Beyond the clichés that portray the Islamic State as simply a barbaric and fanatical occupation force shot up with petrodollars from smuggling, we cannot grasp it in its reality without considering its full dimension as a social project...
Beyond the clichés that portray the Islamic State (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria, or Levant, ISIL or IS in abbreviation) as simply a barbaric and fanatical occupation force shot up with petrodollars from smuggling, we cannot grasp it in its reality without considering its full dimension as a social project: i.e. the rehabilitation of the State and a community of adherence, which is moreover a supranational pretension. Behind this ideological veneer of improving the (religious) morals in society, the social project of the IS is of course simply a bourgeois and capitalist one, and it is set up through intensive military and police terror. However, what is said about this in the West exclusively focuses on the aspects of conquest and repression (although there’s nothing very original about these features, it must be said) and systematically hides the fact that the restoration of law and order imposed by it is also a source of adherence for populations living for decades in this “cobweb”, in this war like chaos; populations which are subjected to the racketeering of various factions and tribes vying each other for the dividends of trade war and corruption, under the bombing of various coalitions and the terrorism of the international gendarme States engaged in the region.
The strategy of social destabilization and terror (abductions, disappearances and assassinations…), based on an exemplary intelligence work (informers, infiltration, religious agencies…), implemented by IS in areas it wants to take control of with a minimum of forces involved, is only a stage of its expansion and strengthening (the control of strategic checkpoints, elimination of local authorities which don’t swear allegiance to it, control of market flows, taxes levying). After the conquest and brutal reprisals against the factions restive to the new power, the IS attends to stabilize the situation through political and commercial agreements with regional authorities and tribes, while accompanying the restoration of law and order with the reopening of socially useful infrastructures (health care, transport, education…), judicial institutions responsible for a form of “social harmony” (in order to maintain private property, business and the State of course), and finally while ensuring a regular supplying of basic foods while controlling their prices – by drastic repression of speculation, black market, etc. – which is a guarantee of social peace. The fact that its troops are regularly paid (and above the average of other armies, even if wages paid by the IS have been decreased following the coalition’s attacks on its financial resources) also prevents looting and popular hostility that goes with them. There is a disturbing parallel with the practices of overall (military and civilian) counterinsurgency developed by colonizing and gendarme States.
Videos of terror scenes issued by the IS or assigned to it are constantly broadcast on the Western media (spectacular executions and atrocities, no less horrific than those practiced, for example, by the great Saudi Arabia) whereas they represent only 2% of their production of images, the rest being devoted to their acts of war (50%) but also to reconstruction and social life. Similarly, the propaganda only talks about the recruitment of foreign fighters, whilst ignoring the constant international call for candidates for immigration to settle in, to start a family, especially if (male) candidates have valuable skills in order to support social development (doctors, teachers…) or to contribute to key economic sectors (IT workers, engineers…). The issue – well understood by the leaders and cadres of the IS – is to strengthen an economy that is not only a warlike one, ensuring regular exports (one always talks about oil but the IS also exports cereals, cotton, phosphate, cement, etc.) as well as being supported by domestic consumption. Once again the language is not neutral, and regarding the IS it would be advisable to consider the trade of raw materials as “trafficking”, “smuggling” and “plundering of resources” (on an equal footing as the resale of antiquities, short-term windfall) and corporate tax as “racket” and “extortion of money” (whereas elsewhere big companies pay relatively little taxes, receive many public “incentives” and juggle with the tax system and tax evasion).
Finally, while the West sells and praises an “emancipation of women” fully compliant with the market society, it’s easy for the IS to oppose the revolutionary role of woman in its project, as a “respected” housewife and a mother enjoying special allowances and whose crucial role is to populate the Caliphate.
It’s definitely this social dimension that the other States have to misrepresent at all costs because the program of the “enemy” can be nothing like theirs, especially if it intends to apply it with more verve and conviction. Similarly, the religious orthodoxy claimed by the IS, which is in opposition to the West as well as to other practices of Islam rejected as corrupt ones, is useful to all protagonists in order to maintain their “differences”; and the same goes with the rejection displayed by the IS towards nationalism and “democracy”, attributed to Western ideology.
Of course, between the program and its implementation, between public morality designs and the more prosaic reality of the community of money and all the State apparatus, between the community of believers and the reality of classes, between the Quran and the Stock Exchange prices, there is something like a slight hiatus that the IS, like any State, will not be able to fill by magic. It is also unclear what future both coalitions that officially joined battle with the IS have reserved for it, despite the usefulness of the IS from a bourgeois point of view (counterinsurgency interest but also for necessary remodeling of old borders and forcing the homogenization of the population), because that’s the way of the crooked vagaries of bourgeois geopolitics. There is the motley Arab-Western coalition of 22 countries (which aims rather to get rid of Bashar al-Assad) and at the same time the coalition of Russia, Iran and the Syrian regime of Bashar al-Assad, associated with Israel (sworn enemy of Iran…) and Jordan (both allies of the United States…), aiming rather to secure Southern Syria and to maintain the regime in Damascus. You might as well say that each ally is in conflict with another and that none of the Gulf countries do want to send troops on the ground, which would involve them too much in their contradictions, between each other as well as towards the IS.
Moreover, it’s easy for Russia to boast that it and its allies are the only ones to respect the international law in accordance with the UN resolutions, binding any intervention to a request of the Syrian regime. “We intervene against the crisis in Syria, not against the regime”, said president Putin, while mentioning in support of this the disastrous effects of “regime changes” by force of foreign arms as in Iraq and Libya, more besides the UN mandates that served as an alibi. Note that Israel had previously supported the anti-Assad option and the “Free Syrian Army” and several sources points out that Israel continues to quietly support the fighters of the Al Nosra Front, logistically and by welcoming wounded fighters. Ultimately, at the pace of death falling from the sky, of crossfire, of selective ceasefires which are observed by none of the belligerents who each refuse to take responsibility, it makes you wonder who knows yet apart undoubtedly some headquarters who bombs who in this bloody mess…
The social question also invites itself in this process, and we know that the information on this are even more incomplete and filtered (by all sides) than military information. In November 2015, the people of Manbij in the Aleppo province expressed their anger in the streets to protest against the obligations imposed by the IS and especially the forced recruitment and the sending to the front of young men many of whom didn’t come back. In early March 2016 in Raqqa, a city on the Euphrates in Northern Syria, which was proclaimed the capital of the IS (and that the Syrian army tried unsuccessfully to recapture since 2013), around 200 militiamen enlisted under the flag of the IS mutinied and defected to “the population’s side”, helping them to recapture several neighborhoods of the city. Street clashes took place between the residents and the jihadists of the IS. The media (which, as the State detests “vacuum”) presents them of course as supporters of the regime of Bashar al-Assad waving the Syrian flag, but it is likely that some of these unrests and movements do not side so easily with the Syrian nationalist camp.
Whatever may happen during this year 2016 – which is probably decisive for the project of the IS – it seems pretty clear that its attractiveness (especially in the area under its control in Iraq), its influence, the dynamics of allegiance it creates in the international jihadism (among others: terrorist cells but also real armies with ambitions for a Caliphate, as in Libya notably) would not be annihilated at all by the dismantling of its territorial base in the Middle East. On the contrary perhaps, above all for the populations who would as a result come back under the Syrian and Iraqi yoke at the price of another good layer of Statist massacres and revenges (for having “supported” the IS, having fought voluntarily or involuntarily under its flag or simply having lived there) and, internationally, through the story of this collective martyrdom to take a revenge on, through the torch of the IS to take up.
Source in French: http://gci-icg.org/french/communisme67.pdf (pages 44 and 45)