The Islamic State Finds Rushing Headlong to the Apocalypse Easier Than State-Building

Onerous economic conditions in the Islamic State help fuel the refugee crisis. Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Onerous economic conditions in the Islamic State help fuel the refugee crisis.
Pictured: Islamic State leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. (Photo: Thierry Ehrmann / Flickr Commons)

Since the attacks in Paris that were either ordained or sanctioned by the Islamic State, it’s only natural to wonder what happened to its state-building project and its vision of itself as a caliphate? The Islamic State is behaving more like a terrorist organization than a state. That’s not to say that states don’t mount terrorist attacks, but they usually do it via proxy forces and don’t take credit for them.

In one of the most outstanding articles about the Islamic State that I’ve read yet (and I read a lot) titled Is There a Method to ISIS’s Madness? in the Atlantic, Shadi Hamid writes:

… the group focused its energy on developing fairly elaborate institutional structures in the territory it controlled within Iraq and Syria. ISIS wasn’t simply making things up as it went along. It may have been mad, but there was a method to the madness.

… But why, then, attack France—one of the more militarily aggressive Western powers—and potentially provoke a massive retaliatory response that would threaten the very “caliphate” it had spent so much time building?

But, maintains Hamid, the Islamic State “has always had international ambitions; it was more a question of when, not if.” Also, it is “fond of its apocalyptic fantasies, which featured prominently in the group’s propaganda.” Its “state-building and messianism coexisted in uneasy tension.” Hamid asks:

Can an individual—or, for that matter, an entire organization—be, at once, both cautious and in the throes of reckless abandon?

In other words, is the Islamic State rational or not? Hamid:

… rationality may take on a different meaning for those who believe not just in the imminence of the end times (which is fairly common in the Middle East), but also that the day of reckoning can be hastened.

Regarding that “day of reckoning,” at the Guardian Giles Fraser wrote in October:

… according to one reading of Islamic tradition (hadith), the place where this final malahim (apocalypse) will happen is – of all places – Dabiq. This is where the Muslim and Christian armies will finally face each other and the Crusaders will be destroyed.

Meanwhile, as, in part, the refugee situation attests, Islamic State occupation has seen an exodus from its areas in Syria and Iraq. Residents flee not only the harshness of its punishment and the lack of liberty, but the pervasive taxes that, at root, tend to be the last straw that drives citizens to either leave or revolt. According to another Atlantic article in October:

In addition to closing businesses and preventing people from making a living, ISIS has imposed heavy taxes on those living under its rule, locals and activists say. “Only the air people breathe is not taxed,” says [one man], adding that the cost of utilities like water and electricity has soared under ISIS rule.

Apparently bungling its attempts to build a state, the Islamic State may be, either consciously or unconsciously, accelerating its caliphate stage and leapfrogging ahead, via its retaliation-invoking terrorist attacks, to the Apocalypse — a battle it obviously can’t win.


As I have written before: death wish — thy name is jihadism.