Over the past years, the Islamic State has spread tremendous fear and horror across the world. Many people have been killed, fighting both for and against it. ISIS may have proclaimed itself a caliphate. But what we see instead is social decomposition. If it holds on to its strategy, the Islamic State will fail, eventually.
A comment by Sarah Günther
It ought to be a thrilling feeling, claiming exclusive political, sociological and theological authority over a world religion. However, the super-ego of the self-proclaimed Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham cannot hide the fact that it is doomed to fail if it continues its violent yet inconsistent path. This has several reasons.
1. Jihadis Without a Cause.
At first glance, the latest series of terrorist attacks on Western targets appear to be symptoms of a global jihad, hence Muslims being engaged in acts of both violence and self-sacrifice through suicide bombings that target non-Muslims and are committed in the name of Islam and against the putative enemies of faith and the faithful. The perpetrators seem to be highly mobile, multidisplaced Muslim migrants or children of immigrant families. And yes, battlefield successes have attracted thousands of foreign recruits. But they are also acting in avowed opposition to and alienation from their home or host-country governments. We are perhaps dropping to conclusions too quickly when assigning intentionally to a proclaimed pristine objective and an unified, stable agent named ISIS. Instead, we should look at what these young (and old) Muslims want to get away from.
When analysing talent acquisition strategies of ISIS, recruitment propaganda and actual recruits backgrounds, we see a big discrepancy between appearance and reality. Moreover, when looking at interviews with (former) ISIS candidates and recruits, especially those who grew up in Europe, there seems to be a sociological pattern of feeling ‘left out’, alienated from a country that never really felt like home. Those ISIS-sympathizers may even look for a broader purpose in life.
We see similar patterns in recruiting structures of Al-Qaeda, Boko Haram and the like, however, those cases do not necessarily lead to (radical) Islam. At the same time, fighters from Syria, Iraq and Libya often join for economic reasons or lack of alternatives. This does not per se harm the Islamic State but it erodes its very foundation. If financial backings fade and power structures crumble, all that’s left is motivation and belief. If the latter has never been strong in the first place, well, that could be a problem.
2. Global Jihad? Islamist Franchise!
The Western alliance continues to besiege ISIS who is losing its safe base area or ‘liberated zone’ from which to engage in further recruitment, training and reproduction of jihadists from around the world. In military, political and logistical terms, ISIS is highly isolated, relegated to a existence without real state protection and real territorial security.
Furthermore, ISIS’ caliphate claim is untenable per definition as in reality it does not represent a political-religious state comprising the Muslim community and the lands and people under its dominion. Even more so, the international Muslim community widely rejects this thought. How then can ISIS ever unify the Muslim world if not even symbolically? Radical Islamism could be described as a franchise operation in the Arabian Peninsula, Mesopotamia, the Magreb, East and West Africa, Southeast Asia and perhaps punctually in the West.
Overall, what we see is a failure to produce a transformative jihad, to mobilize large numbers for genuine reasons or even to sustain a terrorist jihad that goes beyond single attacks in selected locations. We do not see a broad pattern of upsurge in the name of Islam across the Muslim world against “non-Muslim encroachment”. This of course does not make recent attacks any less brutal. But it does put the alleged global cause into a different light.
3. Bitter Ironies of Perception.
Even super-egos now and then have to give in to self-reflection. What have I achieved? How do people perceive my actions? How far have I come? The truth is, all the attention devoted to Islam by non-Muslims has deepened the awareness among Muslims of this non-Muslim audience, the gaze or mirror through which their Muslim and Islamic identity is being forged. The latest bombings in Paris and Brussels have been carried out when ISIS had suffered some decline in terms of media attention, which it so desperately needed. The oversaturation with bad news from Syria linked with a stronger focus on the European migration crisis might have triggered the weird way of ISIS saying “Hey! We’re still there!”. At the same time, with its way of adopting the language and logic of a Western habitus while constantly comparing itself with the alleged but vague enemy, ISIS and its sympathisers themselves appear to be the agents of a certain kind of secularisation. They are undermining their cause. They are involuntarily shaping their external perception. They become the rotten allegory of the system they claim to fight.
Is ISIS and its sheer brutality nothing more than a product of our Western, modern times? Alain Badiou describes terrorism in the context of global capitalism and the loss of alternatives. Perhaps sociological structures and the question of inequality rather than Islam alone should be a starting point for further analysis. In the end, the scope of violence practiced by the Islamic State is inconceivable. The images shown on television and stories printed in the papers are unbearable.
Questioning the sociological structures of ISIS does not make this any easier. However, terrorism especially of internally fractured groups can hardly lead to political let alone religious legitmacy. A political power vacuum that often occurs after or during civil wars, revolutions and the breakdown of established systems can easily be filled. What’s hard to build are sustainable power structures. As argued above, if the Islamic State continues to follow its chosen path, it will hardly be able to rise among global entities. It will then fail, eventually.
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