Friedrich Schiller wrote Letters
on the Aesthetic Education of Man hoping to elevate human potential through
the arts for the development of free citizens of the Republic,
and also in reaction to the decline of the French Revolution into a Reign of
Terror. Nowadays, with the prominent role social networks have acquired in
human relations, aesthetics is an invaluable tool for capturing attention
in marketing and political propaganda, no less than in recruitment and
indoctrination by terrorist organizations. Adopting a pragmatics approach, we
will examine Schiller's relevance today regarding uses and abuses of aesthetics
related to terrorism, focusing on the context and effects upon subjects'
categorical imperative; education; indoctrination; jihad; Kant; political
artist; pragmatics; radical evil; Schiller; terrorism; weaponization of children
and, particularly, aesthetics have been considered a means to develop human
sensibility and enhance creativity, good taste, and talent, among other
desirable human qualities. Schiller wrote Letters on the Aesthetic Education
of Man hoping to increase human potential through the arts and as a
reaction to his own disappointment at the decline of the French Revolution into
the Reign of Terror. Opposed to Kant's central concept of aesthetic
disinterest in the Critique of Judgment published five years earlier, Schiller claimed that
"the most perfect of all works of art is the establishment and structure
of a true political freedom." It is ironic that precisely those Letters
were written while lacking political freedom, as he
dedicated them to Frederick Christian, Duke of
Schleswig-Holstein-Sonderburg-Augustenburg, from whom he received a yearly
pension of 1000 thaler.
a different kind of terror from La Terreur (1793-4) has spread
worldwide. According to Global Terrorism Index 2015-2017, terror-related
deaths increased by 80% in 2014, surging nearly ten-fold, and continued to rise
in 2017. When various Western countries are struggling
to achieve an education for freedom to all citizens from different cultures,
many of those emigrating from societies unfamiliar with the Western concept of
freedom, others escaping precisely such freedom to join terrorist
organizations, and some returning after participating in terrorist wars, this
problem is even more pressing.
question we will address in this paper is what aesthetic theory can contribute,
despite its traditional theoretical aloofness, to the understanding of
contemporary terrorism and its impact upon society? Aesthetic education was,
for Schiller, a means of preparing free citizens for the Republic. Could it
equally be used to subjugate its citizens? What is the relation between freedom
Taking a pragmatics approach to
aesthetics (parallel to Charles Morris' approach to semiotics), which focuses
on the context and effect upon the subjects involved, we will explore the
variety of uses and abuses of aesthetics in relation to terrorism. We will not examine terrorist acts
from a semantic or syntactic approach as objects of aesthetic or artistic
appreciation, as other authors have, but center on subjectivity as a source of
aesthesis or sensibility and on the conditions that deform its natural tendency
to well-being. One would think that humans spontaneously aspire to Aristotelian
eudaemonia and are basically good-natured were it not for the
overwhelming amount of exceptions that challenge this view. Such exceptions
lead us to ask what it is that Kant saw in his comfortable Königsberg life that
made him claim, instead, that human nature is radically evil:
It is an element in the radical evil
of human nature, which messes up one's capacity to make moral judgments about
what a man should be taken for, and makes our attributions of
responsibility—ours or those of others—wholly uncertain. It's a foul stain on
our species; as long as we don't clean it out, it prevents the seed of goodness
from developing as it otherwise would.
Kant was hopeful that such a natural
stain could be cleaned, since he believed we possess both radical evil and a
"seed for goodness." Along this spectrum, when social formations
reproduce cultural elements that fertilize radical evil, our responsibility
resides in detecting them and halting their replication. In the case of
terrorism, our topic here, the question is how we can unequivocally determine
what those deleterious cultural elements are so that we can eradicate them. One
wonders whether it is Kantian radical evil and its free reign of murderous
instincts that attract individuals to terrorism, or the seduction of its
political and religious narratives and promises, the appeal of a narcissistic
heroic image or perhaps the aesthetic experience of sheer destruction. Whatever
the case, aesthetics is deeply involved.
2. Schiller and the "political
In Letters, Schiller proposed the dangerous idea
of the "political artist" who, rather than designing artworks, is
given no less than the power to design humans as his raw material.
The political and educating artist
follows a very different course, while making man at once his material and his
end. . . .The political artist has to treat his material man with a very
different kind of respect from that shown by the artist of fine art to his
work. He must spare man's peculiarity and personality, not to produce a
deceptive effect on the senses, but objectively and out of consideration for
his inner being.
