The appeal of the Islamic State is not understood by many in the Western world and that has hampered the ability to fight it effectively. Thousands of young adults have flocked to the group and declared their allegiance in recent months. Few have gone there and returned. The inflow of jihadists to the Islamic State from around the world is unprecedented in its pace and volume. The Islamic State’s countless propaganda videos are online for anyone to access and view if they so desire.
The Islamic State considers itself to be a religious group with carefully considered beliefs. The Islamic State follows a distinctive variety of Islam that make it constitutionally incapable of certain types of change, even to ensure its own survival. They insist that they will not waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. The Islamic State has a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment. The Islamic State’s officials and supporters are articulate spokesmen who refer derisively to “moderns” in conversation.
The Islamic State requires territory to remain legitimate and a top-down structure to rule it. Control of territory is an essential precondition for the Islamic State’s authority in the eyes of its supporters. Last June, the group seized Mosul, Iraq after a sustained attack and already controls an area of the Middle East that is bigger than the United Kingdom. Its leaders currently wield absolute power over some 8 million people within its established borders. Where it holds power, the state collects taxes, regulates prices, operates courts, and administers services ranging from health care and education to telecommunications.
The Islamic State is committed to purifying the world by killing vast numbers of people. Social-media posts from the region suggest that individual executions happen more or less continually and mass executions occur every few weeks. The group has drawn many supporters from the disaffected populations of the Middle East and Europe. Until these populations are allowed to hold the same rights as other ethnic groups in their countries, ISIS will remain a desirable alternative to the oppression they face at home.