Newsweek reports: This year has seen the map of the Middle East redrawn. The West has acquired a new public enemy number one: remorseless, faceless and vicious. The Islamic State, or ISIS, has expanded from a relatively obscure terrorist group at the start of the year, to one that wields near absolute control over anywhere between 12,000 square miles (according to the Wall Street Journal) and 35,000 square miles (according to The New Yorker) of formerly Syrian and Iraqi territory. Within the region, around 56 million people must navigate between the armies of the rival militias, warlords and national armies that are barely distinguishable from one another.
But while Western forces attempt to counter the ISIS surge with its sustained bombing strategy, little attention is paid to an unpalatable reality within the borders of the so-called new Islamic State, or caliphate. In the midst of the chaos, ISIS is deliberately and methodically establishing clear areas of definable civil governance, breathing new life into the memory of a series of caliphates that united a succession of Muslim empires until 1924.
Scott Atran, an anthropologist and senior research fellow at Oxford University, recently submitted a report to the U.S. Department of Defense and Congress on the difficulty of fighting the ideology of such a state.
“The caliphate as an idea has never gone away,” Atran says, “And now that it is here again after a hiatus of nearly 100 years, as a concrete matter of fact, it will focus the hearts and minds of hundreds of millions of people. The critical question is not, ‘How can we thwart or destroy the caliphate?’ because attempts to do that will likely backfire. Rather the question is, ‘How can we live with and transform the idea and reality of a caliphate – and one that will be nuclear-capable probably sooner rather than later – into something that does not threaten other peoples’ ways of life?’ That is a question for everyone, but it is not even on our political radar.” [Continue reading…]