This uncertainty raises questions such as whether ISIS can have the upper hand and build a caliphate on large territories? Before ISIS, terrorism was seen internationally as a danger, but it was clear that the likelihood of the terrorists ever “winning” was fairly remote. Even Al-Qaeda, had it ever decided to go ahead and claim state power, was hardly capable of destroying an actual state. The Islamic State claims to have such power.
ISIS, aka the Caliphate, is allegedly a state based on archaic principles and an extremely rigorous interpretation of the Quran. In terms of communications ISIS is undeniably a modern and viable state. But what will ISIS do if it ends up possessing weapons of mass destruction? Will that mean an immediate outbreak of a nuclear or chemical war? Is it possible to talk with ISIS? Is a compromise possible? Or, are those right who say that ISIS leaders, based on their tenets, are not willing to start any negotiations until the enemy surrenders, and that ISIS can only talk down to other communities? What happens if all the Muslims in the world swear their allegiance to the caliph, as required by ISIS, and start following his orders? What will the authorities do if a substantial portion of citizens become part of another jurisdiction?
Clearly, it’s imperative to look for answers to these questions: Above all, because ISIS is the most important and most dangerous temptation of modern times. George Orwell wrote about an ungodly charm of fascism in his times, and recently deceased Umberto Eco spoke about the routine nature and certain naturalness of fascism. ISIS is comparable to fascism as a social and political structure, if only because humankind tends to fall for something similar to fascism, to build a system which allows people to simplify the process of humans understanding other humans and the nature of social relations. Such an authority allows and encourages individuals to renounce personal responsibility for their own destiny and to surrender to those who are superior to them hierarchically, and also to have a burning hatred toward everyone who is different.
The human masses, a nervous and mental reflection and money gave rise to an explosive mix that is the Islamic State.
Why is it that such a seemingly archaic totalitarian entity is experiencing a rise, why has it become so attractive for tens of millions of people, including educated people from developed nations?
In fact, several circumstances have come together: First, the transformation of the Islamic world per se; second, the transition of the world into a post-industrial, post-modern stage; and, third, new communication technology.
The transformation of the Islamic world took place following the destruction of the traditional and, until recently, patriarchal society. As a result, millions of young people without proper self-identity found themselves amid an unfamiliar world of modern urban civilization, thus becoming readily available fodder for radical and extremist movements that are set on destroying the existing world in order to build an alternative new world. That was how the Red Guard units were formed in Russia, or the Red Guards in China, and now ISIS units.
When millions of confused people who are unaware of social reality are drawn into politics, a fiery mass takes shape that falls in love with its leaders and is passionately willing to die for them. This is the root of real totalitarianism, of which ISIS, clearly, is an embodiment.
Of course, fearless but uneducated fanatics are not enough to take the movement to success. An intellectual stratum is needed, which does exist in today's Islamic world. It includes graduates of Sorbonne, who returned to their home countries in the Middle East only to find that they had very few prospects for upward mobility, that the hierarchy is strong and rigid, and they have no other choice but to build a world of their own.
Finally, every endeavour needs money. By virtue of their origin, a substantial portion of capital owners let themselves be talked into supporting a good cause – the just fight – very easily.
These three factors – the human masses, nervous and mental reflection, and money – gave rise to an explosive mix, which, in social, intellectual and financial terms, undermines the current Islamic world and created the dangerous chimera known as the Islamic State. In fact, these same factors eventually destroyed the Russian, the Austro-Hungarian and the German empires and Spain as well. These destroyed states spawned entities of varying degrees of monstrosity, such as Hitler's fascism, Stalin’s Bolshevism, Francoism and so on.
Thus, the traditional Islamic world, with all its mechanisms for the socialization of man, collapsed. At the same time, there emerged large numbers of intellectually developed individuals whose job was to explain a strange world order: the Middle Eastern Muslims do have resources and money, but don’t have any international influence or authority. What needs to be done? How can it be done? There were many answers, but the most enticing was the radical and fair transformation of the world based on an extremely straightforward interpretation of Islam.
