March 18, 2015 | The Washington Post
Islamism in the IS Age
The “IS-ification of Islamist politics,” in Khalil al-Anani’s felicitous phrase, has reshaped the ideological and strategic incentives for Islamist groups and their adversaries. It has also posed a new challenge to the categories, concepts and expectations of the academics who study them. In January, the Project on Middle East Political Science brought together more than a dozen leading scholars of Islamist movements to discuss the Islamic State and its effects on the broader terrain of Islamist politics. Some of the papers prepared for that workshop have been published on The Monkey Cage already and all are now collected into a new edition in the POMEPS Studies series “Islamism in the IS Age,” available for free download here.
Yet, the Islamic State is hardly the first insurgency to seize territory and seek to govern it through the exploitation of local resources and the attraction of external support. In his contribution to the symposium, Quinn Mecham makes a compelling case that, ideology aside, the Islamic State has established a relatively high degree of stateness already. It is less obvious what to make of this, however. Controlling territory and behaving like a proto-state are, after all, entirely conventional insurgency behaviors. As Megan Stewart has found, since 1945 roughly one-third of all insurgencies have provided health care and education, and “once an insurgency acquired territory, nearly 49 percent would ensure that the civilian population received education or medical care.” Instead, we need to focus on what kind of insurgent governance this is, and how robust it is likely to prove. Zachariah Mampilly observes that ideology tends to matter less in determining the extent and nature of rebel governance than the conditions on the ground and especially the relationship between the rebels and the society over which it holds sway. On those grounds, things look less promising for the Islamic State. Ideology creates a “distinctive governance problem” for jihadist groups, argue Daveed Gartenstein-Ross and Amichai Magen, that they “will struggle mightily to address in the longer term.” Reports of the growing use of intimidation to control restive local populations should be taken with several grains of salt, as strategic communications campaigns ramp up. Still, such reports seem like a leading indicator of declining legitimacy and consent, raising the costs of internal control and the likelihood of internal challenges.
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