How the Islamic State group has destroyed Islamists' dreams

How the Islamic State group has destroyed Islamists' dreams

Comment: The "successes" of the IS group has discredited the concept of Islamic statehood for many Islamists, writes Khalil al-Anani.

4 min read
03 Jul, 2015
Flying the IS flag in Iraq [Getty]
Islamist movements have often used the concept of Islamic statehood as a slogan, making its establishment - by various methods - one of their principal objectives.

Some groups have sought to achieve this by peaceful means, through proselytising, or by taking part in the political process to create societal change from the bottom up.

The Muslim Brotherhood, for example, says it aims to establish an Islamic government by developing the Muslim individual.

Other Islamist groups have chosen a different path, using violence to achieve their desired "Islamic" state, targeting established political systems and trying to overthrow them by force of arms.

Such was the case in Egypt in the 1970s and 1980s, in Algeria during the 1990s and al-Qaeda in the first decade of the new millennium. And before that decade came to a close, we saw the birth of the Islamic state group in Iraq in 2009.

Comment: Egypt is following in the footsteps of Algeria, says Basheer al-Baker

The birth of IS

At the end of June 2014, IS declared itself an Islamic Caliphate, and became the destination for many people who had long dreamed of such an entity.

The group established a complete system of governance, with specialist administrative offices charged with running daily affairs, ensuring security, operating banks and selling oil.

It then tried to export its model of governance and ideology across the region, and numerous branches popped up in many countries, all pledging allegiance to the self-styled caliph, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi.

To prove its strength and to terrorise its enemies, IS has employed nihilistic and barbaric violence.

     Every murder they commit bangs another nail in the coffin of the concept of an 'Islamic state'

However, contrary to the efforts of Islamists and their supporters, IS has managed to destroy any positive association people might have had with the idea of an Islamic state.

For now this idea stands for a degree of barbarism that has not been witnessed for centuries. 

The crimes of the IS group have exceeded any of the horrors we've seen over the past hundred years, not just because it has innovated brutal methods of murder and destruction, but because it has justified these crimes religiously and ideologically, in a way which seriously distorts the precepts of Islam and Muslim values.

Every murder they commit bangs another nail in the coffin of the concept of an "Islamic state" that very many Islamists have long dreamt of establishing.

They have made it impossible for any Islamist group to espouse Islamic statehood - or even defend those who call for it. Now, the term "Islamic state" is inseparable from the images of violence and nihilism which are IS' trademark.

Given this state of affairs, the fact that some Islamists, especially youths, still support IS' actions and justify them is utterly mystifying.

One would think that if these people had any ability to think rationally, they would have seen that IS is far more dangerous to their project than any of the established totalitarian regimes that repress them.

Perhaps we should attribute it to a state of complete despair.

The fruit of IS' crimes

Islamic statehood, having been controversial from both a historical perspective and an Islamic legal perspective, has now become a failed political project thanks to the crimes of IS.

Their nihilistic model of statehood pays no consideration to the people whose lives will be sacrificed in rebellion against established orders.

It runs contrary to the current of history, conjuring up images from bygone centuries, such as slavery and female captivity.

This model is non-negotiable. It creates a binary world of good and bad, belief and heresy, in a fashion that rejects the existence of any of the human variety espoused in the Quran and the Prophetic tradition.

It is a model that does not adhere to any covenant or treaty and does not recognise any law.

In other words, while IS may have been successful in establishing an Islamic "state", it has been even more successful in destroying the very idea of such a state in the minds of a great many.

Islamists will not only need to revise the usefulness of their political project and their goals of Islamic statehood, they will also need to prove that their project can survive in the face of the nihilist model presented by IS.

Khalil al-Anani is an adjunct professor at Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS).

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.

This is an edited translation from our Arabic edition.