The Islamic State (ISIS), a radical Salafist jihadist organization, represented the development peak of extremist jihadist mainstreams and raised the slogan of divine rule. This organization transformed religious ideological concepts to consolidate its political presence by seeking to overthrow the existing regimes in Syria and Iraq and to establish an Islamic regime.
We hereby discuss the intellectual ideology of ISIS, the foundations on which it was based, the transformations that came about after its defeat, the features of the current ideology and its expected effects on the opportunities of ISIS revival. It is all expounded in three principles of universality:
- The principle of theocracy
- Allegiance and disavowal (committing to the Muslim community and hosteling to polytheists, apostates, and anyone who implicitly hosts the Muslim community).
- Armed action as the major strategy of change, which the propagandists of the Islamic State ideology have pushed to the greatest extent of extremism.
These pillars are not different from Al-Qaeda and several other global Salafi-jihadist ideologies. Abul A’la Maududi was the first to give the concept a doctrinal feature, when associating it with divinity. On the same approach, Sayyid Qutb followed Maududi, when he considered Islam a general proclamation for liberating mankind from slavery to servants of Allah, by declaring the divinity of Allah alone. This proclamation means the exhaustive revolution against all human beings’ rule in all its forms, systems and situations. It also suggests complete rebellion against every situation across the earth, in which human beings are in power someway. It simply aspires to destroy the human’s kingdom in order to establish the kingdom of Allah on earth.
The pillars are highlighted by the following:
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s charisma and his extremist ideological vision that empowers the ideological aspect of the movement in all political positions and the relationship with others: he was the reason for the beginnings of savagery and the differences between Al-Qaeda and ISIS, going back to the early conflicts between him and Osama bin Laden. Later, al-Zawahiri warned al-Zarqawi in a letter attributed to him, in 2005, against “scenes of slaughter” because of “the serious effect they had in the media battle, which was adversely competing with the hearts and minds of our nation.”
Theorists of the ideology of savagery in ISIS, the legislation of heaviness, severity and brutality in ISIS is referred by two main figures, namely:
First, there is Abu Abd Aullah al-Muhajir (Abd al-Rahman al-Ali). Al-Zarqawi was greatly influenced by al-Muhajir, and he studied his book “Issues of the Jurisprudence of Jihad,” a book on “The Jurisprudence of Blood” written by its author for those who surrender to Allah’s law the same as the deads to their mortician, and even more severe. In this book, al-Muhajir decides that the country ruled by law is a country of infidels and must be abandoned, and that the consensus is established that the infidels’ blood is absolutely permissible, unless there is legitimate safety on them. In addition, supporting the polytheists at the expense of Muslims is major infidelity. According to al-Muhajir, Islam does not differentiate between civilian and military, and the cruelty and severity of killing by beheading are intended.
Second, there are Abu Bakr Naji and his book ” Management of Savagery ” which is one of the most important books and literature of these movements in recent times. The book’s main idea is to exploit the chaos in failed states to establish the so-called Emirate of Savagery in the areas controlled, so that the provisions of Sharia can be applied. It is a stage that precedes the so-called Emirate of Empowerment, the establishment of an Islamic state with full sovereignty. Abu Bakr Naji believes that jihad is one of the most significant God’s gifts for people, and it is strength, ruggedness, terror, displacement and massive killing. He considers it for granted that shedding the blood of the “cross people”, their apostate aides and their soldiers is one of the most important duties. He says that the situation now is similar to apostasy or the beginning of jihad, so massive killing, inflicting high casualties on the enemy are needed. As he sees, we need actions like what was done towards Banu Qurayza (killing men, captivating offspring and women and taking their money). It is necessary to follow the policy of severity if the demands are not answered, and therefore the hostages will be killed in a horrific manner that throws terror. According to Naji, the only project that qualifies for this is the “Salafi-jihadi” project.
Moreover, there is the ideological struggle in the organization, especially after its spatial collapse, which included doctrinal and methodological differences that resulted in various divisions and alliances inside the organization, and produced competition and conflict between two mainstreams in the organization, namely:
- Hazimi branch, named after Ahmad ibn Umar al-Hazimi, one of the scholars of Sharia sciences residing in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. He was arrested in 2015.
- Binali branch, named after Turki al-Binali, a Bahraini sheikh and one of Abu Muhammad al-Maqdisi’s disciples, was killed in Syria in 2017 in a raid by the International Coalition on the city of Raqqa.
In this context, the two branches Hazimi and Binali represented the two mainstreams in ISIS, and it can be said that the they highly agree in most of the issues that control the structure of the ISIS mind and come at first in its discourse, such as the issue of blaspheming others, governance, the posture on politics in its modern civil sense and what results from it, such as as elections and democracy.
As for the divisions, they began to appear in the organization with the crystallization of the issue of “ignorance as an excuse” for each party. Hazimi views in this issue that in matters of monotheism and polytheism there is no excuse for anyone, and that whoever practices or performs an act of nullifiers of religion is an infidel, without the need to consider in the fulfillment of the conditions and the absence of the obstacles. According to Hazimi, whoever does not declare these people disbelievers is an unbeliever and an apostate. Their rule says: “Whoever does not blaspheme an infidel is an infidel.” On the other hand, the other branch agrees that there is no excuse for ignorance in matters of monotheism and polytheism, but they refuse to say “Whoever does not blaspheme an infidel is an infidel” at all. This difference resulted in Hazimi declaring Binali a disbeliever, as well as in the great divisions that engulfed the two branches as a result of the issues that branched off from this issue and the differences that resulted from it.
