“Cleansing the Earth of the Stench of Shirk”: The Islamic State’s Violence as Acts of Purification

Pieter Nanninga*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

    4 Citations (Scopus)
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    Current research on jihadism is dominated by the policy and security perspectives that characterize terrorism studies, leaving jihadist culture underexplored. As a result, jihadist violence is typically studied as instrumental actions related to the organizers’ strategic objectives. This paper, however, argues the violence should also be studied as a cultural practice, focusing on its symbolic aspects and cultural meanings for the actors involved. For this purpose, the paper focuses on the case of the Islamic State and, particularly, on the theme of purification in relation to the group’s violence. The relationship between violence and conceptions of purity/pollution is a longstanding theme in research on fundamentalism and mass violence, but these studies have hardly been integrated in the study of jihadism. This paper does so by relating insights from these fields to the case of the Islamic State. Drawing from the author’s extensive archive of Islamic State media releases, it identifies three types of violence to which conceptions of purity/pollution are central: the destruction of cultural heritage, the targeting of non-Muslim minorities, and the punishment of alleged sinners and spies. These acts of violence, the paper argues, are deemed to purify space, society, and the Muslim community, respectively. Perceiving the Islamic State’s violence from this perspective, provides insights into the cultural meanings of the Islamic State’s violence for the perpetrators and their supporters, and thus for grasping the appeal of the group that has become infamous for its bloodshed.
    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)128-157
    Number of pages30
    JournalJournal of Religion and Violence
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - Dec-2019


    • public punishments
    • violence
    • purity and pollution
    • cultural heritage
    • cultural meanings
    • Islamic State

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