26 November 2018
Throughout history, there have been a myriad of movements that have formed in order to spread whatever philosophy the group subscribed to. Among the many groups that have formed for this purpose, it is terrorist group that have had not only huge geopolitical impacts, but also a global one. The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is one of those groups. At its peak it was a force to be reckoned with and became a headache for the international community to deal with. Fortunately, it no long exerts the same authority as it did in its prime but it is still an excellent example in which to analyze the impact of movements. This paper will begin with a brief background on the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, then transition into using scholarly theories to analyze the causes, progression, outcomes of the group and end with a discussion on game theory and how it can help us understand ISIS.
The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria started out as a branch of Al-Qaeda. In fact, its original name was Al-Qaeda in Iraq. Its founder, Abu Musab al Zarqawi was of Jordanian descent and first started the group in 1999 but did not gain attention and influence until 2003 when Saddam Hussein was removed from power (Costa, 2016). In the power vacuum that Saddam Hussein left behind, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi’s Al-Qaeda in Iraq tried to create a war between Sunni minority and the Shia majority (Fishman,2008) in the country that ultimately failed.
After Musab al-Zarqawi died, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi became the leader of the organization. During the Syrian civil war, he saw an opportunity among the chaos to try and integrate other militia groups to his organization. Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi then took control of major cities like Mosul and Raqqa and declared a caliphate, an area ruled by a caliph, making himself the Caliph, which is a Muslim leader often regarded as the successor of the Prophet Muhammad. He was able to establish a semi functioning government inside territory (Front Matter, 2015) he took from Iraq and Syria while also leading a campaign of terror abroad. A notable feature of The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, other than the number of times it changed its name, is is use of the internet as a tool for their propaganda machine. With this, they were able to recruit a significant number of foreign fighters from western countries to come fight for them. However, after trying to fight on different fronts against the Kurds, the Iraqi army, and occasional ariel attacks by the United States, the territory they controlled eventually shrunk, but their influence in area can still be felt.
The first theory that will help in understanding the emergence of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria is the six steps to social movements as discussed by Neil Smelser. The first step is structural conduciveness, which describes the relationship members of the group have. In order to be a successful social movement, members of a group have to be able to communicate with each other and share a similar past that allows certain behaviors to be possible. In the case of ISIS, while most of the members spoke Arabic, there were a significant number members that came from the west and did not speak Arabic so there was tension there.
The next step occurs when generalized beliefs emerge. At this stage the members of the group begin to identify and understand what the problem is that has causes them hardship. In this case, The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria blamed Shiite Muslims for everything that went wrong along side spread of western ideas, which they saw as dangerous.
The third step is mobilization for action. Here, the idea is that when rewards becomes greater than the costs then action follows and people must become organized. For al-Baghdadi, the reward of establishing a caliphate in the modern era outweigh any cost that might have arose. He also used the goal of establishing a caliphate and the rewards its fights would receives to better organize and motivate people into action.
The fourth step is the social control, or the lack of it. In this step there is great emphasis on how the authorities react to the actions of the movement. The Iraq and Syrian government did not act properly in order to contain the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, this was due in large part because they lacked the adequate resources and because they were dealing with their own domestic issue.
The fifth step is precipitating factors, which are a series of events that set off a movements, like a spark lighting a fire. The spark that created ISIS into what it is today is the chaos that follows whenever a government falls or is undergoing war. This happened in Iraq during the United States occupation and the civil war in Syria. Another precipitating factor was the decline of Al-Qaeda. This allowed for ISIS to take up the mantle of destroyer of infidels once held by Al-Qaeda (Khatchadourian,2016).
The last factor is structural strain. This explains how inequality or injustices committed by society to the members in the group puts a strain on society. Consequently, this is used as a call to action for groups to come and right the supposed wrongs that were committed to them. Using all six factor, one can get a clear idea on how what factors led to the creation of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria.
Due to framework that was created by ISIS leaders being so strong, the progression their group experienced was only natural. To better understand the progression ISIS experienced, I will use Charles Dobson’s conditions and factions mentions in “Social Movements: A summary of what works”. There are three factors that are paramount to social movements; political opportunity, organizational capacity, and framing (Dobson,2001). Political opportunity refers to the ability for a social change to have political backing and platform to exercise its activities. Politics plays an essential role in the affairs and the running of the movement. Moreover, it gives the group a base of operation and advancement. Organizational capacity, on the other hand, grants the leaders and the followers a space to excise their roles and duties as a group. The ability to give the participants of the group the ability to steer the affairs the group ascertains how the group is run. Moreover, it helps the groups set out a vision and execute it through a mission. The framing ability has aspects of organization and consistency. It is what fuels the group to continue with its operations. These three factors give the group significance and appeal to the public.
