contributions that Futurism made to fascism—first of all the rhetoric of violence—were developed at a moment when fascism did not yet exist. Therefore those features cannot be seen as originally fascist: the cult of irrational violence, which represents the principal fulcrum around which the present “ISIS as Futurism” thesis is built, is not due to the presence of fascism. The myth of “regenerating violence” through war or revolution belongs rather “to the patrimony of avant-garde [and] modernist culture,” as confirms Giovanni Gentile (2002: 445). Benedetto Croce wrote in 1924 in La Stampa that “to anyone with a sense of historical connections, the ideal origins of fascism are to be found in Futurism” (in Verdone 2009: 20). However, the reissuing of those Marinettian concepts via Mussolinian fascism turned out to be fatal for Futurism: it was “the seed of its corruption through association with a totalitarian political regime, and its eventual self-destruction as a sustainable movement of liberation from modern anomie” (Griffin 2009: 96). Fascism has adopted elements from Futurism and not the other way around. The fascist political program of 1919 was based on the program of the already mentioned Futurist Political Party in which leftist social policy was combined with a rightist concept of nation and government. However,
even this predominantly fascist period of Futurism is marked by considerable complexities. One reason is that fascism itself is difficult to define in political terms. Like Futurism, fascism excels in curious combinations of leftist and rightist thoughts. Most fascist intellectuals even started out as Marxists (see Lennen 1970: 16). Fascism and Futurism share a contradictory ideology based on a double refusal of bourgeois values and of internationalist socialism. This means that the ideological ambiguities inherent in Futurism do not exist despite fascist connections but rather because fascism maintains an equally ambiguous relationship with both conservatism and modernity. There are thus two ambiguities: first, fascism itself is politically ambiguous; second, Futurism is not purely fascist. I will point to similar ambiguities in fundamentalist ideologies. First, however, the modern/reactionary ambiguity in Futurism needs to be clarified as much as possible. The basic distinction between primo and secondo futurismo has already been mentioned. Early Futurism’s pre–World War I attitude determined by anti-establishment ultra-nationalism, which peaked between 1915 and 1918, is incompatible with the more institutionalized patriotism adopted after its merger with fascism (1924–1944). This is also important in aesthetic terms: it is at that point that Futurism ceased to be an avant-garde movement (see Ferarotti 2016: 18). Whether Futurist ideals were completely abandoned in the second phase and flattened by fascism or whether they continued for at least another decade is still debated by scholars (see Adamson 2012). After World War I, many— though by far not all—Futurist artists became militantly fascists proclaiming, for example, that “the Duce has opened the route for the New Arts, which, inspired by the Fascist Ideal, will be able to glorify the great coming events” (painter Giacomo Balla in 1926, in Conversi 2009: 105). Marinetti was most straightforward: he co-wrote the “Fascist Manifesto” and sought to make Futurism the official art of Fascist Italy. Mussolini later formally declared “that without Futurism there would never have been a fascist revolution” (Gentile 2003: 41). In 1939, Mussolini wanted Marinetti as the head of the Writers’ Union (Viola 1994: 98). Despite these overlaps Futurism is not simply fascist. Futurism is disconnected from totalitarianism and does not foreshadow the existence of a totalitarian state. Apart from that Futurism is politically fractured and more pluralist than is often assumed. Like fascism, Futurism is not even purely rightist. First, Futurism started as a leftist project and included many socialist and anarchist members. Second, the overcoming of the stuffy world of the past dominated by hypocrisy and moralism has also been the project of the Italians’ leftist cousins, the Russian Futurists and is therefore not intrinsically incompatible with leftist thought.
Fascism, ISIS, and Futurism
The political visions of Futurism are complex. Futurism is not a monolithic phenomenon, first, because not all Futurists were grouped behind their founder; second, because Marinetti himself frequented socialist circles prior to his Futurist activities. While Mussolini maintained that only an all-out struggle against democracy would enable the proletariat to fulfill its historic mission, some of Marinetti’s statements are rather pro-democratic. It has been said that Marinetti regarded Mussolini in private as a “reactionary, authoritarian, autocratic, fanatical blockhead” (Berghaus 2006: 171) and that he believed Mussolini’s entourage to be composed of “bunglers, political cowboys, or simple-minded hooligans” (169). In the 1930s, when fascist newspapers like Tevere and Quadrivo accused Futurism of being “non-Italian” because it was not sufficiently defending racial issues, Marinetti formulated anti-Nazi positions (see Viola 1994: 130). It is also clear that the Futurist party program is incompatible with fascism or Nazism because it pleaded for a “free Futurist democracy” and claimed to abolish family and prisons; it even preached free love. In his book Democrazia futuristica (1919) Marinetti virulently rejects state control (Gentile 2000: 8–9). All this resembles anarchism much more than totalitarian state organization, which is reinforced by the reality of Futurist organizations: Futurists formed a small community of individualists. Still Franco Ferrarotti claims that Futurism “accumulates in itself all anti-democratic and nationalist ferments of the time” (Ferrarotti 2016: 30). Whatever one thinks about the link between Futurism and fascism, the fascism practiced in 1924 was different from what Marinetti had supported in 1919; and those differences make the adoption of a generic concept of “Futurist politics” with regard to fascism quasi impossible. The present book cannot achieve what many historians tried to achieve but couldn’t: solve the contradictions of Futurism. Like with fascism (see below), it has been attempted to divide Futurism into two halves. Similar to fascism, those divisions can be undertaken in many different ways. Primo and Secondo Futurism are based on timely distinctions. Another distinction, the one between left and right Futurism, has been introduced relatively early by Maurizio Calvesi (1971). Giovanni Lista found still another bipartition: orthodox and heterodox Futurism (2016: 14). This distinction works mostly along lines separating the Florentine Futurists of the journal Lacerba (Papini, Soffici), who were more reactionary and orthodox from Marinetti’s Milano group.2 This book cannot present Futurism in all its nuances, especially since the principal objective of this book is not to make statements about Futurism but about the Futurist character of modern jihadism. On the other hand, the complex setup of Futurism (and, to some extent, of Italian fascism) with regard to leftist and rightist elements does reflect some findings within modern Islamic movements and should be pointed out for this reason.
In summary it can be said that the Futurist engagement with fascism always remained a matter of reasoned participation or—in less convincing cases—of ideological meandering. Fascist engagement was rarely a matter of blind adherence. In the words of Gentile, the Futurists were “neither fascists nor anti-fascists” (Gentile 2003: 42) but rather “restless fascists” (65). Though Marinetti would formally support Italian fascism until his death in 1944, he was at times even suspected of anti-fascist activities.3 Most spectacularly, Marinetti was classified as an anti-fascist in 1926 because he was against the reconciliation with the Vatican and against fascist racial policies (Gentile 2000: 10). The Modernity of Futurism The Islamic State is fascist to some extent; however, this is not the main point that this book is trying to make. In the end, the Futurist input in ISIS is at least as essential as the fascist one. Fascists believed they had discovered an alternative formula of modern civilization that is not based on enlightenment, rationality, materialist secularism, industrialism, mechanization, and urbanism. The modernity of Futurists is similar in some points, but Futurists embraced industrialism and mechanization more consistently by pointing to dynamics and movement. This represents the main parallel with ISIS. Scott Beauchamp refers, in his analysis of the ISIS magazine Dabiq’s aesthetics, to a passage that Susan Sontag wrote about Leni Riefenstahl’s propaganda films. Beauchamp concludes that Sontag could as well have been describing the latest issue of Dabiq. The main parallels are, of course, pertinent. However, looking more closely at his passage we understand why ISIS is not merely fascist but Futurist. According to Sontag, Fascist aestheticians flow from (and justify) a preoccupation with situations of control, submissive behavior, extravagant effort, and the endurance of pain; they endorse two seemingly opposite states, egomania and servitude. (. . .) The fascist dramaturgy centers on the orgiastic transactions between mighty forces and their puppets, uniformly garbed and shown in ever swelling numbers. Its choreography alternates between ceaseless motion and a congealed, static, “virile” posing. Fascist art glorifies surrender, it exalts mindlessness, it glamorizes death. (Sontag 1975 quoted in Beauchamp 2014)
Not all parallels between ISIS propaganda and Riefenstahl’s fascist aesthetics can be confirmed. In some respects, Sontag’s description fits neither the videos of ISIS nor the art of Futurism because the latter two replace “submissive behavior” with an enthusiastic display of the freedom of the revolutionary. The entire terrorist project looks more extravagant than anything that could have been prescribed by totalitarian and religious regimes in
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the past and in the present. Hip-hop music, diverse subcultural elements, and hedonism are more important than a fascist culture of control. Dynamism is much more important than statism. Like fascism, Futurism is modern though many Futurist political and cultural ideas appear to be regressive when considered from a liberal, postwar point of view; and they were even opposed to many values that the progressive development of civilization had taken for granted in the 1920s. Futurists incorporated strong anti-female notions though contemporary civilization had begun to transcend them. Futurists joined fascist ideals of women as wives and mothers in order to contribute to the national goal. Though Marinetti also issued a few pro-feminist statements, in principle, Futurists maintained an institutional conservatism with regard to many social questions. And despite some pro-democratic statements, Futurists remained opposed to parliamentary democracy, which they found corrupt and decadent, and which they linked to “reformist socialism” (Berghaus 1996: 7). In general, Futurists were intolerant of dissent. They sympathized with nationalism and colonialism and sometimes (though very rarely) with anti-Semitism.4 The development of Futurist individualism into an aristocratic lifestyle represents another curious option that looks rather decadent. Futurist Mario Morasso sees in the so-called egoarchia the supreme form of proto-futurist aristocratic individualism.5 Especially in the 1920, Futurism was anti-liberal and anti-internationalist. I believe that these elements provide sufficient ground for linking this movement to a generally conservative cultural and political agenda. However, though this conservative agenda is dominant, Futurism was always modern and never backward-looking. Futurists continued loathing everything traditional, glorified cars and modern cities, and emphasized speed, technology, youth, and science. Marinetti’s appeal, made in the “Founding and Manifesto of Futurism,” to “destroy museums, libraries, academies of every kind,” or his invitation to prepare “for the birth of an industrial and militarized Venice, capable of dominating the great Adriatic, the Great Italian lake” (“Contro Venezia passatista,” in TIF, 33–34, quoted in Poggi: 77), remain the pedal points of Futurism. The modern character becomes also obvious through the will to break distinctions between left and right: those distinctions were found decadent and old-fashioned. As a result, despite the conservative values that Futurism shared with fascism, Futurism remained closely linked to certain leftist paradigms and would even develop an anarchist slant at some point. The anarchist slant is partially due to Futurism’s avant-garde origin. Most typically, the modernist avant-garde has no program and is difficult to pin down to certain rules. In 1918, militants from the Left and the Ultra-Left founded the Futurist Political Party (Berghaus 1996: 9), which would align itself with Mussolini only later. D’Orsi observes an “internal dialectic” in the Futurist movement
(D’Orsi: 129). The complex political stances of Italian Futurism were even indirectly acknowledged by the early Italian communists who were not ashamed to show some appraisal of Futurism. In an article entitled “Marinetti rivoluzionario?” published in L’Ordine Nuovo on January 5, 1921, Gramsci expressed his admiration for the revolutionary and absolutely Marxist spirit of Futurism (Gramsci 1921). It is in the realm of art that those “unruly and critical fascists” (Gentile 2002: 431) became most modern. Here they adopted hyper-modern standards of avant-garde art that many Italian fascists were unable to assume. As a matter of fact, they did not even adopt them but created them because Futurism was arguably the first in line of the twentieth-century avant-garde movements. Futurist art was most dramatically opposed to the Nazi version of fascism, which condemned cubism, Dadaism, and Futurism. Futurist art is impossible to construe in relationship with the fascist aesthetic practiced in Germany as it is fully consistent with formal developments taking place all over Europe before World War I. Hitler, who, as a painter, preferred conventional postcard art, launched an assault against all modern art, which had, according to him, only thrived because “Judaism had taken possession of those means and institutions of communication which form, and thus finally rule over, public opinion” (speech held at the “Great Exhibition of German Art 1937,” in Rainey et al. 2009: 37). Hitler exhibited those modern works in the “Degenerate Art Exhibition” in Munich in 1937. LEFT OR RIGHT? Modernity combated the irrationality of premodern époques. The question is: is modernity therefore reasonable? No, modernity is not reasonable just because it could also produce movements like communism, fascism and Islamism. To some, the argument might come as a surprise but twentiethcentury European history abounds with contradictions. Fascism is modern and not simply a more muscular form of conservatism. Exactly like radical Islam, fascism presents a combination of the conservative and the revolutionary. Contrary to what many think, fascism did not simplify a complex political situation but added a supplementary component to a word that socialism and a degenerated form of liberalism increasingly depicted in terms of simplifications. Fascism’s revolutionary spirit and activism have clearly modern connotations. Even Squadrism (the deployment of fascist squads), which was in many respects similar to ISIS, was not merely conservative but revolutionary as it emphasized the need for domestic transformation. This attitude is antithetical to most nationalist social conservatisms as well as to the clearly simplifying
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nationalisms who merely refer to traditions (see Kiallis 2000: 27 on this). Radical Islam and ISIS are modern for the same reasons. Old-fashioned military dictatorships in South-East Asia or Latin America are different from modern fascist states and ISIS evokes the latter and not the former. Old-fashioned totalitarian states attempt to create ideal states by imposing a certain lifestyle upon the entire population and often try to exterminate all those that cannot be “converted.” Fascists, on the other hand, want more than simply order, obedience, traditions, and inherited hierarchies sustained by old elites, capital, churches, and armies. Fascists indulged in mass enthusiasm and popular mobilization. Likewise, radical Islam is not merely totalitarian but fascist. Mussolini himself had pointed out the paradoxical character of fascism. Six months before taking power, Mussolini asked readers of his new review Gerarchia: “Does fascism aim at restoring the State, or subverting it? Is it order or disorder? Is it possible to be conservatives and subversives at the same time? How does fascism intend to escape this vicious circle of paradoxical contradictions?”6 Ferrarotti concludes that “the passage from a liberal democracy of notables to a regime of mass democracy,” which finds paradoxically “in fascism its deadly ending (sbocco mortale) justifies dictatorship” (Ferrarotti 2016: 7). The evolution of ISIS needs to be read along similar lines. When Christopher Hitchens says that both fascism and ISIS “are bitterly nostalgic for past empires and lost glories,” he seems to suggest that their intention is to go backward toward a premodern state. The contrary is the case. Fascism was—like communism—forward-looking and I will show that the theme of “progressive modernism” is also current in Islam. Terrorism has both forward- and backward-looking versions, too; and it is necessary to distinguish the one from the other. Extremists like the KKK want to turn back the clock and fan old flames, while ISIS is forward-looking. In some sense, it remains of course true that fascism is part of what Walter Laqueur has called the “counter-revolution against the Enlightenment” (see Laqueur 2006) contesting everything dear to Western progressive individuals since the late eighteenth century, especially democracy and a free society. Should one therefore conclude that fascism is schizophrenic? Many people have tried to dissect fascism into two parts that contradict each other. There are several ways of doing so. The temporal division is certainly the most straightforward one. Early fascists were syndicalist and Mussolini read Sorel. A real right-wing phase of fascism begins in 1921 when fascism becomes “stabilized” as an ideology. This is at least Karl Mannheim’s interpretation of fascism (Mannheim 1940: 128). Other bipartitions are also possible. For example, one can say that fascism’s method was modern but that the content was reactionary. This is Mark Neocleous’s approach when he suggests that fascism was “radicalizing central features of modernity for reactionary political goals” (Neocleous: xi). Another possibility is to separate the modern
technological from the conservative ideological aspect and to say that both are more or less unrelated. This is the strategy of Jeffrey Herf and many others: fascism uses modern technology to defend a traditional order. It is tempting to use this particular “schizophrenia thesis” also for Islamism. One can even adopt a more directly psychoanalytical approach and say that underneath the conscious and visible surface of fascism there is another, subconscious fascism that represents its true, original, and reactionary face. Umberto Eco speaks in this vein of ur-fascism as the “essence of fascism,” which does not necessarily correspond with the official and more visible version. For Eco, “Ur-Fascism is the cult of tradition” (Eco 1995: npn) because deep inside, the fascist rejects Enlightenment and the modern world, and sees the Age of Reason “as the beginning of modern depravity. This ur-fascism can be defined as irrationalism.” However, what looks plausible at first sight is problematical. First, Eco’s concept is an overstatement because, as Gentile also affirms, fascism never had the fetishist cult of traditions (Gentile 2002: 438). For Eco, fascism’s main task is to attack “modern culture and the liberal intelligentsia for having betrayed traditional values.” As evidence Eco presents the fact that “the Nazi gnosis was nourished by traditionalist, syncretistic, occult elements. The most influential theoretical source of the theories of the new Italian right, Julius Evola, merged the Holy Grail with The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, alchemy with the Holy Roman and Germanic Empire.” This introverted urfascism contrasts very much with Emilio Gentile’s vision of a fascism full of “enthusiasm for modern life, which is understood as an expansion of human energies and the intensification of life” (Gentile 2002: 435). Is it really possible that the inside and outside aspects of fascism differ so much? It is better to say that in fascism some traditional elements are presented as modern. This is de Felice’s position when he suggests that in fascism the presence “of old, conservative elements inherited from the past [was] coupled with new, renovating elements characteristic of modern mass societies. Both are typical of a mentality, a culture, and interests that are individually the expression of the middle classes” (Felice 181–2). However, for this very reason, fascism can no longer be considered as merely traditional. An introverted ur-fascist (and therefore also an “ur-Islamicist”) culture does exist, but one bypasses the essence of both fascism and Islamism if one believes that they are against reason and are searching for solutions in the realm of the irrational. The idea is rather to find an alternative reason. This reason can end up as irrational and Enlightenment reason will be declared irrational as a result. Revival movements of Islamic (or other) religions follow similar patterns. Ruth Ben-Ghiat concedes that fascism contained many reactionary elements that could indicate a return to traditions such as the valorization of peasant and artisanal culture and the rejection of urban and cosmopolitan life. However, the purpose of fascist folklore festivals and costume exhibitions was never “a nostalgic
Fascism, ISIS, and Futurism
revisitation of history [but rather] an opportunity to create a peculiarly Italian and fascist mass culture that celebrated order and hierarchy” (Ben-Ghiat 2004: 3). This is not mere traditionalism but it aims to create a new culture. The process is very similar to the introduction of the Islamic dress code in the early 1980s in Egypt and other Muslim countries, which John Alden William found at that time “not traditional, but in its specific form new” (Williams 1980: 73). Traditional elements are presented as modern. The conclusion is that neither fascism nor Islamism is schizophrenic. The examples chosen by Eco (alchemy and Evola’s occultism) are rather extreme. In general, attacking modern culture and the liberal version of modernity does not exclude the possibility of inventing another kind of modernity. In other words, the apparent counterrevolution against the Enlightenment staged by fascism and Islamism does not necessarily lead to inertia and nostalgia for the past. It does not necessarily lead to the conservatism of traditionalist military dictatorships but, on the contrary, it pursues revolutionary aims in the name of progress. In Futurism precisely this happened more than anywhere else and radical Islam has evolved along similar lines. The term “fundamentalism” is unfortunate because it seems to suggest that all radical Islamists recede to the past back to foundations of old. However, radical Islam launches—like fascism and communism—an appeal to idealistic young people who believe in a utopian future where the world will be “cleansed” of old elements. Many of those “old elements” tend to be those of a “postindustrial” Cyberpunk world of mass consumerism where the real has been replaced with images and abstractions. The argument that traditionalism remains an eternal and unconscious source of fascism as well as of Islamism cannot be entirely ruled out, but saying, as does Eco, that the modern apparatus of fascism is not more than a disguise of subliminal traditionalism misses the point of fascism as a modern movement. Parallel arguments about Islamism are invalid for the same reason. The above statements can be traced to a still more general problem. It is a mistake to construe the terms “modern” and “conservative” through a left-right prism that sees everything leftist as progressive and modern, and everything rightist as reactionary, conservative, anti-modern, and nostalgic. Both fascism and Islamism attempt to transcend this constellation. Fascism found both leftist and rightist experiences decadent and tried to design a new civilizational experiment. This is already a sign of a modern spirit. I thus agree with Roger Griffin who states that fascism only rejects “the allegedly degenerative elements of the modern age” and “thrust towards a new type of society” (Griffin 1992: 47). Something similar is true for Islamism. Both fascist and jihadi political categories are all-inclusive and elastic and attempt to overcome conventional left-right political alignments. However, later on I
will refine this definition by distinguishing modern from merely progressive movements. This distinction becomes necessary with regard to the invasive form of fascism that has been brought to the world by ISIS. Another Type of Modernity Fascism, Futurism, and ISIS are modern movements producing their own ideas of modernity. Modernity is not a static quality but has been constantly evolving, most of the time responding to crises that were emerging within its movement. Modernity has produced modern architects and designers, but also technocrats as well as an insipid consumer society which has, in turn, been criticized by modern thinkers. Is it therefore not normal that some people attempt to create a different modernity from scratch? Fascism criticized negative effects of modernization such as materialism, skepticism, egotism, and hedonism and wanted to overcome those shortcomings by accelerating its march toward modernity. Radical Islam trots on the same path. If a link between fascism and ISIS exist it is mainly granted by their common “modern” roots and not by conservatism and anti-modernism. It has already been explained that modernity is often erroneously perceived from a “most recent Western” perspective. This perspective is able to schedule truly modern phenomena as reactionary because it is uncomfortable with the possibility that the modernity status of certain elements can vary according to time and space. The perceptions of fascism and Futurism have suffered from this type of distortion. This can be clarified with the help of three examples. Below I will explain the problems of mythology, individualism, and religion in a fascist and Futurist context. Later on, Islamism will be examined against the background of these reflections on fascism and Futurism. Mythology Fascists were modern but they also referred to a mythical past. Italian fascists wanted to resurrect the Roman Empire, Spanish fascists were dreaming of the Middle Ages, and the Nazis evoked German mythology and the Holy Roman Empire of the German nation as the First Reich. However, whenever fascists referred to an epic past, the mythic use of history and tradition was not retrospective but modernistic. The heritage of Rome and the myth of Italianism was put forward not because one wanted to recede to a given past, but the mythology was, in the words of Gentile, “typically modern.” Mussolini insisted that we have “created our own myth” (Gentile 2003: 60). In other words, fascism was modern though it had “mythological” visions of modernity that were not necessarily shared by others. The conclusion is that myth and modernity are not opposed to each other but that, on the contrary,
Fascism, ISIS, and Futurism
the creation of myths can also be a typical activity of modernity. Thomas Mann describes this phenomenon as a dialectical process, but it does not change the fact that myths are also modern. According to Mann, “The really characteristic and dangerous aspect of National Socialism was its mixture of robust modernity and an affirmative stance toward progress combined with dreams of the past: a highly technological romanticism” (T. Mann 1977: 29). Michael Mazarr finds in this statement the essence of “reactionary modernism” (Mazarr 2007: 156). However, I am not convinced that this is much different from “regular modernism.” Liberal, rational society might believe it is living in a disenchanted world beyond myths while, in reality, it is dwelling in a similarly mythical modernity. The liberal mythical modernity has merely been created by other means, but apart from that, it is just as mythical and therefore also far from being liberal and rational. It is enough to think of the myths created by the modern entertainment industry or marketing. Here there is no difference between liberal, rational society, and ISIS or fascism: all three create their own mythical modernity. (I am not being relativist but clearly hold that “our” mythical modernity is better than theirs is. However, it is not better because it is more modern.) This is the reason why the myths created by the “liberal-rational” entertainment industry are so strangely similar to the myths of ISIS. The general attraction of disaster movies is intriguing. The violence occurring in Western movies and computer games is not at all different from that of ISIS videos. Both engage in violence for its own sake. Some evidence of this has been given in chapter 2. In any case, the two modernities, the liberal and the fascist/ISIS one, or what Fernando Esposito has called the “modernity of logos” and the “modernity of myth” (Esposito 2015: 77), overlap at least partially, which confirms Adorno and Horkheimer’s thesis that Enlightenment never provided a “myth-free” view of the world. In the analysis of Western culture provided by the authors of Dialectic of Enlightenment (1944), Enlightenment has always tried to abolish superstition and myths. However, by doing so it developed its own mythical basis. Individualism Another concept that can serve as an illustration of the misunderstanding of modernity is “individualism.” Individualism is often seen as a prototypical manifestation of modern culture. In the modern world—as opposed to the “traditional world”—individuals are supposed to have more freedom and to be partially liberated from communitarian standards. There is a generic conception of a modern culture determined by reason, which aligns individualism together with science, progress, and democracy. Even more, “Western” or “American style” individualisms are often singled out by traditionalist—or, in particular, by religious—mentalities as a major danger for
human civilization and, if formulated from a non-Western point of view, as synonymous with “Western decadence.” This contrasts with the reasoning of Futurists for whom individualism had an entirely different status within the program of modernity. Similar to the critique of conservatives and religious people, Futurists saw the “danger of corruption by the materialism, mechanization, and hedonism” inherent in “Americanism” (Gentile 2003: 46). However, the alternative they proposed was not premodern communitarianism, but a collective feeling of identity. Contrary to fascists, who wanted to “overcome the decadence that has destroyed a sense of communal belonging and drained modernity of meaning and transcendence and usher in a new era of cultural homogeneity and health” (Griffin 2007: 182), Futurists would contrast individualism with collectivism. They were against individualism because they believed collectivism—and not communitarianism—to be the most genuine manifestation of an alternative modernity. This anti-individual stance cannot be called anti-modern because it clearly searched for another kind of modernity. Religion Religion is another such double-faced phenomenon, which brings us closer to ISIS. Contrary to what a contemporary “modern” public tends to think, for Futurists the step from tradition into modernity did not lead from believe to disbelieve. On the contrary, Futurists were convinced that modernity “had begun with an affirmation of disbelief but now was setting off in search of a religious faith” (Gentile 2003: 53). However, the new faith, which was designed as a Futurist “religion,” was modern to the core. For Marinetti, the Founding Manifesto of Futurism is “far more than the promulgation of a new aesthetic. It is a new form of religion” (Griffin 2009: 81). The Problem of Relativism The question that will be discussed in the next chapter is whether ISIS or some other branch of religious fundamentalism deploys a similar way of defining their own modernity. Approaching this question means treading the dangerous terrain of relativism. Are there no concrete values that need to be respected in order to be modern? Can anything be modern? Is modernity not, as Adorno asserted, “a qualitative [and] not a chronological category” (Adorno 1951: Aph. 140)? I believe that it is, and therefore I will later introduce the distinction between “progressive” and “modern” and conclude that both Futurism and ISIS limit their modernism to a “progressive” program that cannot really be called “modern” as the word is used most of the time today. Both cultivate a modern attitude but no real modernism. This does not mean
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that they are simply conservative. Having a modern attitude is progressive; progressive people do not want to recede to the past and to traditions. However, the will to move forward is limited to an attitude and will not accept certain modern values. ANTI-INTELLECTUALISM, COMMUNITARIANISM, LIFESTYLE ISIS and fascism share a similar kind of anti-intellectualism. However, in neither case is this anti-intellectualism supposed to lead society back to premodern conditions. On the contrary, the anti-intellectual philosophies of action practiced by ISIS and fascism are progressive; especially in the case of ISIS, the philosophy is directed against a postmodern situation of passivism, rationalization, and feminization. Philosophy of Action Fascist anti-intellectualism was fed by modern European philosophies reacting against “positivist” reason, and in Islamism the anti-intellectualism is derived from selected religious teachings. In both cases, the result is an action-based ideology focusing on dynamism and the need for mobilization, permanently highlighting the necessity of struggle and war. Those philosophies want movement; and movement is what has almost completely disappeared from the postmodern Cyberpunk agenda. In a Cyberpunk world, even war has become “instantaneous” as Virilio explains lengthily in his Futurism of the Instant: “The ‘war of the present instant’ far outstrips the ‘war of movement’ that had itself contributed to eliminating the siege of war of an era when the solidity of ramparts still protected the city.” (Virilio 2010: 45/ French: 48). The anti-intellectual activism insisting on movement combined with an obsession with absolute values has created similar patterns in ISIS and fascism. Passion becomes more important than reason and both currents are bound to despise humanism- or humanistically oriented liberalism. It has been mentioned in the introduction that several “vitalist” philosophies emerged in Europe in the context of the late nineteenth-century revolt against positivism (or “paleopositivism” as it is called retrospectively). Nietzsche, Bergson, and Sorel were the most instrumental figures in vitalist philosophical movements. Both Marinetti and Boccioni endorsed Sorelian nationalism before World War I as it had been presented by the writer and nationalist Enrico Corradini (see Lista 1977: 10). Nietzsche’s anti-historicism as well as his idea to oppose reason to instinct and his concept of science as a moderator acting