Those without elementary information management skills found themselves lost in the modern world. It would be overly simplistic to interpret today’s events through a traditional lens. Indeed, common factors of social revolution aimed at radical renewal of the elite do work, but the circumstances are different. Two new elements are evident. The first is a post-industrial society meaning that the system of social and economic success is significantly different than what it was even 50 years ago. It has played a bad joke on societies that had no experience with industrial labor that was based on a relatively low rate of return, or the history of business that was characteristic of Western Europe, the United States and, to a lesser extent, Russia. The rest of the world didn’t have that experience of labor and development that was full of deprivation. The Asians – the Chinese, Japanese and primarily Koreans – dealt with the challenges more successfully and efficiently. Due to a number of reasons and a confluence of historical events, today these civilizations have more or less successfully integrated into the course of universal sustainable development.
But things have turned out differently for the peoples of the Middle East and Central Asia. The skills covering the management of productive labor and creating businesses based on mutual benefit were clearly not enough for a relatively smooth transformation in these regions. Perhaps, it is for these reasons that ISIS is expanding in such an archaic (on the face of it) manner. The rejection of modernity with all its successes was so strong that – in ideological terms – the issue is not about capturing modern technical knowledge (as was the case with the Bolsheviks and the Nazis) but about ruthlessly leveling the world according to rigorously interpreted Islamic rules, according to which the world is faced with an inevitable and ultimate death.
Finally, there’s a factor that is also associated with post-industrial society – innovative communications. This may have played a fatal part. It's not just about the ability to easily disseminate just about any content around the world, or that ISIS is creating viral self-promotional content or that the advertising of its acts of violence was a stroke of genius.
The scope of pervasive communication was so great that those without at least a primitive knowledge of how to deal with information found themselves lost in the modern world. The lack of knowledge of foreign languages, poor vocabulary and the primitive education of ordinary people look pathetic against the backdrop of the wealth of online knowledge.
Innovative communications have led many individuals to fall into regression due to an abundant supply of knowledge. Since they are unable to take in that much knowledge, they have to deny it and, consciously or unconsciously, roll back to their simplified and comprehensible information and teachings. In other words, the abundance of communication alternatives isn’t helpful in understanding the world. On the contrary, it precludes taking into account any complex aspects of reality. In addition, the abundance of communications, as it turns out, only exacerbates a weak mind’s craving for submission, trusting the authorities, non-critical acceptance of information from a person above them in a hierarchy.
Hence, another consequence, which is the oversimplified self-identity or malignant infantilism, where people tend to become dangerously simplistic, such as the primitive understanding of religion or aggressive rejection of any kind of doubt that could jeopardize the fragile integrity of an individual.
Ironically, the enlightened world also lives in a kind of illusion. Countless articles about ISIS or the New Caliphate tell little about what it is actually. Meanwhile, it is an amazing thing. The New Caliphate headed by the Eighth Caliph al-Baghdadi is a real state with provinces, police, medicine and education. More importantly, this state was allegedly formed under the precepts of the Prophet. So, a thief is supposed to be punished by having a hand chopped off. For example, a Muslim can live next to Christians, provided they recognize Muslim domination and pay special taxes. All the world's Muslims must swear allegiance to the caliph. Muslims can only live when they are loyal to the caliph. This is why ISIS’ main enemy today is not Christianity. ISIS masterminds like to say that the New Caliphate is reviving the true Islam. According to them, the true caliphs didn’t exist even in the Ottoman Empire. Only Al-Baghdadi is the true caliph according to the precepts of Islam as they interpret it. Clearly, the current Islamic states are the most important enemies of ISIS, and the main battle has taken place within the Islamic world so far. When it's over (assuming ISIS is victorious, of course), will the question arise as to whether ISIS or something totalitarian like it is the main alternative to existing world order in general?
In recent years, much has been said about possible alternatives to human evolution, its organization, or new forms of global coexistence. Alas, too little attention is being paid to ISIS, its content and structure. As a matter of fact, the already existing, successful and dangerous alternative is right before us. It is important to understand why this alternative appeals to so many people who are ready to die for it.
The dreadful side of the ISIS phenomenon is that for vast numbers of people, not necessarily Muslims, it is the most appealing temptation of the 21st century totalitarian society.