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ISIS: Terroristic Organization or a Social Movement


Currently, a dangerous situation has developed in the world, characterized by instability in many regions, stratification of society, open hostility among states, and religious trends. In turn, it has led to the formation of various extremist organizations, such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria or ISIS. Various factors have contributed to ISIS formation, and now it is the most known extremist group. Thus, it can be considered a social movement because it consists of the Sunnis that want their religious, ideological, social and cultural aims to be realized.

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Formation of the Islamic State (IS)

The Islamic State, which until summer 2014 had been titled the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL), was established in 2006 in Iraq as a jihadist organization as a result of the merger of Islamist groups from al-Qaeda to bring religious changes characterizing it as a social movement (Hanna). Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, a spiritual leader and the closest associate of Osama bin Laden, actively participated in the creation of the organization (Wood). So far, Islamic State militants use symbolism similar to that of al-Qaeda. After the death of al-Zarqawi because of a strike by the U.S. aviation in June 2006, the ISIL was led by Abu Ayyub al-Masri and his assistant Abu Umar al-Baghdadi. They were mostly former soldiers and officers of the Iraqi army, subordinated to Saddam Hussein before the U.S.-NATO invasion in Iraq in 2003 (Hanna). Al-Masri and Umar al-Baghdadi become famous extremist leaders mainly because under their leadership militants conducted a number of effective operations against the Iraqi military who fought on the side of the NATO occupation coalition. However, in April 2010, both leaders were exterminated because of the point-blank firing of the American artillery. An-Nasser Lidinilla Abu Suleiman was appointed the military minister of the ISIL and the successor of al-Masri. After that, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi strengthened the IS power (Hanna). As a social religious movement, the army of Islamists from the ISIS organization has blown up the Middle East and part of North Africa in a short time. They say that for them there are no authorities except Allah. They claim that the Quran and the laws of the Sharia are vigorously honored and state that they intend to unite all Muslims of the world (Kernan 25). However, they have no antinomies since the first whom they kill are Muslims that have other views and do not accept their extremist actions. The Islamic State erases borders, but not by force of convictions, but by arms. Moreover, the IS does not try to convince the West, but defies the entire world and carries the death.

The Rise of the Islamic State: Reasons and Factors

It is considered that one of the reasons for the emergence of the ISIS organization was the invasion of the United States and its allies in Iraq in 2003. Indeed, this destabilized the situation in the country, which entailed the activation of radical groups, but it is not worth to restrict causes only to this fact. The formation of ISIS was significantly affected by the Saddam’s regime in Iraq and the Assad regime in Syria. Hussein played a key role in the Arab nationalist party Baas, which seized power in 1968 because of a coup (Walsh). This party later began to adhere to extremely radical views and began to impose a war on Iran and jihad. Saddam Hussein initiated a campaign for the Islamic faith. Moreover, the well-known Sharia laws were introduced, which the IS emphasizes even now. As a result, it severed the hands of thieves, threw homosexuals off the roofs, beheaded prostitutes in squares, and built numerous mosques. The study of the Koran turned out to be the main focus of nations attention. It should be noted that almost all leaders of the Islamic State were former officers of the Saddam Hussein’s Iraqi army (Walsh). Thus, it is worth noting that the regime of Saddam Hussein really affected the emergence of the ISIL, however, it did not arise as opposition to it, but rather as the continuation of his regime. It is considered that the Assad regime in Syria also influenced the emergence of the Islamic State. However, this claim is not completely true. The idea of the IS formation was rather influenced by the Arab Spring, which soon turned into a civil war. The reason is also the authoritarian regime of Assad, which has in the recent years crashed and collapsed, and brought disputes between the Alawites and the Sunnis.

Apparently, the ISIS would have remained an ordinary Islamist extremist group, as hundreds other similar organizations that operate in the hot spots of the Middle East and North Africa at the bidding of the heart and on the money of foreign sponsors. However, after the worsening of the situation in Syria and Iraq in 2011, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi resolutely changed tactics, switched to self-financing, using looting, racketeering, taking hostages to obtain ransom, and others (Wood). The tactics justified themselves. The ISIS has attracted jihadists migrating to the Middle East, North, West and East Africa. Using the dissatisfaction of the Iraqi and subsequently the Syrian Sunnis with the existing government, the Islamic State instantly gained broad social support, especially among the poor Syrian-Iraqi Sunnis. The region controlled by the IS has been always characterized by populist activities, such as points for free distribution of medicines, sweets, and toys for children, food and water, appealing to millions of Sunnis. Moreover, strict measures have been put in place to combat crime during the war and chaos and to construct hospitals. Further, families of dead militants have received some benefits. It should be noted that the phenomenon of the Islamic State is a consequence of geopolitical realities in the rapidly changing Middle East. However, it is not a system or a pattern, but a sudden fact.

The most obvious reason for the emergence and development of ISIS as a social movement is the exacerbation of identity politics (Goldstone). In Iraq, the Sunnis, who had controlled the state apparatus for a long time, found themselves in the dominated Shiite majority. The Sunnis in Iraq were suppressed. In addition, the hyper-centralization policy of the former Iraqi Prime Minister, Nouri al-Maliki, forced them to look for an alternative, which was the best social ground for the IS (Hanna). Similar events took place in Syria, where the dictatorship of Assad excluded the democratic option of realizing the interests of the Sunnis. The IS also has a powerful ideological focus. The organization preaches and promotes exactly its religion and vision of the Arab world, faith in Allah, and other views. Since the ideology is peculiar to asocial group, the ISIS has united people who hold common ideas and views and are ready to fight for them. It follows that it is rather a social movement.

The Aims of the Islamic State

The aims of any organization show its position, direction, and social groups. Initially, the purpose of the ISIS was to create a theocratic Sunni Islamic State within the borders of Syria, Lebanon, Israel, Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Cyprus, and Egypt (Wood). The IS has the following aims that show that it is rather a social movement. Although the ideology of the organization is presented to the world community as the creation and development of the Islamic State based on Sharia law, it should be noted that this is used only as a means to gain recognition from people and other countries (Walsh). Its main visible goal is the formation of the order in Iraq and Syria based on the Sunni power and adversaries of the West and purging the region from other religious groups (Shiites, Christians, and Yazidis). At this point, the organization defends the strict Sharia law, supports separate education for men and women, requires females to wear traditional clothing, and prohibits music, smoking cigarettes, chewing gum, and so on (Goldstone). Therefore, the ISIS is not a common terroristic and extremist organization, it is a social or revolutionary movement that has own cultural, religious, political, and social aims.

It is believed that ISIS is the largest terrorist organization that bears chaos and destruction and wants to capture the whole world. However, this is not completely true. This radical movement wants respect and recognition globally. According to Professor Goldstone ISIS may use terror, profligately and horrifyingly, but it is not at heart of a terrorist organization. As a social and revolutionary movement, ISIS has its own leading party structure and own military organization (Goldstone). Thus, it is really a social movement that tries to establish its ideology in the whole Arab world. Moreover, the way of violence and force in the region is considered as a norm.


Various geopolitical, social and economic factors affected the formation of ISIS. This organization should be further explored, focusing specifically on the reasons, social and political factors that have contributed to its development to prevent the emergence of new ones. It should be noted that ISIS is not only an extremist and terrorist organization, but it is formed by social groups that have their own ideas and purposes. Thus, it can be considered a social movement because it consists of the Sunnis that want to bring social change and realize their religious, ideological, social and cultural aims.

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