What if such "inner being" is, as Kant
claimed, radically evil? This political artist designing humanity according to
the interests of his or her "inner being" can be traced in every
twentieth-century despotism, from Hitler's Third Reich and his purported plan
to design the übermensch to Maoist China's
and Pol Pot's enslaved workers and Stalin's Soviet-exploited proletariat, all
heroized by the official arts. The idea of humans as material to be shaped by
instances of power, as Foucault's concept of biopolitics demonstrated, became particularly
evident after the industrial and communist revolutions molded citizens as
producers for mass industrialization, and especially after post-industrial
capitalism turned them into consumers. Today's networked
globalization provokes cultural/technological shocks to previously isolated
individuals and communities whose confusion and frustration are utilized as
combustible material by power-thirsty groups, molding susceptible members into
murderers by any means available, among them aesthetics.
Schiller deplored that art was degraded to a mere
utility while simultaneously proposing the politicization of aesthetics as a
political utensil. "The eyes of the philosopher as well as of the man of
the world are anxiously turned to the theater of political events, where it is
presumed the great destiny of man is to be played out." For the sake of
this utopian theater of "the great destiny of man," he offered beauty as a
tool for political freedom, since "to arrive at a solution even in the political
problem, the road of aesthetics must be pursued, because it is through beauty
that we arrive at freedom."
Apart from the various meanings that "great
destiny of man" can acquire, this "beauty-begets-freedom"
formula seems innocuous until we examine it further. Beauty cannot be
established as an objective and universal value, despite Kant's effort to
ground it in the universality of sensus
communis, a concept that ironically already relativizes beauty
by making it depend on specific interpretative communities. Consequently,
deriving freedom from a culturally relative and artificial notion of beauty
entails dangers such as depriving others of their freedom by imposing upon them
one particular idea of beauty. By establishing beauty as a path to freedom,
Schiller inverted Kant's conception that it is through freedom that we arrive
at beauty, since aesthetic freedom, for Kant, resides in our faculties at play,
a freedom of sensibility opening itself to the world through the interplay of
imagination and understanding. Freedom is a
condition for, and not the result of, appreciating beauty.
Stemming from the heart of bourgeois ideology,
Schiller, especially as artist and philosopher, could not deny the importance
of the individual and of difference, stating that " . . . a political
administration will always be very imperfect when it is only able to bring
about unity by suppressing variety." Precisely because
of his freedom, he enjoyed the privilege to create beauty in poetry and
theater. Yet this freedom, for Schiller, was effective only insofar as the
individual did not hinder the State, since
. . . if the subjective man is in
conflict with the objective and contradicts him in the character of the people,
so that only the oppression of the former can give the victory to the latter,
then the state will take up the severe aspect of the law against the citizen,
and in order not to fall a sacrifice, it will have to crush under foot such a
hostile individuality, without any compromise.
The seeds of totalitarianism emerge in Schiller if the
individual does not comply with the interests of the State. By contrast, in
"Of The Cause Of The Pleasure We Derive From Tragic Objects," written
earlier and with greater freedom, Schiller was aware of the danger of
moralizing art, stating: "If it is the aim that is moral, art loses all
that by which it is powerful—I mean its freedom, and that which gives it so
much influence over us—the charm of pleasure." Notice that here, free from
the Duke's tutelage, Schiller understands that art "can only produce the
aesthetic effect in its highest degree in fully exercising its liberty."
3. Romanticizing terrorism, reframing
Acts of terrorism have been
romanticized, aestheticized, and glamorized by Western intellectuals, seemingly
due to the adventure and thrill they evoke that their own comfortable and
bourgeois lifestyles do not provide. Surprisingly, there is no internationally
agreed upon definition of terrorism, but the following seems accurate enough: "The intentional use of or threat to use violence against civilians or against
civilian targets, in order to attain political aims." Terrorist attacks
against random non-combatants and innocent civilians necessarily affect
sensibility by traumatizing victims and witnesses, but also by altering everyday
life for all members of society, who suddenly have second thoughts about going
to mosques and markets in Pakistan and Afghanistan, churches in Egypt,
synagogues in Jerusalem and Pittsburgh, theaters in Moscow and Paris, and
schools in Beslan. Many have to endure routine bag-checking at
checkpoints and public buildings; endless lines at airport scanning machines;
bombs and sirens wailing night after night; and explosive balloons burning
agricultural fields over Israeli civilians near Gaza border. This is precisely
the goal of terrorism: its psychological repercussions, to inspire
terror among civilians.
Apart from the political, emotional,
moral, and economic effects of terrorism, aesthetic reactions have been particularly vehement at the 9/11 World Trade Center attack. Just as scholars in
the humanities and social sciences exhibit a kind of "physics envy"
for physics' mathematical precision, artists like Karlheinz Stockhausen and
Damien Hirst have displayed a kind of "terrorism envy" for its
spectacularity and its allegedly artistic aspects. For Stockhausen, 9/11
. . . the greatest work of art ever: that characters can
bring about in one act what we in music cannot dream of, that people practice
madly for ten years, completely, fanatically, for a concert and then die. That
is the greatest work of art for the whole cosmos. I could not do that. Against
that, we, composers, are nothing.
