The ISIS-ification of Islamist politics

By Khalil al-Anani, George Washington University and Johns Hopkins, SAIS

* This memo was prepared for the “Islamist Politics in the Shadow of the Islamic State” conference, January 23, 2015. 

The rapid emergence of the Islamic State, also known as ISIS and by the Arabic acronym Daesh, has increasingly led to the “Daeshification” (or ISIS-ification) of Islamist politics. Scholars of Islamist movements and the movements themselves have been forced to redefine their ideologies, strategies and rhetoric in the face of this new force. It might be difficult, at least for now, to gauge the actual popularity of the Islamic State among other Islamist movements, particularly “veteran” ones such as the Muslim Brotherhood and its sisters. However, it is clear that these groups have been forced to adapt. The Islamic State’s rise has had both direct and indirect effects on the internal politics and debates of Islamist movements, particularly after Egypt’s coup of 2013 and the unprecedented repression and animosity against Islamists across the region.

This pressure has been reinforced by the tendency among media, policymakers, think-tankers, commentators, etc. to blur the lines between Islamist groups. Politicians and policymakers, particularly in the Middle East, are keen to link the Islamic State to other Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood in order to vilify and demonize the latter. For these politicians, the “threat” is not the Islamic State, but rather those movements that contest elections, have social networks, respect the rules of the game and seek power. Hence, the “war on terror” is the political bandwagon that validates their narrative about Islamists. Such rhetoric serves the interests of the Islamic State, which aims to represent itself as the most authentic and realistic alternative for Islamists. By declaring a caliphate (khilafa) and creating a state, they claim to have achieved what other Islamists failed to do. It is in the Islamic State’s interest to show other Islamist movements as reckless and less “Islamic” in order to delegitimize them and recruit more supporters. The blurring of the lines between different groups aids their cause by facilitating outreach to disaffected members of other groups, and magnifying its perceived strength. Read more on The Monkey Cage.

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