Maneuvering within Islam`s narrative space
January-March 2018
By: Brian L Steed

Terrain, in the narrative space, is dynamic and may be altered by the “words-deeds-images” of any of the conflict participants. In general, the terrain is primarily formed by the construct of societal identity and the liminal narrative. Identity-related terrain is the least likely to change, as this is created over generations and sometimes centuries of beliefs and common references and values. Liminal narrative and the terrain derived therefrom have a greater potential to change. Those conducting maneuver in the narrative space often seek to use the existing key and decisive terrain to their advantage and may also seek to adjust that terrain through the transient narrative data/memes, messages, stories and the linked “words-deeds-images” associated with their maneuver.

Narrative space terrain is constructed in much the same way as is physical terrain through basic processes of deposition, erosion and tectonic forces (see Figure 1.5), which creates a narrative landscape or narrative morphology. These processes, as with their physical counterparts, happen over long periods of time or can happen in violent episodic events. The primary shapers of this space are events, ideas (people-thinkers) and actions (people-doers).

Deposition is reinforcement of the pre-existing narrative structure. This is an additive process that is building, sometimes for generations, the landscape. Every time a parent tells a child a story or points to a specific event with the same conceptual moral note that proves the story true is a depositional event. Each subsequent event or story deposits a new layer of narrative sediment upon the pre-existing landscape, reinforcing the morphology.

Erosion is changing the pre-existing narrative structure. As with deposition, this can occur over a long time, although this tends to be more episodic than does deposition. The comparison of deposition and erosion does not necessarily mean that deposition is good and erosion is bad. One is reinforcing and the other is changing. For example, when a child arrives at school for the first time, they may be challenged with new ideas, new social norms and different information than what they learned at home. All of this is erosional, as it reshapes interpretations of the world. This is a natural part of growth and development. However, depending on the nature of the erosional event, this can also be traumatic. Violent crime challenges personal safety. Religious missionaries can change definitions of salvation. Invasion, whether physical or cultural, can reshape values and aesthetics.

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