Hirst, if less
eloquent, is also enormously impressed: " . . . it's kind of like an
artwork in its own right. It was wicked, but it was devised in this way for
this kind of impact. It was devised visually. . . . So on one level they kind
of need congratulating, which a lot of people shy away from, which is a very
dangerous thing." In a somehow schadenfreude
stance, Baudrillard was also vehement in describing the event: "The moral
condemnation and the holy alliance against terrorism are on the same scale as
the prodigious jubilation at seeing this global superpower destroyed, better,
at seeing it, in a sense destroying itself, committing suicide in a blaze of
In the same context,
Žižek asks a basic question: "Why should the World Trade Center
catastrophe be in any way privileged over, say, the mass slaughter of Hutus by
Tutsis [sic] in Rwanda in 1994? Or the mass bombing and gas-poisoning of Kurds
in the north of Iraq in the early 1990s?" The reason is
simple: location, location, and spectacularization, namely aestheticization. As
Žižek acutely points out, Jihad and McWorld are the two sides of the same coin,
Jihad being already McJihad, as proven by the aestheticization of Jihadist
terrorism now triumphing in Netflix ratings, from the Homeland series to
endless documentaries and films. Not only is the entertainment industry reaping
profits from romanticizing terrorism but universities are too. The most modish
terrorist chic promoted in universities today is "McIntifada" and
annual "apartheid week,” harnessing support for groups like Hamas, PLO,
Hezbollah, and Islamic Jihad selling Arafat kefiyyehs, pins, and
Palestine-replacing-Israel map T-shirts.
That terrorism has
an aesthetic impact needs no further demonstration because violence always aims
at sensibility, both physical and psychological. Moreover, that aesthetics not
only elevates the soul but can also plunge it is unequivocally emphasized by
Arnold Berleant, who discusses dark, negative, aesthetic experiences that
can produce not only aesthetic pain but moral
suffering, both of which are, at times, inseparable. Its capability of
identifying negative aesthetic values gives the aesthetic the possibility of
becoming an incisive force in social criticism, a largely untried region of
aesthetic activity but a potentially powerful one. Thus aesthetic theory and
experience are intimately bound up with the moral, negatively as well as
positively. Recognizing the dark side of aesthetic experience is another reason
for exceeding traditional constraints.
absolutely immoral is to not acknowledge the indispensability of the aesthetic
dimension when representing terrorism," as Emmanouil Aretoulakis clearly
points out. This means that, as
Berleant's quote above shows, the term 'aesthetic' should not necessarily imply
acclaim, contrary to Hume's example of the implicit value associated with a
word itself: "The word virtue, with its equivalent in every tongue,
implies praise; as that of vice does blame." 'Aesthetics'
implies beauty, yet aestheticizing evil in such a positive sense is as
problematic as banalizing it, as Arendt did in her famous assessment of
Eichmann's trial. He was not merely "receiving orders," as he argued, but passionate about his extermination task with radical evil
burning in his heart. Acknowledging an
aesthetic dimension to terrorism simply means that sensibility is deeply
involved in it, not that it can be qualified as beautiful or even sublime.
4. The vulgarity of terrorism
By a pragmatics approach we can trace
two basic levels relative to the context of terrorism. The first level is that
of the leaders for whom terrorism is driven by greed. Yasser Arafat had $1.7
billion in European banks, while Mahmoud Abbas is worth $13,000,000, a 4,700 m²
castle, a guest palace and two helipads, plus an opulent private
airplane, at the same time that Arabs in his Palestinian-controlled territories
are kept in refugee camps as political hostages despite massive international
help. PLO terrorism
engineers are paid eight times the amount given to the dead attackers'
families. Hamas tycoon Khaled Mashaal owns $2.5 billion in Egyptian and Gulf
countries banks, plus numerous real estates. In Pakistan,
mid-level managers of Harakat ul Mujahidin (HUM) maintain luxurious lifestyles
they proclaim to detest, and Hezbollah fundraising USA operators drive luxury
cars, live in upper middle-class neighborhoods, and travel in private planes.
Terrorism as a very profitable
corporation is typified by ISIS' big business astuteness in extortion and
onerous taxation, antiquities' looting, drug trafficking, human smuggling and
trafficking, plus the oil business. Schori Liang claimed that "ISIL is
effective because it runs its criminal/terrorist enterprise with a business
acumen that has no historical precedent. . . . To emphasize its transparency
and professionalism, it publishes an annual report which sets out its business
strategy of terror and destruction, including specific investments, down to the
cost of each suicide mission."
