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

Liminal narrative is the crust that sits in between the core and the atmosphere of the transient narrative. It is so named as it is in the transition area between the daily narrative immersion and the core identity. Liminal narrative begins with the first instruction provided to a child. It includes customs, religion, culture, biases, mythology, prejudices, accepted truths and other formative-shaping means of filtering ideas and perceiving information. The transient narrative includes news, rumor, information, entertainment, conspiracy theories and other time-sensitive means of information or data flow. The transient and the liminal narrative have inverse hierarchies of components. For the transient narrative, the highest is the strategic narrative and then the story, the message and data or memes. The liminal narrative filters this hierarchy and reverses the order such that the first sorted are the data and memes and then the message, the story and finally the strategic narrative. The liminal narrative further filters messengers and storytellers for acceptability.

When a person receives new information that has a potential impact on the narrative, that information is then filtered through the liminal narrative. Does it challenge or confirm the narrative? Based on the answer, and based on the individual’s experience and the flexibility or permeability of the liminal narrative filter, the transient narrative information will either be accepted or rejected. If accepted, it may slightly adjust the narrative, and if rejected, it maintains the existing narrative’s permanence – as described later, these are personal examples of depositional or erosional events. Transient narratives are accepted when they reinforce liminal narratives or identity. They are rejected when transient information challenges the liminal narratives or identity and are then seen as subversive. This leads to the information being discarded; sometimes as impure or sinful. This is not simply an issue of truth or fiction, but more importantly about concordant or discordant transient narratives.

An example of the interplay between transient and liminal narrative is evidenced in the fight against ISIS in Iraq. The most popular narrative in Iraq in early 2015, and continuing to 2016, was that the United States (and Israel) created and is (are) supporting ISIS in combat operations. For the average American, this is ludicrous. The American identity and liminal narrative includes concepts of freedom, justice, human rights, civil liberties, separation of church and state, and humanitarian behavior. What ISIS stands for, as popularly communicated in the US media, runs counter to this American liminal narrative; thus this transient narrative is discarded because the filter does not let it through. Because the transient narrative was rejected, there was no early counter from the US government in Iraq or beyond. It was simply deemed too ludicrous to comment on. In Iraq, however, the narrative grew. Some say that the narrative started with the Iranians or other Shiite militia groups. Regardless of where it started, by January 2015 everyone was saying it or thinking it – Arabs, Persians, Kurds, Shiites, Sunnis, Christians, Yazidis. It didn’t matter who – they all were thinking it was true. Why?

A way to look at the Iraqi liminal narrative may go as follows: the United States hates Iraq. The average Iraqi in 1990 believed they were the pinnacle of Middle East might and civilization, and because of this Israel and the United States wanted to weaken and humiliate the great ancient power. Starting in 1990, US forces began to harm their economy through sanctions. In 1991, the US-led military coalition destroyed much of their infrastructure and security forces through Operation Desert Storm. From 1991 to 2003, the United States and its coalition allies imposed one of the harshest sanctions regimes ever leveled against a country, dramatically harming not just the economy but all of Iraqi society. In 2003, President George W Bush continued what his father George HW Bush began by invading the country and destroying the government, throwing the country into chaos. Then after eight years of occupation, instability and mayhem, and just as things appeared to be stabilizing, the United States withdrew, creating another round of confusion and turmoil. Just as the prime minister was getting his hands on the problems, which a Sunni would say were the necks of the Sunnis, in comes ISIS to create more catastrophe.

Americans may say this doesn’t make sense because we are providing support for the Iraqi government. Why would the United States support both? The Iraqi liminal narrative about America includes US Congressional testimony in 1987 where it was revealed that the American government sold arms and equipment to both Iraq and Iran at the same time during the Iran-Iraq War as part of the Iran-Contra affair. Therefore, the United States has a history of double-dealing when it comes to Iraq. When one sees images of ISIS fighters, they are typically wearing American-made gear and driving US-made vehicles. The United States must be equipping them. This is photographic evidence of support to ISIS. American officials say that ISIS got this equipment when they captured it from Iraqi security forces. There are videos showing Iraqi soldiers or militia members holding up American meals-ready-to-eat, or MREs, that they say they found in ISIS positions. This will be excused by saying the MREs may have come from airdropped pallets blown off course and intended for the Yazidis on Mount Sinjar or Kurdish fighters in northern Iraq. When Tikrit was retaken in May 2015, The New York Times interviewed a Shiite militia fighter who said he saw the United States support ISIS fighters during the battle with his own eyes.

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