No.7 The Rationality of an Eschatological Movement: The Islamist State in Iraq and Syria
Adam Baczko, Gilles Dorronsoro, Arthur Quesnay, and Maaï Youssef
Commonly described as mad, fanatic, and medieval, the Islamic State is a political enigma. The behavior of its militants, its relationship with the local society and its relationship with the rest of the world are all puzzling. While extensive research into the operational structures of the Islamic State is hindered by the clandestine nature of the organization, this paper aims to overcome these difficulties by drawing on over 60 interviews conducted within Syria and Iraq between 2012-2015. These interviews not only examine the emergence, expansion and success of the Islamic State, they also highlight the everyday conditions of those living under its grip. We argue that the perceived irrationality of the Islamic State results from the formation of a new regime of truth, based on an eschatological reading of Islam, which subordinates the alternative modes of veridiction. The Islamic State’s regime of truth allows the coexistence within the same organization of a rational-legal system, an ethic of conviction, and a charismatic legitimacy. To develop our argument, we look successively at the closure of the organization, the imposition of its revolutionary model upon society, and its relationship to the outside world, highlighting its consistency at each level.