The second level is that of real
fanatics pursuing imaginary, aestheticized identities and erotic rewards
created by the first level, the leaders, for the latter's pecuniary gain.
5. Aesthetic identities, baits, and rewards
Advertisement industries exploit the
usefulness of aesthetics as bait and reward for marketing commodities. Whether
commercial, religious, or political, aesthetics capture, ensnare, and promote
the fantasies of the targeted population, offering the illusion of the desired
in exchange for the required, that is, money, supporters, votes. To convince
someone to put in money, pay attention, vote for someone, or even sacrifice
one's life for others' interests, the reward must always be aesthetic, even if
the narrative, excuse, or ideal is presented as moral; a good narrative of
moral virtue certainly has aesthetic appeal. A political candidate offers hope,
change, and happiness to her or his voters; Coca Cola offers popularity and fun
to its drinkers; jihad offers a sexual paradise of 72 virgins to its sexually
repressed fanatics; and Armani offers youth, class, success, and somebody
Aesthetic and semiotic processes play
a crucial role in the confection and presentation of identities in a world of
anonymity. The 2015 Global Terrorism Index recorded four basic factors
that motivated individuals to join Al-Qaeda: identity seeking 40%; revenge
seeking/anger 30%; status seeking 25%; and thrill seeking 5%. Such motivations
largely coincide with ex-Islamist recruiter Maajid Nawaz's assessment of the
four conditions for enlisting jihadist candidates: a sense of grievance; an
identity crisis; of desire of belonging provided by charismatic
recruiters; and an ideological narrative. Similar motivations can be equally
linked with right-wing neo-Nazis, who, before radicalizing themselves,
experienced alienation, lack of identity, loneliness, and frustration.
Ex-white supremacist Christian
Picciolini describes how he joined the neo-Nazi skinheads searching for
belonging, meaning, and status, significantly attracted by their supremacist
We set about Chicago
to find shiny, steel-toed Doc Martens boots in peculiar Goth boutiques like
99th Floor and Wax Trax. We wore braces, the thin suspenders. . . . I rolled
the cuffs of my Levis like I'd seen the others do in the alley behind Camine's,
and over a plain black T-shirt I sported a military surplus black nylon bomber
jacket. . . . I adorned it with symbolic patches like Celtic crosses and Confederate
flags, which I believed were standard issue for any skinhead worth his salt.
Picciolini describes with great
detail the outfits and settings, the colorful Mohawks, combat boots, and ratty
clothes riddled with safety pins for the dramaturgical display of skinhead
identity. Concerts and lyrics by Skrewdriver and Naked Raygun fueled the sense
of grievance, anger, and power that consolidated such identity: "Boots and
braces, shaven-headed hoards" as the song goes.
Nawaz describes how, at age 15 he was
attracted by the look of hip-hop B-boys and their music, like Fuck tha
Police and Fear of a Black Planet. "I'm in a click suit, baggy
corduroys with pin tucks at the bottom, rocking Adidas trainers. My hair's a
grade zero up to the top—when not in a red bandana it stands up in a box-cut,
with a mad design trimmed up the back. My crew all wear the same clothes, blast
the same tunes. I'd wear what we called Click or 'Extreme' suits:
named after brands . . . all of this music, the clothes, the hairstyles, the
graffiti, the dancing, the clubbing, the MC-ing the lifestyle that was hip hop
meant that none of us had problems with girls." Years later he
replaced the hip-hop style with that of Islamism, seduced by jihadist aesthetics
and narratives, and became a recruiter himself.
Aesthetic accessories provide not
only materials for identity-signaling to extremists of various tints
(Stormfront, ISIS, Al Qaeda, PLO, Antifa, Jobbik, Blood & honor, Sumka,
Golden Dawn, The League) but the glue for group cohesion and a feeling of
superiority by standing for "the cause." The aesthetics of covering
one's face with a rag or the Guy Fawkes mask from the comic and movie V for
Vendetta is the system's product for anti-system posing, whether
anarchists, pro-Hamas and Mcintifadists, or Hogar Social Madrid's neo-Nazis,
all ironically enriching capitalistic Time Warner, who owns the license.
