ISIL: The Revolutionary State that Happens to be Islamic (RELS 348)

When observing the latest news on the Islamic State, much of the media’s focus has largely been on the outstanding acts of violence and atrocities they have committed, especially the widely publicized decapitations of US reporters James Foley, Steven Sotloff, aid worker Peter Kassig. The graphic and shocking natures of these murders have left a strong impact on the rest of the world, some questioning whether or not these acts are characteristically Islamic. Stathis N. Kalyvas believes that, although it acts under the name of Allah, ISIL is not a distinctly Islamic phenomenon.

In his article, Kalyvas points out three factors to consider when analyzing ISIL’s violence and their relationship with Islam, the first being that violence is no “transparent process” and readers should take into account the fog of war. Secondly, though sensational, the violence used by ISIL is not characteristically Islamic or even jihadist. However, most importantly, when faced with such a new and violent actor on the world’s stage, many feel the need to categorize such a force. With ISIL, though it declares itself to be model for other Muslim states, Kalyvas points out that they are more like other “revolutionary” forces seen in history rather than past Islamic movements.

To demonstrate, the goal of ISIL is to reshape the existing social, cultural, and political landscapes of the countries in which they live in, Iraq. In order to achieve this, it must have a “highly motivated core, … recruit using ideological messages…[and] invest heavily in the indoctrination of their followers.” As a comparison, the Bolshevik movement also required a highly motivated, tightly knit group of individuals called the vanguard to act as the agents of social change within society. Much like ISIL is doing now, they too aimed to bring about social change through violence and indoctrination.

Therefore, it important to understand that although ISIL declares itself as a fundamentally Islamic religious movement, its traits and characteristics are very similar to other revolutionary movements, but this time it is under an extreme interpretation of the Quran instead of the Communist Manifesto.

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