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The Islamic State attacks on Shia holy sites and the “shrine protection narrative”: threats to sacred space as a mobilization frame

journal contribution
posted on 01.01.2020, 00:00 authored by Benjamin IsakhanBenjamin Isakhan
After conquering large swaths of Syria and Iraq, the IS undertook an aggressive sectarian campaign in which they not only enacted horrific violence against the Shia people, but also damaged or destroyed several key Shia mosques and shrines. Drawing on Social Movement Theory (SMT), this article analyzes the response by various Shia nonstate actors—militia leaders, religious clergymen, populist preachers, and seminal poets. It argues that they used the IS threat to Shia holy sites to develop and deploy a mobilization frame that has come to be referred to as the “shrine protection narrative.” The article also documents the manifold consequences of the shrine protection narrative: it underpinned a mass recruitment drive that saw tens of thousands enlist; it legitimized foreign Shia militias to enter the conflicts in both Syria and Iraq; it justified the formation of entirely new militias who declared the centrality of shrine protection to their mandate; and it mobilized them to enact political violence. In doing so, this article extends existing studies of SMT to demonstrate that “sacred spaces”—and particularly the need to protect religious sites from specific threats—can serve as a powerful mobilization frame towards political violence.

History

Journal

Terrorism and political violence

Volume

32

Issue

4

Pagination

724 - 748

Publisher

Routledge

Location

Abingdon, Eng.

ISSN

0954-6553

Language

eng

Publication classification

C1 Refereed article in a scholarly journal

Copyright notice

2018, Taylor & Francis