The Islamic State organization: "Daesh"

Volume 1: A General Framework and Practical Contribution to Understanding the Phenomenon
02 December, 2018

Recently published by the Arab Center for Research and Policy Studies: The Islamic State Organization: "Daesh" in two parts. The first part, by Azmi Bishara, is entitled A General Framework and Practical Contribution to Understanding the Phenomenon; the second, written by multiple authors and edited by Dr. Bishara, is entitled Formation, Rhetoric and Practice.

In the first volume, discussed here, Bishara sets off from the basic question: How to understand the phenomenon of the Islamic State Organization, "Daesh"? This problematic is explored throughout the chapters -as an integral unit- in a conceptual flow. In this flow, its waves grow, develop and interrelate; through explanation and analysis; apprehension, accountability and criticism. Its ideas are not fully ripe, but grow and are generated through the research process. The purpose of this book is to establish a systematic framework, through a chronology that establishes an accurate timeline for events from the rise of al Qaeda until the fall of Daesh in 2018.

From Jihad to Jihadism

The book consists of six chapters. In the first, “Bibliographic Observations”, Bishara begins with criticizing literature produced on the analysis of Daesh phenomenon, excluding daily news reports -that thousands of articles have been published on. Instead, he criticizes books that were published on the Organization and its phenomenon as the literary key theme. This includes physiology-based workbooks, as he classifies it according to its theoretical, analytical and political foci that has emerged from it, as well as its envisaged functions.

In this section, Bishara may present the first comprehensive and focused examination of the literature and the most prominent publications on the subject.

The second chapter, “From Mujahideen to Jihadists and from Jihad to Jihadism”, delves into defining concepts and recognizing their origin and historical evolution, from their lexical to their conceptual significance in the historical Arab-Islamic thought system. Bishara then sheds light on how such concepts are analyzed and put forward by scholars and researchers on Islamist and Jihadist movements. This entails analyzing jihad across periods of history; distinguishing between popular, dynamic and institutionalized religiosity; and understanding modern jihadism - which diverges from the historical concept of the Mujahid. The problematic here is the shift from the phenomenon of Jihad, which is deeply-rooted in Islamic history, to the phenomenon of Jihadists.

Expanding to Survive

In the third chapter, the Islamic State Organisation: The Process of Differentiation from Al Qaeda, Bishara explains the difference between the Islamic State and other Jihadist groups, moving from the theoretical to the historical level; and from the set of ideas to the actual historical process, through the Islamic State’s efforts to distinguish itself from Al Qaeda by adopting different understandings, methodologies, strategies and methods. In this historical analysis, the dialectic of divergence and convergence arises in the complex of both differentiation and independence that ISIL represented. This chapter gives lengthy consideration to the internal debate among Jihadist communities, in which the relationship between participant and divergence, differentiation, and even separation reached a crisis point.

In chapter 4, “It Cannot Survive if it Does not Expand”, Bishara considers a complex historical and theoretical question concerning the crisis of the Arab state, particularly the crisis of the nationalist regimes, and the erosion of their sources of legitimacy. He goes on to distinguish between the emergence of the Salafist Jihadist organization and its historical circumstances, its intersection with Salafism with the decline of leftist currents and their global backer and nationalist movements. He especially looks at the period after the 1967 defeat and the crisis of the nationalist parties in the government on the one hand and the process of expanding this organization, taking advantage of the above-mentioned conditions on the other.

Such an organization would have remained a small one in the modern state were it not for the emergence of circumstances that have led to its expansion. These circumstances are related to the failure of the regimes that overlap with the structure of state and society in such a way that it has led to the failure of the states themselves. However, the expanse covered by the seemingly triumphant Organization did not have the real fundamentals of self-sufficiency, including the ability to self-sustain and reproduce its power over the population. Instead, it was based on an expansion facilitated, in turn, by the fragility of the state.

Life and Theories

The fifth chapter, “On Life under Daesh”, examines the Islamic State’s management of various daily affairs in the local communities under its control in Syria and Iraq. He refutes the idea of "incubating environment" as an explanation for the State’s expansion, influence and attempts to root it in these communities and domains. The organization undertook a much radical approach to dealing with the local communities; even as compared to its first experience in Iraq when it was “the Islamic State of Iraq” only. Ultimately, the resort of the Islamic State to imposing restrictions on people’s lives is not simply an attempt to assert its authority, but more importantly to convey clear and strong messages that Al-Qaeda’s approach is able to establish neither a state or caliphate nor the rule of Shari'a and a Muslim society. Therefore, the State sees itself as worthier of Jihadist legitimacy than Al-Qaeda -an organization which is virtually non-existent on the ground.

In the sixth and final chapter, “Theorists”, Bishara attempts to provide a new approach to theories of the new Salafist Jihadist phenomenon. He observes the marginalization of the Brotherhood mindset in favor of that of the new Jihadists, who, in turn, have been influenced by the writings of Sayyid Qutb. Nevertheless, the development of Jihadism will move beyond Qutb, in a new stage of transformation in which ISIL’s theoreticians, in building awareness of their experience, draw on the writings of Ibn Taymiyyah, his students, and scholars of Wahhabi thought. These have become the source of what has come to be known as Salafi Jihadism. ISIL’s theoreticians have adopted the new radical version of Salafi Jihadism based on the Wahhabi thought system; and the writings of Mohammad Ibn Abd Al-Wahhab himself.

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