The aestheticizing role that Leni
Riefenstahl, Albert Speer, and Josef Goebbels played in the expansion of
Nazism by glamorizing their narrative and legitimizing war's massive
expenditure, was no less crucial than the military. Contemporary terrorism
occurs along the spectrum from right to left and can be religiously, racially,
psychologically, or politically motivated. Here we focus mainly upon Islamist
terrorism, not only because of its systematicity—being government-sponsored by
Iran, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Sudan using immense resources on a global scale—but
because Islamist aesthetic imaginaries are infinitely more tangible, organized,
and sensorial than Neo-Nazi fantasies of white supremacy. The appeal of
jihadism as something heroic and of the Islamic paradise (janna) is eminently
aesthetic: A bright blue sky, white fluffy clouds, verdant trees, lush foliage,
flowers, rain drops, waterfalls, aromatic plants, ripe fruits and above all,
beautiful black-eyed virgins.
As his last testimony clearly
attests, Muhammad Atta, the 9/11 attack leader, was very much concerned with
aesthetic issues and rewards when preparing himself to cash in on Allah's
promises for shahids. "Shave excess hair from the body and wear cologne.
Shower. . . . Read al-Tawba and Anfal [war chapters from the Qur'an] and
reflect on their meanings and remember all of the things God has promised for
the martyrs. You should feel complete tranquility, because the time
between you and your marriage [in heaven] is very short. Afterwards begins the
happy life, where God is satisfied with you, and eternal bliss." This
transaction of a massive slaughter in exchange for eternal personal bliss
reveals the sensibility behind this act. Not quite a sacrifice for an ideal,
political or social, but for the personal pleasures that await the slaughterer.
"It will be the day, God willing, you spend with the women of paradise. Know
that the gardens of paradise are waiting for you in all their beauty, and the
women of paradise are waiting, calling out, 'Come hither, friend of God.' They
have dressed in their most beautiful clothing." The terrorist displays
acute sensibility for the clothing of imaginary women but none for the absolute
agony of real women.
It is difficult to understand how an
educated engineer, who learned the basic laws of physics, could believe
literally in the fantasies of the Islamic paradise to the extreme of sacrificing
his life. As with all fanatics, a numb sensibility and moral blindness were
required to execute such an attack. From Schiller's viewpoint, Atta would be
pursuing the beauty of the Islamic paradise to obtain freedom, when, in fact,
he grabbed that freedom from thousands of victims in exchange for his fantasy
of paradisiacal beauty.
The role of aesthetics in suicide
attacks is unquestionable. Wafa al Bass, stigmatized for her burns from a
boiler's explosion in Gaza, attempted to achieve the imaginary beauty of a
shahida by blowing herself up in the Israeli hospital where she was being
treated for her burns, thus killing her doctors, nurses, and other patients.
Having an aesthetic flaw, that is, she was yearning for the aestheticized
identity of a martyr and the money for her family, following the example of
Wafa Idris, the first female suicide bomber at the Jerusalem market, forcefully
divorced and stigmatized for being sterile, and later glamorized post-mortem as
a shahida. The Chechen
shahidas Khava Barayeva and Zareta Bayrokova, and many others, were equally
ensnared by aestheticizing narratives and used as explosives for the Islamist
cause. Those selling the
aesthetics of self-sacrifice create the imaginary narratives, inculcate belief
in them, design the martyr's outfit, and set the stage for martyrdom, in order
to serve their own purposes.
Aesthetic tactics are present already
in how the promise of reward is delivered. For a resentful individual, the
Caliphate's ideal of controlling the world is offered through crude videos of
ISIS beheadings, such as James Foley's and others' macabre executions. The
carefully selected desert scene, the rehearsed oratory of executioner and
victim, the contrasting black and orange outfits in a minimalist composition, were
all aesthetically calculated and filmed in high definition to seduce avid
viewers and convey a sense of power. ISIS, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Al
Qaeda, aware of the importance of aesthetics in recruiting, invest generously
in professional propagandists.
6. Aesthetic tools for the
deformation of children's sensibility
Growing up in war zones in Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan,
Nigeria, Gaza, Yemen, and Pakistan, or under constant violence in South Sudan,
Congo, Myanmar, Philippines, Chechnya and Somalia, results in traumatic disorders and numerous physical and psychological
wounds that never heal. According to the UNICEF Protocol (2005), approximately
300,000 child soldiers were involved in fighting. Like Hitler- jugend in 1944, contemporary Iran's
Fatemiyoun Division of Afghan minors, the Al-Rahman
brigade in Syria, the child soldiers of
Al-Shabaab, Hamas-PLO kids traint to stab, and children coerced by ISIS to be executioners have been
weaponized, at times with the parents' complicity.
Among the most tragic recent instances of systematic
child abuse are the Iranian army utilizing children for clearing minefields in
the Iraq war, giving them yellow plastic keys for opening paradise when they
die; Hamas sending them off as human bombs, having indoctrinated them since kindergarten
to seek martyrdom by killing Christians and Jews, or using them as shields,
while bombing Israeli villages, to garner sympathy over their corpses for
propaganda (cf. Magdi Khalil); in addition to forcing
them to execute "infidels" in ISIS propaganda videos.
We must distinguish here between two types of violence
involving children: one is recruiting them as soldiers and the other is the
systematic deformation of their sensibility. Child soldiers are often refugees
of violence striving for survival within hostile conditions in Sudan, Iraq,
Syria, Yemen, and so on. The second type is the systematic inculcation of
hatred at an early age. I will refer only to the latter as it involves
aesthetics rather than brute force. Hezbollah and Hamas-PLO's infants for
martyrdom are primed with the "beauty" of jihad and shahada through a
variety of aesthetic activities such as theater, songs, dance, stories,
monuments, murals, cartoons, books and magazines, animations, radio and TV
shows, posters, music, poems, and films. In this case, and
contrary to Schiller's belief, the arts, by themselves, do not seem to educate
or edify the individual towards freedom but,
instead, they can poison and enslave. In what follows, I apply a categorization
by four registers of perception and communication developed in my previous work
on the aesthetic specificity and significance of everyday activities or
a. Jihad lexics or
In this political-religious war,
Quranic texts, poems exalting shahada,
and elegies to warriors and martyrs configure the ideals inculcated in
generations of children for whom, lacking alternative versions of reality,
those ideals constitute the whole structure of their world, totally capturing
and enrapturing their imagination. Islamist terrorism uses prose and poetry
that replicate narratives about the perversity of infidels, the virtue of
jihad, the depravity of Western civilization, the return of the Caliphate, the
expansion of the Ayatollate, the demonic nature of Jews, and Islamic domination
over Christianity. ISIS schoolbooks teach the alphabet by normalizing war and
murder: "S is for sayf (sword), B is for Bunduqiyya
(gun), D is for Dababa (tank)." Ramallah streets
are named after terrorists, such as the notorious Khaled Nazzal, slaughterer of
22 Israeli schoolchildren at Maalot. In verbal slogans like "Palestine is
Arab from the river to the sea, we want Haifa, we want Akko," rhythm,
repetition, and energetic pronunciation only add to the fascination exerted on
the children's imagination. TV programs and
mosque sermons use similar aesthetic versions to enforce the mentality of
A favorite genre of jihadist
aesthetics are anasheed, or chants, hymns, and poems sang as vocal music,
sometimes a cappella, generally using parts of the Quran and, among other
topics, praising martyrdom and the mujahedin or calling for war against
infidels. They are usually sung by men, with a mesmerizing repetitive tune and
rhythm, accompanied only by percussion, or not, as musical instruments were
forbidden by the Prophet Muhammad. Anwar-al-Awlaqi, the American Al Qaeda
jihadist and propagandist, composed several anasheed to inspire young Muslims
to wage jihad. Virtually all recruitment videos and martyrs' homages include
anasheed in their soundtrack. As Nelly Lahoud notes, "the caliber of the
voices suggests professional singers trained in vocalization. The rhythms
accompanying lyrics can reveal musical talent, and the quality of the productions
stem not from training camps or basements but highly professional
Under the collection, "From
music to murder," Palestinian Media Watch has compiled a great number of
incitement songs, not all anasheed, repeatedly played by official PLO radio to
prime infants' minds into jihad and martyrdom and also used as audio for
children's plays and programs. "We are coming,
Jerusalem, the time of death has arrived";
". . . we want to arm
ourselves with guns . . . and wage jihad, which makes the father proud and
happy . . ."; "Israel will come to an end . . ."; "we
decorated with martyrs, souls and blood . . ."; Nigerian Boko Haram
propaganda also uses anasheed as musical background for videos of men shooting
in all directions from pick-up trucks. This practice is now so prevalent that
an originally soothing song became inevitably associated with violence at the
hands of fundamentalists.
c. Jihad somatics:
theater, ceremonies and physical training
ISIS established training camps for
the Ashbal or "[lion] cubs" using them for war in Iraq, Egypt, and
Syria. As witnesses attested, minors who
resisted joining ISIS had their foot and hand amputated to frighten other
children. In Gaza, children are trained from kindergarten, with real weapons,
for martyrdom in UNRWA schools, additionally staging theater plays with
toddlers and kids in Hamas military uniforms attacking, kidnapping, or stabbing
Israelis. Hopefully kids will realize that the "enemy" is exactly
like their schoolmates, and they could all play together.
TV characters: A cute,
high-pitched Mickey-Mouse-type character called Farfour, in a kids' program
entitled Tomorrow's Pioneers, had the role of inciting hatred of Jews,
even appearing to shoot an AK47, and infusing the ideal of martyrdom, together
with the just as "cute" and hate-inciting bumblebee Nahoul in
official Palestinian TV.
