Dr. Michael Christopher Low, assistant professor of history, will deliver the LAS 2016 Spring Dean’s Lecture. Low will reframe the discussion of ISIS against the backdrop of more than a half century of unsuccessful jihadist attempts to topple repressive dictatorships and secular states in the Middle East.
The lecture, Jihadist Violence, and the Quest for an Idealized Islamic State, is scheduled for Wednesday, April 6, 2016 at 8:00 p.m. in the Memorial Union Sun Room. The College of Liberal Arts and Sciences Dean’s Lecture Series highlights faculty excellence in learning, discovery, and engagement in Iowa State’s largest college. The dean invites LAS faculty of international preeminence to present lectures from their own areas of expertise on topics of interest to the general public, designed to stimulate high-quality, intellectual discussion among faculty, staff, students, and community members.
Abstract Out of the ashes of the tragic civil war in Syria and the rubble of a hobbled Iraq, the world is confronting refugee and humanitarian crises on a scale not seen since World War II. Vanishing borders that once separated Syria and Iraq have become the epicenter of a rapidly spreading jihadist movement known as the Islamic State or ISIS (the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria). ISIS’s gruesome social media broadcasts of beheadings and their chilling attacks on Paris nightlife have often been depicted as the latest fronts in a global “clash of civilizations” pitting Islam against the West. For many Americans, this seemingly mindless violence is merely a continuation of the global war on terror and ISIS is merely an updated, darker version of Osama bin Laden’s al-Qaeda. And yet, this ignores something very basic about ISIS. The vast majority of its violence has been perpetrated against fellow Muslims, not Americans or Europeans. As a result of this myopic focus on relatively rare, but spectacular acts of violence against the West, we often fail to examine why groups like ISIS and their predecessors have sought to build an Islamic state or a Caliphate in the first place. By reframing ISIS against the backdrop of more than a half century of unsuccessful jihadist attempts to topple repressive dictatorships and secular states in the Middle East, we can better understand ISIS as the product of a rapid intellectual redefinition of how and when jihad can be deployed and who is considered a legitimate target of violence in service of the creation of an idealized Islamic state.
Dr. Low is an assistant professor of history, specializing in Late Ottoman, Modern Middle Eastern, and environmental history. His articles, commentary, and reviews have appeared (or are forthcoming) in the Arab Studies Journal, Comparative Studies in Society and History, Comparative Studies of South Asia, Africa and the Middle East, Jadaliyya, the International Journal of Middle East Studies, the Journal of the Ottoman and Turkish Studies Association, and the Review of Middle East Studies. He earned his Ph.D. From Columbia University.