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A brief history of ISIS


At Jacobin, Adam Hanieh gives an account of the rise of ISIS, suggesting that the group emerged out of the thwarted revolts of the Arab Spring. Check out an excerpt below and the full piece here.

Islamic fundamentalism is often defined as the desire to bring back the ways of a magnificent past, supposedly modeled (in the Sunni account) on the first few generations of Islamic rulers that came after the death of the Prophet Mohammed. The Islamic State professes this goal, and in terms of social practice and religious law this is how it purports to rule.

But to reduce ISIS to a simple seventh-century irredentism would be a serious mistake. The organization takes seriously the project of state building, devoting much effort toward the establishment of various financial, legal, and administrative structures across the territories it now controls. Although the borders of these areas are in constant flux and there are differing assessments of what is meant by “control,” ISIS has an extensive territorial reach, by some estimates ruling over 10 million people.

As part of this very modernist project, the organization has placed a high priority on developing a sophisticated media and propaganda network, setting it qualitatively apart from other examples of Islamic rule such as Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, where television-adorned trees and the “execution” of computers remain lasting images of the 1990s and early 2000s.

One researcher has estimated that the ISIS media unit generates just under forty unique pieces of media each day, including videos, photo essays, articles, and audio programs in many different languages. This level of programming rivals any TV network, and stands in contrast to the older al-Qaeda model that relied on grainy VHS tapes smuggled from the mountains of Afghanistan to Al Jazeera, where they were held hostage to the vagaries of hostile news producers and intelligence agencies.

Image: Members loyal to ISIS wave their flag during a parade in June 2014. Via Jacobin.