Monroe Blog 3: IS – a Case Study

Sometimes, I become convinced that the world is a truly scary place. The fighting throughout Ukraine and the political maneuvering of Putin shocked and frightened me. The craters appearing in Siberia – which many suggest could be a global warming time bomb we are growing ever-closer to detonating – worried me.


But the media coverage of IS – the Islamic State, formerly known as ISIS or ISIL – has absolutely chilled me. The men, all clad in black, proudly cheering on their sons as they denounce the West. The accounts of soldiers dropping their weapons and joining the oncoming army. The aim of establishing a new caliphate, a state governed exclusively by Sharia law.


It reads like something out of a nightmare – or a superhero movie, before said superhero gets around to winning.


There’s no superhero in the Middle East, and no easy way out of the current situation with the IS. The organization represents years of built-up anger against a government that had repressed their people and their religion, and an extremist view of centuries of conflict between Sunni and Shia Muslim.


I chose to examine IS not because of a particular relevance to my theory or my understanding of what causes radicalization, but rather, because I was fascinated and horrified by the accounts I had seen and read in the news. I wanted to learn more about how the case related to my understanding of extremism, and wanted to know more about IS and its implications for US foreign policy.


As I delved deeper into the case, I immediately found striking relations between the case and my understanding of the factors contributing to radicalization.


IS is comprised primarily of Sunni Muslims, a minority sect in Iraq that had been marginalized following the collapse of Sadaam Hussein’s regime in 2003. Following that collapse, the government had all but systematically denied rights and avenues for political participation to its Sunni population.


Further, as the country continued to spiral further out of control – as Maliki’s supporters slowly shifted away from his rule, and the government struggled to retain legitimacy – loyal fighters for the Iraqi government were seen publicly defecting, in many cases simply dropping weapons or disappearing as the IS approached. These fighters, aware that the government could no longer protect them from the oncoming army, rationally understood that their best chances at avoiding the costs of fighting the notoriously ruthless IS – and at gaining the benefits of association with the IS – could only be achieved through joining the IS and defecting from allegiance to their government.


I am deeply fascinated to see the theory at play in this case, especially given that IS is not necessarily a typical example of a terrorist organization. In recent months particularly, they have become much more similar to an army – albeit an extremely violent one, with especially radical goals.


I look forward to discussing in greater detail the theory and my case studies as I grow closer to school and to the summer research showcase! My final blog will touch on my original plans regarding quantitative analysis and a second case study, as well as the lessons I have learned throughout this process. Excited for the fall!