against impetuous will of nature had strong echoes not only in fascism but also in Futurism. Simplifying readings of the above philosophies (to which can be added those of William James and Max Stirner) created a curious cross breading of irrational-vitalistic positions with the heritage of positivism and scientism (see D’Orsi: 45). Pre-futurist Mario Morasso paved the way for this new culture by interpreting the Übermensch in the sense of “individualistic superegoism and social Darwinism with touches of racism.”7 The amalgam of irrationalism and scientism is very reminiscent of certain pseudotheologies current in contemporary Islam and which are fueling terrorism. During the founding phases of Futurism, militant activism also had leftist roots. The concept of revolutionary actionism by which early Futurists were strongly influenced can be traced to the syndicalist theorist Fernand Pelloutier (see Berghaus 2005: 154). Those ideas would be developed and articulated in different fashions but all of them boil down to a certain “irrationalist” argument. In roughly thirty years preceding World War I, voluntarist subjectivism, neo-idealism, as well as the search for a certain “spirituality” could create an increasingly dense irrational nebula in European culture. From there it was only a small step to the politics and culture of violence emerging in fascism or the Futurist concept of “aestheticized violence,” which preceded fascism but which can be traced to the same irrational nebula. Hannah Arendt’s account of fascist violence shows how a certain philosophy of action left its marks on a whole range of cultural phenomena: “Postwar writers no longer needed the scientific demonstrations of genetics (. . .). They read not Darwin (. . .). Violence, power, cruelty, were the supreme capacities of men who had definitely lost their place in the universe.” This philosophy justified the generalization of violence. Finally, early fascists did not aim at certain personalities but “terrorism had become a kind of philosophy through which to express frustration, resentment and blind hatred, a kind of political expressionism” (Arendt: 330, 332). The line of European vitalist philosophies glorifying life and power and disdaining reason is even longer and has been narrated by Hans Kohn in his The Twentieth Century (1954). Giovanni Gentile’s philosophy of the “autofondazione dell’individuo” (see in particular G. Gentile 2014, part 3, chapter 1) can be seen as one of the last representatives of this development. Kohn shows that in vitalist philosophies, Cartesian doubt, which is the symbol of Western reasonableness and modernity, can be mocked because it had once deconstructed (medieval) faith. Cartesian doubt is critiqued not only by philosophers but also by totalitarian politicians, no matter whether fascist or communist. Action is preferred to doubt or even any kind of sophisticated thinking. At the end of the vitalist line emerges proto-fascism, fascism, but also Futurism. Boccioni claimed that Futurism could “galvanize an otherwise lethargic public, tethered to a ‘rationalist’ mentality in politics. The
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political corollary to rationalism was democracy in politics and academicism in art” (Antliff 2000: 720). Also, Futurism undermined democracy through anti-rationalism. The action-based anti-reason attitude is very similar to the principles today pursued by ISIS except that in ISIS ideology. Gambhir’s observations that for ISIS “action precedes authority” (2014: 6–7) have already been mentioned. “The thrill of adventurism, the joy of camaraderie, and the sense of living an authentic Islamic life” (Hegghammer) attracts both Western and non-Western recruits. According to Hegghammer, in jihadism “the pleasure of agency” dominates over “the role of doctrine.” This brings ISIS close to Futurists: the latter attracted people not only because of Futurist activism but also because Futurism was very open in terms of ideology. It was not purely intellectual but action-based. Fascism was not against modernity. It simply resented an overly rational, positivist spirit able to explain everything but unable to change the conditions of life. By insisting on action and by insisting on a “way of life” potentially conceived independently of rational calculations, fascism inaugurated the modern age of lifestyle. Here, ISIS and much of radical Islam follow a similar path. ISIS resents the social organization of postindustrial environments with its emphases on information technology and virtuality and wants human life to be simple, active, and masculine. To some extent, the critique is understandable if one considers the quantification culture that develops in our own present civilization, issued by both leftist and rightist agendas. For ISIS, a more authentic and masculine lifestyle is supposed to bring back the “reality” that postindustrial culture has buried under a heap of rational calculations. The procedure used by ISIS (and before them by fascism) is not anti-modern but modern as opposed to postmodern. The “irrationalism” is formulated in opposition to the “rationalization” project emerging in postmodern culture. Today it is formulated in opposition to a postmodern Cyberpunk world in which tangible goods have been replaced with images and abstractions. It contests an economy of information and bureaucratization as well as the lack of originality flagrant in commodified capitalism. It contests, according to French conservative thinker Alain Finkielkraut, the idea that the calculating reason and the accumulative form of knowledge is the only form of intelligence (in Levet: 18). It contests a postindustrial society which, according to Greil Marcus, has seized the subjective emotions and experiences of people and “changed those once evanescent phenomena into objective, replicable commodities” (Marcus 1989: 101). ISIS designs a particular brand of antirationalism as an efficient weapon against this tendency. Like fascism and Futurism, ISIS glorifies life and disdains reason. What is the problem with “reason” in the postmodern world? It is removed from
life because it attempts to govern the world through the rationalism of algorithms. According to Marcus, a new algorithmic culture has seized peoples’ subjective emotions, “placed them on the market, set their prices, and sold them back to those who had, once, brought emotions and experiences out of themselves—to people who, as prisoners of the spectacle, could now find such things only on the market” (Marcus: 101). In other words, postmodern rationalism dehumanizes humanity and the new anti-rationalism attempts to reconstruct it. Populist movements in the West and ISIS occupy the same political ground. Alexandre Devecchio finds that the new young far-right activists in France share with jihadists and Islamists a contempt for technology. He recognizes that this is paradoxical because both also make ample use of new technologies. He concludes that this attitude makes them both antimodern and postmodern (Devecchio: 260). Already around 1900, quantification culture had reached dimensions that some people judged “unreasonable.” Among them is the esoteric philosopher and painter Julius Evola who was initially close to Marinetti and active in the Florentine Futurist journals Leonardo and Lacerba. Evola decided to walk along the more mystical, techno-critical paths for which he has become famous after World War II. Then he became a major source of the Italian Neo-Nazis. However, initially he was a painter and his painting style does not tend toward mystical symbolism (as one could expect) but toward Dadaism. Between 1920 and 1923, Evola emerges as “Italy’s foremost exponent on Dadaism” (Griffin 2007: 39). Evola changed toward a symbolic and magic style only later and developed his esoteric and occultist philosophy in parallel. At some point in his career Evola was an assistant to Mussolini. It is interesting to consider Dadaism in the context of Evola’s intriguing biography. Like Futurism, Dadaism intended to provide a general vision of life or a lifestyle. Evola writes in his Il Cammino del Cinabro that Dadaism “did not just want to be a new trend in avant-garde art. Rather it asserted a general vision of life in which the impulse toward an absolute emancipation which threw into disarray all logical, ethical, and aesthetic categories manifested itself in paradoxical and disconcerting ways” (in Griffin 2007: 40). Therefore, it was necessary to “clean up the filth of modernity” (ibid.). This modernity consists in a world suffering from the “stranglehold of logic over everyday existence.” Like Futurists, Dadaists think that those constraints have to be dismantled so that the self can be freed “from logic’s gravitational pull” (Schnapp 2005: 39). On the one hand, Evola’s criticism of the industrial age and of modernity at large can be read as counterpoints to Futurist technophilia. On the other hand, his way of criticizing science is truly Nietzschean and Bergsonian using elements of a philosophy of action that Futurists did appreciate. Evola criticizes scientism’s mechanistic, positivist, and materialist view of reality, which “concerns itself solely with hypotheses and
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formulae that can predict with the best approximation the course of phenomena and relate them to a certain unity” (Evola 2003: 131). Also, Futurism and fascism were acting against what they considered unreal or pseudo-rational realities. Today more and more people all over the world are suspicious of centralized powers be it the power of politicians, journalists, or unions. Technology can be felt as a dictatorship, too. Is a Futurist version of technology freeing people of political, economic, and cultural constraints the solution? Demands going in that direction are more and more clearly formulated. One requires a shift from Cyberpunk to Futurism. An Irish paper recently claimed that young people need to discover the tactile world outside the house and feel the “wind on their phizogs” (McNeil 2010). The shift from a calculated reality to a real reality is also the project of ISIS. To explain this parallelism—which might come as a surprise for many people—it is useful to look at the treatment of communities in fascism and radical Islam. Futurism and Ummah The renewed fascination with communities in the twenty-first century reinforces the above claims about the loss of reality and the parallel ambition to retrieve reality in the context of Futurist, fascist, and other early anti-Cyberpunk movements. The affirmation of tradition and community values contradicts the unifying power of globalization. The striving of certain branches of radical Islam, but also those of Western populist movements should be read in this context. Today, like in the 1920s, anti-rationalist arguments are formulated in order to criticize the way in which social life and states are organized. The European Community is seen by many as a genuine Cyberpunk phenomenon consisting of dissolution, bureaucracy, cultural anomie, and weakness. Like in the past, there is resentment against a world of rationalism, science, and technology (which will today most probably be called “information technology” emerging in a postindustrial society), which has a strong effect on social life. Human interaction is rationalized, and social reality can no longer be experienced “first hand.” In this reality man loses, according to Virilio, his soul (Virilio 2010: 98). Among other things, the malaise leads to a new longing for communitarian values, which is, once again, not different from what happened at the time of fascists and Futurists. Hannah Arendt’s account of “modern mass man” who was living “in the midst of communal disintegration and social atomization” (Arendt 1973: 225) will be discussed more closely in chapter 6. Arendt describes how the mass man could not “be integrated into any organization based on common interest, into political parties or municipal governments or professional organizations or trade unions” (311). A new anti-rationalism became a main driving force in the search for a
new communitarianism. When people are submitted to rational structures that are purely utilitarian but lack feeling, spirituality, and intrinsic cultural values, they tend to overturn them by referring to irrational sources. This leads to the reinforcement of community structures in terms of race and exaggerated nationalism. In 1910, the root of the problem was the use of formal, technocratic, and “reasonable” patterns in politics. The German historian Friedrich Meinecke (1862–1954) analyzes in his book The German Catastrophe this phenomenon with regard to the emergence of Nazism. Similar to Arendt, he describes in detail who could be attracted to this kind of irrationalism, which permits us to draw a further parallel with those young people who are today attracted by the irrational reality of ISIS. In many aspects, the latter resembles the followers of National Socialism as their behavior is the result of a mismanagement of rational and irrational elements on a psychological and on a social level. Meinecke mentions young German technicians who were brilliant engineers and specialists of technology and initially believed in the rational world created by the new Prussian culture. However, deep down, they were dissatisfied with their purely rational existence and built up a “suppressed metaphysical desire” (Meinecke 1963: 36). At some point, most typically when they were in their mid-thirties, this desire broke through and those formerly “rational” people would be attracted by the mystifying and irrational ideologies of the Nazis. Suddenly they were looking for a reality beyond reason. In 1910, overrationalization and technologization had canceled the equilibrium of the rational and the irrational because “the penetrating influences of modern civilization (. . .) were not favorable to the maintenance of a stable equilibrium between rational and irrational forces” (Meinecke: 35). A technical spirit had brought down traditional communitarian structures and people were trying to resurrect them through feeling and will power. Futurism emerged in precisely this context. The new anti-rationalism working for a new kind of community is thus not opposed to the Futurist project but is part of it. The new anti-rationalism is directed against an overrationalized version of civilization, which at that time already announced the Cyberpunk culture that was going to emerge more clearly fifty years later in postindustrial societies. Criticism of science and rationality must be understood in this sense. Fascist and Futurist anti-rationalism does not criticize the commonsensical use of mechanics. It is not anti-rational in that sense. Instead, it criticizes the brave new world of an “algorithmic culture” of reason that technocratic reason before World War I projected already. In Futurism and fascism there is no resentment against technology per se but one pleads for a more straightforward use of technology. As Hannah Arendt has said, “Postwar writers no longer needed the scientific demonstrations of genetics (. . .). They read not
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Darwin” (Arendt 1973: 330). The anti-rationalism of the 1920s represents a Futurist critique of an overrationalized Cyberpunk emphasizing evolution but lacking action. Evolution is an event that can only be watched; it is part of a science scenario in which humans are passive because they have no influence on their own life, their identities, or on the life of their communities. According to Karl Mannheim fascism “became the ideology of those groups who prefer a direct, explosive collision with history to a gradual evolutionary change” (Mannheim 1940: 125). Accordingly, Marinetti wrote in the Founding Manifesto of Futurism: “Up to now literature has exalted a pensive immobility, ecstasy, and sleep. We intend to exalt aggressive action, a feverish insomnia, the racer’s stride, the mortal leap, the punch and the slap” (in Rainey et al. 2009: 51). Futurism is against “l’immobilità,” which it mentions in one breath with vices like “il moralismo and la matematica fallace” (Verdone 8). The Futurist relationship with science is paradoxical as it claims to be rational and modern but has no patience with slow-moving, complex scientific structures. The Peruvian socialist philosopher José Carlos Mariátegui explained that “the Futurist enthusiasm for science represents a paradox given that those anti-scientific movements criticizing positivist rationalism constituted an important part of the new ‘vitalist culture’. Marinetti lumps Marx, Darwin, Spencer, and Comte together to execute them more rapidly and implacably” (Vanden and Becker 2011: 195). Inertia and slowness are also prominent features of the Cyberpunk world. In Cyberpunk man loses, according to Virilio, his soul in the “inertia of an acquired world” (Virilio 2010: 98) simply because nothing is “really” moving but only slowly evolving, possibly in cyberspace. For Futurists, the theory of evolution smacks of idealism and prevents individual action. At the same time, the solution is not anti-scientific culturalism. Futurism vilifies “il culturalismo” as an antiquarian attitude to be equated with what Nietzsche had called historicism. Democracy is no solution either because it is part of the “rational” package of a decadent culture: democracy with its lengthy parliamentarian procedures is slow and idealistic. The new “community” of humans should not be based on voting, empathy, or culture but on spontaneous clashes and violent action. Then solutions will arise in terms of pragmatism. The Merriam Webster Dictionary defines pragmatism as a philosophy emphasizing “the function of thought (. . .) to guide action, and that truth is preeminently to be tested by the practical consequences of belief” (entry on pragmatism). Futurists, explains Boccioni, enter an object’s “interior” and experience its living dynamism through “intuition” (Antliff 2000: 721). This is similar to pragmatism. In pragmatism, thought and action should never be separated, just like pure and applied science should always go together. This is why Marinetti’s position has been found akin to that of William James (Blum 1996: 83).
In the 1920s, fascist communitarian mythology plus a Futurist version of an optimistic, straightforward, and utopian use of technology could be seen as remedies of overrationalized social and economic structures. Today, a large part of the world’s population sees radical Islam as a remedy able to heal similar symptoms. In Europe, the anti-rationalism critique has a long history. Meinecke’s The German Catastrophe, with its critique of “technology’s expansion into all walks of practical life,” gives a dystopian account not only of Germany but of European culture in general and traces the dissolution of societies to the disturbed balance of reason and non-reason. This imbalance has been created by Enlightenment or, as Nietzsche would say, by Socratic culture. It is true that Meinecke directs his criticism against certain procedures that took place in Enlightenment; however, this criticism does not lead him to the adoption of simple anti-Enlightenment positions. Before Enlightenment, European societies were communitarian in a way that is very reminiscent of the ummah. According to Meinecke, European politics has been totalitarian since Christian Middle Ages [because there was] no place outside the community of the state where man can face his God on his own cognizance; nor is there an apolitical community. [At that time], in the political sphere there are no longer any ethics of love, only the morals of a struggle. Moral conscience and political conscience are irretrievably commingled. Success in power politics of external affairs is confused with moral right. (19)
Enlightenment attempted to disentangle the inner and outer, private and public elements of social life to overcome the totalitarian aspects of this Gemeinschaft. Meinecke’s account of this section of Enlightenment achievements is positive as it moves from the irrational to the rational. It is only much later that this process of rationalization would be submitted to criticism. Around 1900, Gemeinschaft versus Gesellschaft discussions became current in Europe. Those discussions developed in parallel with other critiques of rationalism that were formulated by Nietzsche or Sorel. None of those critiques suggested plunging the human mind into pure irrationality; they suggested rather, as Meinecke very well explains, that the rational should be “balanced” with the irrational. Anti-reasonable communitarianism is also on the agenda of radical Islam. The religious state community called the ummah has been fought for by Islamists in circumstances similar to those described by Meinecke with regard to pre-fascist Europe. Calls for the ummah arise as soon as the balance between the rational and the irrational is disturbed. For Hassan Al-Banna, the establishment of the ummah was among the most important topics on the modern Islamic agenda (other important themes were the monopoly of Islam, Islamic government, and jihad). The call for the ummah represents a revolt
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against rationally established political bodies. Al-Banna refuses to recognize rationally established geographical boundaries and suggests that any territory, as soon as it is inhabited by Muslims, automatically becomes part of the ummah. Wherever there is a Muslim saying “there is no god but God, and Muhammad is the apostle of the God” the territory becomes part of the ummah (Al-Banna 1977: 51, quoted in Uwaysi 1998). “Reasonable” governmental systems, political parties, as well as anything that “intellectuals” have forced upon Muslims must be refused in the name of the ummah (Al Banna 1978: 12). Al-Banna compares (though also contrasts) his own project with that of Mussolini when writing: “As Senior Mussolini believed that it was within his right to revive the Roman Empire, which was founded upon greed and personal desires, similarly, it is our right to restore to the Islamic empire its glory that was based upon Justice, equity and the spread of light and guidance among human beings” (12–13). Al-Banna might describe the project in terms of light and enlightenment, but in essence, it is not more reasonable than Mussolini’s idea to revive the Roman Empire. The obsession with the ummah in Islam is due to the centrality of unity (tawhid) in Islamic thought. There is absolute order flowing out of the reality of an omnipotent God and this order must be reflected by the community. This communitarian approach is slightly different from the abovementioned critiques of reason formulated in the West in 1900 because in Islam, the community is based on a higher, more perfect reason. The ummah is a theme that constantly recurs in jihadism. Bin Laden glorified the ummah in his “Declaration of War against the Americans: Occupying the Land of the two Holy Places,” in which he described “how the people of Islam have suffered from the aggression, inequality, and injustice imposed on them by the Zionist crusader alliance” and the obligations of true Muslims to rise and protect the Islamic ummah, the Islamic nation from “the American Crusader forces” (Laden 2009: 438–39). Enlightenment thought deconstructed ancient communities in which ethics and politics formed a compact whole making autonomous reasoning and the individual’s self-reflexivity impossible. This definitely had positive effects. However, once rationalization could be perceived as too intrusive, once it was felt that rationalism dehumanizes human social content and that Gesellschaft is described in merely technological and strategic terms, there would be a backlash toward “irrational” models of community. This could be the (imaginary) folk community of the Nazis. Islamofascism Despite the above-stated parallels between radical Islam and fascism, there are reasons why scholarly works on Islam and fascism remain relatively rare.
While those comparisons are commonplace in the popular press or in semiacademic publications (such as Hamed Abdel-Samad’s bestselling Islamic Fascism or Paul Berman’s The Flight of the Intellectuals), in academic circles such parallels tend to be handled with caution. Many scholars are wary of generalizations with regard to both fascism and Islamism, and making sweeping statements about both in one stroke is seen as a risky option. Historical connections between Islamists and Nazis have been described and are generally recognized (see Herf 2009b). The support that the Muslim leader Mohammed Amin al-Hussein as well as Al-Banna and the Muslim Brothers brought to the fascist regimes of Italy8 and Germany during World War II weighs heavily on the history of Islamist movements in general. Still, when it comes to contemporary Islamist movements, much caution can be observed. Paul Berman is among the few intellectuals concluding that “Islamism is a modern, instead of an ancient, political tendency, which arose in a spirit of fraternal harmony with the fascists of Europe in the 1930s and ‘40s” (Berman 2010b). Malise Ruthven is another rare scholar who points to the fascist character of radical Islam and even coined the term “Islamofascism” when writing about the authoritarian and religion-inspired ways of Arab dictatorships in 1990 (Ruthven 1990). The term “Islamofascism” became very popular after 9/11 though it has rarely been used as an analytical tool. It is also telling that neoconservative circles would use the term to brand radical Islam not only as a successor of Nazism but also of communism. Paradoxically, earlier conservatives had seen Islamofascism as a rampart against communism and, as a result, were not entirely opposed to it. In the 1960s Manfred Halpern wrote that “Neo-Islamic totalitarianisms have also won support from conservative politicians fearful of growing pressures from the left” (Halpern 1963: 139). Halpern is another rare scholar who declared Islamism to be fascist. However, the features he lists would fit most other totalitarian movements as well: the presence of a charismatic leader, expansionism, the denial of individual and social freedom, violence, and nihilistic terror (140) suit communism as well as fascism. The purely rhetorical and rather content-less use of the term Islamofascism has been criticized by Tony Judt who denounced it as a device establishing a reductive juxtaposition of a democratic “us” against “a single universal enemy” without bothering about “exotic complexity” (Judt 2006: npn). Modern or Anti-Modern? Serious problems arise when ISIS or radical Islam are declared fascist on the basis of their “anti-modernism.” First, the identification of fascism with anti-modernism has become old-fashioned. Giovanni Gentile affirms that
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the concept of fascism as a “reactionary movement that was fundamentally anti-modern and that looked nostalgically to the past and sought to arrest the process of modernity in order to stop or turn back the movement of modernity” (Gentile 2003: 42) is no longer current. There is, of course, a difference between German and Italian fascism to observe, as the latter tended to be more technology oriented. Henry Ashby Turner holds that Nazism represents “an extreme revolt against the modern industrial world and an attempt to recapture a distant mythic past” (Turner 1975: 133) and that it can therefore be contrasted with Italian fascism. Still, he believes that the acquisition of power by the Nazis and Italian Fascists cannot be attributed to anti-modern paradigms (130). In the end, Nazism fits into an overall modern framework, too. The idea of fascism as an alternative vision of modernity is shared by Eatwell (2001), Mann (2004), Griffin (2007), and many others. The next question is trickier: should fascism be put into the “left” or the “right” corner of modernity? The left usually considers fascism “first and foremost an ideology generated by modern industrial capitalism” (Neocleous: xi), which mobilized the lower middle-classes. Though this definition has already been challenged by De Felice in the 1970s, it clearly supports the idea of fascism as a modern movement. For the right, it was the lower classes that were mobilized. It is also possible to go beyond this pattern by depicting the dialectics of the modern and the anti-modern in Michael Mann’s way as a technique that channeled and neutralized “antimodernizing resentments step by step, in specific legislation, by more powerful pragmatic and intellectual forces working in the service of an alternate modernity” (Mann 2004: 13). In any case, the idea of an “anti-modern fascism” is dead and it has been so for a long time. It is therefore surprising that it could be revived most recently in the context of Islamofascism. Christopher Hitchens defends the term Islamofascism because he believes that both radical Islam and fascism are “hostile to modernity (except when it comes to the pursuit of weapons)” (Hitchens 2007). Also Hamed Abdel-Samad is convinced that both fascism and Islamism oppose modernism (Abdel-Samad 2016: 15). Earlier intellectuals like Ernst Nolte and Ernest Gellner advanced similar arguments with regard to fascism. In The Three Faces of Fascism (1965), Nolte explained that fascism arose as a form of resistance to modernity, and Gellner supported this “anti-modern” thesis. Gellner observed parallel movements in Islamism because the concept of ummah is incompatible with modern individualism and independent civic associations. As long as Islamism is against civil society, it is also against modernity (Gellner 1995: 40). Though there is some truth in all these observations, overall, it appears that here, modernity is reduced to a phenomenon that only liberal Westerners could have invented and that—to use the words of Jeffrey Herf—a lack of liberalism automatically signifies a lack of modernity (Herf 1984: 234).
The Marxists Internet Archive Encyclopedia explains in its entry on “fascism” that “fascism loathes all kinds of modernism, especially creativity in the arts (. . .). Fascism invariably burns books and victimizes artists (. . .). Fascism is hostile to broad learning and interest in other cultures, since such pursuits threaten the dominance of fascist myths. The peddling of conspiracy theories is usually substituted for the objective study of history.” First, this definition of fascism is once again too broad; it is broad enough to include some totalitarian movements other than fascism. At the same time, the idea of modernity that this passage conveys is too narrow. Both definitions combined lead to the conclusion that fascism is anti-modern. What those theories suggest once again is that modernity follows an intrinsic inclination toward liberal and rule-based order. However, being against liberal order is just another typically modern idea, which becomes most obvious in modern totalitarianisms as well as in anarchism by which Futurism was influenced. All those constellations are important in evaluating “modern” movements such as Islamism and ISIS. Marxist Guy Debord describes fascist communitarianism in terms of irrational, archaic pseudo-values: “race, blood, and the leader.” For him fascism is “technically-equipped archaism” (Debord 1983: 110, in Griffin 2007: 71). This is precisely what many Western observers would also say of ISIS. With such ideas in mind it is difficult to defend ISIS as an “alternative modernism,” the more so since ISIS declares on and on to be willing to “remove the blemishes left by Christian paganism and Western modernism” (Dabiq No. 15). The gut feeling that any movement so much opposed to reason and reasonable thinking can only be against modernity might be common-sensical, but still it is wrong. Other false conclusions follow: for example, that only the reasonable can be constructive while non-reasonable fascism or Islamism are destructive or self-destructive by definition. The problem is that modernity is here seen more as an ideal than as a historical fact. Is modernity reasonable by definition? The anti-intellectualism bordering on sheer irrationalism has been mentioned above. Following Meinecke, it has been explained that antiintellectualism was rather due to an imbalance between reason and non-reason. This imbalance is a modern phenomenon and irrational phenomena like ethnic cleansing and violent paramilitarism must be seen as inventions emerging within this modernism. And so is communism, this most “reasonable” political philosophy, which nevertheless produced measures contradicting all standards of reason. It led to the self-destruction of whole economies. The outer appearance of such modern movements was perhaps reasonable, but the most unreasonable currents could develop underneath. This is how the same Guy Debord attempted to grasp the essence of communism as an “immensely irrationalist’ rationalism” (Debord 19983: 110). Such paradoxical compounds sound clumsy but they are often necessary when describing modern phenomena, and it will be shown that radical Islam requires the application of
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similar conceptual contortions. Modernity is not reasonable just because it could also produce movements like communism, fascism, and Islamism. Meinecke’s concept of the imbalance of rational and irrational structures is here much more useful as an analytical tool. In Meinecke’s view, Enlightenment remained “premodern” and “prescientific” (cf. Hinde 2000: 144). Homo Sapiens versus Homo Faber The urge to overcome rule-based and liberal order represents a typically modern drive followed by both fascism and ISIS. As a matter of fact, such contradictions do not only concern more recent modern movements, but they have been connected to early aspirations of Enlightenment itself. This emerges from De Felice’s studies of fascism. Inspired by the Swiss nineteenth-century historian Jacob Burckhardt as well as Meinecke, de Felice attempts to trace fascism to nothing other than the French Revolution, which can appear strange because the French Revolution is usually also seen as the event that enabled the spread of liberal culture in the West. Can we join this provocative discussion and suggest that radical Islam has similar spiritual origins? The French Revolution was imbued by terror and some believe that Rousseau’s extremist philosophy led to a “totalitarian democracy” (see de Felice and Ledeen 1976: 105; and Talmon 1951). In 1793, there was indeed a lot of terrorism in France (though it was not terrorism against the state but by the state) and it is instructive to compare these developments with those of present terrorism. The period of violence occurring after the revolution called the Reign of Terror (la Terreur) lasted from 1792 to 1794 and the word “terrorism” was coined during that period. The Reign of Terror was incited by conflicts between two rival political factions, the Girondins and Jacobins. It is estimated that between 35,000 and 40,000 people were executed during this period.9 The French revolutionaries laid the seeds for the creation of a technological Cyberpunk world à la Orwell, which Futurists and fascists would later perceive as a dystopia. In that sense, Meinecke formulates a critical Enlightenment position that remains difficult to grasp because it can too easily be misunderstood as a simplistic anti-Enlightenment position. However, in the end, Meinecke preaches a more complicated “irrationalism” as opposed to the simplifying rationalism of Enlightenment. It is important to retain this constellation because it is reflected by our contemporary world. The algorithmization and virtualization of social life that is current in Cyberpunk is the work of simplifiers. Statistics, algorithmic culture, and virtual reality might look complicated on the surface, but in the end they flatten out differences and turn human lives into abstractions. Phenomena like Brexit, Trump, the rise of populist movements in Europe, and ISIS are against those abstractions.
All this might sound counterintuitive: do fundamentalists not simplify because they believe in absolute truths? Is authoritarianism not a simplifying measure when compared with the complicated procedures of democracy? Do dictatorships not simplify politics because they avoid parliaments? Yes, all this is true but I do not mean those simplifications but rather the rampant wave of simplifications enacted today by globalization, technologization, and virtualization. They too are against democracy and simplify the world by suppressing communal life and local cultures. Both ISIS and populist movements in Western democracies are acting against those simplifications, which they perceive as totalitarian. They want to go back to real life with all its complications and nuances. They want to feel the “wind on their phizogs.” Some of those protesters will go to Syria. Others voted for Donald Trump and will continue supporting populist candidates. In both cases, the driving force is the nostalgia for a more complex and richer experience of reality than the reality that can be offered by virtualizing media or by “science,” perceived by many Trump voters as pseudo-science. In addition, there is the desire for a lost community in which real people entertain real bonds. The nostalgia for a lost community feeds into radical Islam as well as into contemporary anti-establishment revolutions currently staged in the West. For all those reasons, neither ISIS nor President Trump are simplifiers but complicators. The world has become too simple under the predictable governance of a small elite as well as under the international “regime” of unifying globalization. Community life, trade, and culture should not be decided in Brussels or anonymously “on the internet” but they should be linked to real cultures. Futurism and fascism tried to push society in a similar direction. Even Meinecke says that preceding fascism there was “this stronger grasp of reality [which] now increased from decade to decade. (. . .) men desired wealth and speed. The new magic inventions of the steam-engine and railroad begat the new cult of coal and iron” (8). That’s the road that led to fascism. It is therefore not exaggerated to state that Donald Trump is a Futurist. After all, he wants to foster not the virtual industries of Silicon Valley in the first place but the “real” industries of coal, cars, and iron. One might want to call it retro-Futurism, but in any case the rhetoric of classical Futurism is here more present than the rhetoric of Silicon Valley. Rationalism and realism have become irrational and unreal. This is precisely what some authors noted just before World War II. Not only Meinecke but also Karl Mannheim mentions a “disillusioning realism which destroys all idols” (Mannheim 1940: 125) and which, according to him, is important for the formation of real historical communities. Like Arendt, Mannheim speaks in his Ideology and Utopia of the uprooted masses and finds that “a deep affinity exists between socially uprooted and loosely integrated groups and
Fascism, ISIS, and Futurism
a-historical intuitionism” (126). The ahistorical is “rational” as it excludes “irrational” elements, but its artificial rationality can tip over into irrationality because, paradoxically, “it attracts the explosive irrational elements in the modern mind” (125). Then “putschist” groups will move to the foreground “led by intellectuals who are outsiders to the liberal-bourgeois and socialist stratum of leaders, and who hope to seize power by exploiting the crises which constantly beset modern society in its period of transformation” (125). The revolutionary spirit of fascism and populist movements insists on dynamics and activism, which is opposed to the passivity of societies governed by technocrats and the internet culture. Of course, this is a fake dynamism because, in the end, the authoritarianism of those movements makes people even more passive (the combination of the revolutionary and authoritarian represents another strange paradox in Futurism and fascism). But the illusion of constant movement is considered worth the revolution. NOTES 1. “Se non sono linfatici, sono acidi; se non sono acidi, sono nevrotici; se non sono nevrotici, sono pederasti” (Carli 1980: 13). 2. See Introduction above and D’Orsi: 60. 3. Under Mussolini, the police opened a file on him because of alleged anti-Fascist activities (Berghaus 1996: 11). 4. Anti-Semitism appears only occasionally in futurist statements, like in Marinetti’s text The Italian Army (L’esercito italiano, 1942), where the author asserts that “democracy communism judaism” were “equally depressing and traitorous dusty passeisms” (quoted in Rainey: 37). 5. In his book Uomini e idee del domani. L’egoarchia (Torino: Bocca, 1998). Quoted in D’Orsi: 35. 6. Benito Mussolini, “Stato, anti-Stato, e fascismo,” Gerarchia (February 25, 1922) quoted in Ben-Ghiat 2004: 17. 7. “superegoismo individualistico e di darwinismo sociale, con punte di razzismo” (D’Orsi: 45). 8. In one of his principle articles called “Mussolini Explains One Principle of Islam,” Al-Banna explains in detail the reasons for this support: “All that Mussolini did for society, the country, and the military, and also the fact of being imbued with the spirit of war, is part of what also Islam established in order to keep body of the nations safe. Islam appreciates the military spirit and tries to plant it into the soul of every single Muslim and tries to imbue the whole nation with its color” (Al-Banna 1928). 9. According to the Encyclopédie Larousse. Of course, as Arnold Berleant (2009) reminds us, terrorism and terror are not the same thing. The former is “the calculated use of violence or threat of violence against a civilian population with the intent of causing widespread fear for political purposes. Terror, on the other hand, is the overpowering emotion of intense fear.”
It has been shown that Futurism combines progressive and conservative ideas and we must ask whether ISIS follows similar principles, and whether those principles are anchored in an older tradition of radical Islam. Though being essentially modern, fascism combined modern and traditional elements by following complex patterns. Thomas Mann saw fascism as a “mixture of robust modernity and an affirmative stance toward progress combined with dreams of the past” (1977: 29). How does radical Islam, ISIS in particular, bring tradition and modernity together? Does it modernize Islam or will it rather, as affirms Bassam Tibi, “Islamize modernity [without making] an effort to come to terms with modernity by accommodating it culturally into Islam” (Tibi 1998: 32)? “PROGRESSIVE CONSERVATISM” Like fascism and Futurism, ISIS attempts to unite progressive and conservative attitudes. Before analyzing this strategy with regard to ISIS propaganda material, the problem of “progressive conservatism” needs to be considered within the broader historical context of religious fundamentalism from which ISIS emerges. Progressive conservatism echoes Jeffrey Herf’s term “Reactionary Modernism,” which the historian developed in his eponymous book (1984) on fascism and conservatism in Germany. Herf’s aim was to describe the combination of a technology-based culture with conservative anti-Enlightenment values and the rejection of liberal democracy. Later Herf also applied the term sporadically to Islamic movements like Al-Qaeda and the revolutionary government of Iran (Herf 2009). 105
ISIS is a fundamentalist movement if we define fundamentalism as a religious attitude with irreducible beliefs supported by literalism as well as dogmas and ideologies obsessed with purity. The question that needs to be answered first is whether fundamentalism can be modern and progressive or whether it is necessarily harking back to an ideal past and therefore conservative. As mentioned in the introduction, Western spectators often have difficulty grasping the modern, anti-traditional input in fundamentalism and tend to see it as simply anti-modern and regressive. True, scripturalism, chauvinism, the insistence on faith and family, or the stress on absolute authority can barely be called modern in the Western sense. A large number of fundamentalist clerics are even famous for anti-modern rants in the vein of those issued by the prominent Indian-Pakistani reformist scholar Abdul A’la Maududi1 who called on Muslims to reject modernity and whom “caliph” Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi quoted at length when he made his speech in July at Mosul’s Great Mosque; or Sayyid Qutb, the jihad theorist, leading member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and one of the two main inspirations of ISIS ideologues,2 who developed a profound aversion toward the type of modern mores that he had encountered during a stay in America. Still, the idea of “progressiveness” remains important for many radical Islamic groups. In this it parallels fascism and Futurism where, in the words of Griffin, “the arrow of time thus points (. . .) forward even when the teacher looks over his shoulder for guidance on where to aim” (Griffin 1992: 32). More recently Griffin expressed those ideas on terrorism by pointing to the proximity with Futurism and by explaining how through “the shift from a rear-guard conservative mission of cultural conservation to a futural, avant-garde one the Zealotic terrorist becomes a Modernist, expressing a modernism of violent political and metapolitical deeds rather than of experimental sculptures, utopian architectural projects, or visionary manifestos. Modernist terrorism produces the fanatic of a future creed” (Griffin 2012: 21). Are Islamists conservative? Conservatism is a Western term that emerged as a self-conscious political movement in the late eighteenth century in Europe to defend the principles of the ancient regime. Facing radicalism and the transformative social forces of modernity, conservatives tried to maintain the traditional social and political order. It would be absurd to claim that today radical Islam is facing another sort of radicalism and that it wants to keep the old order. The term conservative cannot be transferred without reservations to this new context. Klaus Epstein has divided conservatism into three types: (1) status quo conservatism, (2) reactionary conservatism, and (3) reform conservatism (Epstein 2015: 7). Islamic fundamentalism matches neither the first one nor the third one. It does not think that the existing order is satisfactory, nor does it accept, like reform conservatives, the inevitability of historical change and development against their will. Does the second type fit? Are Islamic fundamentalists reactionary conservatives trying to restore
an earlier age? Not really because in this ideology an optimistic notion of progress is pointing forward to the future. Modern Islam Michael Mazarr describes in his book Unmodern Men in the Modern World how the “radical personality type (. . .) manifests such aspects as dogmatism, an inferiority complex leading to excessive feeling of superiority, aggressiveness, intolerance, paranoia, a conspirational outlook, and a sense of conformity and obedience to community standards” (Mazarr 2007: 69). True, dogmatism, intolerance, unconditional obedience to community standards, as well as conspiracy theories are precisely what modernity has been trying to overcome. It can therefore appear surprising that academic literature also insists on the modern input of fundamentalism. Moderate Islam scholar Bassam Tibi sees the most radical branches of jihad Islam as modern and not as an expression of ancient Islam (Tibi 2007) and explains that fundamentalism is not traditionalism: “Although fundamentalists do draw on traditions, they do so clearly within a modern context and with a nontraditional mindset” (Tibi 1998: 29). The conservative radical Muslim scholar Ziauddin Sardar believes that fundamentalism is a “modern, concocted dogma” (Sardar 2003: 86), and for Minoo Moallem fundamentalism is “a modern discursive formation” (Moallem 2005: 10). For Inayatullah and Boxwell fundamentalism is “a by-product of the process of modernization” (2003: 3). Sardar cannot avoid certain contradictions when affirming six pages later that fundamentalism “emerged as a gut reaction against modernity” (92). Others have invented paradoxical compounds like “medieval modernity” suggesting “that medieval forms of organization and community can lurk at the heart of the modern” (Al-Sayyad and A. Roy 2006: 259). Miriam Cooke coined the term “Tribal Modern” as a new cultural phenomenon occurring in the Gulf cultures, which signals modern styles combined with traditional elements such as “racial privilege, social status, and exclusive entitlement to a share in national profits” (Cooke: 10). Religion is included in this “modern” package though it does not play a predominant role. Others go further and suggest that fundamentalism is simply too modern: Pierpaolo Antonello writes that Islamic fundamentalists are “not religious enough” but are influenced by secular culture. For him, fundamentalism represents the decomposition of the religious that is “already infiltrated with secular laicism, technological rationality, economic utilitarianism, paraideological mass-media propaganda” (Antonello: 18). Antonello concludes that only religious conservatism can reform fundamentalism. “Unmodern men” do indeed exist: they appear in the form of the Taliban who forbid television, cinema, and the internet, and they are also current in
other religions in the form of Orthodox Haredi Jews or the Amish. Obviously, the “conservatism” of ISIS and many other fundamentalist groups is far more complex and I want to grasp this entity with the help of Futurist concepts. Any idea of “progressive conservatism” is paradoxical because it seems to be going forward by going backward. Still many conservative Islamic activist groups have based their vision of an ideal Islamic state not on a retrospective or nostalgic model but on a utopian model. Many scholars have noted that the recent wave of Islamization does not signify a return to traditional Islam and its scriptures but that one can “see in the Islamist movement elements of a forward-looking project: it is a populist attempt to redefine modernity in Islamic terms” (Badran 2009: 224). The reference to Italian Futurism is useful for the following reasons. Futurism (or at least the “Marinettist” part of it) is in politics a prime example of a contradictory behavior because, as an avant-garde movement, Futurism could only go forward unless it would become inauthentic. At the same time, though it was profoundly revolutionary, Futurism remained just as profoundly reactionary in politics.3 This kind of “fundamentalist utopianism” is also current in modern Islam. However, fundamentalist utopianism is paradoxical in still another sense as it represents a strange mixture of optimism and pessimism. The Futurist idea of “artificial optimism” reflects this attitude and it will be discussed in the conclusion. Artificial optimism, the concept mentioned by Marinetti in his manifesto “War, the World’s Only Hygiene” (Marinetti 1972: 108), is optimism “that never fully repressed its negative counterpart” (Poggi: xi). The negative counterpart is, of course, pessimism. Artificial optimism is a militant form of optimism working, according to the Futurists, against the sentimental, pacifist, and neutral “moonshine nostalgia” common in conservatism. It is through the exercise of artificial optimism that the Futurist forces himself into a fast, strong, and insensitive attitude toward politics, culture, women, and so on. The attitude does not seem to be entirely natural and it has been found that the Futurist “feverish imagination” fueled by optimism gives in to “megalomania and amplification of facts” (Verdone: 111). The strange and disciplined exercise of artificial optimism can be observed in both Islamism and Futurism. Both manifest a nihilistic attitude toward the present state of society. Both negate present values though, at the same time, outright nihilism is rejected because those movements’ highest aim is to create an exalted feeling of optimism with regard to the future and modern life. Boccioni found another term to express this attitude: “male nihilism.” Boccioni liked to oppose male nihilism, which is disciplined and able to engender creative violence, to a chaotic form of “feminine” nihilism (see Antliff 2000: 730).4 Second, both Islamism and Futurism manifest a nihilistic attitude not only toward the present state of society but also toward certain traditions.
Islamism contains some of those typically Futurist paradoxes. The first one is progressive conservatism. The “Islamic modern” has a long tradition. Ayatollah Khomeini, though conservative with regard to culture, saw himself as a progressive innovator of Shia thought and incorporated Marxist thinking into his discourse. His fundamentalism was a synthesis of political radicalism and religious conviction. While the Iranian Islamic revolution intended to solidify the unchanging truths of Islam, it also strove to install a progressive social order. Khomeini belonged to the fundamentalist Usuli School that opposed the ideas of the more conservative Akhbari rivals. The Akhbari proscribed autonomous reasoning (ijtihad) while fundamentalists granted this right to high ulamas. Also, Saudi Arabia’s Wahhabism is not simply conservative but contains a utopian input since its eighteenth-century founder ‘Abd AlWahhab saw traditional Islam as a degenerate version of pristine Islam and wanted to inaugurate an entirely new phase of Islamic culture. Similarly, the Muslim Brothers from Egypt saw and see themselves as an “avant-garde that was ahead of and even above the ordinary masses” (L. Ahmed 2011: 53). Though their vision of Islam remains culturally conservative and is in many respects similar to that of the Wahhabi, their project of reviving an ideal, God-made Islam from the debris of human-made traditions was from the beginning launched in the form of a modern project. The logic with which the old is presented as modern is based on complex relationships. In all the abovementioned movements, there is no real refusal of modernity, but rather a hidden fascination with modernity. Why does this admiration need to be hidden? Since modernity is initially Western, the admiration can never be straightforward. Michael Mazarr has therefore characterized the typical attitude of fundamentalists toward modern life as a love-hate relationship: Those movements do not really hate modernity; they hate its failed hopes—the fact that it has not offered their country, or people, or culture the benefits it promised. Radical antimodernisms represent the humiliated anger of the jilted lover more than a true commitment to premodern life. Although they often speak the rhetoric of buccolism, most antimoderns want urgently to move forward. They want effective and beneficial modernization; they are denied it; they come to hate it—a hate grounded not really in rejection so much as sublimated desire. (Mazarr 2007: 71)
There is still another reason why fundamentalists cannot embrace modernity—or simply the future—wholeheartedly and “simply” optimistically without the artificial input. Traditionally, monotheistic religions are against the future by definition. A straightforward pro-future attitude will always be frowned upon in monotheistic religions because the concept of human
progress leading from the present to a better future is—strictly speaking— inacceptable in religious terms. In traditional theology, the utopia is always in the past and the future is supposed to signify a fall. Futurist optimism cannot emerge in traditional religious contexts but must first be channeled through—often tortuous—ideological filters. The definition of the future as a progressive accumulation of knowledge became possible only in humanism. The word “utopia” was coined during the Renaissance period by humanist philosopher Thomas Moore (1478–1535). Only then, in a humanist context detached from religion, could people think of “building their future.” The Renaissance idea of a utopia does not claim that the utopia really existed in the past. Etymologically, the ou-topos is a nonexistent place and not a place that existed in an ideal past; the exaltation of the utopia current in fundamentalisms is a religious addition. The freedom to build one’s future is—of course—a primary condition of Futurism. There is a parallel complication in “Islamic Futurism,” which does not accept a straightforward utopianism for an entirely different reason. In the Arab world, the defeats against Israel in 1967 and 1973 signified the defeat of progressive utopianism. The only remaining option was therefore a kind of artificial optimism that can appear as genuinely Futurist. In the Arab world, this meant that the focus would shift from Pan-Arabism to Pan-Islamism. PROGRESSIVE IS NOT MODERN Fascism and Futurism wanted another kind of modernity. Most Futurists were imperialists convinced that modernity required new forms of authoritarianism. This modernity is different from the liberal one. Renzo De Felice found in fascism a well-defined theory of human progress leading to totalitarianism. This is not the modernity that “modern” people normally plead for. Should one therefore not better avoid the word “modern” altogether and speak of a “progressive” spirit instead? In other words, is it really appropriate to call fascism, Futurism, and fundamentalism “modern”? Should modernity not be linked to some concrete values (as pointed out by Adorno) that will turn out to be incompatible with the values of the above movements? Progressive people have modern aspirations but they might be only “partially modern”; in no cases do progressive and modern mean the same thing. True, progressive people must be allowed to “progress” in different directions and invent various modern values. However, I believe that not just everything can be called modern only because it results from a desire for progress. Some modern values are not relative and flexible. The distinction between modern and progressive, as terms that are not necessarily opposed to each other but that cover different semantic fields,
has become important in a contemporary Islamic context. When moderate Muslim feminists in France advertise the Islamic veil as modern, they are progressive in some sense or perhaps they are “modern in their own way.” The problem is that their attitude can clash with some modern values that the rest of Western society tends to take for granted. Joan Scott has emphasized precisely this point when analyzing Islamic culture in the West, announcing that “here the veil is taken to be thoroughly modern, although it does not conform to prevailing French notions of modernity” (Scott 2007: 146). Much of “modern” Islamists reasoning follows this pattern of advertising as modern what is not modern for others. Paul Berman found this paradigm also in the attitude of Islamic thinker Tariq Ramadan. Ramadan “paints the iron bars of his ideological cage in cheerful colors that appear to be modern and progressive” but he and Sayyid Qutb merely use a modern language that turns out to be literally faithful to the Quran. As a consequence, Qutb can “sound like a revolutionary anarchist from the 1910s” when thundering about freedom and injustice (Berman 2010a: 205). I would add that he can also sound like a Futurist. Is it possible to be truly modern while staying in an “ideological cage” or is it not rather the case that here a progressive attitude is merely foisted upon a persistent form of conservatism? To be conservative means to conserve elements that existed in the past while “progress” comes from the Latin term progredi, which simply means to “go forward.” In this sense, progressive conservatism is possible only under two conditions: (1) it can relate to different ideas of what it means to be progressive. Usually, to be progressive denotes an adherence to ideas that a majority of people considers to be progressive. However, a person can adhere to conservative ideas simply because she (or the members of her group) believes them to be progressive, which can create one kind of progressive conservatism. (2) Progressive conservatism becomes possible when the past to which the conservative mindset refers has been strongly idealized (and has possibly never really existed). Then the materialization of the past will happen in the future, which makes this conservatism progressive. Most typically, in those progressive conservatisms, a past golden age is viewed in utopian terms, which tends to create a strange amalgam of the past and the future. We know this mainly from the Abrahamic religions, but the pattern appears not only there. Confucius claimed that the “Sage’s mission is not to create anything anew, but merely to transmit the heritage of the Ancients.” At the same time, Confucius recognized that this heritage was lost and needed to be reinvented by the Sage. Sinologist Pierre Ryckmans has highlighted the difference between progressive and modern, writing that “‘Antiquity’ referred to a mythical golden age—actually their utopian vision of the future—whereas the so-called ‘modern practices’ referred to the inheritance of the recent past, i.e. in fact the real past” (Ryckmans 2008).
The abovementioned spiteful love-hate pattern represents another way of explaining the tortuous logic able to simultaneously contain modernism and anti-modernisms. I believe that this phenomenon is echoed by a similar social and psychological trauma in European culture of the 1910s, a trauma that drove the Futurists toward a “conservatively modern” attitude. Looking at the Futurists, we discover that the attitude has older—though still purely modern—roots. The contradictory mindset that we are confronted with in Futurism and certain branches of Islamism can also be called “Romantic Modernism” in allusion to the slogan of the Romantic poet Arthur Rimbaud that “il faut être absolument moderne.” To be absolutely modern is a “romantic” idea as it refers more to an attitude than to a sociopolitical program. The ideologies of ISIS and Futurism overlap perfectly with such “absolutely modern” claims. Futurism, as it frantically rejected the model of antiquity, recuperated the romantic struggle against the doctrines of the classical. Sometimes it appears that Futurism does not envision a consistent process of modernization but that it simply rejects premodern elements. Most of the time this happens on a relatively emotional basis. The entire modernist avant-garde has been said to have no program (Lyon 1999: 1000). The behavior remains modern but it is questionable whether this “modernism” had ever been able to establish modernity as a program. Even here, “to be modern” can remain on the level of an attitude, which becomes particularly clear with regard to Futurism. In fundamentalism, the “absolutely modern” is usually fused with strong religious claims. Religious absolutism rejects all relativism, which is very non-modern. As a consequence, the modern element can only be enacted as an attitude. Even more strongly than in Futurism, ISIS and many other progressive Islamic movements pose as modern without implementing a social model that can be called modern in many important ways. The conclusion is that modernism as an attitude needs to be distinguished from modernism and it is consistent to call the former progressivism instead. The progressive is not against the modern but the progressive is “partially modern.” It can be thoroughly modern in some points. The preceding chapter has shown that fascism and Futurism are progressive though not always modern in Adorno’s “qualitative” sense. The same is true for ISIS and many other radical Islamic movements. Still other movements are not even progressive but clearly retrogressive. In Western culture, the difference between progressive and retrogressive Islam (Al-Qaeda would be an example of the latter) is paralleled by the difference between fascism/Futurism and neo-fascism. As a matter of fact, neither Al-Qaeda nor neo-fascists cultivate an enthusiasm for modernity; many might not even maintain that sort of love-hate relationship with modern life that can be attributed to Sayyid Qutb. According to Gentile, neo-fascists consider the modern simply as “an epoch of corruption and degeneration
dominated by mass conformity, materialistic-oriented cultures, the civilization of the machine, egalitarianism, and denationalizing cosmopolitanism” (Gentile 2003: 183). Present Western right-wing radicalism usually flees from modernity and eschews technology and mass media. Aesthetically, the most common option chosen will be a romantic fantasy world à la Tolkien. Here the affinity of ISIS with Futurism becomes very clear. While Al-Qaeda propaganda clearly tends toward a romantic fantasy world (see next chapter), ISIS opts for a progressive high-tech universe. REFORMED ISLAM: MODERN OR SIMPLY PROGRESSIVE? The opposition of the progressive to the modern will be discussed in other sections of this chapter. First it is necessary to look at another “modern” conservatism, which is reformism because it is also possible to explain fundamentalism’s relationship with modernity through its reformist ambitions. Wahhabism is reformist since ‘Abd Al-Wahhab’s aim was to create a new and utopian version of Islam that he believed to have existed prior to the Islam current during his time. Similarities with the heirs of the Reformation, that is, the Christian fundamentalists of the end of the twentieth century, have often been evoked (see Zeidan: 4). One trait shared by these currents is the insistence on literalism. Dale Eickelman puts forward the “spiritual and intellectual ferment causing many to criticize traditional religion and to demand a return to the sources and reforms” as reformists in the original European sense (Eickelman 1998, quoted in Zeidan, 92). However, in reality, those comparisons with Islamic reformism are not justified. In general, Islamic fundamentalism has very little in common with the arrière-garde of American Protestant fundamentalism whose strategy limits itself to a simple opposition to cultural changes. In Epstein’s scheme (see above) this would be status quo conservatism. Though all fundamentalisms share a nostalgia for the golden age, which often results in a rewriting of history in the light of the presumed utopia (see Zeidan 2003: 200), American Christian fundamentalism that has been initiated in the 1920s, should rather be defined, in the words of Marsden, as a “militantly antimodernist Protestant evangelicalism” (Marsden 2006: 4). The gap between Islamic and Protestant fundamentalism is due to the fact that both construe the word “fundamental” differently, which becomes clearest with regard to the Salafist movement launched in the 1870s by Jamal adDin al-Afghani and his disciple Mohammed Abduh. This movement, which was a Muslim response to Western pressure, followed a Pan-Islamic modernizing strategy that did not challenge the basic premises of Enlightenment. Their ideal was rather to join reason to faith or to join modernity to tradition.
In other words, rejuvenation and innovation was supposed to go through the establishment of Islamic roots. As a result, scholars like Bachir Diagne have called its approach “progressive fundamentalism” (Diagne 2008: 95). Such patterns do not exist in American fundamentalism because the latter remains simply “close to the traditions of the dominant American revivalist establishment of the nineteenth century, who in the twentieth century militantly opposed both modernism in theology and the cultural changes that modernism endorsed” (Marsden 2006: 4). At the same time and paradoxically, this does not mean that Christian fundamentalists are more conservative than their Muslim counterparts. The scriptural conservatism is definitely stronger in Muslim fundamentalism, according to Bernhard Lewis: “The Muslim fundamentalists, unlike the protestant groups whose name was transferred to them, do not differ from the mainstream on questions of theology and the interpretation of the scripture” (Lewis 2004: 20). Modern Attitudes versus Modern Values When the act of going forward refers to a myth, the project of modernization will most probably end up as a modern or progressive attitude and not be implemented as a real social reform. Then the most conservative values can be presented as modern; and very often this happens through techniques of aesthetization and stylization. Whenever we speak of “progressiveness” it is useful to distinguish real moral values and religious contents from the (aesthetic) attitude with which those values have been presented or defended. Only by insisting on this distinction can we be sure to handle “progressive conservatism” correctly. When it comes to questions of modernity and progress in non-Western culture, often the field is dominated by confusion. It has been discussed above that Minoo Moallem believes fundamentalism to be “a modern discursive formation (no less modern than ‘progress’ or ‘development’)” (Moallem 2005: 10). She here almost literally reinstates Inayatullah and Boxwell’s idea that fundamentalism “is not premodern but rather a by-product of the process of modernization” (Inayatullah and Boxwell: 13). However, to be progressive refers to the application of certain abstract structures while “modern” should also refer to concrete values. The problem is that those values are linked to the development of mainly Western cultures whose values are not acceptable for everybody. For all those reasons, it is easy to fall into the trap of identifying the progressive with the modern. The progressive can easily appear as modern. The past is usually premodern while the present and the future are modern. Therefore, anybody claiming to work for a better future can easily appear as modern. However, being modern should not be merely a matter of a
“forward” and “backward” dynamic (as is progress) but of certain concrete values. Working for a “better future” merely means to be progressive. Futurists, fascists, and Islamists were the first people to experiment with those constellations. We are inclined to think that anything progressive will automatically evolve toward the modern. However, a cultural movement can be progressive without advancing toward modern cultural values like liberty, secularism, and tolerance. Even a modern value such as rationality can be reduced to a mere “forward-pointing” attitude. This happens particularly often when religious thinkers insist on the “rationalism” of religion. What precisely happens in those cases? An irrational content is presented with a rational attitude. For example, the Quran will be found “reasonable” in the sense of a “transparent text that any rationally trained person—a doctor, an engineer, a social scientist—working within the framework of Islamism could reasonably interpret for himself and others” (L. Ahmed 2011: 164). Here “rationality” emerges not as a product of critical thinking processes but as a superficially rational attitude supporting premodern, one-dimensional truths. Today many Muslim clerics have been educated in modern, Western environments and feel obliged to explain religion in terms of reason. However, this does not mean that religious truths have been submitted to modern forms of hermeneutic examination. Their “reason” does not work along the lines of intercultural communication able to fuse the old with the new or east with west. Instead, one tends to stick to a religiously defined kind of purity and most often refuses models of cultural fusion; and this will then be called reasonable and modern. In reality, this procedure is anti-modern even though the attitude might be progressive. A similar progressive attitude is applied when modern concepts like the nation-state are imported into an imaginary history of Islam that will subsequently be seen as a model for the future. This importation of modern concepts does not make fundamentalism modern at all. Such patterns were particularly graphic during the Islamic revolution in Iran. Maxime Rodinson pointed out how much some modern ideas were transformed when undergoing religious transformations. Though those ideas might still today appear as modern and be advertised as such, in reality they were anti-modern. Rodinson names progressive ideas like nationalism and socialism, which were imported from the West but deprived by the Islamic government of their modern elements. Instead they were recast in purely religious terms. In the end, Rodinson sees the Islamic State of Iran as “a type of archaic fascism” (Rodinson 1978: 231) limiting itself to the enforcement of totalitarian moral and social order. This is very similar to Guy Debord’s interpretation of fascism as a “technically-equipped archaism” (Debord 1983: 110). Rodinson concludes that in the hands of radical Islam, imported modern political models such as nationalism and socialism will end up as archaic. Very similarly, though in a more contemporary context, Ibrahim Abu-Rabi
sees the mismatch of progress and modernity in Muslim countries as a capitalism that “lacks a broad base of societal power sharing”: “We have capitalism without democracy or a long tradition of economic evolution. Capitalism is not homegrown as much as it is imported” (Abu-Rabi 2004: 7). A certain “modern” attitude persists but it leads to deformed versions of modernity at best. For all those reasons, it is appropriate to call this attitude progressive and not modern. Typical for the emergence of a deformed type of modernity in Islam is the refusal to transform religion into culture though normally this represents a core condition for the achievement of modernity. It is telling that very few “progressive” reformers of Islam are ready to proceed that far on the modernity track. The result is, once again, the aforementioned curious concept of “religious rationality” that has become characteristic of all pseudo-modern, progressive religious attitudes. Olivier Roy sees the insistence of religious thinkers on rationalism and on the “rationality of religious prescriptions” as a “sign that modernity has worked its way into the very heart of Islamist discourse” (Roy 1994: 21). This is not only too optimistic, but it misinterprets the situation. Rationalism is only possible on the condition that religious dogmata have been softened into cultural prescriptions permitting rationality to redefine parts of the dogma. In other words, rationalism is only possible on the condition that religious beliefs undergo a process of secularization beforehand. Only this will make religion compatible with real modernization. Otherwise, rationality will end up as rationalization, which basically means that it will remain limited to a progressive attitude. Then rationalization functions as a kind of aesthetic stylization: through rationalization, the irrational will be presented as rational because it appears as rational. The Progressive Anti-Modernism of ISIS Many values central to fundamentalisms are not modern and never will be. However, conservative values, discourses, and practices of the past can be enacted while demonstrating a progressive attitude. ISIS is following this pattern more consistently than any other Islamic fundamentalist movement, which is the reason why it can be called “Futurist.” On the one hand, the attitude and the aesthetics are almost avant-garde; on the other hand, this fundamentalism refers to values leading modern people all over the world to identify with a mindset extinct for centuries. The confusion of the modern and the progressive can lead to tragic results. On the one hand, Sardar’s ideas about fundamentalism’s “modernity” appear to be in keeping with Roy’s ideas about the unfortunate separation of religion and culture. The problem is that Sardar calls “modern” what is simply progressive. The danger is that through this confusion an entire modern tradition
will be discredited. Sardar holds that the existence of Islamic fundamentalism is derived from ahistoric and noncultural premises, because fundamentalism “is not based on a classical religious narrative or Muslim tradition: it has no historical precedence. It is a modern, concocted dogma” (Sardar 2003: 86). Here “modern” is supposed to signify “not being linked to history.” According to Sardar, modernity becomes a drawback: if Islamists would only be “non-modern,” they would be aware of the true history of Islam instead of inventing new “modern” doctrines from scratch by amalgamating Islam with Western elements. This reasoning might appear tortuous as it uses the word modern in a peculiar way, but it is relatively common (see Antonello above). In earlier fundamentalisms, the progressive attitude was most typically present in the form of activism and service. Also, here a modern attitude would often serve as a substitute for real modernism based on an axiological content. Activism and service are truly progressive. It is even possible to oppose those elements to some of the arrière-garde attitudes to which—ironically—much of the intellectual life in industrialized nations has shifted during the last thirty years. Western arrière-garde people distance themselves from the myth of progress, become ecologists, and are opposed to industrialization and technology. What is progressive about this? This is anti-progressive, but still it must be considered a part of the modern development of culture while activism and service are progressive but not necessarily modern. The modern and the progressive are not exclusive but they can be exclusive. In any case, they are separate entities: not only can one be progressive without being modern (Islamists and fascists), but one can also be modern without being progressive (ecological fundamentalists). The main problem of Islamists and fascists is that their progressive spirit remains limited to an attitude. What was dormant in pre-ISIS fundamentalism has become the most important element in ISIS. The extreme emphasis on attitude, mediatization, self-stylization, and aesthetization is the boulder of the newest generation of progressive fundamentalist culture. PROGRESSIVE, MODERN, AND “MODERNISH” ISIS is not modern but progressive in the same way in which Futurists were merely progressive. ISIS insists on a Futurist techno attitude without compromising any of its premodern content. Islamic fundamentalism, though it appears to be modern, does not make any attempt to undertake a fusion of tradition and modern values, but it simply declares the old to be modern by wrapping the old in a progressive aesthetic. It has been shown above that this is not ISIS’s invention but that it can be traced to branches of Islamic fundamentalism. The pattern is simply less obvious in earlier movements while in
the mediatized ISIS context, style, and fashion have become more important than ever. True, prior to ISIS, fashion was important, too; it has even been the main device able to present a conservative content with a progressive attitude. As mentioned, the new Islamic dress code adopted in the early 1980s in Egypt by devout women was not experienced as merely traditional but rather as “strangely modern.” However, the reason why it was new was not that the traditional dress had been fused with modern elements. Conservative values were simply presented via a progressive attitude. The new Islamic dress could be seen as progressive because it was new; but at the same time, it was putting forward conservative values such as humility, piety, and moderation, which were not new. It did not represent any form of “modernized Islam” but merely retro-Islam operating through a Futurist pattern. Old and new elements were not fused, but an alternative “modern attitude” was created by stylizing the old as new. This type of “fake modernity” is most obvious in the culture of the Arabian Gulf States. The program of “modernization” that had been started in those conservative countries in the 1970s was, according to Abu-Rabi, “bereft of critical modernism [or] of a consciousness of being modern” (Abu-Rabi 2004: xiv). Even more, retrospectively, this “modernization” appears to have happened precisely at the moment when the Arab world aborted modernity. According to Abu-Rabi, “The ruling classes in the Gulf strongly object to developing indigenous forms of modernism, since modernism has the potential of cultivating democratic ideals and practices” (20). In Kuwait and Saudi Arabia, the 1970s and 1980s were the years in which “modern architecture” would be imported from all parts of the Western world and cities began to look truly modern. The wave of Islamization that caught the Middle East began at the same time. For whatever external or internal reasons, the leaders of those countries decided to “modernize its societies without having a true underlying philosophy of indigenous modernization” (23). One might conclude that the more a country withdraws from modern values, the more it will try to stylize itself as progressive. Progressive versus Moderate Islamic fundamentalism might be progressive because it searches for new forms of religion, ethics, and aesthetics. Here it diverges from contemporary moderate Islamic movements. They too establish paradoxical relationships between modernity and tradition but their cultural agendas are different. Recent moderate Islamic movements can indeed be understood as ethnoreligious versions of modernity because they integrate modern and Western elements into their practices. Contemporary moderate Islam represents a fusion of tradition and modernity, of non-West and West, which is why, for
example, debates about the Islamic veil very often revolve around this clothing item’s relationship with modernity. In a new and modern context, the old headscarf adopts a different status (see Scott: 5; Botz-Bornstein and Abdullah-Kahn 2014; Botz-Bornstein 2015). Therefore, contrary to the Egyptian situation in the 1980s, the newest wave of Islamization can indeed be seen as a sign of modernity: it connotes attempts toward “self-achievement, (. . .) individual commitment of the believer, and (. . .) defiance of the established religious authority” (Roy 2004: 15), while fundamentalism simply declares the old to be new and mistakenly believes that the progressive attitude sparked by this name change will make the entire phenomenon modern. Moderate Islam converts parts of the Islamic religion to culture, which also enables a fusion of the Muslim religion with elements from other cultures. Fundamentalisms—even the most progressive ones—have no intention to “soften” religion into culture. Instead, they stick to the hard religious kernel of their religions but desperately claim to be modern because certain elements have been stylized as modern. A phenomenon like ISIS can only be explained through this pattern. ISIS is progressive or perhaps “modernish” but not modern. The term “modernish” can be coined in parallel with the word “truthy,” which appears in the Oxford English Dictionary since 2006. “Truthy” was named “word of the year” in 2006 by the Merriam Webster dictionary and it has been academically explored in proximity with Harry Frankfurt’s philosophical analysis of “bullshit” as opposed to the act of lying (Pierlott 2009). Things that are truthy are not true but merely “feel true” without regard to the actual facts. Philosophers have examined similar concepts, for example “mathiness” (Romer 2015). Correspondingly, modernish is not modern but what “feels modern” or has a modern attitude. In other words, modernity is enacted as a mere style while the substance of what is enacted remains non-modern. ISIS and Futurism (or at least the part of Futurism linked to Marinetti) follow this development. FROM ISLAMISM TO ISIS: WHICH KIND OF “MODERNITY”? Olivier Roy has attempted to solve the paradox of progressive conservatism by drawing a borderline between Islamism and fundamentalism. The problem is that today the borderline is becoming increasingly blurred. Roy divides the Islamic world into “radical Islamists” such as Khomeini, and conservative fundamentalist regimes ruling in Saudi Arabia and Pakistan. The Islamist movements evolving since the 1940s did “not advocate a return to what existed before, as do fundamentalists in the strict sense of the word, but a
reappropriation of society and modern technology based on politics” (Roy: 1994: 3). An important point is that Islamism is also urban and therefore rarely merely traditionalist. Islamism also asks for a universal state (which is a modern idea); it might even offer a political and social rereading of the Quran inspired by Western social philosophies while religious authorities (ulamas and mullahs) remain conservative and are often obscurantists, which creates the strange coexistence of the modern and the conservative in contemporary Islam. Matters become even more complex as we are moving into the postmodern age. Islamists are conservative when they implant a transcendental God-like unity into social “real” life and cannot, for example, accept modern democratic ideas implying social segmentation. In Globalized Islam, written ten years after The Failure of Political Islam, Roy has adapted his analysis accordingly. He now confirms that the Islamists’ political and social reading of the Quran is not very consistent because (contrary to what was written on the first pages of The Failure of Political Islam) “Islamism rejects political philosophy and the human sciences as such” and therefore “there is no true Islamist political thought” (Roy 2004: 71). Modern ideas such as the Freudian subconscious or rigorous social analysis cannot be accepted. The main driving force of Islam has now become a “magical appeal to virtue” (71). Roy’s thoughts evolve from the early 1990s to the early 2000s, certainly influenced by the evolution of events. The border between Islamism and fundamentalism, as it was announced in The Failure of Political Islam in 1992 (French version), was still based on the distinction between an urban, modern Islam, and mere obscurantism, or simply on the distinction between Iran and Saudi Arabia. In the context of globalization, this border has crumbled away. Islamists who could be called “modern” in 1992 would accept democratic ideas. In Globalized Islam, Roy declares that Islamism rejects political philosophy and reduces Islam to a magical appeal to virtue. The conclusion seems to be that Islamists have become fundamentalists. Instead of striving for a revolution, Islamist militants concentrate more and more on “Islamic practices” and therefore resemble traditional fundamentalists. Roy concludes that the “fragile synthesis between Islam and political modernity” never took root (2004: 75). Education prevails over politics, the community prevails over the state, virtue prevails over the economy, and sectarianism prevails over activism. The only remaining question is whether this indicates merely a recent blurring of the limits between Islamism and fundamentalism or whether these overlaps of Islamism and fundamentalism were not intrinsic to Islamism from the beginning. Roy does not provide a clear answer to this question. On the one hand, progressive fundamentalism seems to be impossible. For example, the neofundamentalists have begun to critique “the perverse effects of modern technology” (87). On the other hand,
the modern appeal might not be entirely erased because also neofundamentalists claim to be intellectuals, are urban, work in modern societies, and function within modern political systems. The only thing that can be said with certitude is that the model of “progressive conservatism” subsists. However, according to the pattern that has been sketched in the preceding section, the neofundamentalist approach toward modernity remains—more often than ever—limited to a modern attitude. The fake modernism of ISIS, which can be added to the palette of progressive conservatisms, resembles Futurism more than ever. We should now come to the question whether Futurists were really modern or simply modernish. Futurists are modernish to some extent, but one must be careful not to dismiss as “merely modernish” the wrong elements. As mentioned, elements like violent paramilitarism and ethnic cleansing are modern and there is no reason to classify those phenomena as modernish even though they are unacceptable in any modern society today. Some values have simply changed. However, the anti-female sentiments, the opposition to parliamentary democracy, the intolerance of dissent and the pronounced nationalism and colonialism are incompatible with modern values, which makes the whole project look merely progressive. In a word, what Futurism is lacking is a consistent modernization strategy, and here it resembles Islamism. A romantic mindset of the “absolument moderne” can lead to an aesthetization of the non-modern into the modern; it also enables the combination of conservative and progressive elements. However, in the end, the modernization projects of Futurism remain (like those of Islamism) in the realm of “magic appeals” and do not adopt the form of real political or social philosophies. Modern or Postmodern? It has been said that both Futurism and ISIS are based on the idea of progressive conservatism. The problem is that when the past appears as more modern than the present, confusion will wait for us. It has been shown above that the idealization through which the past is advertised as a model for a progressive future follows complex patterns. Fundamentalism can be declared modern only on the condition that certain elements are filtered out of the original idea of modernism. By doing so, one creates a selective modernity or an imaginary modernity that might pass as the “fundamentalist modern,” but which is merely progressive and not modern. One problem is that this “modernity” is always supposed to present an absolute value; however, this alone already violates the terms of modernity itself. As will be explained below, a moderate dose of relativism has always been part of the package of modernity even during Enlightenment. “Fundamentalist modernism” strives to purge modernity of everything that could be called “relative” or ambiguous and this is against
the rules of modernity. Most often, in the fundamentalist jargon, relativismrelated elements will not be called modern but “postmodern.” Once modernity has been purged of all relativist (“postmodern”) elements it becomes acceptable. It will be accepted as a container of absolute truths. This is true for both ISIS and Futurism. The “modernity” of these movements is different from the most recent stage of modern culture as it is known today, which is “postmodernity.” In chapters 2, 3, and 4, postmodern culture has been dubbed “Cyberpunk,” but the postmodern should not be understood purely negatively. Cyberpunk is a particular and extreme manifestation of postmodern culture. The belief in something absolute, on the other hand is “modern,” as opposed to postmodern. Both the fundamentalist and the Futurist modern are distinct from a “postmodern” version of modernity that insists on cultural difference, relativism, irony, humor, and tolerance. It goes without saying that the latter qualities are incompatible with any kind of fundamentalism. They are equally incompatible with the mindset of Evangelical Christians for whom “postmodern ideologies” have come to symbolize the “politically correct” attitude of tolerance and openness (supported by relativism) and preached by liberals. These prescriptions clash with their ideas of the gospel and its revealed absolute truths. Much has been said in chapter 3 about relativism. It became clear that the purpose of this book is not to advertise postmodern relativism as a virtue. The relationships between the modern and the postmodern are far more complex. Just like the modern, the postmodern is neither positive nor negative. Negative forms of a postmodern “anything goes” attitude have been described in chapter 4 with regard to liberalism. This attitude can also be found in Cyberpunk. However, the postmodern cannot be reduced to those outgrows. The postmodern condition flows out of modernity; it represents its continuation. Postmodern qualities like skepticism toward any absolute truth have not been invented by postmodernism but are part and parcel of the (Western) modern package. In other words, the germs of those postmodern features have always been present in modernity. Real modernity has always been postmodern to some extent, and this is what progressive movements like Islamism and Futurism cannot accept. However, if fundamentalists do not accept the postmodern, this means that they do not accept modernity either. Picking absolute truths from modernity but refusing postmodern complexities is an eat-yourcake-and-have-it-too attitude. Futurism, had it been confronted with a postmodern world of Cyberpunk, would not have accepted the postmodern condition either. Neither fundamentalists nor Futurists have any sympathy for this last (postindustrial) stage of modernism that includes too much relativism and historicism. Futurist “modernism” is based on the false assumption that modernity has made available unnegotiable truths dependent on an eternal, absolute reason; but this
assumption does not correspond to the reality of the Western modern tradition since Enlightenment. Even liberalism, despite its universalist pretentions, did not advance in such a straightforward fashion. In general, Western modern thinkers were very much aware that reason is constructed according to relatively random situations. Even Enlightenment philosophers never lost sight of the fact that reason is not a faithful reflection of truths but dependent on social customs and cultures. For fundamentalists (and Futurists come here dangerously close to this way of thinking), “rational modernity” is interpreted as a straightforward “personal quest for an immediately accessible knowledge” (Roy 2004: 15). They are ready to adopt this kind of modernity, but nothing else. True, straightforward theories of modernism did exist in the past in the margins of Western philosophy (e.g., Positivism), but there is no reason to limit the concept of modernity in such a way. It is also true that modernity has created a great variety of non-liberal models determined by the ideologization of truth and the dichotomization of worldviews. However, few people would defend those models today in terms of modernity. They appear rather as mistakes along the way to a self-critical type of modernity that is the result of the critical thought initiated by Enlightenment philosophy. Futurism is a typical representative of all those who looked modern but misunderstood important premises contained in the concept of modernity. Some religious fundamentalisms follow the same path. In this sense, fundamentalists are not much different from Arab secularists, which is indeed curious. Ibrahim Abu-Rabi explains that “on the whole, the political elite in the Arab world, a small minority compared to the larger society, have jumped on the bandwagon of secularism without actually understanding its historical background, intellectual premises, and general objectives” (AbuRabi 2004: 95). Is it still possible to attribute Islamic fundamentalism to the postmodern sphere “where the distinction between the real and the imaginary, fabricated history and true tradition, has been lost” (Inayatullah and Boxwell: 14)? I don’t think so though Inayatullah and Boxwell have chosen this option. Moallem has chosen another approach when affirming that fundamentalism is “neither the premodern nor the postmodern [but] a moment of modernity” (Moallem 2005: 14). It has been shown above that none of those reasonings is conclusive. Inayatullah and Boxwell decide to establish Islamic fundamentalism as a “by-product of modernity” (13) and a few lines further down, they do not hesitate to establish it as “a by-product of postmodernism” (14). Is this supposed to affirm that the typically postmodern ethics and aesthetics of fragmentation as well as its pluralism have been flowing out of modern thought and cannot be separated from the latter? The answer is that Islamic fundamentalism is certainly progressive or “modernish” but definitely not postmodern and therefore not modern either. If Islamic fundamentalism is
a by-product of postmodernism then only in the sense that the generalized relativism for which postmodern thought is famous allows the emergence of new absolutisms, including the fundamentalist one. However, these fundamentalist absolutisms are not modern but premodern. This is the problem: in a postmodern world, anybody is allowed to be as modern or premodern as he likes. It is even permitted to stretch the idea of modernity according to one’s own beliefs. Fundamentalism is postmodern only in this sense. But most essentially, it remains unable to fully embrace the modern as well as the postmodern situation. NOTES 1. Maududi (1903–1979) is the founder of the Jamaat-e-Islami party in 1941 and originator of the contemporary term “Islamic state.“ Paradoxically, Maududi’s discourse is shaped by Western concepts. He is therefore “modern” as opposed to medieval as he forges an idea of the “sovereign state” by using seventeenth-centuryscientific concepts. 2. The other main reference being the founding member of Al-Qaeda Abdullah Azzam. From Azzam comes ISIS’ belief in the rightful occupation of Islamic lands as an act of jihad (see Azzam’s In Defense of Muslim Lands  and Ingram 2016: 3). 3. See Lista: “Marinetti e stato con eguale intensità profondamente reazionario in politica” (2016: 11). 4. Boccioni alludes here to perceptions of irrational (“feminine”) crowd behavior as it has been analyzed by Gustave Le Bon in his The Crowd (see Antliff: 730).
Terrorism and Cyberpunk
TERRORIST IDEALISM The Futurist call for destruction is optimistic. This is even true for NeoFuturism. Roberto Guerra writes that “we are not here to clean away the trash of the past; I am moving forward to have air to breath. I launch myself from the edge of an abyss.”1 We rarely find that kind of artificial optimism in ruminating Cyberpunk. Futurism rejects any kind of contemplation because contemplation is decadent. Opposed to the more contemplative symbolists, Futurism choses the fast pace of exaltation. The “exaltation of hilarity and of optimism” is an expression of “bursting vital energies,” writes Ferrarotti (60). Futurism wants to celebrate while Cyberpunk contemplation leads to melancholy and apathy. My idea in this book is to place the most recent emanations of terrorism into the picture that emerges from the Cyberpunk versus Futurism opposition. What status does Islamic terrorism have within the landscape of different Futurisms? While Western and Japanese cultures evolved—over a course of almost a hundred years—from Futurism to Cyberpunk, a new, global, and immensely intriguing cultural phenomenon emerged almost in parallel: Islamic fundamentalism, which would develop terrorism in its margins. Modern Islamic fundamentalism has its origins in the late nineteenth century. During the Cold War, Western Nations (in particular the United States and Great Britain) encouraged and supported fundamentalist groups in various regions in order to contain Soviet expansion. By the late 1970s fundamentalism became increasingly militaristic and could often be associated with terrorism. Superficially speaking, the apparently nihilistic ideology of terrorism that is openly preaching murder and destruction yields the impression of being not Futurist but just another derivation of dystopian and pessimistic 125
Cyberpunk attitudes. This interpretation is supported by many common descriptions of terrorism, which tend to depict the terrorist as a typical nihilist martyr in order to justify the war against terrorism. “The Bush administration highlighted the figure of the ‘terrorist’ as a way to reveal the reality behind the mask of the ‘martyr’: he was a despicable individual whose fanatical ideology, based on hatred, death, and devastation, culminated in the massacre of innocent civilians through his own self-destruction. By targeting the terrorist as the symbol of evil par excellence, Washington expected to rally a vast alliance of nations behind the United States,” writes Gilles Kepel (2008: 12). In reality, nobody is more idealist than the martyr. As mentioned, Alberto Fernandez, who works for the Brookings Institute, holds that “the seemingly authentic black flag, the savage videos, and the black dress—all this is not nihilism, but extremely violent idealism” (Fernandez 2015: 11). Jean Birnbaum states that “the feeling that drives jihadists is not hate but rather enthusiasm.”2 Islamic terrorism is not Cyberpunk but Futurist. It will be shown below that even the black dress worn by ISIS fighters reflects a Futurist style and not that of Punk. ISIS must be understood as a counterreaction to Cyberpunk. Given the particular religious background of ISIS, this should be no surprise. ISIS culture is radically opposed to most phenomena mentioned above: to New Age culture, to antiauthoritarianism, and to relativism (especially when the latter includes ironic elements). Given the dark and apparently nihilistic images sent out by ISIS, its opposition to Cyberpunk might not always be obvious. The matter is relatively complex. There are even a few parallels between Cyberpunk and ISIS that need to be accepted. Some reside in the realm of the aesthetic and some are ideological, like the anarchic mindset that is shared by some terrorists and Cyberpunks (as well as by Futurists). However, those parallels should not be overemphasized. In principal, ISIS is neither Punk nor Cyberpunk, but follows Futurist principles. It is important to insist on the incompatibility with Punk because in the past, ISIS and Punk have been linked. The only interesting observation that can be drawn from these comparisons is that Italian Futurism can be mistaken as Punk for the same superficial reasons. We need to grasp the reasons for the change from Futurism to Cyberpunk if we want to understand why ISIS strives to overcome Cyberpunk and to go back to Futurism. In general, the cultural environment that Cyberpunk is exposed to is very different from that of the early avant-garde. The relativism and antiauthoritarianism of New Age culture have already been mentioned. The particular form of “relativism” linked to an ambiguous form of nihilism to which Cyberpunk can be traced was initiated by Nietzsche. Nietzsche was important for Futurists, too, but they singled out his emphasis on the triumph of will and virility. The Futurists—and Marinetti in particular—were avid readers of Nietzsche. “Nietzsche was for us everything” says Futurist Primo
Terrorism and Cyberpunk
Conti.3 But Nietzsche’s gospel on nihilism, ambiguous as it is, remains incompatible with Futurist thought but is more in line with D’Annunzio’s and Antonio Fogazzaro’s morbid aestheticism that was judged decadent by Futurists because of its sensualism. Decadentism and everything “dannunzianesimo” can be seen as an early Cyberpunk antipode of Futurism. For Futurists, this was simply the culture “of the erotomaniac Italy and of junk dealers” (“l’Italia erotomane e rigattiera, Verdone: 7). In Marinetti’s early works the fascination with Nietzsche is very strong. In spite of this, Marinetti’s “nihilism”—if we can call it like that—is not nihilist in a Cyberpunk sense. Destruction is deemed necessary but from a destroyed civilization emerges, through an élan vital, an exuberant life force. Most interesting for Futurists is the Dionysian vitality of the Übermensch. Again, this foists a certain understanding on Nietzsche. Here Dionysus is not seen as a producer of a tragic awareness of life, but for Futurists the past is in ruins and on the ruins will be built a brilliant future. Nietzsche’s “Dionysianism,” which is normally supposed to restore a tragic sense of life that has been lost in Socratic philosophy and in Christianity, is recuperated by Futurists for this “superhuman” purpose (see Berghaus 1996: 22–24). This gives the “Futurist nihilism,” even if it is fueled by Nietzsche, a completely different twist. Further, there is a large difference between Futurism and Cyberpunk in economic terms. Cyberpunk thrived in postindustrial societies in which unprecedented economic affluence and the satiation of basic material needs fostered creativity but also boredom. When the economy’s service sector generates more wealth than the manufacturing sector it is no longer necessary to toil for a living. On the one hand, this is good news, but on the other hand, an entire optimistic, work-oriented industrial world falls into ruins. This negative reading of postindustrialism leads to a perception of a certain “Cyberpunk reality” almost unique to the Western world and Japan, but much less to other parts of the world. “Postindustrial” signifies that an industrial world has disappeared not because energies would have been used on wars or on its destruction, but because society has been taken over by weakness, anomie, and change. This kind of nihilism is absent in Futurism. A further feature of Cyberpunk is the weakening of reality. The reproduction of reality in the realm of the virtual has made reality abstract and “spectacular” in the sense of Guy Debord (1983). Futurism is diametrically opposed to this feature as it wants to strengthen the perception of reality. Postindustrial economies do not lack money or goods, but they lack reality to the point that the goods themselves often lack reality. Industrial societies used to produce “real goods,” even if those goods were often mass produced and “entfremdet” from the laborer. In the postindustrial world, the Entfremdung is taken one step further. The postindustrial or “post-Fordist” society has become an information society where tangible goods have been replaced with
images and abstractions: “Abstract intelligence and immaterial signs have become the major productive force in the ‘post-Fordist’ economy we are living in,” writes Sylvère Lotringer (2004: 7). The entire economy has become an “information economy” peddling mainly information. According to Paulo Virno, the immaterial character of the economy and the entire working world leads to the inability to feel at home. Today Entfremdung signifies the inability to find refuge anywhere in the semiotic grid of post-Fordism where unity has disappeared, as Virno writes: “The experience of the contemporary (or, if you prefer, of the post-Fordist) multitude is primarily rooted in this modification of the dialectic of dread-refuge. The many, in as much as they are many, are those who share the feeling of ‘not feeling at home’” (Virno 2004: 34). Marx had not anticipated the existential dimensions of this capitalist development. Capitalism is no longer merely a matter of oppression, but post-Fordist capitalist culture has become more subtle: “What mass-workers objected to most was the transfer of human knowledge to the machines, reducing life to ‘dead labor’. There was an existential dimension there, but active and creative. Their effort to change labor conditions was unknown to classical Marxism, mostly preoccupied with mechanisms of oppression and their effect on the working class” (Virno: 8). The non-real aspect of this society is further reinforced by the fact that its economy is driven by a combination of digital technology and corporate demands, factors that cannot be directly traced to real people with authorities and responsibilities. The entire economy tends to appear in the form of impersonalized data. Still another problem is quantification and bureaucratization, as has been explained in chapter 4. The reality that people encounter in a Cyberpunk universe is not a firsthand reality, but it is issued in the form of policies, orders, goals, impersonal guidelines, targets, prescriptions, and proscriptions. There is little space for self-motivating impulses that people would follow in order to be valued and respected. This impersonalization is further intensified by a neoliberal quantification of reality. An algebraized physics (which is the origin of all quantification) has come to present reality in the form of mathematical formulae and abstract relationships. Qualities like character, virtues, or a common good become increasingly unintelligible in this world of quantified relationalisms. The concept of mathiness comes to mind. Meaning is expressed in the form of numbers but has no textual depth. One of the results of this quantification in the Cyberpunk world is the destruction of trust. All people desire to be trusted members of some sort of social organization. However, this has become more and more difficult in a world determined by impersonal performance indicators where constructs are composed of quantified outcomes. Quantification leads to the unintelligibility of the notion of the public good. One of the results is the rise of communitarian movements: in communities, people can be trusted. In a Cyberpunk
Terrorism and Cyberpunk
world, markets and services have been centralized, bureaucratized, and rationalized in a formal fashion. This does not only concern the economy, culture, and education, but also reality as such. Reality itself has undergone a process of rationalization that developed in parallel with the rationalization of the economy. Human experience is simulated in almost all aspects of life including sexuality. Finally, in the postmodern world, the difference between the original and the copy has become insignificant. However, the virtualization does not stop here. To close the circle, the simulated reality will be marketed by corporate giants who specialize in the new business of “reality peddling.” Greil Marcus describes the Cyberpunk world as a world in which industries have turned upon individual men and women, seized their subjective emotions and experiences, changed those once evanescent phenomena into objective, replicable commodities, placed them on the market, set their prices, and sold them back to those who had, once, brought emotions and experiences out of themselves—to people who, as prisoners of the spectacle, could now find such things only on the market. (Marcus 1989: 101)
A crisis of values becomes unavoidable. In Cyberpunk literature, the postindustrial world is most often described as a world of social isolation, disintegrated families, political corruption, scientific charlatanism, and juvenile delinquency. It is a world in which consumerism is left as the only available ideal. I believe that ISIS interferes in this crisis and suggests an alternative lifestyle that is—most probably unconsciously—inspired by Futurism. Terrorism is intrinsically linked to this crisis as it represents a means to reestablish reality. Therefore Baudrillard suggested in his text on 9/11 that “it is the tactic of the terrorist model to bring about an excess of reality and have the system collapse beneath that excess” (2002: 18). What can be more real than the collapsing of buildings, of cities, or of an entire system right in front of our eyes? Terrorists merely respond to a “pathetic demand for reality” (58). The fascination with violence has the same roots. Violence makes experience real and authentic. Maxim Alyukov has shown in an empirical study that Russian television viewers tend to believe that reports are “real” when violence is involved: “A key shortcut is violence. In the respondents’ eyes, images of violence render the broadcast trustworthy because, as far as they’re concerned, violence cannot be staged. In the words of one respondent, ‘there’s no doubting this horrific imagery of war’. And so, when they see footage featuring violence—and Russia’s airwaves have been saturated with it over the last three years—viewers immediately conclude that the broadcast possesses a degree of authenticity” (Alyukov 2017). As long as there was industry, the world was Futurist. Western Cyberpunk culture has plunged the world into a dystopia in which values—even the
value of reality—are in decline and have been substituted with pseudo-values and a mediatized pseudo-reality. Terrorists believe to have found a remedy. A slightly mocking statement about Westerners’ addiction to “your lattes and Timberlakes” issued in the most recent number of the ISIS magazine Dabiq suggests an admittedly confused critique of Western postindustrial consumer culture (Dabiq No. 15, 2016). THE CRISIS OF LIBERALISM Cyberpunk is an extreme manifestation of postmodern culture presenting relativism and antiauthoritarianism. Cyberpunk is a decadent form of liberalism that ISIS wants to combat, which creates a further parallel between ISIS and Futurism. The crisis that both ISIS and Futurism are trying to overcome is “liberal modernity.” Futurism, ISIS, but also the most recent populist political movements consolidating themselves in Western countries, express a Zeitgeist announcing the end of a certain liberal culture. This means that they are not combating a liberal society that is strong; rather they take advantage of a crisis to which current liberalism has been submitted in postindustrial societies. There is a parallel with what happened at the beginning of the twentieth century. Fascism and Futurism also encountered liberal European societies in a weakened state. ISIS finds that Western liberal society at the beginning of the twenty-first century suffers from a similar weakness. In this regard, the situation of ISIS differs from that of older Salafist movements, which reacted in the nineteenth century against an overwhelming imperialist modernity that was then showing no signs of crisis. A crisis tended to be rather exclusively diagnosed on the side of a declining Muslim civilization. However, though the manifestations of the crisis might be complex and diverse, the essential point is that both Futurism and ISIS suggest overcoming the detected weaknesses not by turning toward premodern or anti-modern ideas, but by reaching for a completely new and alternative type of modernity. And both want to reach this modernity through violence. At the beginning of the twentieth century, the belief in liberal ideals such as democracy as a pillar of civil society had crumbled away in Europe. Civil society had become decadent. Of course, “liberal modernity” had never been as liberal as it pretended to be and to a large extent the crisis was also the crisis of an “elitist society” (Ferrarotti: 7). This is what Nietzsche had in mind when writing that liberalism had become “flat and shallow” (Nietzsche 1997: 74). It has already been mentioned that Marxism was another political movement that distanced itself from liberal rationalism because it held that the latter idealized bourgeois society.
Terrorism and Cyberpunk
What is liberalism? Liberalist positions usually build upon Enlightenment values and put forward tolerance, the right to difference, freedom of religion and speech, democracy, international cooperation, and societal permissiveness. Early liberals like the seventeenth-century philosopher John Locke, who played a crucial role in the establishment of liberalism as a philosophical tradition, opposed absolutism and fought for a representative democracy and the rule of law. Liberalism had become the norm around 1900 and Futurists as well as fascists were against it. A mixture of liberal and nationalist (as opposed to communitarian) sentiment in Italy and Germany brought about the unification Italy and the unification of Germany in the late nineteenth century. This mixture of strength and weakness would turn out to be fatal for liberalism. Liberalism had become the option of the majority and a minority would feel oppressed. Liberalism had become strong but this strength made it look particularly bad in the eyes of its opponents. Liberalism was powerful but its authority was no longer recognized by a minority part of the population who felt oppressed by a liberal majority. The idea of violence as a sort of “minority terrorism” was forged here. Gaining power consists, as said Voltaire, “in making others act as I choose.” Hannah Arendt quotes this sentence from Voltaire in order to explain the difference between power and violence. Violence also compels the opponent to do as we wish, but power is backed by a majority of some sort: “Indeed one of the most obvious distinctions between power and violence is that power always stands in need of numbers, whereas violence up to a point can manage without them because it relies on implements” (Arendt 1970: 36). Violence is the option of one who has no power. This is the reason why liberals usually want power and are against violence. At the same time, those who have power are against independent actions that do not concur with those of the majority: “It is in the nature of a group and its power to turn against independence [and] the property of individual strength,” writes Arendt (44). Arendt recognizes that “the extreme form of power is All against One, the extreme form of violence is One against All” (36). When power is based on the rule of the majority, minorities tend to be oppressed and those minorities will be inclined to refer to violence. The result can be terrorism. Power is the option of dictatorships (“dictatorship” is here used in a more metaphorical way. It can be a liberal and democratic “dictatorship” that is based on the rule of the majority). Violence is the option of terrorists. The crisis of liberalism signified a crisis of its power that was questioned by those who would not be served by the liberal regime. “Violence appears where power is in jeopardy, but left to its own course it ends in power’s disappearance,” writes Arendt (56). In 1900, just like today, the new form of resistance to liberalism took many liberals by surprise. Suddenly it was no longer conservatism but revolutionary movements like fascism that stepped forward
and defined themselves as the enemies of liberalism. Meinecke writes that fascism was the “deviation from the main line of a European development which was apparently moving toward some kind of free-individualistic and binding-collectivistic elements moving toward the preservation of the liberal grains of the nineteenth century” (Meinecke 1963: 1). A new philosophy of action linked to a new irrationalism began protesting against liberal values. Futurists fought against those rational liberal values. A list of items, that Futurists intended to trash compiled by Enrico Verdone, contains mostly values that can be attributed to liberal culture: “Culturalism, professiorialism, academism, imitation of the past, purism, slowness and the meticulous.”4 At the time of the Futurists, the enemy was present in the form of a rationalized culture that had emerged as a typically liberal project. More precisely, what sparked the anti-positivist revolts by “vitalists” philosophies of Sorel and Bergson—heavily inspired by Nietzsche—was the abhorrence of formalization, rationalization, or scientification of reality. This “meticolosità” or this “academismo,” strongly linked to liberal culture, also sparked the works of Futurists. Today we have another name for this culture: it is called the “culture of quantification.” And it can still be considered a fetish of liberalism or—in some cases—with neoliberalism. Expert culture, statistics, and quantification provoke similar “vitalist” counterreactions. Today they are expressed by populist political movements in the West and by ISIS. Arendt had called the formalization, rationalization, and scientification of reality the “semblance of rationality” (1970: 66). She described it as “the transformation of government into administration, or of republics into bureaucracies, and the disastrous shrinkage of the public realm that went with it have a long and complicated history throughout the modern age” (1970: 8). This vision shares much with the Cyberpunk culture described by theorists like Baudrillard and Greil Marcus. It also describes the bureaucratic reality of the European Community as it is perceived by Europhobes. The problem with the “semblance of rationality” is not merely that it is a semblance (like mathiness). The main problem is that it is always the rationality of those who are in power; the rationality is supposed to consolidate their power. Those who propagate this quantification (bureaucrats, administrators, technocrats) are most likely liberals. A hypocritical twist makes it difficult to attack them because liberalism always wants freedom and the good for the majority. Are bureaucrats and technocrats not pursuing their jobs for the benefit of the people? Statistics and quantification are supposed to bring progress and justice for everybody. Arendt’s analysis is as apt as ever for our contemporary situation when she writes: “It is the semblance of rationality, much more than the interests behind it, that provokes rage. To use reason when reason is used as a trap is not ‘rational’; just as to use a gun in self-defense is not ‘irrational’” (1970: 66).
Terrorism and Cyberpunk
In the end, there will be a “violent reaction against hypocrisy.” This violence will be particularly strong when the “semblance of rationality” has created a “semblance of reality” made of algorithms and quantified data. Arendt draws a link with what has today become Cyberpunk’s virtual universe when writing in 1969 that the “rational” people are those “who actually believe that men in think tanks are thinkers and that computers can think” (81). In a Cyberpunk world, reason has become automated and reality has been rationalized accordingly. Sorel is relevant here, too. It is in this context that Arendt paraphrases Sorel’s sentences from his “Letter to Daniel Halevy” (contained in Sorel’s Reflections on Violence) where Sorel draws “the image of the bourgeois-peaceful, complacent, hypocritical, bent on pleasure, without will to power, a late product of capitalism rather than its representativeand the image of the intellectual, whose theories are ‘constructions’ instead of ‘expressions of the will’” (70). Arendt cites not only Sorel but also from Vilfredo Pareto’s work on bureaucracy. Here she evokes a situation that comes very close to Cyberpunk and that will sooner or later be undermined by violence. Pareto was aware that the greater the bureaucratization of public life, the greater will be the attraction of violence. In a fully developed bureaucracy there is nobody left with whom one can argue, to whom one can present grievances, on whom the pressures of power can be exerted. Bureaucracy is the form of government in which everybody is deprived of political freedom, of the power to act; for the rule by Nobody is not no-rule, and where all are equally powerless we have a tyranny without a tyrant. (81)
Sorel had “socialists” and not liberals in mind when talking about bureaucracy. Socialists “have constructed magniﬁcent clear-cut and symmetrical formulas; but they could not make them ﬁt the facts. Rather than abandon their theories, they have preferred to declare that the most important facts were simple anomalies which science must ignore if it is to obtain a real understanding of the whole!” (Sorel 2003: 42/Engl.: 42). All this sounds very much like an episode from the tale of quantification culture occurring in the twenty-first century right in the middle of finance capitalism or neoliberal education. Socialism and liberalism can be traced to the same origin, which is Enlightenment. Quantification is a typical liberal project because it represents an efficient means to universalize the Enlightenment premises of rationality. The reality represented by emotions, choices, values, desires, perceptions, attitudes, interests, expectations, and sensibilities disappears behind a wall of numbers. Categories like the “good life” or “good education” are no longer established by looking at lived experiences and their history. Instead, techniques borrowed from the hard sciences such as statistics and data processing
are supposed to make the world more efficient. Very popular are “trainings” and specialized “programs.” In the end, formalization, quantification, control, assessment, standardization, and visibilization produce an autonomous, selfreferential reality that loses sight of the social and historical reality that religion and education should actually present. This naïve objectivism of liberal quantifiers that reduce the real to numbers overlaps perfectly well with what Arendt called the “semblance of rationality.” Reality has been impersonalized and become accessible in the form of “information.” This liberalism creates a parallel reality that everybody is supposed to believe in. A hundred years ago, just like today, an anti-liberal coalition rallied against an emerging expert culture, which provided a mechanistic perception of reality. Quantification sparked the anger of vitalist philosophers as well as of fascists and Futurists. Fascism and Futurism resented an overly rational, positivist spirit embedded into a well-meaning liberalism, pretending to explain everything but unable to change the conditions of “real” life. Those vitalists wanted to conceive a “way of life” independently of rational calculations: “Supporters of Futurist scientific thought distrusted reductionist scientific theories. They urged the cultivation of vital energies to empower individuals and their communities,” writes Sica (2016: 62). Nationalism (to which science would be submitted), eugenics, and even naturism were seen as remedies. THE ATOMIZATION OF SOCIETY The social situations within which Futurism acted in 1909 and in which Islamism acts today are different. The former faced an emerging industrial society while the latter faces a postindustrial cultural environment of Cyberpunk. On the other hand, there are similarities because both Futurism and ISIS encounter Western societies in a morally weakened state. The moral weakness had attained dramatic dimensions at the time when fascists got ready to take power and when Futurists developed their art. The reasons given by Hannah Arendt in her Origins of Totalitarianism for why Nazis could interfere so strongly in German society are similar to those described above with regard to the Cyberpunk situation that facilitates the rise of ISIS within Western countries. Arendt’s On Violence was supposed to be a response to the student revolts of the 1960s though she also frequently refers to the situation of World War II. While Origins of Totalitarianism is about the war, it also makes graphically clear parallels between the Futurist and fascist reaction to the crisis of liberalism on one hand, and today’s confrontation of ISIS with Cyberpunk on the other. After World War I, modern mass man was living “in the midst of communal disintegration and social atomization” (Arendt
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1973: 225) and suffered from a “lack of normal social relationships” (64). The mass man felt “superfluous” because he could not “be integrated into any organization based on common interest, into political parties or municipal governments or professional organizations or trade unions” (311). In Russia, where Futurism was also active, atomization was equally important but it was not a natural given: “To change Lenin’s revolutionary dictatorship into full totalitarian rule, Stalin had first to create artificially that atomized society which had been prepared for the Nazis in Germany by historical circumstances” (318). Arendt continues describing how not only fascists but also “Communist movements in Europe after 1930 recruited members from this mass of apparently indifferent people whom all other parties had given up as too pathetic or too stupid for their attention” (312). The description fits rather well with what some would say today about new recruits of ISIS. Those new members had “never before appeared on the political scene,” which “permitted the introduction of entirely new methods into political propaganda, and indifference to the arguments of political opponents.” The “methods ended in death rather than in persuasion, which spelled terror rather than conviction” (312). Erich Fromm insists on the fact that fascism offered atomized individuals a new refuge and security primarily because now they could project their human powers onto the figure of the leader. According to Fromm, the voluntary submission to a leader could even lead to masochistic actions such as suicide (Fromm 2001: 265). There are thus real parallels with what is happening today with Islamic terrorism. Roger Griffin supports a similar causal explanation but he brings in Futurism as a decisive “healing” factor able to overcome the crisis. Futurism offered an attractive alternative in the situation of anomie because “at the very point when the West had entered a point of ‘high modernity’ and hence high anomie, it sought to reinvest with meaning a world experienced as decadent and soulless by disseminating the axioms of a new nomos” (Griffin 2009: 91). Griffin explains that “throughout human history, ‘revitalization movements’ have spontaneously emerged from periods of decay or exposure to military or natural disaster when the old nomos no longer provides an adequate basis for society’s ritual and political cohesion, and from their midst emerges the nucleus of the nomos of a new society if it is able to re-establish itself” (92). The parallels are obvious: today, “high modernity” is represented by a postmodern Cyberpunk situation in which the anomie has been multiplied; and it is in this situation that radical Islam attempts to reinvest the world with meaning. Far-right activists in the West act in parallel. They see this “disincarnated, atomized world” as the work of “progressive ideology” (Levet: 40). Fascism (just like communism) could offer an entirely new reality determined by common interest. At the time of the Nazis, the atomization was
brought about by the demise of the class system. Today atomization occurs for different reasons (the first one is globalization), but the methods that are used to combat the symptoms of social decadence are similar. Finally, like Futurists, ISIS intends to overcome the crisis by going forward instead of going backward: “Futurism did not want to combat the storm of progress by taking refuge from it, but by harnessing its energy in the shaping of a technocratic future,” writes Griffin (92). Instead of going, like Western arrière-garde people (e.g., I am thinking of radical ecologists), back to a romantic past that preceded the crisis, instead of opposing industrialization and technology and distancing themselves from the myth of progress, those Islamic “Futurists” decided to go forward. There is still a further historical parallel. The developmental pattern that a part of the Arab world is going through right now reinstates that of Italy and Russia at the beginning of the twentieth century. At that time, both Italy and Russia were only marginally industrialized countries and had to perceive themselves as “delayed” in comparison with other European nations. Futurism is born in the periphery. The British, French, and Germans tended to regard Italy and Russia as not quite civilized. This was particularly painful for Italy because in the early modern period, Italy had been at the forefront of European developments. The parallel with radical Islam, which sees the past as more glorious than the present, is obvious. Radical Islam often enthusiastically refers to the “golden age” (from the eighth to the thirteenth century) of Arab culture and resents the developmental gap that has been opened between industrialized nations and the Middle East. Futurism became important in countries that were left behind; it would mark the cultural life of Italy and Russia for three decades. It is in those countries that Futurism could be seen as a solution. Futurism was successful in those countries not only in art but in practically all cultural domains, including architecture and design. Until the present-day architects marvel at how the “most advanced speculative architecture came from countries whose economies were still essentially agrarian” (Clear 2014: 279). Italy was also first country to use aerial warfare. Airplanes were first used in the attacks of Tripoli and then in the Balkans (Ferrarotti 2016: 119). However, in the end, the merits of Futurism remain mitigated: the movement helped to bring about fascism in Italy and communism in Russia.5 THE “DEREALIZATION” EFFECT IN MODERN WARS The non-real aspect of postindustrial societies in which “real goods” have been replaced with images and abstractions has been described above. It is safe to assume that the “real” Futurists around 1910 could not have imagined
Terrorism and Cyberpunk
the Cyberpunk environment that we are living in today. An important “reality problem” concerns war. In the world of Futurists, wars were still “real” wars and not cold wars or cyberwars. As mentioned in the introduction, winning a war would lead to a better life, which is not necessarily the case today. The “derealization” of wars began at the time when Futurists were most active, more precisely during the combats of World War I. Paul Virilio described World War I as the “first mediated conflict in history, because rapid-firing guns largely replaced the plethora of individual weapons. Hand-to-hand fighting and physical confrontation were superseded by long-range butchery” (Virilio 1989: 69–70). Ernst Jünger described, in his novel Storms of Steel (1920), the industrialized warfare he experienced in World War I in such a “derealized” way that reality appeared as distanciated like seen through a photographic lens. In his literary portraits of battlefields Jünger appears affected and simultaneously strangely unaffected. Those descriptions of ruin and undoing are the first signs of Cyberpunk in European culture. In general, in the art of the 1920s, the distorted perception of the reality of war was still going hand in hand with avant-gardist devices. Even Jünger’s descriptions appear mainly surrealist while Italian Futurists distorted warlike reality in their own avant-garde ways. The Russian Futurist Mayakovski would use still another device. He glorified the violence he perceived in the Russian Revolution (though he was more critical of the World War violence) by miniaturizing the shocking force and the graphic naturalism of warfare and by replacing it “with the style of folk-song and fairy tale” (Hodgson 1994: 75). Another Russian Futurist poet, Velimir Khlebnikov, conveyed a “hyperbolized selfimage, claiming that wars, like birds, peck grain from his hands” (72). Later, new technologies would change the standards of how wars can be perceived because the standards of what can be seen and what cannot be seen had radically changed. As a result, war became less real and more “cinematic.” Techno-culture was moving away from Futurism to Cyberpunk. The insistence on violence that would become so emblematic for Futurism emerged in precisely this context—it can be understood as an attempt to retrieve “reality” in a world in which even war was becoming merely “cinematic.” Violence was seen as a reaction against non-reality and fake! Arendt very well describes this phenomenon and insists that one should never “overlook how justified disgust can be in a society wholly permeated with the ideological outlook and moral standards of the bourgeoisie.” Those people saw “the ruin of fake security, fake culture, fake life” as well as the “condescending pity for the oppressed” (Arendt 1973: 328, 329). According to Arendt, this reaction was “more radical than Nietzsche’s transformation of values.” At the same time Arendt warns us not to simply brand this “violent dissatisfaction with the prewar age and subsequent attempts at restoring it” as “outbursts of nihilism” (329). True, it is not nihilism but Futurism.
The derealization progressed until war became a strange mixture of war and “no-war.” Gray zones between war and peace, common since the Cold War, would make war even more unreal. Since the end of the Cold War, the model of war evolved into the model of cyberwar. Today it is possible to damage an enemy by operating on a virtual level. Harvard strategist Joseph Nye recently writes that cyberattacks like the 2014 North Korean attack on Sony Pictures or the 2010 Stuxnet virus used by Israeli and US intelligence to disable a thousand Iranian centrifuges, do not fall neatly into “the classic duality between war and peace” but occur in a “gray zone” that defies an easy definition or response (Nye 2017). Cyberattacks can take down the financial infrastructure of countries as online banking sites and ATMs will stop working. The damage is considerable though this is no “real” war. MUSLIM PUNK OR CYBERPUNK? The relationship between Punk and radical Islam needs to be further clarified to illustrate the Futurist ambitions that ISIS has developed in order to distance itself from Cyberpunk. There are indeed some superficial resemblances between radical Islam and Punk and they should be elucidated. Hamed Abdel-Samed draws a line from ISIS to Punk, writing that in former times “many Germans went Punk for a year or two, joining left-wing or right-wing groups to vent their discontent with society and its ruling political system. Today, Salafism seems better placed to amplify many young Germans’ anger with and resentment of the world around them” (Abdel-Samed 2016: 156). Classic descriptions of Punk culture seem to confirm this link between two protest cultures. Dick Hebdige writes in his classic study on Punk that “no subculture has sought with more grim determination than the Punks to detach itself from the taken-for-granted landscape of normalized forms, nor to bring down upon itself such vehement disapproval” (Hebdige 1979: 19). While some parallels between Salafism and Punk do indeed exist, any analysis limiting itself to the mere description of those parallels remains superficial. For example, the forced urbanism of ISIS aesthetics that is so different from the motley folk image of Al-Qaeda in the early 2000s (which can now almost appear as romantic in comparison), might lead to a perception of ISIS in terms of Punk. In much of ISIS film footage, only camouflage and black uniforms are allowed. The uniforms seem to be an entirely new fashion invention and are indeed strangely reminiscent of the clothes of Western youth subcultures such as Punk and Goth. However, this cannot be Punk because Punk is pessimistic. In ISIS culture, the disdain for hippies is as strong as it was in Punk, but its response is an optimistic and vitalist “make war not love” ideology.
Terrorism and Cyberpunk
It is therefore much more accurate to see those black uniforms as representative of a Futurist aesthetics. The problem is that Futurists themselves have been compared with Punks, which makes such analyses confusing. The black Futurists’ outfits (which are also strikingly similar to the ISIS black jump suits) have been compared with Punk fashion. Karen Pinkus believes that the Futurists’ “black suits, body-gripping vests (to be worn underneath a dark jacket, almost like a girdle)” should be seen as a proto-Punk appearance (Pinkus 1996: 186). She concludes that “Italian Futurism could be considered an unacknowledged precursor to Punk” (Pinkus, no year, npn). True, the “grim determination” that Hebdige saw as the most characteristic feature of Punk culture can also be found in Futurism. Further, there is the (ironic) amateurism through which artists launch themselves into projects without having much knowledge or skills that has Punk connotations in Futurism. Writer Giovanni Papini, who briefly flirted with Futurism, criticized that “in Marinetti and his accolades (in ‘Marinettism’ as the Lacerbians would later define it) the absence of historical culture risked becoming the cult of ignorance and sterile technicism.”6 Still Futurists are not nihilistic even though they were preaching violence and destruction. Dadaism (which is more related to Cyberpunk) comes naturally closer to Punk simply because Dadaism is more pessimistic. It does not necessarily believe in the renewal of society (see chapter 4). The few existing resemblances between Futurism and Punk are purely aesthetic. In both movements, the “grim determination” is employed as a matter of self-stylization. According to Pinkus, Punks “stole more explicitly from sado-masochism—chains, rubber, metal pins and clasps” (2009). This is true and it can even be supported by further parallels from the realm of lifestyle: both Punks and (many) Futurists disdain bohemian life (many Futurists were attracted by militarization and Punks abhor the hippie lifestyle),7 and both take pleasure in combining noises with music, which became bruitism in the Futurist musical oeuvre. Marinetti used typewriters, kettledrums, rattles, and pot-covers to make music, and other Futurist musicians used the noises of motors, trams, and explosions. Already Benedetto Croce had traced fascist culture to the youthful appeal of a Futurist subculture, which consisted of “the cult of action, the disposition toward violence, the intolerance of dissent, desire for the new, disdain for culture and tradition, and the glorification of youth” (Gentile 2003: 42). Croce speaks of fascism but mentions items that were also dear to Futurists. There is some Punk in all this, but what undermines the alleged Punk-Futurism parallelism is the incompatibility of Futurist optimism with the Punk “No Future” war cry. The same is true for ISIS. The leisurely para-military techno-style of ISIS soldiers obviously leans toward Punk appearance, and the resemblance of ISIS “fashion” with Futurist/Punk fashion is mindboggling. The uniforms of
ISIS soldiers are fitted with pockets and dangling with hardware and seem to emulate this Futurist-Punk style. The resemblances are confirmed by the fact that Punk is an urban movement of youth protest and that ISIS has incorporated many explicitly urban components into its aesthetics (as has been shown in chapter 2). This step is new in Islamic terrorism. However, most importantly, in the context of ISIS, the nihilistic “No Future” cry is even more inacceptable than it was in the context of Futurism. “No Future” is no alternative for anybody who adheres to a religious reading of history.8 It must be concluded that parallels between ISIS and Punk are pertinent only inasmuch as they affirm parallels between ISIS and Futurism. Outside this context, ISIS remains opposed to Punk because it sides much more with Futurism. While comparisons of ISIS with Futurism make sense, any shortcut leading from ISIS to Punk is erroneous. ISIS is not Punk and is even less Cyberpunk. Instead it is Futurist. One reason is the optimistic attitude that is necessarily going through all radical Islam. This optimism might sometimes be “artificial,” and when it is artificial it joins Futurism (see chapter 7). The most recent cultural developments that have taken place in the realm of youth radicalization should therefore be understood as counterreactions to a postmodern Cyberpunk universe that those individuals find too relativistic. Their universe is based on belief in an absolute truth; therefore ISIS is incompatible with a postmodern Cyberpunk universe determined by relativism and irony. DOGMATISM OR IRONY? Are you Futurist or Cyberpunk? The question is not new but emerged at the time of the aforementioned hippy culture. It is here, in the 1960s, that an essential decision regarding Futurism or Cyberpunk had to be made. The 1960s saw the creation of a variety of modern postwar utopias, but there was a red line distinguishing two ways of conceiving the utopia: should the utopia be dogmatic or lean more toward relativism and irony? Berardi explains that the dogmatic version would lead toward terrorism while the ironic version would lead toward progress (Berardi 2013: 16). Sixty years later, the question emerges in an altered context. This time, it is addressed to Islamic terrorists and they have made their choice very clear: they will go for dogmatism and not for irony. In other words, Islamic terrorists opt for a Futurist (as opposed to a Cyberpunk) vision of the future. While the progressive Cyberpunk culture of irony has taken over much of the West, ISIS decided to revert to Futurism. What is the difference between an ironical and a dogmatic culture? Nietzsche, the precursor of Cyberpunk culture who countered optimistic evangelism by putting forward the original Greek concept of the tragic,
Terrorism and Cyberpunk
has laid the foundations of a relativist culture that all fundamentalists and nationalists abhor. Irony, especially when it is linked to a moderate form of relativism, is the device chosen to fight all kinds of dogmatism. Nietzsche’s Cyberpunk relativism has interiorized the tragic sense of the world as suggested by Dionysian philosophy; it is a relativism that refuses to make any statements about absolute truths. The logic of fundamentalists and nationalists is normally based on straightforward “true” and “false” schemes. It is at this point that Futurists (despite their above-described fascination with Nietzsche) turn out to be non-tragic anti-relativists and therefore modernists. This never changed during the twentieth century. Even today, Neo-Futurists insist on the anti-tragic spirit of their movement when explaining that Marinetti’s vision of the multiplied man “of which we are dreaming does not know the tragedy of aging.”9 Nietzsche can definitely be scheduled as a postmodern philosopher, but he does not emphasize decadence. Nietzsche therefore resides in the margins of Cyberpunk. He guards a small territory of constructive relativism that has become important for a modern, non-ideological, leftist culture current among progressive elites in the West. In this sense, Nietzsche represents the origin of Cyberpunk, be it for the simple reason that his thought is incompatible with straightforward Futurist optimism. However, within the Cyberpunk tradition, Nietzsche occupies a very particular position. First, the orientation of modern Nietzscheism is clearly leftists, whereas Cyberpunk is more neoliberal: it accepts large differences between rich and poor. Cyberpunk tends to be against socialism. Nietzsche is liberal in a sense that has become important for urban democratic culture. The contemporary “Nietzschean left,” as Allan Bloom has called the phenomenon in 2008, wants freedom and tolerance and it assumes those liberal values by contrasting them with the values of neoliberalism. Nietzsche’s thought is therefore the source of an individualist liberal culture current among the contemporary urban Western elite. The fact that Futurists liked the vitalist aspect of Nietzsche’s philosophy should not be over-interpreted. Futurists were simply too optimistic and unable to grasp Nietzsche’s tragic relativism. They were interested in his anti-historicism and in his idea to oppose instinct and the will of nature to abstract and formalist science, which they interpreted in an optimistic fashion. Bloom sees a misinterpreted Nietzsche, whose philosophy is reduced to tolerantism, as the initiator of a decadent liberal culture. However, it is also possible to see Nietzsche as the initiator of anything positive that liberal culture ever wanted to achieve: being leftist without being socialist, being liberal without being neoliberal, and being anti-nihilist without being Futurist. Nietzsche’s relativism never becomes relativist for its own sake. In other words, it does not plunge us into the nihilist version of Cyberpunk, which comes closer to the decadent version of liberal culture that Bloom has in
mind. Nietzsche’s relativism can serve as the foundation of an active liberal culture eager to maintain its individualism. True, to some extent, the Nietzschean urban elite has joined the postmodern camp. However, it resists the “No Future” appeal of negative Cyberpunk. The “positive” Nietzschean liberal elite is skeptical of big systems, likes strong individual expressions, fosters the local and the regional, and attempts to revitalize communities and traditions. This is a positive version of postmodernism and we find it almost exclusively among urban “liberal progressives” in industrialized countries. Their return to community values is a postmodern move because it aims to counter the unifying power of globalization. As traditionalists in the postmodern-relativist sense, liberal progressives are directly opposed to the modern-absolutist traditionalists represented by Islamists and other conservative cultural groups who are relying on authoritarianism, blunt traditionalism, and anti-intellectual policies. After all, those urban liberal progressives have emerged from the antiauthoritarian, humanist hippy culture of the 1960s. This is why they are—in the best case—postmodern without giving in to the decadent side of Cyberpunk. They are postmodern in a moderately skeptical and constructive sense. Their “retro” vision of life supports traditions and communities but their traditionalism is different from the traditionalism and communitarianism of fascists, Futurists, and radical Islamists. The latter interpret the values inherent in traditionalism as absolute. They have to because they are modern and not postmodern. The urban progressive liberal represents the positive side of liberalism. She is different from the liberalist relativist whom Bloom, Bérénice Levet, and Neo-Futurist Roberto Guerra criticize and ridicule. But the status of this liberalism is precarious. The Nietzschean relativism of urban progressive liberals operates in constant proximity with nihilism, and the liberal project can topple over into Cyberpunk nihilism at any moment. Then the “Nietzschean left” cultivates relativism for its own sake and preaches multiculturalism because it sees assimilation as a colonial project. Dogmatic “tolerantism” is a nihilist option that Nietzsche would have refused. Other bad options by which the progressive liberalist is constantly tempted are postmodern indifference and depolitization, the more so since the liberal has a talent to square the circle and to unite the regional with the cosmopolitan or the rational with the spiritual. Does anything matter at all in that case? Life’s generalized absurdity, celebrated by art and philosophy, the existential emptiness and the play with the lack of meaning are the progressive liberals’ favorite toys. Yes, for the progressive liberal, Cyberpunk is always lurking around the corner as she is walking home from the life-affirming yoga session. Tolerance can quickly become indifference, engagement can become disinterest because of over-solicitation, wisdom can become arrogance, and coolness can become anomie.
Terrorism and Cyberpunk
The Refusal of Irony Anthropologically speaking, Islam is alien to the liberal, universalist humanism current in the West. Islam abhors the kind of humanism that places the individual at the center of all progress. Islam is determined by the centrality of unity (tawhid) and the absolute moral and material order flowing out of the reality of an omnipotent God. The playful attitude engendered by Nietzschean relativism, tolerantism, postmodern indifference, and depolitization is absolutely alien to most branches of Islam. Therefore, like Futurists, Islamists cannot assume the core of Nietzsche’s philosophy. The squaring on the circle, which is the specialty of the progressive liberal, requires a lot of irony, which is a core-quality of Nietzsche’s philosophy but the weak point of fundamentalism. Ironic cultures tend to consider the link between signifier and signified as loose and as open to interpretation, while dogmatic cultures attempt to firmly reattach the signifier to the signified. ISIS has applied the latter scheme in many fields and its attitude is unequivocal. For ISIS, words do not fly around in a deconstructed universe but are rooted in a geographical ground as well as in the “ground” provided by sacred texts. This insistence on an absolute overlap of signifier and signified has become one of the main sources of a culture clash by which the world is rocked at present. Futurists, though being ironic in many instants, had a similar obsession with semantics. Despite Marinetti’s appeal to destroy the syntax (in “Destruction of Syntax—Radio Imagination—Words-in-Freedom,” 1913), the Futurist writer and painter Francesco Cangiullo attempted in his “La scoperta del sostantivo anatomico del sesso in esso” to straighten out the ambiguities of grammatical gender, believing that male and female body parts should be given names that have the corresponding gender. Therefore he designed a project to close the “arbitrary gap” between signifier and signified, so as to exorcise sexual deviance. Although other linguistic rules can and must be subverted in the name of artistic freedom, or rather, of the artist’s power, grammatical gender is the object of reactionary, homophobic concerns, of an effort to restore the oldest conception of language—that of the intrinsic relation between signifier and signified. (Blum 1990: 199)
Cangiullo’s text is not only a manifestation of virile power but also a documentation of Futurist semiotics. For Futurist optimists, nothing should be arbitrary, not even in language. Marinetti even chastised grooming practices such as short hair for women, because such styles efface gender differences (see Blum 1996: 89). Obviously, this Futurist attitude manifests a high degree of dogmatism and is incompatible with the arbitrariness and playfulness (toward gender) that we encounter in Cyberpunk universes.
“Making Detroit Great Again” ISIS and much of radical Islam have decided to go back to Futurism. This was an entirely free decision. It is not backwardness that determines the actions of ISIS but rather a firm belief in the future, which is very modern. It is the same belief that led not only to fascism and Futurism but also to the consolidation of modern capitalism and communism. Cyberpunk, on the other hand, stands for the exhaustion of the industrial economy, the exhaustion of the avant-garde, the exhaustion of progressive social models like communism, and the exhaustion of an entire modern culture whose last phase began with the collapse of the Cold War system and with the collapse of the world financial system in 2008. Today, much of Cyberpunk is not a fiction but reality and it could be expected that some people will revolt against it. The most obvious expression of this revolt came in 2001: the collapse of the Twin Towers announced a new beginning of Futurism. Western people are suffering from Cyberpunk syndromes, especially those who are living in an industrial environment that used to be “great” at the time of the Cold War and before the financial crisis. As a consequence, they organize their own revolt. The first Futurist, anti-Cyberpunk president called Donald Trump was lucid enough to address the “rust belt” segment of the population during his election campaign. Nothing can be more Cyberpunk than the “rust belt” of the United States with a decrepit traditional industry overrun by an economy exporting more software than cars. The Midwestern town of Detroit symbolizes the glory of the dawning age of the machine. At the same time, it stands for everything bad that Cyberpunk has to offer: destroyed communities, ethnic enclaves, the depression of labor the movement, and mass consumption so extreme that it leads to obesity. In this city, Futurism has exhausted itself and it is no surprise that President Trump’s former advisor Steve Bannon counteracts by making unequivocally Futurist statements. Flemming Rose, the Danish cartoonist, reports from a meeting with Bannon that “what disturbed me the most in our conversation was Bannon’s apparent belief that violence and war can have a cleansing effect, that we may need to tear down things and rebuild them from scratch” (Rose 2017). “War as the World’s Only Hygiene” (name of a Marinetti manifesto) is the measure Bannon finds most useful to make America great again. Bannon is not the only one who suggests such Futurist measures. Bannon’s ideas overlap with those of many Islamists and the preceding lines could also have been published by ISIS. As the Futurist vision of Europe and the United States as hubs of civilized solidarity fades into the past, some people are trying to violently push the wheel of time back toward an optimistic version of the future. Hundred years after the invention of Futurism, they want to reestablish the future as it had been imagined in the first decades of the twentieth
Terrorism and Cyberpunk
century. They want to go from postmodernity back to modernity. They want to go from information culture to production culture. Within this rationale, it is also natural that many of those optimists are coming from a realm where dogmatic and optimistic visions of the future have a long tradition: radical Islam. It has been shown in chapter 5 that the evolution of some branches of “progressive Islam” overlaps in many respects with that of Futurism. The Futurist future was a future in which modernization and militarization were believed to be one and the same. Only militarization was deemed to be able to lend the country (in the case of Futurism it was Italy) an identity. Social and psychological fragmentations were believed to be overcome once this modern future has been installed. Finally, society and individuals would be recognized as united. Both radical Islam and supporters of contemporary populist political movements are attracted by similar antiliberal, Futurist ideas of modernity. The modernity of ISIS and of Trump voters is not the Cyberpunk modernity of corporatism, bureaucracy, mass communication, and advertising, in which internationalized forms of capitalism have created a gap between the rich and the poor (the fact that Trump himself is a symbol of this environment represents a paradox). In Cyberpunk modernity, people have stopped believing in anything and they want an ideology able to teach them again how to believe. Islam is particularly suitable for this project as God is here installed in the form of an absolute reality. “There is not God but God” goes the first surah of the Quran; and this circular reasoning manages to install the real as real. Any other reality than that of God is declared an idol (taghat) and raises the suspicion that man wants to create an alternative reality or even substitute the reality of God. On the one hand, this easily pushes radical Islamic thinking toward a mental self-enclosure; on the other hand, it provides a uniquely firm ground for the real. Paradoxically, the self-enclosure is similar to the Cyberpunk reality because the latter is determined by virtuality and mediatization.
NOTES 1. “non sono qui per pulire la spazzatura del passato, finché c’è aria da respirare io vado avanti. Di fronte all’abisso io mi lancio” (Guerra 2011: 74). 2. Un Silence religieux, quoted in Devecchio 2015: 127. 3. In an interview with Gian Battista Nazzaro quoted in Berghaus 1996: 23. 4. “Il culturalismo, il professoralismo, l’accademismo, l’imitazione del passato, il purismo, le lungaggini e la meticolosità” (Verdone 2009: 9). 5. Russian Futurism began to decline right after the revolution of 1917. Mayakovski and Malevich became part of the new Soviet establishment and the Agitprop
movement of the 1920s. Other Futurists died or emigrated and Khlebnikov was persecuted. 6. “in Marinetti e nei suo accoliti (nel marinettismo come i lacerbiani poi lo definirono) la carenza di cultura storica rischiava di devenire culto dell’ignoranza e sterile tecnicismo” (in Viola 1994: 68). 7. “Extant pictures show Marinetti and his companions in formal, markedly bourgeois outfits, which attest to their rejection of the traditional bohemian look and their desire to demonstrate, through refined elegance, the seriousness and success of the Futurist enterprise.” In his chronicle of the tumultuous Futurist evenings, Francesco Cangiullo recalls that the performers, “in their tailcoats, frock coats, and tuxedos, gazed with Olympian calm and dignity at the cackling audiences they had provoked” (Blum 1996: 89). 8. Exceptional examples of really existing “Muslim Punk” are given in BotzBornstein 2014. 9. “che noi sogniamo, non conoscerà la tragedia della vecchiaia” (Guerra 2011: 64–65).
The Real Machine Versus the Virtual Machine
The Lebanon-based Quantum Communications Agency has made a list of nine points spelling out why they believe that young people are joining ISIS. Recruits can be: status seekers, identity seekers, revenge seekers (who consider themselves to be repressed), redemption seekers (who want to ameliorate previous sinfulness), responsibility seekers (who look for material support), thrill seekers, ideology seekers (who want to impose their view of Islam on others), justice seekers, or death seekers (The Atlantic 2015). I suggest adding one more seeker type to the list to make it ten: the “reality seeker.” The future that Futurists and ISIS want to reestablish is a future in which the world can once again be experienced as “real” as opposed to virtual. While reality has become too much mediated at the age of Cyberpunk, ISIS-Futurism suggests its own concept of a wild and violent “real” reality as an alternative. For many young people who grew up in a Cyberpunk environment, the mediated world is the only world they ever came to know. That’s why they find the Futurist reality of ISIS so fascinating. This idea on its own—that is, the plan to go back from the virtual to the real through Futurist devices—could be considered an interesting project. The problem is that the “going back to the future” as it has been planned by ISIS also reintroduces many negative components. What will be rediscovered in this “real future” are not only values like solidarity, unity, and empathy. “Going back to the future” also means to reimport some of those undesirable items that must be considered the most infamous creations of modernity in the early twentieth century: totalitarianisms, irrationalism, as well as the culture of violence that was preached by Futurism.
THE REAL MACHINE The shift from virtual Cyberpunk to a “Futurism of the real” has also had immense repercussions on Islamist techno-culture. At the center of the Futurist ISIS imagination is the machine. However, it is not the virtual machine but the “real” one. The Futurist machine is not the postmodern bio-digital machine inserted in bodies and manipulating a universe made up of data claiming to be real but which can never be “felt.” The machine of Futurists is rather the conventional mechanical machine that is visible, edgy, bulky, and noisy. Marinetti speaks of the “deafening din of the motor, bone shaking reverberations of the chassis, [and the] cheek-coloring massage of a frenzied wind” (“The New Ethical Religion of Speed,” Marinetti 2007: 257). Especially for people who grew up on the internet, these machines must be fascinating. It has been said above that those young people need to feel the “wind on their phizogs” (McNeil 2010). This sounds very much like a Futurist recommendation. Being steeped in the puritanism of the internet where even women cannot be smelled and touched but only seen and heard on a small screen, those young Westerners are flocking to Syria to join the Islamic State because they are longing for physical reality. So far, they had been plugged to headphones as if they consider a euphoric derealization as the highest aim in their lives. The new reality is not a desert but contains “real” machines and real bodies. Even death became more real as the act of killing has been shifted back to the mechanical. Malcolm James notes that “from the guillotine onwards, modern Europe has associated just killing with modern mechanical efficiency, and with the alienation of the killer from killed. In this way, deaths from drones or cruise missiles have come to be represented as moral, civilized and modern (regardless of who they kill or how they kill them). When mechanical killing at distance is represented as being modern and civilized, killing at close quarters represents what is pre-modern and uncivilized about the East” (James 2016: 143). In ISIS reality, machines tend to be very large while in postmodern reality machines are getting smaller and smaller until they reach nano size or even pico size (nano is a billionth and pico a trillionth meter) or disappear into a virtual universe where reality (even the biological one) is merely simulated. Human personalities can be divided into bits of information. The atomistic picture of the self as an accumulation of DNA information fosters the engineer’s and not the humanist’s vision of the person. The holistic picture of the human self is getting lost. In parallel, the human environment becomes unreal, too. Science has begun to deploy hyperactive software programs similar to those used in stock exchange speculation and gambles with information instead of judging real states of affairs. The biggest step toward the unreal will be achieved
The Real Machine Versus the Virtual Machine
in the near future when technology can erase interfaces between electricalchemical brainwaves and the digital world. Technology is progressing toward a Cyberpunk reality making Italian Futurism look as antiquated as Jules Verne’s diving gear. Soon nanotechnology will create buildings that can grow: molecular-sized structures manipulate and assemble themselves, move, and even work together. Is this real? Berardi contrasts this situation with the world imagined by Futurism in which the machine stood at the center. This was the external, heavy, cumbersome and bulky machine, not to be confused with the internalized and recombined machine of bio-informatics, of our epoch, of the new epoch which began after the century that believed in the future. It manifests itself with all its imaginative and practical potential through the realization of the Genome Project.1
The direction of this scientific development had been indicated by Cyberpunk literature twenty years earlier. Post-Gibson Cyberpunk has a strong interest in synthetic biology and even developed a sub-branch called Biopunk. Biopunk focuses on the implications of biotechnology in relation with information technology. In Biopunk, bio-hackers, biotech mega-corporations, and dubious agencies engage in biological modification and genetic engineering procedures. Oppressive governments practice mass surveillance and manipulate human DNA. In Paul Di Filippo’s Biopunk novel Ribofunk (1996), Protein Police patrol for renegade gene splicers. This techno-imaginary contrasts with the techno-reality desired by ISIS and also of all those who hope to make Detroit great again. The latter’s ideas of a mechanic industry are Futurist as they produce a reality that can be felt with the senses. Their “Make Detroit Great Again” techno dream is in line with the thoughts of the Futurist painter and composer Luigi Russolo who conjured in his manifesto “The Art of Noises” (1913) the beauty of the mechanical machine with its palpitation of valves, the coming and going of pistons, the howl of mechanical saws, the jolting of a tram on its rails, the cracking of whips, the flapping of curtains and flags. We enjoy creating mental orchestration of the crashing down of metal shop blinds, (. . .) the variety of din from stations, railways, iron foundries, spinning wheels, printing works, electric power stations and underground railways. (Russolo 1978: 131)
Russolo’s text, which influenced composers like Pierre Schaeffer and John Cage, fetishizes mechanical life and industry. Favorable perceptions like these have become uncommon today: in the postmodern world the industry tends to be described rather as a symbol of pollution. Futurists provided the philosophical infrastructures allowing for a more or less seamless progression from a world of natural functions to a world of machine-enabled life. They
helped to culturally accommodate the emergence of the machine. Today we need to come to terms with the second industrial (or postindustrial) revolution, which is the cyber revolution. This industrial revolution influences biology as well as the perception of reality. The cultural and philosophical digestion of this revolution turns out to be much more difficult. Numerous “postmodern” continental philosophers have taken up this task while others simply refuse to cope with the consequences of the second industrial revolution and insist on going back to Futurism. FUTURIST BODIES The reconfiguration of biology as narrated in Biopunk has shifted the perception of the human body from the “mechanical real” to the “cyber-nano unreal.” Futurist bodies are real, despite the techno-manipulation to which they have been submitted. They are real to the point that they are even incompatible with the body aesthetics of the Nazis. Nazi aesthetics escaped corporeal reality in its own way by producing exalted kitsch bodies. Neither ISIS nor Futurism is pursuing this aesthetic path. While Nazis bodies became unreal through the exaltation of the realistic, Cyberpunk exalts the unreal through an excessive play with mediation until any bodily immediacy becomes impossible. As a consequence, Berardi characterizes Cyberpunk as a cultural situation of corporeal mediation where “mediation prevails over the contact with the human body”: Cyberpunk stands for the “depuration, decarnalization [and] cultural sterilization” of the video-electronical generation.” In the mediated, pure, and clean environment of virtual reality, “The organism is sensitized to codes and thus predisposed to connections. To the permanent interface with the digital universe” (Berardi 2013: 66). In other words, bodily existence is reduced to images and signs. Even the Neo-Futurist Roberto Guerra acknowledges—in a purely Futurist fashion—that “young people in Rome are forced into a virtual existence; they are practically non-existent. Culture returned to the catacombs. Rome is inhabited only by phantasms of stones” (Guerra 2011: 67). Berardi holds that the “sensitive competence” of young people is reduced because they are not used to “interpret signals that are not codified according to a binary type” (Berardi: 14). The overlapping of the classical Futurist critique of antiquarianism’s fascination with ruins with the Neo-Futurist critique of our virtualized existence is remarkable. Both ruins and virtual reality are unreal, and the new Futurism wants to reestablish the “real.” Baudrillard identified the difference between the mechanical machine and the new machine already in 1994; he decided to call it the “celibate machine.” This is the machine that sees everything from a “biological, genetic and cybernetic point of view” and leaves no place for an interpersonal reality
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normally emerging between the “I” and the other (Baudrillard 1996: 51). In an interview with Paul Sutton Baudrillard explains: Mechanical machines (. . .) were still machines with alterity, an other, whereas here it is a huge celibate machine, completely self-referential, and at this point one wonders where the real world is. (. . .) This kind of artificial world, much more performative than ever before, completely automatized, is also (. . .) an exclusion of man, of the real world, of all referentiality. (1996: 217–18)
In an earlier text Baudrillard had written that the postmodern machine leaves humans in “an automatized, mechanically metastatic limbo” where they are locked among the “cybernetic peripeteia of the body” (Baudrillard 1988: 51). In the impersonal world of Cyberpunk, passions are bound to disappear. For Baudrillard this means that there is neither fatality nor seduction. Any sense of the tragic (in Nietzsche’s understanding) has been eliminated, too. Elsewhere Baudrillard concludes that compared to the “furious epoch” of the modernist of the 1930s, the postmodern epoch is simply a dead end in terms of a corporeal and emotional understanding of the world (Baudrillard 1989: 40). For Futurists, speed symbolized a heightening of sensitive experience while in Cyberpunk, speed brings about desensitization. For Virilio, Cyberpunk speed leads to “atemporal dromological amnesia” (Virilio 2010: 73). The desensitization is the result of the increasing speed of the information flow and of the flow of stimuli. Originally, speed was a Futurist quality, but the machine universe to which humans are submitted today is different from that of Futurists. Speed is no longer the real speed of moving bodies but a spaceless speed moving around information and coded stimuli. Machine, Body, Gender A further aspect of Futurist bodies relates to the distinction between male and female bodies. The difference between Cyberpunk and Futurism can also be established in terms of gender. The obsessive preoccupation with gender distinction has already been demonstrated with regard to the Futurist Cangiullo. For Futurists, gender distinctions apply to all sorts of objects: some are male, others are female. As a rule, small things are feminine as they are evasive and unclear. Transposed into our postmodern environment, this logic concerns the newest objects of scientific examination called nano particles. Those small items can easily escape into the universe of a malleable, epic, romantic, and feminine non-reality; they are the preferred items of Cyberpunk. Large things, on the other hand, are masculine as they obey to the standards of mechanics and mechanical beauty. Futurists saw the technical universe like this, which is one more reason why they revered mechanical machines.
Always large and always real, large machines also need to be moved by men. Even more, the “mechanical type” (tipo meccanico) will be “naturally cruel, omniscient, and combative.” Mechanical machines are always male and will even be endowed with spectacular organs where nobody expects them to be: those organs are “adapted to the exigencies of an environment made of continuous shocks.” The descriptions of the “mechanical type” are taken from Marinetti’s “L’Uomo moltiplicato e il Regno della Macchina” in which the author explains that real machines are endowed with organs that women can only envy: “We can foresee an organ that will resemble a prow developing from the outward swelling of the sternum, which will be the more pronounced the better an aviator the man of the future becomes.” (Marinetti 1910b: 92). The mechanical universe is an entirely male universe. In his novel Mafarka le futuriste Marinetti argues for an ideal universe devoid of any female influence consisting only of men and machines. The malemechanical universe will also be entirely scientific because male science will dominate female matter. Again, this has to do with the feminine evasiveness of small things that will have to be submitted to standards of mechanical reality. The feminine is nature; it is malleable like nature but masculine science has been created to master this indistinct mass. Society will also be masculinized through war because war emphasizes male bonds and protects boys from feminine influence (see Blum 199–200). Futurist anti-feminism went as far as suggesting to exclude woman from the act of procreation. In the context of thundering discourses on male war and destruction, the idea of creation and procreation can only be permitted on the condition that it be purged of all feminine connotations. Creation—if we really need it—must remain a male act and technology will provide the means to make procreating man self-sufficient. Once again mechanization means masculinization: “The expenditure of the female principle serves the goal of masculinization of creative economy, and the erotic imagery conveys the sense of excitement and pleasure projected in these fantasies of male progress and mastery over nature” (Blum 1990: 199). Marinetti’s “feminism” (if we may call it such in the light of the fact that the manifesto is entitled “Contempt for Women”) should be understood in the sense of classic Second Wave feminism. Women are acceptable on the condition that they have been masculinized beforehand. Marinetti explains this rather unambiguously: “In this campaign for liberation, our best allies are the suffragettes, because the more rights and powers they win for woman, the more will she be drained of love and cease to be a magnet for sentimental passion or an engine of lust” (“Contempt for Women” in Rainey et al.: 86). Once more, Futurism can be contrasted with Cyberpunk. “Futurist feminism” is different from Cyberpunk versions of feminist body-technology interaction that we encounter in Western culture, most typically as a
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development of Third Wave feminism. In Cyberpunk, the ideal universe does not evolve toward masculinization but toward the concept of postgender. Donna Haraway explains that any technology leading to cyborgization should be seen as an act of liberation because it contributes “to socialistfeminist culture and theory in a postmodernist, non-naturalist mode and in the tradition of imagining a world without gender” (Haraway 1991: 150). The aim of this feminism is the creation of a postgender cyberspace functioning as a universe without gender and beyond gender. Nothing can be more opposed to the masculine universe of Futurism: Marinetti’s ideal world is either strictly gendered or exclusively masculine (i.e., it will contain men and masculinized women). Cyberpunk appears unreal because here even gender has become unreal. It might look like a woman, but is it really a woman? The Cyberpunk body is not a real body but a gene machine, that is, a chain of interlinked signs. When looking at the web of signifiers called the “Cyberpunk body,” gender is a matter of interpretation. Often the ambiguity has to do with the small, evasive, feminine particles (most probably genes) that constitute Cyberpunk biology. Humans are haunted by subtle, invisible elements or even tiny machines whose ontological status is difficult to grasp. Today, far-right activists combat the postmodern gender theory linked to this culture. Those activists are Futurists. Haraway-style gender manipulation is for them an expression of a liberal-leftist Cyberpunk attitude obsessed with freedom and autonomy. Alexandre Devecchio writes in his book on the new French far-right that in progressive liberalism “the individual sees itself as its own norm, and the atomization resulting from this vision leads to the promethean fantasy of autogeneration called transhumanism” (Devecchio 2015: 284). The anti-liberal Futurist gender project strives for the contrary. It wants to contribute to the “real” character of gender and the body. For Futurism as well as for ISIS culture, both biology and technology are not made up of signs but of “real” elements (the oversized mechanical penis for the multiplied man is an excellent example). Was Futurism really that unequivocally anti-feminist? Like so many elements in Futurism, the anti-feminine input is complex, too. Despite the infamous anti-woman statements, it seems that Marinetti also fostered the career of some women within his movement (most probably those women were “masculinized” in some way). Apart from that, several women introduced feminist demands into the Futurist agenda on their own (Berghaus 2010: 410). To some of those demands Marinetti reacted. For example, the provocative slogan “disprezzo della donna” would be removed from later manifestos (407). In the first place, the feminist critique addressed the main contradiction of Futurism: that despite a rejection of the past, Futurism remained conservative in social questions.
Other women took different initiatives. Feminist Futurist Valentine Saint-Point joined the Futurist choir and eulogized, in Lacerba, cruelty and violence (Verdone: 6). Still other Futurist feminists supported Marinetti’s main claim that women should be masculinized. Some Futurist women were active in Florence and strove to improve the conditions of women through Futurism. The “masculinizing” argument was brought forward by Rosa Rosà, who affirmed in her article “Le donne del postdomani” (1917) that “men are more developed than women, but women are changing into a superior type as they are becoming men” (in Sica 2016: 47). Rosà believed that women can achieve personal development only by making a determined effort to reduce their feminine side, which can be read as a Second Wave feminist position of sorts. However, a year later Rosà would switch toward Third Wave positions. In her novel Una Donna con Tre Anime (1918), Rosà describes protagonist Georgina Rossi’s evolution toward a new type of empowered women who “will neither be objectified nor made dependent by men. They will not be conceived as purely passive creatures, because, as remarkable lovers, they will be able to take initiative an express their sensual desires freely” (Sica 2016: 156). Fitna and the Fear of the Femme Fatale The Futurist women of Florence were particularly hostile to the anti-feminism emerging from Marinetti’s sexist and provocative handbook for the new male lover entitled Come seducono le donne (How to Seduce Women), in which the author “celebrated the irresistible charm of the true Italian male Futurist” (Sica 2016: 5). The handbook’s main aim was to entertain and to raise the morale of soldiers on the battlefront. Marinetti considered the feminist criticism and included in the second edition Rosà’s critique of Futurism as well as an equally critical article by feminist Enif Robert (as a matter of fact, both critiques had been published before the first edition) (Contarini: 201). Berghaus believes that “Marinetti had great admiration for women who did not follow the conventional path but pursued their artistic calling. This was confirmed by my studies of various actresses, dancers, playwrights, and designers” (Berghaus 2010: 402). In a way, Futurism’s libertarian penchant was supportive of feminist ambitions: Marinetti indeed held that the woman “is her own boss, free and not tied down by any contract; she can be sure that her child will be looked after by the State; she can choose another man, another love” (Berghaus 2006: 160). Can one still detect something clearly anti-feminist in Futurism? Verdone distinguishes a certain type of women that Futurism definitely despised: the femme fatale. Verdone believes that “in reality, for Futurists the contempt of women means the contempt of the ‘femme fatale’” (Verdone: 23). There is
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the decadent type of the romantic and sentimental woman emerging from a Dannunzian universe that “impedes the progress of men” (ostacola la marcia dell’uomo). This woman is the red cloth of Futurists. Verdone’s conclusion is that Futurist anti-feminism is not anthropological or political but merely “artistico” (24). It might actually be a little more than only artistic if we compare it with the fear of the femme fatale existing in another culture. I am talking about Islam. In Islamic culture, both fear and fascination for the femme fatale tends to come in a package since centuries. Anti-feminine sentiments in newer waves of radical Islam are expressed rather clearly in the form of warnings of the “dangerous woman.” Historically, in many mythologies and religions, women were portrayed as having the potential to ruin men: Lilith, Eve, Pandora, and so on. In European eighteenth-century literature, the dangerous woman became a popular theme. Especially Goethe elaborated on those classical myths. The image of the woman as the seducer and destroyer of men becomes a central literary theme in the closing decades of the nineteenth century (see Allan 1983; Dijkstra 1986). Futurism was still influenced by those fin de siècle artistic themes, and Verdone’s assumption that Futurist anti-feminism concentrates on the femme fatale follows from this constellation. However, Futurism also joins a discussion that is typical in Islamic contexts. The notion of fitna (temptation, sedition) refers most currently to the “chaos” provoked by women’s sexuality. Nadia Maria El Cheikh writes in her Byzantium Viewed by the Arabs that “fitna, meaning disorder and chaos, speaks also to the beautiful femme fatale who makes men lose their self-control. Fitna is a key concept in defining the dangers that women, more particularly their bodies, were capable of provoking in the mental universe of the Arab Muslims” (El Cheikh 2004: 125). Fatma Mernissi elaborated most famously in her first book Beyond the Veil (1975) on fitna and its connotations with the “femme fatale who makes men lose their self-control” (Mernissi 1987: 31). Two years later, Nawal El Saadawi, in The Hidden Face of Eve, explained that the distrust men have of women is linked to the fear of fitna: “For Arabs, the word ‘woman’ invariable evokes the word fitna” (El Saadawi 2015: 136). Like Victorian culture in Europe, which required upper- and middle-class women to be asexual in order to suppress the dangers of the femme fatale, in Islamic culture the impulse to restrain female fitna is immediate. Sometimes this happens through male violence. A protagonist in Tahar Ben Jelloun’s The Sand Child says that “to be a woman is a natural infirmity to which everyone accommodates. To be a man is an illusion and violence that everything justifies and privileges.”2 Futurism and puritan Arab culture share a fear of the femme fatale. A strange mixture of puritanism and libertarianism that has so strongly marked Futurist philosophy resembles certain ideas of radical Islam. Once again, Cyberpunk is diametrically opposed to this. One might think that
progressive liberal culture with its different waves of feminism has made men and women equal and that the femme fatale threat has been neutralized. However, the contrary is the case. The femme fatale reemerges in a liberal context in sex guides of the 1980s and 1990s as the sexually insatiable woman. In research on sexuality by Masters and Johnson, Mary Jane Sherfey, and Sheer Hite, or in the new wave of “feminist pornography” (Virginie Despentes, Catherine Millet), the femme fatale surfaces as the intimidating woman causing male anger. The battle of Cyberpunk versus Futurism continues in the realm of sexuality. The Humanization of the Machine Marinetti celebrated the “mechanic who lovingly washes the great powerful body of his locomotive” (“Multiplied Man”: 90) almost believing that the machine is human. In Cyberpunk, people rarely caress machines because machines are scary and unfathomable. However, sometimes Cyberpunk attempts to humanize the machine, too. This has mainly been the task of Japanese Cyberpunk, which tends to depict machines as cute. That’s not the way of ISIS and Futurism. For them the cute is entirely unbearable because it is bound to escape into the soft and vaporous universe of femininity. The Futurist mechanic might lovingly wash his locomotive, but the locomotive remains a dominating and frightening device supporting masculine order. Compared with Japanese developments of Cyberpunk, Futurism appears dogmatic and paternalistic. In Futurism, the locomotive has not become human but the mechanic has become a machine. Even when Futurist Arnaldo Ginna writes that “there are machines that are real organisms that have real intelligence that have temporary and chronicle diseases. That have wounds healing in 10, 15, 30 and more days; there are machines that die from a stroke,”3 this does not lead to a humanization of a machine. It is rather supposed to make plausible the mechanic character of the human. In Futurism, masculine order, guaranteed by real machines, draws a strict borderline between mechanics and the softness of cute femininity. Marinetti claims in “Multiplied Man” that the hybridization of body and machine will “beget a creature who is naturally ‘cruel, omniscient, and warlike’” (2009: 90). Boccioni even created such a body: his sculpture of the “New Man,” which seems to be an interpretation of Marinetti’s “New Man” as described in “Multiplied Man,” is a hyper-energized, invulnerable, and anonymous warrior walking forward and urging toward progress. Nothing human is left in this sculpture and its facial expressions are distorted by means of montage and the addition of mechanical parts. This is very different from the Japanese cyborg. Futurism stands for the machinization of the human whereas Japanese Cyberpunk humanizes the machine. Japanese build a cute robot while Futurists tend to create notably uncute robotized humans. These
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are two entirely different kinds of hybridization. Even if the metallization of the human body remains a current theme in Japanese science fiction (e.g., Tetsuo: The Iron Man), the aesthetics and ethics of this Cyberpunk branch are not Futurist. The Futurist idea of “mechanical beauty” is incompatible with the flamboyant mixture of femininity with metal components known from Japanese pop-posthumanism. The Japanese fusion of man and machine results in eroticism and cuteness while Futurism pursues entirely different goals: it strives “to fuse flesh with metal and to thrill to the erotic frisson of velocity or an exploding bomb” (Poggi 2008: 30). At best, Futurism animizes and “eroticizes” cars into “snorting beasts” with “torrid breasts” (Founding Manifesto). Note that the description is remarkably un-erotic. In a word, the Futurist techno-puritanism or replacement of Eros by technology makes real humanizations impossible. Correspondingly Marinetti writes in a similarly “un-erotic” fashion: “We are convinced that love—sentimentalism and lust— is the least natural thing in the world. There is nothing important and natural except coitus whose purpose is the Futurism of the species.”4 It is important to spell out those differences as clearly as possible. The Futurist concern with the fusion of man and machine is not entirely antithetical to cyborgization, and Futurism anticipated much of the anthropomorphic view of the machine. It is also true that both “humanizing the machine” and mechanizing humans are genuinely Futurist topics, and that the cyborg can be traced to Futurism. It is Marinetti who claims in his “Manifesto tecnico della letteratura futurista” (which contains more concrete descriptions than the first manifesto) to “prepare the creation of the mechanical man made of interchangeable parts” (Marinetti 1912: 125).5 However, since technology in Futurism is mainly mechanical, cyborgization will manifest neither the erotic aspect so current in Japanese Cyberpunk, nor the creepy aspect that it has adopted in later Cyberpunk. The first organ transplant was achieved only in 1954 by Joseph Murray and David Hume at a Hospital in Boston. This technological advance inaugurated a new phase in the conception of human bodies, which was still a mere utopia for Futurists. What followed was a long development toward the biotechnologically enhanced human bodies, which would finally be connected to interactive information technology. Cyberpunk is dominated by those technological developments while the “Mechanical Man” created by the second-generation Futurist artist Fillia (Luigi Colombo) is simply “fed with metal” (Milan 2009: 74). Futurist posthumanism remains always “real” enough to take place in a real world with real, masculine (even if mechanically enhanced) bodies and machines; in Cyberpunk, bodies have merged with a virtual universe. Still there is one Cyberpunk theme that Futurism truly anticipated, which is the spiritualization of the machine or the link between machine and cosmic forces. In the 1930s, Futurism developed the already mentioned machine
cult of Aero Futurism or Aeropittura, which sometimes had transcendental connotations and cosmological overtones. Here Futurism joins Cyberpunk. However, the “spiritualization” seems to go strangely one step forward and one step backward. Fillia’s “religion of speed” might introduce elements of mysticism and spirituality into Futurism by seeing art in terms of transcendence. But Marinetti’s “New Ethical Religion of Speed” (1916) claims that Christian morality “has lost its reason for existing, since life has been completely emptied of the Divine.” In other words, the “prayers to divine speed” recommended by Marinetti do not seem to reinstall the divinity lost. Though Marinetti is praying “every night to my electric lamp” or to the “holiness of wheels and rails” (224–226), the “religion of speed” seems more like a parody of religion as it insists on the physical ecstasy produced by technology. There are no real transcendental effects. THE FUTURIST MACHINE OF ISIS The developments of ISIS are in agreement with the above-described shift from feminine bio-nano-Cyberpunk to the masculine mechanics of Futurism. With ISIS, engineering has once again become a matter of grinding, fixing, and explosions. Before the invention of computer science, engineers used to build with real things. Computer science turned engineering into a sort of semiotics processing signs and symbols. We perceive in the ISIS project not only some well-articulated Futurist convictions, but also an echo of early twentieth-century anti-positivist philosophies by which Futurism was influenced. At that time, it was thought that science had made “real” reality disappear under a heap of calculations and that reality needs to be liberated from those abstractions, for example by evaluating Bergson’s élan vital. “Pragmatic” philosophies able to integrate empathy and real experience in real time fought against semiotics, and Futurism was part of the former movement. Consequently, it has been suggested to see Marinetti’s position as “more akin to the psychological views of James than to the philosophy of science of Pierce” (Blum 1996: 83). While Cyberpunk uses technology to dehumanize the human body, gender, and humanity as a whole, ISIS reconstructs humanity, gender, and the human body through the pragmatic praxis of Futurism. In a world where humanity has been deconstructed and subjected to the forces of cyber-capitalism because information is prized above all else, ISIS offers an “old world” vision of reality. In a world where humanity has been degendered and subjected to the forces of cyborgization, ISIS offers a conventional vision of the (masculine) body. Let us sum up the parallels between Futurism and ISIS pertaining to body politics and technology. First, ISIS is against cyborgization and
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posthumanism because permanent body modification is forbidden in Islam.6 Second, ISIS follows an anti-Cyberpunk concept of technology. ISIS is technologically advanced, but its progress is based neither on gene technology nor on algorithms. By affirming their particularly concrete techno-ideology, ISIS sheds the ironically pessimistic Cyberpunk dystopia current in postmodern science fiction imageries and points toward a bright technological future based on simple principles that men and women can believe in. In other words, ISIS replaces the complex automatized cognitive reactions of thinking machines determined by algorithms with simple, binary reflections. Some of those simple reflections are supported by religious prescripts. Religion can indeed be a great source of inspiration here because it has its own logic and does not need the help of computers. ISIS decided to reinvent reality and reinvented realities tend to take place in the future. The entire ISIS project is a big anti-“No Future” cry. For youngsters who grew up in social desolation fed by reality shows, who are exposed to a highly aestheticized eroticism without any real contact with bodies, who suffer from the lack of community spirit, and for whom even sexual reality has been replaced not even by symbols but by mere signs (the cum-shot in pornography is the peak of this development), Futurism can hand back many of those things that have been swept under the dystopian carpet of Cyberpunk and virtual reality. ISIS understood all this instinctively. What was the most efficient way to proceed? Manifesting a lot of sense for historical coherence, ISIS started where the hippies had stopped: it reinstalled in its universe the hairy, voluptuous, smelly, imperfect real body that postmodern culture had substituted with the digital, sleek, sterile, modular, and connected body. While the video generation born in the 1990s excels in playing virtual wars, ISIS is shooting in real time. While for the latter everything is mediated, the former has a contact with the real human body. “Postmodern” signifies decarnalization until the body has become an interface just smooth enough to transport the flux of information. The new generation’s obsession with smoothness has its roots arguably here. Further, in the postmodern world, even gender is no longer real. ISIS plunges the body back into a Futurist type of modernity where humans were not machines but were driving machines. Real, hairy, analog, masculine, living bodies are driving through the concrete conquered space called the caliphate. Those bodies can also be tortured. ISIS stands for the recarnalization of a postmodern world. The Reinvention of Space In the caliphate of the Islamic State, real bodies are driving through real space. ISIS makes space real again and it does so in a Futurist way. Since
the day ISIS began conquering a part of the real world, we began to read maps again (even if those maps were only on Google). The ISIS world is not composed of codified signs but of concrete matter. This also concerns space: space is no longer virtual but unmistakably real, too. Postmodernity had abolished not only the body but also the space that bodies are supposed to live in by turning space into an abstract cyberspace that can only be thought but not felt. Baudrillard sees a strong connection between the “deprivation of meaning and territory” and the “lobotomy of the body” (Baudrillard 1988: 50–51). Body and space are intrinsically linked simply because the one cannot be perceived without the other. In Cyberpunk, this bodily dimension of space is lost. Berardi is intrigued by the simultaneous disappearance of bodies and space, which “renders the automobile obsolete because space is contracted into an instantaneous and delocalized temporality.”7 This gives us one more reason to conclude that ISIS goes back to Futurism: ISIS makes ample use of cars. The transformation of real space into abstract space has, of course, a history much older than that of Cyberpunk. It began when Futurism ceased being an avant-garde movement. The “derealization” of war described by Virilio, which occurred for the first time during World War I, has already been mentioned. It occurred because the fighting methods had become more indirect, which led not only to the derealization of fighters and machines but also to a derealization of space itself because the new technologies would radically modify the standards of what can be seen and what cannot be seen. Warfare had become complex, which concerned the perception of space. The naked eye could see parts of the event, but the holistic view depended on technology. Without the help of technology, the totality of the battlefield could no longer be seen as a spatial unity: “Only the lens-shutter could capture the film of events, the fleeting shape of the frontline, the sequences of its gradual disintegration. Only serial photography was capable of registering changing troop positions or the impact of long range artillery” (Virilio 1989: 70). As a result, real objects like “landmarks vanished [and] maps lost all accuracy” (70). The disconnection between war as a real event and its representation became most obvious toward the end of World War I; eventually war became “cinematic,” which is the reason why World War I had an effect on Hollywood just like Hollywood would later have an effect on World War II. In 1940, the American Department of War and the Department of State asked Hollywood studios how to best disseminate war propaganda (see Savage 1999).8 In cinematic wars, maps are no longer drawn according to real traces established by real humans but rather according to movements that only machines can measure. The commonsensical notion of space is deconstructed through abstractions. As a result, the new space without unity can no longer
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be “taken in” by a subject. Geography ceases being “earth writing” and turns into a sum of différances between traces that have no actual presence. Postmodernist thought pushed this concept of abstract space further by reissuing geography as a cascade of rhizomes in which everything is decentered and nonhierarchical. ISIS wants to turn the wheel backward by reinstalling an ontological anchor in space in the form of stable points and positions. ISIS demonstrates that there is more to geography than multiplicities, lines of stratification, motion, change, and flight. In ISIS wars, borders can be erased by real humans who will draw new borders into the sand with their feet. An ISIS video proudly shows the “historical” moment of a bulldozer eliminating the border post on the Syrian-Iraqi border, thus cancelling the famous Sykes-Picot line that had been (secretly) marked with a rope in 1917, following a secret agreement between England and France. In the black Islamic State flag, in the “No God but God” inscription, there is a white scrawl of the first letter that goes across the top, which is deliberately ragged. Will McCants believes that this aesthetics of writing is “meant to suggest an era before the precision of Photoshop” (McCants 2015b). Graphè (writing) is here understood as presence and linked to bodily movement. Lines are not deconstructed but real. ISIS wars are neither Star Wars nor virtual Cold Wars, but they are fought to conquer stretches of real land inch by inch. Dabiq gives lengthy accounts of the geography of this new “caliphate.” After years of deterritorialization, ISIS reterritorializes space. Through ISIS, space has become the grand narrative that it once used to be. Virilio believes that “the end of History masks the end of geography and its continuum” (2010: 16), and Philippe Muray wrote after 9/11 in his Letter to Jihadis: “You succeeded in provoking a true history within a world in which only false histories happen (Muray 2002: 80). ISIS has added new chapters to the history of mankind by revitalizing geography. Space is fought for by real, breathing bodies driving real, steaming machines. Is it surprising that this scenario represents a major appeal for a generation that has been raised in virtual space with very little real bodily contact? Speed has become important, too. I am talking about real speed measured in the form of movement of bodies within space and not about the abstract speed witnessed in computer games. In the modern (as opposed to the postmodern) war, the fastest fighter could claim the territory. That’s precisely what happens with ISIS today and it famously happened to Hitler who gained territory because his transport structures were more efficient than those of the enemy. At a time when every millimeter of earthly space has been conquered and colonized up to the point that we have to go into outer space or into cyberspace in o experience real adventures, ISIS discovers a
space that is not merely mental but real because it can be perceived by our five senses. In this space ISIS wants to build a “real” future. Life in the ISIS future is not an amalgam of information society and virtualized nanotechnology, but it represents the utopian life of real women and real men who are manipulating real machines. While postmodernism lost the future, ISIS installs the future in the same ontological terms that were also supported by the Futurists. By doing so, ISIS brings back items like the body, space, and war. It also brings back a revolution that can be experienced in terms of a corpo-reality. The Reinvention of the Image Paradoxically, ISIS also reinforces the reality of the image. Cyberpunk culture suffers from a twofold loss of reality. The real is replaced with the image, but, at the same time, the image has ceased being an ontological anchor because it has been digitalized. The exaltation of violence reimports the feeling of realness that went missing in the postmodern image world. Traditional photos could still provide an ontological anchor and establish realness. Martin Lister explains that “we have looked to photography to provide a picture of a reassuring world in which everything appears to stay in its time, space and place” (Lister: 316), but since computers replaced cameras and film, this quasi-authentic experience of time, space and place has been lost, too. “New kinds of vision and new kinds of images may displace photography precisely because the old, settled concept of the human as the absolutely different and other to technology is, itself, under attack” (316). The real has shifted toward the hyperreal and ISIS reinstalls the real via a process that Lister would describe like this: “It affords us a position, an identity, a sense of power, and it promises to meet our desires” (315). This does not mean that everything terrorist videos show is automatically accepted as real. Definitely not—but it can be experienced as real. The exploding Twin Towers or decapitation scenes are real though at the same time distant and strange, which is paradoxical. The excess of violence produces an effect of estrangement that is not achieved via modernist devices of “making things strange” such as the Russian ostranenie or the stylization of De Stijl. The latter are estrangements dependent on stylizations retrospectively effectuated by a human hand; the depictions of terrorist events are strange “as such,” which is precisely why they are accepted as real. Those strong images are “self-estranged” as if they contained an act of ostranenie in themselves. They produce a feeling of reality directly linked to these images’ strangeness. In this sense terrorist imagery is “organic,” which corresponds to W. J. T. Mitchell’s definition of terrorist image culture. They are “organic” in the sense of “self-generating cells that function independently of any centralized command.” Mitchell
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describes the economy of terrorist images (or terrorism in general) in his book Cloning Terror (2011: xiv) as image-smashing, image-creation, and traumatic images. For Mitchell the image world is cloning itself by creating twins, doubles, and mutations through a process that is accelerated by the systems of communication. We are living in an age of bio-pictures or biocybernetics: copies can be produced genetically, biologically, and digitally. All this produces a supplementary “strange” reality effect operating beyond any economy of realism (which produces copies of reality) or of estrangement (which produces stylized copies of reality). Lister writes: “We sense the real in a photograph. We feel the presence of the real” (318). However, here, in the realm of terrorism, we feel the presence not because the authors of those images had operated with premodern concepts of realism. Nor has the reality effect anything to do with computer graphics’ aspirations to be photo-realistic (Lister explains how designers add distinctive photographic qualities to pictures that would otherwise look too synthetic and therefore unreal). There is absolutely no act of stylization involved. Terror-reality speaks immediately and for itself because its economy depends on the ritualistic enactment of emotional excess. This excess is real though at the same time, it is very strange. And because the excess is real, the image can appear as real and strange at the same time. The Reinvention of the Economy Whoever thought that contemporary revolutions are electronic has been proven wrong. ISIS has taught us that revolutions are not limited to digital revolutions taking place in abstract dimensions by silently undermining existing digital systems. The same is true for the economy. Economies are linked to wealth, and wealth is linked to social classes. In the West, after the neutralization of class conflicts and after the dissipation of the revolutionary imagery linked to class structures, the economy lost much of its social “realness.” Later, the economy became an automatized technical system in which nobody has to assume responsibility but which nobody can escape either. ISIS reminded us that the economy is concrete activity involving the exchange of real goods; and that it can even be destroyed and rebuilt through real revolutions. This is another fascinating aspect of the Islamic State: it is disconnected from international financial systems. ISIS is exchanging real goods for oil that is brought in cisterns across a real border loaded on trucks. The ISIS economy exists in real space and time, which means that economic transactions are not instantaneous but take time. In the postmodern economy, stock exchanges are electronically interconnected, and crashes can happen within instants. Virilio holds that the financial system is a subtle form of terrorism, which he calls “computerized terror of cybernetic instantaneity”
(Virilio 2010: 23). ISIS terror is a counterreaction to this terror of cyberspace, cyberbodies, cybertime, and a cyber-economy. In the ISIS caliphate, a vigorous black market replaces a virtual financial system and this market is first of all real. In Cyberpunk, alternative economies tend to create a hypervirtual realm inside an economy that is already virtual. The name “crypto” (“hidden”) economy is revealing. The bitcoin is such a crypto currency and since it started gaining popularity in 2013, a number of other cryptocurrencies have surfaced, trying to take a bite out of this emerging market, which is valued in billions. This is the natural consequence of an economy where “the political economy of wealth and its associated speculation has been transferred to software packages [and] mathematical automatons” (Virilio 2010: 24). Capitalism is not even an abstract system. Systems can be described by physicists and mathematicians. Postmodern capitalism represents no system simply because it tends to deviate too much. Equilibrium is a physical term and systems need an equilibrium to be recognized as such. But how can there be a measurable equilibrium when time and space have been reduced to nothing? THE AESTHETICS OF REAL TIME ISIS wars are not merely information wars. In the civilized (and femininized?) world of the postmodern époque, the word “war” is used either in a digital or in a metaphorical sense. ISIS wants no “grey zones” but brings reality back in the form of a “real” war fought by real men equipped with real machines. All this makes the ISIS fighters Futurists. Reality is made real again by developing the imagery of masculine violence. ISIS insists very much on this, while postmodern revolutions and postmodern “wars” can look feminine and ridiculous in comparison. Historically, Futurism was the most explicit expression of this modern masculine spirit, that is, of a masculine soul unable to accept defeat, shame, and depression. The only thing that men need is a strong will, and here ISIS joins the Futurist idea of voluntarism fed by a long tradition of European philosophy reaching from Nietzsche via Bergson to Sorel. Of course, voluntarism can also have very negative aspects. According to Arendt, at the time of World War I, “all traditional values had evaporated” and “vulgarity with its cynical dismissal of respected standards and accepted theories” became more acceptable than reasonable theories and old traditions (Arendt 1973: 334). The parallel with ISIS is obvious. Futurists are Bergsonians, too, and it is no coincidence that this French philosopher’s thoughts on memory, space, and time would become so important for the definition of the Futurist dynamic sensation of time and space. Bergson’s idea of “simultaneity” through which time is formulated as an
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anti-mathematical experiential phenomenon, led, for example, to the concept of photodynamism (fotodinamica) as developed by the Futurist photographer Anton Giulio Bragaglia. As mentioned, Bragaglia used complex superimpositions exposing the dynamic movements of bodies and objects. This was supposed to demonstrate “the memory of which still palpitates in our awareness” (Bragaglia 1913: 38). Bragaglia was inspired not only by Bergson but also by the Futurists’ Manifesto Tecnico as well as by Balla’s artistic research into movement. Of all Futurists, Boccioni was submitted in the most obvious fashion to Bergson’s influence.9 His art is “permeated with philosophical speculation and the action of a thought.”10 A further effect of real time is that in a Futurist world, the future has once again become predictable. In Cyberpunk, the future is not predictable, though not because the number of options is so overwhelmingly large that nothing can be said about the future. The reason is simply that there is “No Future.” Why? In the dystopian imagination of Cyberpunk there is no time or at least no real time. Cyberpunk “time” is abstract and contains no durée in the Bergsonian sense. As a result, there is no future and the existence of any prophet looks awkward and inappropriate. In the Futurism issued by ISIS, on the other hand, we have a prophet who makes predictions with absolute certainty. Whatever he says will happen in real time. ISIS believes in the future, and the word “belief” has here the same connotations that it had in Futurism. First of all, it is a belief in progress that cynical Cyberpunk completely abandoned. Without time there is no history or at least no event-based history. In the atemporality of Cyberpunk we no longer experience an “event-based history of short anecdotal durations that could keep historians happy up to the twentieth century” (Virilio 2010: 72). All we have is immediacy and ubiquity. This immediacy and ubiquity “dominates the real space of geophysical expanse but also duration.” Time shrinks until narratives become “nano-chronologies” (76); and it will shrink further until historical events are contained in an accident. Virilio’s “Futurism of the Instant” is no Futurism at all but a vision of Cyberpunk in which space has become as uninhabitable as time. In Cyberpunk “the time—or, more precisely the lack of time—has come for an ‘accidental’ history,” writes Virilio (72). Futurism, on the other hand, prefers real events even if they are enchained like rapid-fire. In Futurism, history leads us from the past into the future in real time. ISIS has converted the virtual future of smooth people into the real future of hairy ones. During this conversion, many things have changed. For example, youngsters began to read. What does it mean that those young people are reading the scriptures? Western converts who have been raised on the internet and never touched a book in their lives are now reading the Quran. The ISIS future is not the future of the post-alphabetical YouTube generation but of
people who believe again in texts. In other words, the postmoderns have been reconverted to modernity. Another item that has been brought back through this conversion is empathy. In a world in which everything is real there is necessarily more empathy. Furthermore, empathy might also be fostered by a more conservative education. Children will be educated by real mothers instead of learning their first words from the internet. On the other hand, ISIS also loses something. What is lost in the ISIS reedition of Futurism is the capacity to understand messages that are ambiguous and ironical. Here ISIS combines the worst of Cyberpunk with the worst of Futurism. Initially, postmodernism and Cyberpunk were ironic and complex, but in advanced stages, the subtle irony could not to survive because the violent flux of information, which typically contains a substantial package of stimulation, does not permit the contemplation of facts within different contexts or in relationship with different facts or ideas. As a result, in a postmodern world, binarism prevails. Quantifying procedures become more and more generalized to support this paradigm. Even human relations are binarily codified or schematized on the internet because this is the only way to cope with the volume of information. Empathy and the understanding of the other are reduced to a minimum. Acceleration and oversaturation lead to desensitization. If ISIS will really achieve the creation of a new reality is an entirely different question. In the end, religious fanatics are puritans whose minds are tuned to the abstract, too. Instead of believing in a concrete world offering enjoyments, such as women, good food, drink, music, and art, those puritans tend to believe in abstract principles creating like this their own virtual reality. The contrast between these two contradictory attitudes is indeed puzzling. The comparison cannot avoid spelling out some contradictions. It is true that there is an uncanny resemblance between the Futurism of religious fanatics on the one hand, and the centralized, rationalized universe of globalized postindustrial societies on the other. In spite of this, the opposition of postmodern Cyberpunk to modern Futurism that has been implemented throughout this book remains valid. On November 7, 2007, the Finnish high schooler Pekka Auvinen shot nine of his comrades and injured thirteen more. On the videos that he had posted on YouTube beforehand, he was wearing a T-shirt with the inscription “Humanity is Overrated.” What did Auvinen mean? On various occasions he had declared that he wanted to murder those who are “unfit, disgraces of human race” (Lieberman 2008: 265). However, in the end, he shot random people and therefore we should perhaps better look for different intentions. Did Auvinen suggest that the digital, modular, connected body of contemporary cyber zombies is overrated and that it should be exterminated? Auvinen was a youngster deeply imbedded in a Cyberpunk world in which the future
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has no meaning except for the cynical one. Auvinen was looking for a real reality but could not find it. Therefore his motivations might indeed be similar to those of terrorists. Comparisons of school killers and suicide bombers can seem inappropriate because the former shoot their mates for no purpose, while the others have very strong purposes. However, a purpose—even if it was a confused one—did exist in Auvinen’s case and I see a similarity with the motivations of ISIS terrorists. The latter believe in humanity’s bright future if only those who have the wrong potential will be eliminated. Then we can move forward toward a brighter and more real reality. In this sense, terrorists, and especially those moving in the sphere of radical Islam, are Futurists by conviction.
NOTES 1. “La macchina sta al centro del mondo immaginario futurista. Si tratta della macchina esterna, la macchina pesante, ferraginosa e ingombrante da non confondere con la macchina internalizzata et recombinante dell’epoca bio-informatica, l’epoca nostra, l’epoca nuova che inizia dopo la fine del secolo che credeva nel futuro, e si mostra in tutta la sua potenza immaginaria e pratica con la realizzazione del Progetto Genoma” (Berardi 2013: 11). 2. “être femme est une infirmité naturelle dont tout le monde s’accommode. Etre homme est une illusion et une violence que tout justifie et privilégie” (Ben Jelloun 1985: 94). 3. “ci sono delle machine che sono dei veri e propri organismi, che hanno veramente dell’intelligenza, che hanno delle malattie passeggere e delle malattie croniche. Che riportano delle ferite guaribili in 10, 15, 30 e più giorni; ci sono delle macchine che muoiono di un colpo apoplettico” (in Verdone: 91). 4. “Noi siamo convinti che l’amore—sentimentalismo e lussuria—sia la cosa meno naturale del mondo. Non vi è di naturale e d’importante che il coito il quale ha per scopo il futurismo della specie” (“Manifesto contro l’amore e il parlamentarismo,” 1910). 5. The manifest has been signed by several painters but it seems to be Boccioni’s work. 6. In Islamic scriptures, there are four hadiths speaking out against tattoos, one of them putting forward the argument that the body should not be permanently changed. The hadiths are: Sahih Bukhari Vol. 7, Book 72, Numbers 815 and 823; Sahih Muslim, Book 24, Number 5300; and Abu Dawud, Book 28, Number 4157. 7. “rende obsoleta l’automobile perché lo spazio è contratto in una temporalità istantanea e delocalizzata” (Berardi: 12). 8. The development did not stop there. Today, Hollywood is influenced by the “cinema of terrorism,” as Stephen Prince shows in his book Firestorm: American Film in the Age of Terrorism (2009). What happened during both world wars foreshadowed a phenomenon that could soon be observed on a generalized level. Twenty
years later Virilio would write that “the multiplication of points of view in modern life (with habituation to multiple screens) [and] the focus of the visual field diverts us from peripheral vision (perception latérale), from the open field that [once] gave its everyday fullness (ampleur courante) to the real space of the verges of our activities” (Virilio 2010: 80/French: 78). 9. This is confirmed by personal notes and library bulletins. 10. “compenetrata di speculazione filosofica, è azione di un pensiero” (Viola 1994: 61).
Conclusion Artificial Optimism Then and Today
How is it possible that Futurism and ISIS, two movements that emerged from completely different social, political, and cultural contexts, developed similar aesthetics? Various reasons have been evoked in this book. A common denominator, presented as a mixture of puritanism and “artificial optimism” (an ambiguous form of nihilism/idealism), emerged as the most convincing explanation. Futurist optimism appears as artificial because it is combined with a rampant nihilism. ISIS culture is underpinned by the same contradictory optimistic-nihilistic bias. Artificial optimism, accompanied by an optimistic “No Future” cry, is what Futurists and ISIS fighters have in common; and they even find this oxymoron energizing. Artificial optimism is an optimism that never fully represses its negative counterpart; it can be diametrically opposed to Cyberpunk pessimism, which never fully represses its positive counterpart. Futurist optimism is violent, fast, and concrete and wants to overcome nature through technology. Cyberpunk is pessimistic, resigned, and passive. Open violence is almost taboo in Cyberpunk. Here it is in agreement with progressive liberal culture: “New age democracy is implemented by the reduction of violence and the exhaustion of the avant-garde,” writes Gilles Lipovetsky (1983: blurb). Like liberalism, Cyberpunk dislikes revolutions because revolutions are too fast. Instead, it prefers to transform economies slowly from within. Cyberpunk rejects candid violence; in return, violence can be sly and creepy. Futurists find “normal” nihilism feminine because it does not produce the right kind of violence. “Normal” nihilism tends to spawn chaotic feminine violence but not the male, disciplined form of violence. Only artificial optimism or “nihilist optimism” will produce the desired results. Artificial optimism is contradictory and complex enough to be distinct from the “regular” optimism that has been attributed to ultra-nationalist Dannuzianism. 169
As mentioned, the Italian poet Gabriele D’Annunzio was close to the Futurist movement without being a Futurist himself. D’Annunzio was mainly influenced by French symbolism and he could not reconcile his symbolist aesthetics with genuine Futurist ambitions. It is via those symbolist influences that D’Annunzio has often been associated with the French movement of decadentism, which developed at the end of the nineteenth century, to a large extent out of symbolism. This establishes a deeper contrast with the Futurists. Being a complex personality, D’Annunzio did not remain decadent but developed an activism manifesting the most optimistic features possible. In 1919, angered by the Treaty of London and the results of the Paris Peace Conference, D’Annunzio took a private army consisting of 2,600 troops from the Royal Italian Army to Istria, and occupied the city of Fiume. In that city, he declared the “Free Republic of Fiume,” which was allied with the communist Soviet Union. D’Annunzio’s activist form of optimism and his firm belief in an ideal society are very different from the Futurists’ principles of artificial optimism. Ferrarotti therefore distinguishes between two kinds optimisms: In opposition to Dannunzianism, which benefitted from abstract concepts (like the Übermensch) when inserting the defense of industrialism into an optimistic vision of life and society, Futurism, with its identification of art and life, wanted to obtain the redemption of the industrial world through the original exaltation of the machine.1
Futurism advertises vague social reforms via complex mythologies among which are highly exalted concepts such as the benefits of violence and a life determined by death-style. Dannunzianism, on the other hand, believes in straightforward industrialization. Dannunzian optimism remains close to rationalist optimism and is compatible with the optimism that provided the foundations of liberal democracy. It is precisely the liberalist optimism that Futurism abhorred. The Futurist alternative is an irrational form of optimism that it opposes to the rationalism of bourgeois parliamentary democracy. This rationalism had already been under attack by Sorel and would later be criticized by Mussolini. Retrospectively Futurist optimism looks strange because history has shown that not a bit of the optimism was justified. On the other hand, the twentieth century remains a century in which both progress and murderous excursions are strangely entwined. Is the twentieth century the Futurist Century? Artificial optimism emerged right at the time when the murderous part was going to be enacted. This book pointed out many parallels between this Futurist concept and ISIS. In ISIS, an optimistic nihilism constantly convinces itself that
destruction will lead to a new vitalism. Around 1900, this attitude was supported not by terrorists but a vast European philosophical and literary culture, which developed the idea of destructive vitalism. Futurists were part of this culture. Today a similar culture is represented by parts of Islamic fundamentalism. Jihad fighters are not just soldiers. While battlefield soldiers merely challenge a well-defined enemy, jihadists challenge destiny, including their own destiny, which will be morally underpinned with the help of religious ideologies. This is nothing other than Futurist artificial optimism reissued with the help of religion. The concrete parallels in the realm of aesthetics that this book has elucidated should therefore not surprise us. Futurist heroifications like Morasso’s image of the Futurist race car driver as a “barbarian king, his face covered by a hard visor, like a warrior” (in Poggi 2008: 11) lead to the projection of a lifestyle that comes close to that of modern jihad fighters. Both Futurism and ISIS adhere to the idea of self-fulfilling terror and violence supported by a nihilist sort of optimism (artificial optimism). The idea of self-fulfilling terror flows out of the concept of la-violence-pour-la-violence, which employs terror and violence both as the means and the end of a heroic way of life. In Futurism, the combination of opposing elements is only possible because the artificial optimism creates a detached, playful attitude. Futurist narratives always contain a good deal of intentional buffoonery. The playful way in which Futurism handles serious themes is impressive and counts for what made Futurism so famous. Marinetti claimed that his “alogical and momentary synthesis of everyday life—will become the best school for children: a school of joy, speed, force, courage, and heroism” (“Futurist Cinema,” 1916, in Rainey et al.: 230). ISIS is not following ideologies in a dead serious way either. What comes in as important—and here ISIS is distinct from other contemporary Islamist movements—is the subculture aspect. There is a sort of detachment in ISIS. It has been shown that ISIS plays not only with religious prescriptions but also with mass appeal, anarchism, puritanism, and nihilism. The subcultural aspect prevents those items from becoming completely serious; it prevents ISIS from becoming purely Salafist. Such recipes have been favored by many subcultures. After all, the approach is similar to the Futurist style of action, which produces a “combination of ludicrous excess and violent fanaticism” (Blum 1996: 87). The paradoxical nihilistic-optimistic attitude is in agreement with other findings that have been presented in this book and which were summarized under the heading “progressive conservatism.” Artificial optimism is progressive and pretends to move forward while being, at the same time, lifenegating and nihilistic. Artificial optimism unites progressive and reactionary elements by producing an attitude that is modern without implicating truly
modern values. Both Futurism and ISIS use artificial optimism and progressive conservatism as survival (and death) techniques. Furthermore, both are convinced of the decay of the West and of liberalism and combat the dominant degenerating system. In the case of the Futurists, this system was represented by an old-fashioned bourgeois society; in the case of ISIS, it is represented by the global society determined by a decadent Western consumer culture. However, both also remain aware that they are products of those systems. This creates a contradiction that both attempt to overcome through violence or through an optimistic-nihilistic battle cry. It expresses a paradoxical content because its life-affirming appeal is intimately linked to the principles of puritanism as well as those of physical self-annihilation. Poggi writes that Futurists were confronted with their “own eroded prestige” and that, as a result, they “exalted the will to power and enthusiasm for heroic deeds in war” and created the image of “the virile Futurist warrior [who] would determine his own fate through acts of willful aggression and violence” (Poggi 2008: 30). Very similarly, Lohlker finds that “the best way to dissolve the tensions the mujahidin experience trying to live [in a truly Islamic] way is death.” Ideological paradigms collide with the facts of the real world, and these tensions can only be solved through a heroic act of dying; and, of course, one will die “optimistically.” The torn identity of the suicide bomber can reach paradise only through violence and suicide. Lohlker continues: “The only way available for mujahidin” is “eternal dissolution” (Lohlker 2014a: 153). At the same time, the fact to embrace danger means challenging the rampant nihilism that one perceives in society. This attitude is not merely nihilistic but it is also a reaction to nihilism. Zaretsky and Mikics come to this conclusion when attesting to ISIS a quality that is also commonplace in Futurism. The actions of ISIS are “a way of fending off [nihilism’s] moral challenge by embracing a dangerous and outdated theocratic mentality” (Zaretsky and Mikics 2014). The nihilist-looking anti-nihilism tends to be destructive though, strictly speaking, it does not need to be destructive. The violent sublimation of one’s own contradictory situation can also create a violent style. Violence has been aestheticized and ritualized. In this way, violence and puritanism lead to the lifestyle aspired by both ISIS and Futurism: “How best to affirm virility while becoming free of the debilitating effects of desire? How to imagine the body’s boundaries—as both permeable, shifting, and open to ecstatic fusion with the environment, and simultaneously as rigid, closed, and resistant to danger? How to hold in solution a narcissistic longing for expansion of the ego and fantasies of omnipotence?” (Poggi 2008: 160). Violence—stylized or not—remains the most consistent option available to express the clash of two conditions: the desire to be omnipotent and the simultaneous awareness that one is a product of the system that one is trying
to oppose. Of course, this is not the “reasonable” violence directed toward concrete elements, but it is rather the self-motivated, obsessive violence practiced by ISIS and glorified by Futurism. Self-motivated, obsessive violence rhymes perfectly well with Benjamin’s self-sufficient aesthetization of politics; and in the case of ISIS, it is supported by—and lived through—religion. The recent tendency of Islamist militants to concentrate on “Islamic practices” (i.e., on lifestyle) confirms this theory. It means that Islam has become not only more detailed, particularist, and obsessive, it also means that it has become more self-sufficient. How will ISIS end? On the one hand, ISIS and Futurism occupy similar positions in modernity. Rainey believes that Futurism represents the “dead end of modernism” (Rainey 2009: 47) and on the long run, ISIS seems to be moving toward a similar dead end. However, the legacy of ISIS will be different. Though a part of Futurism can appear today as chilling, vulgar, and monstrous, in general Futurism remains a subject of interest. The alluring, ludicrous, parodic, and playful style that Futurists invented remains unique. This will definitely not happen to ISIS. Ferrarotti writes that Futurism created “a fashion, not a myth” (“mode, no miti,” Ferrarotti: 8). ISIS will probably have created myths but no fashion. However, just because ISIS creates myths, it can survive. Myths are timeless while fashions are à la mode today and forgotten tomorrow. There might also be another scenario. This book has spelled out how Futurism ended: it turned into Cyberpunk. Optimism led to excess and excess led to extinction: “It seems that everything has been turned upside down, transformed into a dystopia because of an excess of speed and in the future, we now see the shadow of a barbarian past that we believed to be buried,” writes Berardi (2013: blurb). Perhaps this is also the future of ISIS. NOTE 1. “A differenza dal dannunzianesimo che si giovava di concetti astratti (il superuomo) per inserire la difesa del industrialismo capitalista in une visione ottimistica della vita e della società, il futurismo, con l’identificazione arte-vita, tenta il riscatto del mondo industriale attraverso una originale esaltazione della macchina” (Ferrarotti 2016: 50).
This book has described parallels not only between ISIS and Futurism, but also between ISIS and populist political movements in Western countries. Most often, these observations were historical, but since a vigorous anti-Cyberpunk movement is emerging in the form of populist politics in Western countries, the Cyberpunk-Futurism dichotomy should be adapted to the particularities of this fast-evolving situation. It has been said that voters of populist parties in the United States and in Europe respond to a political situation created by liberalism that can be characterized as postmodern relativism and Cyberpunk. It has also been shown that Futurism and ISIS follow similar anti-liberal agendas. Both act against a nihilist culture of relativism that lacks authenticity, action, and vigor. Like Futurists, radical Western critics of a globalized, uprooted, identity-less Western culture are opposed to a postindustrial nihilist Cyberpunk reality that has brought about anomie, the absurdities of an exaggerated antiauthoritarianism, the obsession with political correctness, bureaucracy, and a world lacking “reality” because it is disconnected from history and offers no possibilities of identification. In the worst case, this world is presented as a positivist culture of quantification that has replaced reality with calculations. In 1910, similar patterns led Futurists to attacks of European “liberal culture.” There is not enough space in this book to analyze the problem of liberalism more closely, though the disconcerting link between liberalism and neoliberalism deserves more attention (see my book Deculturation: Neoliberalism, Fundamentalism, Kitsch). Western populism and radical Islam have much in common as they are reacting against the same kind of (neo)liberal culture. It is necessary to fine-tune the term populism as it has considerably evolved in the last decades especially in Europe. In France, the populist movement of the Front National no longer stands for the restaging of fascism. According to Alexandre Devecchio’s newest analyses of this 175
young culture, far-right voters are no longer necessarily reactionaries harking back to a presumably better past. Have they become Futurists? If we want to stay within the logic that this book has laid out, we have to answer yes. There is an increasing number of “untypical” cases of voters who sympathize with a conservative program ready to fight a nihilist Cyberpunk culture that they believe to be initiated by liberalism. More and more intellectuals with originally leftist backgrounds denounce the “crisis of liberalism” in France, which suggests remarkable parallels with what happened in 1910 in Europe. Most of those intellectuals do not intend to be absorbed by the populist dynamic of the Front National. Among those are Alain Finkielkraut, Eric Zemmour, Michel Houellebecq, and Elisabeth Levy. One of those thinkers is the aforementioned Bérénice Levet who criticizes the cultural situation brought about by the “liberalist” politics of the 1970s in her newest book. The liberal, relativist, nihilist attitude that especially permeates education necessitates, according to her, the establishment of a more concrete, historically established reality that young people can perceive in terms of values, identities, and symbols. Levet’s critique of the culture of relativism coincides very much with Alan Bloom’s mentioned critique of the “Nietzschean left” (drafted in 2008), which Bloom denounced as an urban leftist middle class hypnotized by the imperative of tolerance. It also coincides with what neo-Futurist Roberto Guerra criticized as “paleo-bourgeois alternativism” (“alternativismo paleoborghese,” Guerra 2011: 12). According to Levet, the atomization of society fostered by wellmeaning, rational, and bureaucratic measures has led to “cultural insecurity” (46). As a result, people take refuge in simplified, binary modes of thinking and conformism. Hannah Arendt and Friedrich Meinecke brought forward such points as the reasons for the “German catastrophe.” At that time, some would be attracted by the mystifying and irrational ideologies of the Nazis and others would be inspired by Futurist or Sorelian irrationalism. What will the disillusioned, atomized people go for this time? Levet’s book refrains from ideologically colored overstatements and represents a relatively balanced summary of recent conservative thought. Still she finds that liberals are functioning as the grave diggers of their own culture. Levet characterizes the generation of “liberal progressives” as immature and haunted by the idea of being pleasing and helpful. Levet calls her book Twilight of the Progressive Idols (Crepuscule des idoles progressistes), based on Nietzsche’s Twilight of the Idols, itself a pun on Wagner’s opera Twilight of the Gods. Levet accuses “progressive liberals” of having created a culture of progress in the sense of a “culture of novelties, of movement, of the flight forward” (28). They have left behind “culture, museums, tradition, memory, and continuity” until all that remained was a disincarnated Western culture that Islamist can now easily swipe away. Liberal progressives wanted to
abolish the old world and create a “new man who would no longer resemble the Western man that had evolved in this culture over centuries” (29). The only value they accepted was “progress”; all other values had to be abolished. This brought about a total rupture with the Western legacy. To some extent, Levet attributes to those “liberal progressives” (who are the great bugbears of this new conservative thought) qualities that are typically Futurist. They believe in progress and want to create a new man; Levet wants to smash their idols of progress. However, one should not interpret this new conservatism as an anti-futurist critique. It would be a misconception to see liberals as Futurists and to conclude that the new populist movements are against them. In reality, things work the other way around. The disincarnated and atomized society criticized by Levet is exactly the liberalist realty that Futurists were criticizing in 1910. Therefore, Levet is not bashing the newest edition of Futurism but she is a Futurist herself. The hated liberal progressive (the bobos = “bourgeois bohemian” in French) is the equivalent of the typical Venice inhabitant that Futurists attacked on their leaflets called “Against Past-Loving Venice” of which 800,000 were dropped from the top of the Clock Tower in Venice in 1910. Here Futurists proclaimed that “we renounce the Venice of foreigners, market for counterfeiting sprung by caravans of lovers, jeweled bathtub for cosmopolitan courtesans” (TIF: 30). In other words: we renounce bobos. Levet’s book is a critique not of Futurist progressivism but of progressivism gone awry, which is precisely what, in this book, has been called Cyberpunk. Levet uses the word “progressive” in a way that requires quotation marks. The liberal “progressivism” is a progressivism that has turned into nihilism. In many respects, this overlaps with the positivist progressivism of quantifiers, relativists, and neoliberals. It overlaps with the nihilist “progressivism” of Cyberpunks. The Cyberpunks’ mistake is that they cannot apply progressive ideas properly or they simply misunderstand the meaning of progress. Levet believes that leftist politics today has been reduced to a badly conceived progressive thought that idolizes the exotic and openness for its own sake. The left could not provide an all-encompassing, cultural vision of modernity and the only remaining ideal of “being a leftist” is to go for the “newest of the new.” The alternatives that thinkers like Levet—who have relatively recently converted to conservatism—suggest are reminiscent of the paradoxical mixture of the left and right that we also find in Futurism. Levet and other like-minded critiques of the liberal-leftist tradition want a nation that overcomes the rigidity of a progressivist thinking extant perhaps since Socrates, which idolizes progress and preaches the abolition of tradition and culture. Levet declares: “We want faith in instruction in Enlightenment, the
human sciences, and culture as the shaping power of the human spirit that happens through the contact with classical works” (28). This “conservatism” is not antithetical to many leftist agendas. It does not call for conformity, totalitarianism, or the suppression of critical thinking—rather its contrary. Forty years of liberal culture, liberal education, and liberal politics brought about a spiritual, intellectual, and linguistic poverty that has consistently been disguised as a “progressive culture.” The works of Levet—and many other neoconservative authors—describe a situation that this book has conceptualized as Cyberpunk. Futurism and fascists acted against what has been identified in this book as the precursor of Cyberpunk. The Cyberpunk icon of nihilist progress had to be smashed. What will be the new icons of anti-Cyberpunks today? The Pope, Jeanne d’Arc, or Putin? What remedy do anti-liberal counter-movements suggest? Some want to make Detroit great again, which is a truly Futurist alternative. Others identify with older forms of fascism. Still others participate in populist, identitarian movements that border fascism but are undeniably innovative in some other sense. The new conservative philosophers who present a paradoxical mixture of left and right might not be aware how much this pushes them into the realm of Futurism. They do not refuse liberty and do not strive for a totalitarian state but think that Cyberpunk liberals were “merely unbound but not free” (“deliés mais non libres,” Levet: 24). It is necessary to design another kind of freedom functioning within the grid of a real society and real culture. A freedom functioning in real space and in real time.
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Abduh, Mohammed, 113–14 Abu Ghraib, 3 actionism, xvi, xix–xx, 89–90, 117. See also activism activism see actionism fundamentalism, xii–xiii, 44–45, 105–125, 143 Adorno, Theodor, 28, 87 aeropittura, 64–65, 158 aesthetics, xiii, xviii–xix, xxi, 1–6, 43– 44; aesthetics and politics, xxiii, 4, 23, 173; aesthetization, 3–4, 30–32, 45, 47, 114, 173; aesthetization of violence, xviii, 10–11, 42, 77 Al-Afghani, Jamal Ad-Din, 113–14 Afrofuturism, 56 Ahmed, Leila, 109 Akhbari, 109 Al-Qaeda, 3, 16, 34, 112–13; Al-Qaeda aesthetics, 30–33 Al-Shabab video production, 32–33 americanism, xi Amish, 107 anarchism, xv, xxi, 9, 10, 11–13, 18, 43 anomie, 142 anti-Semitism, 81, 103n4 Arditi, x, xxivn5 Arendt, Hannah, 35, 42, 58, 75, 90, 93–94, 131–37 Artaud, Antonin, 45–46 artificial optimism, 18–19, 54, 169–73
Astruc, Alexandre, 51n5 atomization, 134 avant-garde, vii, xi–xiii, xvi, xxivn11, 19, 32–48, 58–59, 61–63, 78, 81–82, 92, 109, 112, 126, 160 Avanti, viii, ix Al-Awlaki, Anwar, 24 Azzam, Abdullah, 53, 124n2 Ba’ath Party, xi, 13 Al-Baghdadi, Abu Bakr, 54 Balla, Giacomo, 36–37, 65, 165 Al-Banna, Hassan, 5, 44, 96–98, 103n8 Bannon, Steve, 144 Baudrillard, Jean, x, 2, 5, 67, 129, 150–51, 160 Benetton, 24 Benjamin, Walter, 42, 46–47, 173 Berardi, Franco, 17, 70–71, 140, 149–50 Berger, John, 46 Berghaus, Günter, 70, 71n16, 81, 153–54 Bergson, Henri, xix, 89, 164 Bethke, Bruce, 55, 58 Bin Lahden, 30–31 biology, 149–54 biopunk, 149 Bloom, Allan, 141–42 Boccioni, Umberto, 16, 35, 53, 62, 89, 108, 156 195
body, 150–54, 160 bourgeoisie, 74 Bourdieu, Pierre, xiii Bragaglia, Anton Giulio, 38, 165 bruitism, 139 Burckhard, Jacob, 101 Burke, Edmund, 1, 6 Buzzi, Paolo, 70 Cage, John, 149 caliphate, xxvn13, 24 caméra-stylo, 40–41, 51n5 Cangiullo, Francesco, 143 capitalism, 164 Carli, Mario, xi, 64 Cavacchioli, Enrico, 70 Christians, 28–29, 50–51 Christians fundamentalists, 113, 122 Clanging of the Swords, 22, 38 Cold War, 125 communism, 82 communitarianism, 27–28 Confucius, 111 conservatism, 82–83, 105–7 Constructivism, 11, 38–39 Conti, Primo, 126 Cooke, Miriam, 107 coolness, 49 Crali, Tullio, 22–23 Croce, Benedetto, xix, 77, 139 cruelty, 45–46 crypto currency, 164 Cubism, vii, xii, 14, 35 cute, 156 cyberattacks, 138 Cyberpunk, xv–xvii, 55–56, 58, 61–63, 69–71, 125–27, 133–34, 140–44, 150–66, 169–71 Dabiq, 24, 31, 75–76, 80, 161 Dabiq (city), 51n1 Dadaism, vii, xii, xv, 71n3, 92, 139 D’Anna, Giulio, 65 D’Annunzio, Gabriele, 127, 155, 169–70
death, 5, 44–45 de Benoist, Alain, 60 Debord, Guy, 100, 127 Debray, Régis, 2 De Felice, Renzo, xix, 11, 84, 99, 101, 110 Deleuze, Gilles, 61–62 democracy, 83, 91, 169 Democrazia futuristica, 13, 79 Derrida, Jacques, 45–46 Detroit, 144 Diagne, Bachir, 114 Di Filippo, Paul, 149 DNA, 148 dogmatism, 142 Eco, Umberto, 44, 73, 84 ecology, 136 economy, 163–64 Eisenstein, Sergei, 32 Elasticity (Boccioni), 62, 65–66 elitism, 14–15 empathy, 166 Enlightenment, 83, 96, 123, 131 Entfremdung, 127–28 Ethiopia, viii European Community, 93, 132 Evola, Julius, 84, 92–93 evolution, 95 expansionism, 76 Fanon, Frantz, 42 Fasci of Combat, viii, 56 fascism, xxii, 73–74, 82–83, 98–100; fascism and Futurism, 77–80; fascism and ISIS, 83; islamofascism, 97–98 Faye, Guillaume, 60–61 feminism, 81, 111, 152–56 femme fatale, 154–56 Fillia, 33, 157–58 film, Futurist, 39, 160 Finkielkraut, Alain, 48, 91 fitna, 154–56 Flames of War, 22, 32, 36, 55 Fogazzaro, Antonio, 127
Foucault, Michel, xxiii Founding and Manifesto of Futurism, vii–viii, 81, 95 French Revolution, 101 Fromm, Erich, 135 fundamentalism, xii–xiii, 44–45, 105–125, 143
James, William, 158 Japan, 156–57 Jelloun, Tahar Ben, 155 Jews, 107 Jullien, Francois, 7–8 Jung, C. G, 71n16 Jünger, Ernst, 137
Garibaldi, Giuseppe, 9 Gellner, Ernest, 99 Gemeinschaft vs. Gesellschaft, 96 gender, 151–54 Gentile, Giovanni, 77–80, 90 Ginna, Arnaldo, 156 Giolittism, 69 glamour, 48, 50, 55 Glucksmann, André, 66–67 Goethe, Johan Wolfgang, 155 Gramsci, Antonio, xi, 82 Griffin, Roger, 9, 77, 85, 88, 106, 135–36 Gulf States, 118
Kant, Emmanuel, 6, 43 Kepel, Gilles, 126 Khlebnikov, Velmir, 137 Khomeini, Ayatollah, xiii, xxiii, 109 kitsch, 34, 150 Kohn, Hans, 90 Kristeva, Julia, 4, 48
Haraway, Donna, 153 Hebdige, 29, 48–49, 138 Hegghammer, Thomas, 4–5, 91 Hezbollah, 4–5, 34 hip-hop, 28, 49–51, 81 Hitchens, Christopher, 83, 99 Hitler, Adolf, 82, 161 Hollywood, 160 Horkheimer, Max, 28, 87 Huxley, Aldous, 56
Lacerba, xxivn7, 79, 92, 154 l’art-pour-l’art, 44, 46–47 le Bon, Gustave, 124n4 Let’s go for Jihad, 22, 30, 36 Levet, Bérénice, 69 liberalism, xvi, xx–xxi, 69, 87, 130–34, 143, 169 Libya, viii, 71n4 lifestyle, xxi, 44–45 line of force, 35–36, 39–40 Lipovetsky, Gilles, 169 Lissitzky, El, 38 Lister, Martin, 162–63 Lucini, Gian Pietro, 70 Lukács, George, 67–68 Luxardo, Elio, 40
iconoclasm, xxii idealism, 125–26 image, 162–63 Inconvenient Evidence exposition, 3 individualism, 87–88 Iranian revolution, 115 irony, 140 ISIS, xxiii–xxivn1, 54–55; ISIS and fascism, 74–76 Islamism, 84 Israel, 110
machine, 62, 148–60 Mafarka le futuriste, 60, 152 Malevich, Kasimir, 39 Mallarmé, Stéphane, 51n2 Manifesto Tecnico, 165 Mann, Thomas, 87, 105 Mannheim, Karl, 83, 95, 102 Marcus, Greil, 91–92, 129 Mariátegui, José Carlos, 95 Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso, vii, xviii– xix, 9–10, 16, 46–47, 56, 59, 65, 70,
78–81, 95, 141, 143, 148, 152–54, 157–58, 171 martyrs, 45, 126 Marxism, xx, 7, 82, 109, 128 masochism, 135, 139 Maududi, Abdul A’la, 106, 124n1 Mayakovski, Vladimir, 127 Mazzini, Giuseppe, 9 Meincke, Friedrich, 94, 96, 100–102, 132 Mernissi, Fatma, 155 Metropolis, 58 misogynism, 17–18 Mitchell, W. T. J., 162–63 moderate Islam, 118–19 modernity, 80, 86, 98–99, 107–8, 114, 118–23, 130 montage, 32 Moore, Thomas, 110 Morasso, Mario, 81, 90, 171 Muray, Philippe, xvi, 67, 161 Muslim Brothers, xiii, 53, 98, 106 Mussolini, Benedito, xii, xviii, xxii– xxiii, 56, 78–79, 81, 83 mythology, 76, 86–87, 173 nasheed, 3, 25 National Fascist Party, viii nationalism, 18 nation state, 74–75 nature, 28–29 Nazism, xxii, 28–29, 82, 94, 135 Neo-fascism, 34, 113 Neo-Futurism, 56, 59–61, 125, 150 Neoliberalism, 128 New Age, 62 Nietzsche, Friedrich, xix, 7–8, 67, 89– 90, 126–27, 141–42 nihilism, 18–19, 47, 55, 53–54, 67–68, 108, 126, 169–72 Nolte, Ernst, 99 nouvelle droite, 60 optimism, 108, 125 ostranenie, 6, 32, 162
pan-Islamism, 113–14 pan-theism, 29 Papini, Giovanni, x, xi, 139 Pareto, Vilfredo, 42, 133 patriotism, 8 pessimism, 169 philology, 7–8 photodynamism, 165 photography, 38, 160 pornography, 156, 162–63 postmodernism, xvi, 58–59, 61–64, 68–69, 121–22, 149–50, 159 pragmatism, 95–96 Pratella, Francesco, 43 primitivism, 8 progress, 12, 110, 114–16, 118 progressive conservatism, 28, 105–7, 111–14, 121, 171 Propaganda by the Deed, 12–13 Protocols of the Elders of Zion, 84 punk, 126, 138–40; biopunk, 149; Muslim punk, 146n8 puritanism, 16–18, 46, 63, 75 quantification, 91–92, 128, 132–34, 166, 175, 177 Quran, 45, 71n7, 111, 115, 120 Qutb, Sayyed, 28, 53, 106, 111 racism, 75–76 Raelism, 61 Ramadan, Tariq, 5 rationalism, 115 realism, 163 reality problem, 137–38, 148–50, 166 Reformation, 113 relativism, 88–89, 121, 140–41 religion, xxii, 115; secular religion, 9 Renan, Ernest, xx revolution, xii, 2–6, 77, 82, 162, 163, 169 Rimbaud, Arthur, 112 Risorgimento, xii Rizzo, Pippo, 24 Rodinson, Maxime, 115–16
Rosà, Rosa, 57, 154 Rousseau, Jean-Jacques, 101 Roy, Olivier, xiii–xiv, 18, 45, 48, 50, 116, 119–20, 123, 145n5 Russian cinema, 32 Russian Futurism, xii, xv, 56, 78, 137, 145 Russulo, Luigi, 36, 149 El Saadawi, Nawal, 155–56 Sant’Elia, Antonio, 57, 63 Sardar, Ziauddin, 107, 116–17 Schaeffer, Pierre, 149 school killings, 166 Science Fiction, 56–58 Scientology, 61 sexuality, 155–56 Sloterdijk, Peter, 41 social movements, 10–11 Sontag, Susan, 80 Sorel, Georges, xix, xx, 42–43, 67–68, 133, 170 space, 159–62 speed, 16–17, 30, 38, 56–57, 69, 102, 148, 151, 158, 161, 173 Squadrism, 11, 25, 82 Stockhausen, Karlheinz, 2 style, 6, 118, 162, 172 subculture, 28–29, 48–49, 138–39 sublime, 1–2, 6, 64 Sunni Islam, x surrealism, vii, xii, 8, 45, 48, 137 symbolism, 29, 33–34, 90 syndicalism, xv Syria, 13–14 taghat (idol), 145 Taliban, 107 Tato, 65 tawhid, 143 terror, 1, 47, 101, 103n9, 129–30, 171
There is no Life without Jihad, 38 Tibi, Bassam, 105 time, 165–65 totalitarianism, 110 traditionalism, 84–85 tragic, 127, 140–41 transhumanism, 59–60, 153–59 Trump, Donald, 102, 144 Twin Tower attack, 2–3, 4, 64–69, 129, 162 ummah, 28, 93–99 urbanity, 26–28 Usuli, 109 utopia, 12, 108, 110 Vasari, Ruggero, 70 Vattimo, Gianni, 69 Verdone, Enrico, 132 Vertov, Dziga, 32 videogames, 39–40 violence, xiii–xiv, xviii–xix, 12–13, 45– 46, 129–33, 137, 163; aesthetization of violence, 10–11, 42–44, 77 Virilio, Paul, 21, 39–40, 69, 89, 93, 95, 137, 128–29, 163–65 virtual, xvii, 40, 101–2, 127, 147–50, 159–61, 164 vitalism, 90, 132, 172. See also actionism Volt, 57 Wahhabism, xiii, 49, 109, 113 Warburg, Abby, 2 Wells, H. G., 56 women, 152–56 youth, 76 Al-Zarqawi, Abu Musab, 16, 49
About the Author
Thorsten Botz-Bornstein was born in Germany and studied philosophy in Paris. He has a maitrise from the Sorbonne, a PhD from Oxford University and a habilitation from the EHESS in Paris. He has been teaching in Finland, Russia, Japan, China, and the United States. He has authored thirteen books, edited six books, and written numerous articles on comparative philosophy, aesthetics, and politics. At present he is Associate Professor of philosophy at the Gulf University in Kuwait.