Is Islamic State an alternative statehood?
The Russian Council on International Affairs (INF), together with the IDC ‘Valdai’ presented the latest analytical developments of the situation in the Middle East, including the Valdai note ‘ISIS: the alternative of the statehood?’ The author of the note, Vasily Kuznetsov, head of the Center for Arab and Islamic Studies at the Institute of Oriental Studies of the RAS, studies the project of statehood offered by ISIS and analyzed its possible effectiveness in a settlement of the key problems of development in the Middle East and North African countries.
The idea that the nation state as such, and the nation state in the Middle East, in particular, is experiencing some crisis, this thesis has been widespread over the last year. According to Kuznetsov, there are three options for a way out.
First. Either the crisis will be overcome and we will update the social contract between society and the authorities in reconstructed, modernized or in archaic form.
Second. There is a complete absence of any government, whatever it may be, national or not national. In general, this is quite possible for those geographic areas that do not need to integrate into global politics.
Third. There is the variant of an alternative statehood. Is it possible to have any other model of statehood for the region, and is it possible in principle?
“Over the last century an alternative model of statehood has been proposed several times in the Middle East. But as far as I remember, it has never gone beyond pure theory. I think this is due to two major problems. The first problem is the problem of the interpretation of the text of what they actually offer. Of course, in many ways, it is a problem of translation, and this paper, which is presented, is an attempt to translate. It seems to me that it would be logical to identify the main categories around which the ‘Islamic State’ project is promoted,” Kuznetsov says.
He points out that the ideologues of Islamic State, the ideology of Islamism in reality, in general are facing a particular society, partly modernized, which is experiencing very versatile problems. There are several such problems, in Kuznetsov’s opinion.
The first problem is the absence of a formed idea of nationhood in the region. The fact that this idea was not formed has led to a constant deficit of legitimacy of the state. States that existed there were never perceived as completely natural, and in the 20th century there were many union-separation projects, and so on and so forth, in the region. The idea that there would be no Iraq, no Syria, that there would be a number of other states, it does not seem so radical, even for this region. Accordingly, unformed and imperfect nation-building leads to the appearance of other identities, more archaic ones.
The second problem is that the societies are very fragmented, and it turns out that they are in the process of becoming even more fragmented.
The third problem is the problem of institutions that are not developed, that are unbalanced. Objectively, ISIS is pretty popular in the region. It is popular for various reasons, and many different authors spoke about those reasons. It seems to me, I always remember a phrase said to me by a young man sympathizing with this structure, who told me that here "you can find freedom and justice." The fact that what appears to be a search for freedom and justice is a search for some marginal foundations of being, the ultimate meaning. This is only possible for a period of expansion during a war, when the state itself is not necessary, when everything is replaced by jihad, when everything is replaced by some expectations. And when the war is over, then this structure, assuming that it will exist, will need to perform the same functions that were ineffectively implemented by the existing national states. And when it would have to perform the same function, of course, it would be equally ineffective,” Kuznetsov says.
According to him, the model that is offered by ISIS is not realizable and does not allow the problems of the region to be solved.