A bishop once explained to me the rhetorical appeal of Islam to the Christians of late antiquity this way. “Think of the Nicene Creed,” he said. “It goes on for paragraphs and is so complex that it takes years of study really to understand it. What does it say to the average person?” Whereas the Islamic profession of faith, the Shahada, is powerfully concise — only a sentence long. “Think how appealing that must have been to Byzantine Christians tired of theological dispute.” A forthcoming book from University of Cape Town scholar Phillipe-Joseph Salazar, Words are Weapons: Inside ISIS’s Rhetoric of Terror (Yale) addresses the power of words, including the Shahada, in the appeal of the Islamic State today. Here’s the description from the publisher’s website:
The first book to offer a rigorous, sophisticated analysis of ISIS’s rhetoric and why it is so persuasive
ISIS wages war not only on the battlefield but also online and in the media. Through a close examination of the words and images ISIS uses, with particular attention to the “digital caliphate” on the web, Philippe-Joseph Salazar theorizes an aesthetic of ISIS and its self-presentation. As a philosopher and historian of ideas, well versed in both the Western and the Islamic traditions, Salazar posits an interpretation of Islam that places speech—the profession of faith—at the center of devotion and argues that evocation of the simple yet profound utterance of faith is what gives power to the rhetoric that ISIS and others employ. At the same time, Salazar contends that Western discourse has undergone a “rhetorical disarmament.” To win the fight against ISIS and Islamic extremism, Western democracies, their media, politicians, and counterterrorism agencies must consider radically changing their approach to Islamic extremism.