Dobson goes on to write about the favorable pre-conditions that are essential to what works best for a social movement, if its members hope for it to be successful. Especially important to the case of ISIS are physical concentration, level of prior grassroots organization, and suddenly imposed grievances and dramatic spotlighting. In terms of physical concentration, the Middle East is already a compact space with an extremely large population that is highly concentrated in the area. With the citizens of surrounding countries in such close proximity to one another, this increases a need for social movements to occur and for activity to take place. With a prior grassroots organization, Al-Qaeda was the predecessor to what is known to be ISIS today. A lot of the foundation laid out by Al-Qaeda was picked up and continued or revised by ISIS, so already having a basic framework to utilize made it possible for them to create their own infrastructure that was steady enough to move on with (O’brien,2016). Lastly, by having dramatic spotlighting on ISIS-related attacks, with the way that technology is in terms of how the news is delivered, media is broadcast everywhere across the world; so when attackers see that their actions have created the fear they wish to instill, they gain this sense of gratification that their work is being done successfully and that the intended message of their group is being sent.
In regards to the outcome of this movement, using Dekmejian’s Political Physics theory (Dekmejian,2007), three outcomes that would be able to describe the contest of violence between ISIS and the West, specifically United States. The first outcome he describes being one party coming out as victorious with a solution that is forced upon the loser, by the winner.
The second possible outcome he talks about would lead to a resolution of the conflict if one of the parties decided to not pursue their first preferences, in order to make a joint agreement that satisfied them both , in order to try and coexist peacefully. This could be caused by circumstances that changed the pre-existing situation, other external pressures by fellow countries, its citizens, or governmental officials, or the increase cost of continuing to wage wart and engage in conflict.
The third potential outcome could result in the continuing of violence from both parties, if the parties involved were willing to keep up with the cost of conflict, and each side did not have the intention to give up on any possibility of victory, or the chance at being a dominant power and strengthening its power position before the pursuit of a solution that was mutually agreed upon through negotiation (Dekmejian 2007). Specifically, in the case of ISIS against the United States and the rest of the West, even though the West and its Middle Eastern allies are winning the fight against ISIS, they still have not defeated them completely to the point where ISIS is willing to accept any sort of solution the West might have. In terms of the second outcome, ISIS has no intention of settling any time soon to meet in the middle with other countries, and make amends or some type of peace agreement. Furthermore according to Donald M. Snow in “Case in International Relations”, ISIS cannot compromise or try to make peace with the West because doing so would hamper any credibility it had as caliphate (Snow, 2018) . In the United State perspectives, they will always see ISIS as a threat to stability in the Middle East, something many administration think key to national security, and basic human rights, so they see the need to make sure that ISIS no longer exists. It also seems highly unlikely that the Trump administration would accept any sort of peace agreement that did not involve ISIS’s complete destruction and surrender of its top leaders. Therefore, both the first and second outcome do not seem to be feasible in this case, and as a result, ISIS and the United States, or the West in general, are forced to continue this conflict, so as to avoid a complete loss as long as they can. While currently it looks like ISIS no longer poses any major threat to the West, it is not unlikely that the group could experience a sudden resurgence.
When trying to analyze ISIS in terms of game theory, using the prisoner’s dilemma is very useful. Below I have created a payoff structure that shows what could happen when both parties chose whether to fight or not along with a key that shows what each number means. The Nash equilibrium, which is the best outcome if both parties do not stray away from the agreed upon strategy, in this case is seen when both parties decide not to fight, which would mean they come to a negotiation. However, the only way that negotiation is possible is if both parties get new leaders who are more moderate than the ones they currently have.
ISIS Not Fight fight
no fight 2,2 10,0
fight 10,0 5,5,
10: Caliphate established 10: Destroy ISIS
5: Continue violence 5: Continue fighting
0: Be destroyed 2-negotiate
0: Lose to ISIS
In conclusion, while the ISIS is no longer as serious as a threat to the Middle East and the world as it was at its peak, it is still an excellent example in the study of how social movements are created, how they progress, and what their impact is.
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