By Quinn Mecham, Brigham Young University
* This memo was prepared for the “Islamist Politics in the Shadow of the Islamic State” conference, January 23, 2015.
The group now commonly known as the “Islamic State,” which controls vast amounts of territory in Eastern Iraq and Western Syria, is unlike most Islamist militant groups in its demonstrated ability to control territory and establish a regularized system of governance. The growing aspiration for the creation of “Islamic” state institutions is reflected in the evolution of the group’s name, from al-Qaeda in Iraq, to the Islamic State of Iraq, to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant, and then simply to the Islamic State, with the June 2014 announcement of the formation of a caliphate.
The Islamic State group has many of the attributes of a new “start-up” organization that is entering the wider market of Islamist thinking around statehood. The group has attracted a great deal of attention because it has brought disruptive innovation into Islamic political thought, both in terms of ideology (using common Islamist concepts in new ways) and what it is doing on the ground (taking and holding wealth and territory). Incumbent Islamist actors have been rattled by the Islamic State’s material success and the group’s attraction for emergent jihadis. Much of this attraction is not due to the group’s “Islamic” ideology, which is bitterly contested, but because of its demonstrated success at building institutions and creating prosperity for a select group of its patrons. Read more on The Monkey Cage.