10. Lightning talk ‘Bearing Witness to Extreme Belief: How Social Media Influences the Imagery of IS women’ by Luca Tripaldelli

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10. Lightning talk ‘Bearing Witness to Extreme Belief: How Social Media Influences the Imagery of IS women’ by Luca Tripaldelli

Date Published: 30 June 2023

‘Bearing Witness to Extreme Belief: How Social Media Influences the Imagery of IS women’. A lightning talk by Luca Tripaldelli for the Extreme Beliefs and Responsibility workshop at Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam.

Luca Tripaldelli is a second-year research master’s student in Metaphysics and Epistemology, affiliated with the Centre for Contemporary European Philosophy at Radboud University. His main research interest concerns the question of religion within the post-Nietzschean current in contemporary French philosophy. He has published on two occasions. Firstly, on Sartre’s philosophy of the Other and how to implement this within our thinking of ethnic-religious conflicts. Secondly, on the epistemological limitations of the media portrayal of IS women. Currently, he is writing his MA thesis on Derrida’s take on how the inherent structures of religion contradict the idea of religious dogmatism.

‘Power, true power, is held not by those with the largest bank accounts or the strongest military, but by those who give us the words with which to view the world.’ (Whitley 2016) With this statement, scholar Thomas J. Whitley argues that our understanding of terrorist acts is less influenced by the deed itself and more by the leading discourse. Nowadays, ‘discourse’ receives new meaning due to globalization and social media. Due to these two developments, the ability to access vast amounts of free information has never been so extensive as today. Moreover, the internet gives everybody the possibility to be a potential source of information, thereby dodging previous limitations such as (high) costs or censorship. Hence, with an almost uncontrollable spread of multiple discourses, our perception stands under an unprecedented amount of influence. As we are physically separated from terrorist events, we can only perceive them via their online portal.
Therefore, it is relevant to study how (social) media influences our perception of extreme belief. Specifically, this paper investigates how the discourse of the Dutch media influences the imagery of IS Women. Several ‘IS women’ with Dutch nationality, are still trying to come back to the Netherlands. However, various sources of social media question whether we should allow these ‘criminal’ women. To investigate the influence of such sources, this paper is split into three parts. First, this paper discusses different academic perspectives on how western media influences the imagery of IS in general. Second, this paper uses these insights to undertake a specified case study about how Dutch social media frame the discourse concerning IS women. As the paper shows, ‘IS women’ are consistently portrayed as being an active part of a terrorist movement. As such, by not reflecting on specific cases, social media influences us into believing that every ‘IS woman’ is an active member. Third, this paper uses the perspective of the contemporary French philosopher Jacques Derrida to problematize this portrayal by social media.
This utilization of Derrida is twofold. First, this paper briefly sketches the main argument of his work Violence and Metaphysics in which he argues that ‘discourse’ can never fully account for what it seeks to portray. So in line with Derrida, we can question whether these accounts of ‘IS women’ are completely true. Second, this paper discusses Derrida’s later work Faith and Knowledge in which he argues that every truth is intertwined with belief. Claiming to know that ‘IS women’ are active terrorists, is to believe this truth. Especially when the reader has to trust the credibility of the virtual sources, without the reader and or even the writer being physically present at the event. Hence, my paper ultimately shows that ‘extreme belief is not only tied to fundamentalistic religious persons. The spectator also needs a level of (extreme) belief to ground his understanding of ‘extreme believers.’ Put differently, ‘to bear witness’ via social media is not only to know, but to believe that one knows.