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Lunchbox Lecture: Martyrdom Mythologies: How IS gives Meaning to death


CERES Palais, room "Ruhrpott" (4.13)

Guest lecture by Pieter Nanninga (Groningen)

The Islamic State (IS) has lost tens of thousands of fighters in battles and through airstrikes over the last few years. Besides, hundreds of fighters have killed themselves by carrying out suicide attacks, around 1100 of which were performed in 2016 alone. IS gives meaning to these deaths through the concept of martyrdom, framing the killed fighters and suicide bombers as role models who have sacrificed themselves ‘in the way of God’ and thus gained the ‘ultimate triumph.’ In this talk, I will examine how IS propagandises its ‘martyrs’ by exploring a number of martyr biographies published in its magazines. I will demonstrate that IS appropriates early-Islamic genres and themes to construct these biographies, but meanwhile adapts them to its own (thoroughly modern) purposes. As a result, the ‘martyrs’ are presented as genuinely Islamic role models, who nevertheless easily connect with the modern, globalised and individualised lives of IS’s target audience.