Thursday, July 24, 2014


The dec­la­ra­tion by the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham (ISIS), regard­ing its estab­lish­ment of the Caliphate sent rip­ples around the world. Stretch­ing from Diyala province, Iraq, to Aleppo, Syria, the dec­la­ra­tion has placed the ‘Caliphate’ on the global map and led to a raft of responses by Mus­lims and Non-Muslims alike. The new Islamic State (IS) called for pledges from all groups and mus­lims, across the world[1] and requested for doc­tors, engi­neers, lawyers, econ­o­mists and any­one with skills to migrate to the islamic lands and aid the build­ing of the new caliphate[2]. The announce­ment, how­ever,  has largely failed to achieve the cen­tre of grav­ity the new IS had hoped, as many con­sider the Shari’ con­di­tions not to have been met, whilst oth­ers have been scep­ti­cal of the dec­la­ra­tion. Despite wide­spread sup­port for the return of the Caliphate the ISIS Caliphate has strug­gled to gain wide­spread sup­port and they’re five key rea­sons for this.
Firstly, con­trary to pop­u­lar opin­ion, the IS pre­vi­ously known as the ISIS did not emerge from the chaos which ensued from Syria’s upris­ing. Its ori­gins date back to 2003 when the Jor­dan­ian war-veteran Abu Mus’ab az-Zarqawi founded the AQI (al-Qaeda in Iraq) after hav­ing formed Jam­mat at-Tawhid wal-Jihad in 1999. From the onset, az-Zarqawi’s move­ment was at odds with al-Qaeda’s lead­er­ship even before the two groups (Jam­mat at-Tawhid wal-Jihad and al-Qaeda) joined hands in Iraq. Points of diver­gence revolved pri­mar­ily on issues of tak­feer — the polit­i­cal and legal impli­ca­tions which fol­low from the pro­nounce­ment and vision.  The merg­ing of these two move­ments how­ever was as much tac­ti­cal as it was prag­matic. These ide­o­log­i­cal dif­fer­ences cou­pled with Al-Qaeda’s decen­tral­ized nature pro­vided Zar­qawi and his nascent move­ment with the auton­omy and power needed to form a fac­tion which would later com­pete with al-Qaeda for lead­er­ship. In 2006 Zar­qawi con­sol­i­dated his power by cre­at­ing an umbrella Jihadi group Majlis Shura al-Mujahedin. Shortly after, Zar­qawi was killed and the new leader of the group, Abu ‘Umar al-Baghdadi declared the for­ma­tion of ‘the Islamic State of Iraq’ – and later the ‘Islamic State of Iraq and the Lev­ant’ until Abu Muham­mad al-Adnani’s dec­la­ra­tion of a Caliphate, leav­ing the orga­ni­za­tions name to be sim­ply ‘Islamic State’. A his­tor­i­cal eval­u­a­tion of the orga­ni­za­tions evo­lu­tion and rela­tions with al-Qaeda and other movement’s makes it all the more clear that the rogue-nature and extreme dis­course of the ‘Islamic State’ is noth­ing new.
Table: Evo­lu­tion of the Orga­ni­za­tion[3]
Jam­mat at-Tawhid wal-Jihad
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Al-Qaeda in Iraq/Al-Qaeda in the Land of Two Rivers
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Majlis ash-Shura lil Mujahideen
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi
Islamic State of Iraq
Abu Omar al-Baghdadi
Islamic State or Iraq and the Levant
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Islamic State
Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi
Sec­ondly, from an on-the-ground per­spec­tive, the exclam­a­tory dec­la­ra­tion of a Caliphate is more sym­bolic than it is, in any way, game-changing. It is sym­bolic in that the ide­o­logues of the IScon­sider the Caliphate to be an entity which rep­re­sents the entirety of the Ummah whereas the ‘Islamic State’ rep­re­sents those Mus­lims liv­ing within its juris­dic­tion, those being, Mus­lims between the Syr­ian city of Raqqa and Iraq’s Diyala province. Also, it is sym­bolic of the movement’s con­sol­i­da­tion of ‘power’ and its lever­age over al-Qaeda. The dec­la­ra­tion of a ‘Caliphate’ which his­tor­i­cally was a sym­bol of Mus­lim unity only caused more schisms and divi­sions between the IS and other groups, indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions. The lead­ing Jihadi ide­o­logue and scholar, an old-time men­tor of Zar­qawi, Shaykh Abu Muham­mad al-Maqdisi derided the dec­la­ra­tion stat­ing: “We will remain sin­cerely upon this reli­gion, guarding/protecting it against all deviance’s and extrem­ism and oth­ers dis­torted peo­ple. Either you fix your­self (ISIS), repent and stop spilling Mus­lim blood and dis­tort this reli­gion, or we will be against you with tongues like swords.”[4]
