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

Additionally, it requires that one have a deeper understanding of the narrative space terrain in terms of historicity, such that the tensions and stress are comprehended. Carl von Clausewitz wrote about grammar in the communication of warfare. Warfare is a tool of communication that includes violence as a subcomponent of narrative. Often, following specific military strikes, one can hear reporters and experts use the phrase “send a message” when explaining the purpose for a strike. Historian Wayne Lee wrote that war “is violence perpetrated by humans with the intent to communicate with other humans. … [R]arely has that message been merely ‘die.’ As an act of communication, it has its own structures, patterns and internally consistent logic, a ‘grammar,’ in which violent acts carry meaning and convey intention.”

Understanding the grammar of conflict means understanding not simply the narrative space morphology, but also the historicity of that morphology. It is recognizing how that morphology changes the perception of “words-deeds-images” said, done and broadcast.

The phrase “words-deeds-images” is essential to this discussion. Words are often characterized as part of narrative. Since narrative space is a holistic environment of all aspects that influence thought and action, and it includes the physical environment, then actions or deeds are narrative. All things that are observed and experienced are narrative.

Understanding narrative space morphology is not simply academic – it is crucial to achieving effective maneuver in the narrative space. ISIS achieves this effectiveness through a near-intuitive grasp of the narrative space morphology in which they operate. They understand the religious, cultural, linguistic and historical narratives present in their areas of operation. They know what motivates their followers, because it is their narrative. It is intuitive. For those nonnative practitioners of maneuver in the narrative space, we must recognize that we function in this space as an expeditionary force – foreigners, even if we are from the region wherein the conflict is waged. Acting in the role of an expeditionary force means that such an actor is seen as an invader. 

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