I can’t tell you how entertaining it is to watch most media outlets and government spokespersons try to talk about the “so called” Islamic State.
You may have noticed that many press releases and news articles concerning IS (The Islamic State) always refer to them as the “so called” Islamic State, or ‘the group known as” The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, or something along these lines. Odd how i never hear a news article refer to the “group known as Al-Qaeda (The base/foundation in Arabic)” or the “so called Taliban (Students in Pashto)”. Why don’t our rulers and media outlets doubt the truth of the Taliban actually being students or the legitimacy of Al-Qaeda as a foundation for.. something? Ah, Glad you asked.
You see, none of the states in the west, or the world really, ever deny they are states. Often fun names like ‘republics’ or ‘democratic states’ are used, but it’s open knowledge that these are just kinds of states.
What is a state? It’s a complex answer, but i’ll toss out a very simple definition: A state is an organization that commonly claims a monopoly over the administration of governance, adjudication, and most forms of violence within a specified territory, polity, or population. Its claims are backed up, in the end, by the use of violence to achieve and maintain these monopolies. Generally tribute payments or taxes are needed to keep this going in any complex and bureaucratic way. See my earlier post entitled “Dr. Pierre L. van den Berghe on the state” for a more blunt definition. See the Sociologist Max Weber’s definition for a more standard one.
Do all states that are commonly called states meet this criteria? Not always. Have states always had all these characteristics at the same time? No. But the point is the majority of magistrates that call themselves states today meet these requirements. The USA is a state. Russia is a state. Uruguay is a state. North Korea is a State. Israel is a state.The UK is a state. And the Islamic State… Is a State.
IS collects taxes, it redistributes wealth taken in taxes (or in state owned operations like oil fields or plunder), gives out food, and generally attempts to hold a monopoly on the things mentioned above. Why should we not admit it is a state? Ah, glad you asked.
The problem is, if we see all the awful things IS does as the behavior of a state, and at the same time recognizing that it has this power only through conquest, murder, and occupation we might more clearly see that our own ruling states operate in generally the same way. No state has ever come into existence because everyone signed some contract saying they wanted to be ruled by a minority of their ‘peers’. No social contract exists. No state comes into existence without conquest, violence, and permanent occupation. Just look at the creation of the modern state of Iraq. Hell, how did the U.S. come into existence?
No, The Islamic State may have scarier rhetoric and a more spectacular genesis than most recent states, but make no mistake, it’s a state. The question now is can it develop the mythology necessary for its subjugated populace to more or less accept it as credible, and can it create the most important hallmark of the modern state: a working bureaucracy.
“The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria has probably undergone the quickest transformation to statehood in modern history,” wrote Raed Omari, a Jordanian journalist, in an essay for the Saudi-owned Al Arabiya network. “In less than two months, it has gone from a militia to a self-proclaimed caliphate.”
The distinction between a terrorist group and a state seems like it should be obvious, but it’s not. As the sociologist Charles Tilly pointed out, “banditry, piracy, gangland rivalry, policing, and war making all belong on the same continuum.” Usually, bandits remain bandits and never manage to acquire the monopoly on force that defines a state.
But some groups do manage the transition, developing essential state institutions – like a tax system.”
The wiki on the history of ‘iraq’:
A quick wiki on Max Weber’s definition of the State: