I’ve just been in Bangladesh where there have been a series of terrorist killings and bombings. ISIS has claimed that it undertook some of the acts, whereas the Bangladesh government says that they are either random acts as happen in any country or the actions of the opposition. I do not know who is right, and I certainly don’t justify the terrorist attacks. I was, however, struck by the “poetry” of the statements that may have been made by ISIS, and I wonder if it might be part of their “sophistication” and “attraction” to the young to use “poetry.” (I put so many words in inverted commas to reflect the ambiguity and uncertainty they carry.)
Here is the first statement:
“This is an announcement by the soldiers of the Khilafat in Bangladesh that we killed a crusader after our soldiers followed him in Dhaka and shot him using silencers till he was dead. This is a warning to all nationals of crusader nationals: you will never find security in Muslim countries. And the rain starts with one drop.”
The killers are not terrorists, they are “soldiers of the Khilafat.” The victims are “crusader nationals,” invoking images of the centuries of invasion of the Middle East by the crusader knights, who were eventually expelled. And the last sentence is the most “poetic,” reminding me of Einstein’s famous “It is better to light a candle than live in darkness.”
Here’s a second statement:
“In a blessed operation, the soldiers of the Caliphate in Bangladesh, a security platoon targeted a citizen of the crusade coalition against Islamic State, the Japanese’s crusader Hoshi Kunio after he was under precise surveillance, where he was liquidated with the aid of fire-arms in the city of Rangpur, praise be to God. The series of security operations will go on against the citizens of the crusader coalition who shall have no peace in the countries of the Muslims, God willing.”
Some of the “poetry” is repeated, but this statement includes “religious poetry”: “blessed operation…praise be to God… [and] …who shall have no peace in the countries of the Muslims, God willing.”
A third statement includes: “the temple of the infidels whilst they were doing their infidel ceremonies.”
Some of these phrases—“soldiers of the Kaliphate” and “crusaders”—will have lost their “poetry” through overuse for those who read them regularly, but somebody like me reading them for the first time can’t miss the “poetry.”
Western governments struggle to understand the appeal of ISIS to young, alienated Muslims. It’s clearly something to do with the appeal of their vision of the world, their “glamour” (another word in inverted commas), and their sophisticated use of social media and recruitment practices. But is it also to do with their use of “poetry”?
Their statements stand is stark contrast to the rational, often dull statements of governments.
The ISIS statements make me think of the poet Gabrielle D’Annunzio, whose magnificent autobiography by Lucy Hughes-Hallett I’m reading at the moment. D’Annunzio was a true poet, perhaps one of the greatest Italian poets since Dante. During the First World War he became obsessed with war; his longstanding interests in literature, luxury, love, and sex were eclipsed by his passion for war. He would speak to troops about to go into battle in the most intense poetic language, and simple peasants who were illiterate and had never heard poetry were inspired to fight harder. One Italian general said that if D’Annunzio spoke to the troops before a battle then it was two thirds one.
Britons will also think of Shakespeare’s version of Henry V’s speech to his soldiers before the Battle of Agincourt.
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he today that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
Perhaps those countering ISIS need poets.