Video clips: Video-clips of
armed suicide terrorists in military clothes, with the group's flag as
background, reciting their credo or parts of the Quran, are publicized
postmortem as models for children by Hamas, PLO, Islamic Jihad, or Al Aqsa.
ISIS' highly aestheticized productions generously invested in high-definition
cameras for video-clips of Janna, or paradise, filmed with time-lapse special
effects over immense landscapes with a soothing repetitive anasheed music as
d. Jihad scopics
in graphics, posters and video
Visual language is no exception as a
tool for the deformation of children's sensibility through the demonization of
infidels, inculcation of hatred, and glamorization of jihadists and shahids
through several techniques, such as murals, cartoons, school books'
illustrations, posters, and videos.
Cartoons: Replicas of
cartoons from Der Stürmer, the Nazi antisemitic tabloid, are found today
in the Iranian Hamshahri, United Arab Emirates Al-Bayan, Al-Fatah
Palestine Times, and other Arab newspapers. Therein, racist
stereotyped images of hook-nosed, black-dressed Jews replicate medieval and
Nazi antisemitic tropes of greediness, cowardliness, world domination, and
child-killer blood libels to incite the hatred necessary for jihadist
radicalization. Demonization of the United States or the United Kingdom as
"the great Satan" is also common.
Graphic design: For seducing girls
and teens into jihadist life, several slick magazines are published, the most
prominent being Dabiq, ISIS' glossy professional publication. Beituki
is a lustrous women's magazine for Al Qaeda jihadists' wives and teenagers,
instructing them to be a good murderer's wife, keep domestic order, and behave
as a martyr's widow. Pakistani Talibans have launched the costly Ghazwa-e-Hind
for propaganda. Inspire is an equally
high-quality magazine published since 2011, with such practical articles (no
pun intended) as, "Make a Bomb in the Kitchen of Your Mom."
Likewise, The Granddaughters of Al-Khansa and Al Shamika
are fashion magazines for suicide bombers and Islamist women.
Posters and murals: The poster boy for
indoctrinating children is Muhammad Al Durrah, whose video, regardless of being
staged and edited, was reproduced ad nauseam by Western media, becoming
iconic in posters and schoolbooks. Celebration posters
and murals, with terrorists' photos as martyrs, upholster public places on
Hamas and PLO-Al Fatah-controlled territories in Gaza and Judea-Samaria. Their
photographs follow the anasheed tropes of fertile landscapes, and images of
lions, flags, and passages from the Qur'an.
Uniforms, accessories and props: Jihadist-chic
promotes ISIS outfits and flags for children and McIntifada kits with Arafat
keffiyehs, logo headbands, slogan t-shirts, previously purchasable at
islamica-online, plus real weapons. Like skinheads' Doc. Martens boots,
these identity-signaling outfits normalize and glamorize, in children's and
youths' minds, martyrdom and the demand to annihilate others.
Schiller had la terreur in
mind when he wrote, Letters on the Aesthetic Education of Man. We,
today, have terrorism in ours, witnessing how aesthetic education has been used
for the exploitation of children by several dictatorial regimes and terrorist
organizations. In this paper I have argued that, contrary to Schiller's
beliefs, beauty does not necessarily lead to freedom and spiritual elevation,
as it can be used to incite violence. Beautiful landscape videos, slick and
glossy magazines, well-rhymed poems with alluring music, and theater plays
constitute, at the hands of terrorists, aesthetic vehicles for glorifying
murder and destruction.
According to Kant, man, even if
stained by radical evil, is still accountable because he is free. Such a stain
may be removed through the universality of the categorical imperative:
"Act only according to the maxim by which you can at the same time will
that it should become a universal law." This freedom
enables one to submit and act according to reason for overcoming radical evil,
in addition to opening oneself to beauty in its infinite variety of forms and
manifestations. While beauty is multifarious, the categorical imperative is
one, the foundation for personal and public life for all.
Opposite to Schiller's view, Kantian
beauty is to be discovered only in freedom by exploring the world through awe
and wonder. Imposing upon the individual such politically advantageous, and
economically profitable, "beauties" as shahidism or jihadism
obliterates freedom, paralyzes inquisitive minds, and crushes sensibility
Freedom, as the condition for ethical
conduct, is also a condition for aesthetic experience. Playing Bach was
Rostropovich's celebration of freedom at the fall of the Berlin Wall, on
November 1989. Kantian beauty is apprehended in the free interplay of imagination
and understanding, which is the basis for the openness of sensibility. By
contrast, aesthetic education, for Schiller, consisted in teaching the arts,
like painting, poetry and music, which is exactly the type of education that Hitler,
Himmler, Heydrich, and Eichmann received, and which enabled them to appreciate
opera and sculpture while planning the "Final Solution." This fact is
the most devastating argument against Schiller's idea of aesthetic education
and his concept of the political artist. In George Steiner's words:
We know also . . .
