Valdai Paper #32: The Islamic State: An Alternative Statehood?

02.11.2015
Rapid access to the international arena of the Islamic State (IS) raised again the question of alternative forms of statehood in the Middle East. IS seriously challenges the project of the nation state. Combining radical Islamism with advanced forms of propaganda in the digital environment, IS turns into a kind of "post-modern" design. This project denies rationalism and the principle of legal validity of the national state, replacing it with a reference to the "right" and undeformed Islam. At the same time, the project uses the principles of network organisation ("franchise") for the promotion outside of Iraq and Syria.

However, the future of IS remains highly uncertain. And it's not just the military threat posed by the secular authorities and the great powers. The point is in the ability to build institutions that would work in peace. Meanwhile, the IS is a terrorist entity that exists solely because of the war. Inside IS there growing the conflict between romanticists - supporters of expansion outside - and pragmatists - supporters of building a full-fledged state in the already occupied territories.

The key to understanding of the phenomenon of the IS lies through the analysis of key concepts of Islamic political theory - the ummah [puma], the imam [imam], Dawla [dewlap], and bay'a [bay'a] and jihad [jihad]. Its future depends both on the ability to build the institutions of government, and the perspectives of civil society institutions in this project.

The author of article is Vasily Kuznetsov, PhD in History, Director, Center for Arab and Islamic Studies, Institute of Oriental Studies at the Russian Academy of Sciences, Russia.

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