The new caliph, Abu Ibrahim al-Hashimi al-Qurashi, is trying to rebuild the organization and confront and overcome the divisions, but the challenges he encounters are manifold, such as the killing of al-Baghdadi, the collapse of the organization spatially and its ideological divisions between different mainstreams, as well as the killing of the majority of its founders due to the campaign of the international coalition and declining the rest of its elements in the valleys of Syria and Iraq.
Thus, it can be said that the ideological construction of ISIS is based on a legacy of arbitrary violence that is deeply wound, generated by historical and contemporary events in which rebellion, rejection and revenge overlap.
The structure of the organization, in terms of its chronological development, has adopted a hierarchical structure with the caliph as its head. The caliph directly supervises the “councils”, a designation used by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi instead of the name “ministries” adopted by his predecessor Abu Omar al-Baghdadi. The “councils” are the main joints of ISIS that constitute the “central leadership.” Al-Baghdadi has broad powers to appoint and dismiss council heads after taking the opinion of the “Shura Council,” whose consultation seems informative and non-binding. The final decision after having deliberated is al-Baghdadi’s, Ibrahim Awad Ibrahim Ali al-Badri al-Samarrai, an Iraqi, due to his extensive religious authorities, he controls all strategic issues. He has the final word in commanding and forbidding in most decisive decisions. On the level of administrative division, ISIS adopted dividing the areas of its influence into administrative units called “Wilayats,” which is the historical Islamic designation for population geography.
The ISIS media machine has played a key factor in achieving the ambitions of ISIS’s founders. The real and major boom brought about by ISIS depicted the details that ambition. This boom was at the level of global propaganda and the enormous capacity for recruitment and moving in work from the elitist side to the public one and from complex selective methods to rapid recruitment and planning of operations, and from specific and restricted goals to a wide list of organized operations.
There are multiple factors, not only one behind the unprecedented efficiency in recruitment at the level of terrorist groups, such as sectarian discourse. This efficiency came as a result of the failure in Syria, Iraq, Lebanon and other Middle Eastern countries to build a nation. ISIS found the ground saturated with hard and militant ideas, so it managed to absorb thousands of young people into its ranks to confront the sectarian war declared by the sectarian regimes in Damascus and Baghdad under Iranian auspices. The state’s policies, with their corrupt rentier nature and its so-called neo-liberal systems resulted in the collapse of the middle class, the absence of transparency and the dominance of nepotism and loss of equality.
Thus, ISIS took advantage of the desire that members of marginalized groups had to take revenge on society, especially those who did not have an opportunity for education, were unable to find jobs and lost their families. Many areas in which these groups live lack the spirit of society. Hence, young people find these extremist movements opening their arms to them and providing them with an entity that they can belong to and relate to, making them feel accepted and sense the collective spirit and instilling in them a sense of self-confidence, importance and distinction. The result is that those marginalized and oppressed groups become affiliated with the aggressor and become aggressive towards society that they see as violent, and thus mimic the aggressor to which they belong.
ISIS is exploiting its failure, the gains it has achieved, the strengths and weaknesses it currently possesses at the political levels, which brought it into open conflict with neighboring countries and with some internationally active countries, which managed to form an international military alliance to fight it by depending on regional countries driven by intertwined interests. All these matters are currently exploited by ISIS as a factor in its revival. However, the air and ground military operations of the international coalition made it loose dozens of its leaders, and this became one of the main reasons for its shrinkage and regression on the ground. The organization’s method of running the power, the extent of the grievances committed by it and the alienation of the popular incubator from it as a result of this practice, have made the areas under its control resent it. This made it lose the most important element of its expansion by losing the civil incubator and this coincided with his lack of various financial resources after losing energy centers, of which only its trade with Al-Assad regime and Iran in the Syrian Badia remained.
Abu Ibrahim al-Hashemi al-Qurashi tried to confront the challenges and difficulties that threatened the unity of ISIS after eliminating its spatial caliphate with a new strategy that would made the organization resurrect again. The experiences of radical jihadist groups showed that the military defeat or the killing of their leaders does not mean the dismantling of the organization and its religious belief.
The parties concerned in the regional and international alliances and blocs, as were once one of the most important reasons for the defeat of ISIS, they now give the organization an opportunity for reviving. ISIS is betting on its ideological legacy represented by the “cubs of the caliphate”, a generation of Syrian and Iraqi children and other countries, who have been subjected over the years to ideological processes and military training, and thousands of them are languishing in Al-Hawl’s prisons or other concentration camps. In the meantime, the countries and organizations concerned with combating terrorism are not able to find solutions to rehabilitate this generation and take care of their future.
To sum up, it is not possible to talk about the collapse of ISIS after only its military defeat despite the many indications. As long as the reasons that gave birth to this organization to be one of the conflict’s engines in the region remain, there will be always struggle represented in the escalation of sectarian discourse, fueled by religious states such as Iran and Islamic radical organizations. The dictatorial regimes in power with all heinous crimes will stay still and the decision in the current conflict is controlled by force, not by justice measures because we are at a time the authority of the so-called international legitimacy has declined. Hence, the region will remain like powder kegs that will explode in succession, and the world will be confronted again either ISIS again, or another organization that ISIS will be more merciful and less extremist, compared to it.