[that] aesthetic feeling can coexist with barbaric, politically sadistic
behavior in the same individual. Men such as Hans Frank who administered the
"final solution" in Eastern Europe were avid connoisseurs and, in
some instances, performers of Bach and Mozart. We know of personnel in the
bureaucracy of the torturers and of the ovens who cultivated a knowledge of
Goethe, a love of Rilke.
Art, by itself, cannot improve human
beings. Sensibility to or aesthesis for others does. The politicization of
aesthetics in Schiller's Letters, contrary to Kant's clear distinctions
between ethics, aesthetics, politics, and epistemology, risks turning aesthetic
materials into propaganda tools.
We have seen through the four letters
of the last section of this essay how useful aesthetic resources can be in the
formation and deformation of sensibility precisely for their fascination
potential and deep emotional power. Aesthetic education should therefore begin
with and emphasize the development of sensibility in the broader sense of the
term: as receptivity to others, to oneself, to life and the world.
Aesthetics' contribution to the
problem of terrorism begins by detecting and denouncing both veiled and explicit
elements that numb sensibility to human dignity and vulnerability, elements, in
particular, connected with the terrorist politics of priming children to die or
kill. A generalized
practice implemented by various totalitarian and terrorist regimes upon a whole
generation, such a systematic damage inflicted upon children's sensibility is
the ultimate kind of abuse. Although there are organizations defending children
from militarization, none exists that attends to this dangerous sensibility
deformation. For the sake of all, children's inalienable
right to thrive rather than hate should have universal priority, and its
infringement should be considered a crime against humanity. It is not enough to
defend children's right to education; children should also be shielded from the
various abuses of such an education. Aesthetics has a prime role in pointing
Autónoma Metropolitana, Mexico.
Mandoki studied Philosophy, Visual Arts and Art History. Her research focuses
on everyday aesthetics and evolutionary aesthetics, publishing eight books and
several articles on this subject in English and Spanish.
Published on October 31, 2019.
like to express my gratitude to the anonymous reviewers and editors for their
help in improving the final version.
 Pragmatics, for Morris, is a
discipline that analyzes relations of signs to interpreters and to the
social context in which they operate. See Charles
Morris, "Foundations of the Theory of Signs," in Toward an International
Encyclopedia of Unified Science, eds. O. Neurath, R. Carnap, and C. Morris
(Chicago: UCP, 1938).
 Schiller, Letters IV.
 Michel Foucault, "The Birth
of Biopolitics," in Ethics, Subjectivity, and Truth, eds. P. Rabinow
and J.D. Faubion (New Press, 1997), pp. 73-79.
 Schiller, Letters II.
 Immanuel Kant,The Critique of
Judgement, trans. James Creed Meredith. (Electronic version,1790), §
 Schiller, Letters III.
 Schiller, Letters IV.
 Boaz Ganor, "Defining
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 Karlheinz Stockhausen, "Attacks
Called Great Art," New York Times, 19/09/2001.
 Jean Baudrillard, The
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Žižek, Welcome to the Desert of the Real (London /New York: Verso, 2002), pp. 137,
Berleant, Sensibility and Sense: The Aesthetic Transformation of the Human
(Charlottesville: Imprint Academic, 2010), p. 88.
 Emmanouil Aretoulakis, Forbidden
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 Hannah Arendt, Eichmann in
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Mandoki, "Terror and Aesthetics: Nazi Strategies for Mass Organization," Renaissance and Modern
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millionaires and billionaires; How Hamas leaders got rich quick," Algemeiner
 Jacob Shapiro, "Terrorist
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pp. 1, 51.
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 Thomas Hegghamer, ed., Jihadi Culture
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aesthetic registers see Katya Mandoki, Everyday Aesthetics: Prosaics, and
the play of culture and social identities (Aldershot: Ashgate, 2007), chs.
 Nelly Lahoud, "A Cappella Songs
(anasheed)," in Jihadi Culture, ed. Thomas Hegghamer
(2017), pp. 42-62.
Palestine Times is not to be confused with Palestine Post, a Jewish
newspaper during the Mandate.
 Immanuel Kant, Foundations
of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Lewis W. Beck, ed. Robert P. Wolff (New
York: MacMillan, 1969), section 2, p. 44.
 George Steiner,
Bluebeard's Castle (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1971), p. 77.