Thirdly, if the pur­pose of declar­ing the for­mal estab­lish­ment of a Caliphate is to secure unity and global recog­ni­tion, the newly-formed state falls noth­ing short of a para­dox in that the reac­tion across the globe to the dec­la­ra­tion was uni­formly one of rejec­tion and proved to be divi­sive. To what extent the IS has con­sol­i­dated inter­nal and exter­nal secu­rity (a con­di­tion for the Caliphate) is put into ques­tion when the Caliph, of all peo­ple, is unable to roam the streets of his cap­i­tal city. Not to men­tion, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi unlike his pre­de­ces­sor Zar­qawi and oth­ers is a shad­owy fig­ure despite the ambigu­ous one-page biogra­phies pub­lished by the IS. Nine major rebel groups in Syria, last Mon­day, issued a state­ment reject­ing the new “Caliphate” as have Islamic fig­ures and move­ments around the world, both inside and out­side of Syria.[5]
Fourthly, much of the scep­ti­cism is based on the role ISIS has played in the  upris­ing in Syria. rather than standing-off against the al-Assad regime ISIS has been fight­ing against the rebel forces  and seiz­ing ter­ri­tory which had already been under rebel con­trol. ISIS adopted tac­tics such as blow­ing up civil­ians in mar­ket places, kid­nap­ping of inno­cents for ran­som, and exe­cu­tion of those from other Islamic groups who voiced crit­i­cism and polit­i­cal dis­sent. Its depic­tion of an exis­ten­tial war against all Shi’ah, in the past and present has led to con­dem­na­tion from all quar­ters. In a recent mes­sage by Bagh­dadi he said: —  “Al Qaeda wants to forge links with the Shi­ites. They think the Shi­ites are their broth­ers even though they make tak­fir on all the sahabah and they believe the Quran is cor­rupted. Yet al Qaeda wants to forge links with them. When Isis takes a town either you leave shism or die. Isis can­not take jizya from them. They are a newly invented reli­gion so no jizya can be taken from them.”[6]
Fifthly, admin­is­ter­ing a wide-range of public-services does not amount to the build­ing of a state, as this requires apt states­men who can develop and imple­ment short-term and long-term strate­gies. Sim­i­lar exam­ples of ‘admin­is­tra­tion’ (ver­sus state-building) include the Tal­iban exper­i­ment, the short-lived “Islamic State” in Soma­lia and the more recent “Emi­rate” of Mali. More so, this is not the first time al-Qaeda affil­i­ates have ruled over large swathes of land; their rule over Anbar province was marked by fail­ure, lead­ing even­tu­ally to the emer­gence of “Sahawi” Sunni coali­tions which drove the “Islamic State” out of power. The abil­ity to take over large parts of Iraq and Syria should not be mis­taken as being sym­bi­otic of the move­ments power and abil­ity to chal­lenge the regional bal­ance of power. The Islamic State is not engaged in an all-out war with Assad’s regime and Hizbul­lah or with the United States (as was the case for al-Qaeda) but instead it has pur­sued a pol­icy of expand­ing within ter­ri­tory which has been either lib­er­ated by other rebels groups or ter­ri­tory which has been fraught with unrest and fell out­side the scope of Maliki or Assad’s con­trol, such as Mosul. In other words, the con­di­tions from which the “Islamic State” are indica­tive of its inabil­ity to pro­vide an actual counter to the regions polit­i­cal pow­ers. In short, the “Islamic State” is the prod­uct of a secu­rity vac­uum cre­ated by the Syr­ian con­flict and Assad’s tac­ti­cal tol­er­a­tion of the move­ment. Exploit­ing chaos has proven to be the most effec­tive strat­egy for groups that can­not rely on a pop­u­lar support-base
From a strate­gic per­spec­tive, the shift from a quasi-Islamic State to a “Caliphate” will mean that the move­ment must change its strat­egy and focus more on institution-building and sta­bi­liza­tion. This will prove to be extremely dif­fi­cult in the absence of a popular-support base, both inside and out­side of the State, the absence of a coher­ent politico-economic vision that goes beyond the day-to-day admin­is­tra­tion of pub­lic affairs and the movement’s mil­i­tary vul­ner­a­bil­ity on all of its fronts. The new caliphate is yet to present a con­sti­tu­tion or poli­cies on the econ­omy, domes­tic secu­rity and for­eign pol­icy. What the new state has learned very quickly is that pro­claim­ing a caliphate through social media is one thing and actually constructing one are two very dif­fer­ent things.
- Ali Harfouch


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