As politicians throughout the West debate what to do about the rapidly increasing threat of ISIS, I wonder how much we in the West actually understand about the intellectual underpinnings of the movement. Here are several articles I found helpful in sorting some of this out.
First, ISIS is driven by Islamic eschatology--an especially virulent apocalyptic eschatology. As one writer points out . . .
Many Shi'ites from Lebanon, Iraq and Iran are drawn to the war because they believe it paves the way for the return of Imam Mahdi - a descendent of the Prophet who vanished 1,000 years ago and who will re-emerge at a time of war to establish global Islamic rule before the end of the world.
According to Shi'ite tradition, an early sign of his return came with the 1979 Iranian revolution, which set up an Islamic state to provide fighters for an army led by the Mahdi to wage war in Syria after sweeping through the Middle East.
"This Islamic Revolution, based on the narratives that we have received from the prophet and imams, is the prelude to the appearance of the Mahdi," Iranian cleric and parliamentarian Ruhollah Hosseinian said last year.
The entire article can be found here: The Role of Islamic Eschatology in ISIS
A second factor driving the movement is a new and dangerous combination of eschatological, political, and terrorist ideologies, making the movement difficult to assess even by the jihadists themselves. (Apocalyptic, Political, or Just Plain Terrorists?)
So what is Isis essentially – violent millenarian cult, totalitarian state, terrorist network or criminal cartel? The answer is that it is none of these and all of them. Far from being a reversion to anything in the past, Isis is something new – a modern version of barbarism that has emerged in states that have been shattered by western intervention. But its influence is unlikely to be confined to Syria and Iraq.
Finally, the jihadist movement in Iraq/Syria is beginning to fracture and a "civil war within a civil war" seems to breaking out among jihadists. (A Civil War Within a Civil War?)
Islamic militants who poured into the embattled nation to help the Free Syrian Army in its bid to topple dictator Bashar Assad are now fighting Assad, the rebels and each other in a barbaric free-for-all. At the center is the split between Al Qaeda’s regional affiliate, Jabhat al-Nusra, and the newly emerged Islamic State, which are fighting each other on the battlefield and in the war for recruits to the cause of Islamic terrorism.
“The two groups are now in an open war for supremacy of the global jihadist movement,” according to Middle East scholar Aaron Zelin in a research paper published by the Washington Institute for Near East Policy, a U.S.-based think tank.
Throw in the jihadist-led insurgency in neighboring Iraq, which has become intertwined in the insurrection in Syria, and the shifting alliances are becoming for many even harder to understand.