Islamic State

Perspectives on Terrorism Releases New Issue on ISIS

By Cody M. Poplin
Thursday, August 6, 2015, 5:43 PM

The academic journal Perspectives on Terrorism has released its latest issue, which focuses on the rise of ISIS. With features from a host of jihadist and terrorism experts, including Lawfare contributor Aaron Zelin and Brookings fellows Charles Lister and J.M. Berger, the issue's fourteen articles promise to be excellent reading for those interested in the ongoing "intellectual catch-up effort" toward understanding the Islamic State, particularly its structure, religious ideology, and strategic and political goals. The full issue can be found here.

Below is an introduction to the issue from its editors, Thomas Hegghammer and James Forest.

This special double issue is devoted entirely to the so-called Islamic State (IS), presenting 14 research articles on various aspects of the organization, in addition to an extensive, specially compiled bibliography on IS. The articles are products of a conference on IS held in Oslo on 11-12 June 2015. The conference was organized by the Norwegian Defence Research Establishment (FFI) and funded by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and it brought together leading specialists on IS, jihadism, and civil war along with senior policymakers and government analysts from several countries.

The motivation for the conference – and for this special issue – was that our understanding of IS is lagging behind the group’s battlefield advances. After a wave of studies on al-Qaida in Iraq in the mid-2000s, the academic community largely dropped the ball on the group’s later incarnations ISI and ISIS until it burst onto the global stage last summer with the capture of Mosul. The past year has seen a substantial intellectual catch-up effort, not unlike that mounted for al-Qaida in the early 2000s, but we still have a long way to go.

The articles cover a broad range of topics and questions pertaining to IS as an organization. All of the articles were completed in July 2015 and are therefore unusually up-to-date as far as academic publishing goes.

The issue opens with two articles (by Charles Lister and Thomas Hegghammer/Petter Nesser) that address two of the most pressing questions today, namely, how is the military campaign against IS going, and how much of a terrorist threat to the West does IS pose?

The following three papers place IS in a historical and comparative perspective. Brynjar Lia looks at IS as the latest in a decades-long series of jihadi state-building efforts, Stathis Kalyvas asks what the comparative study of rebel groups of can tell us about IS, while Truls Tønnessen examines the relationship between IS and its historical predecessors.

We then move on to ideology and propaganda with J.M. Berger’s article on social media and millenarian beliefs, Iain Edgar’s study of the night dreams of IS fighters, Aaron Zelin’s analysis of one week of IS propaganda, and Joas Wagemaker’s study of the concept of bay’a (allegiance) in IS’s ideology.

The next three articles are concerned with how IS operates. Scott Gates and Sukanya Podder ask how IS deals with the organizational challenges that come with having many foreign fighters, Aymenn al-Tamimi presents a detailed analysis of the IS administration and bureaucracy, and Kirk Sowell takes a detailed look at IS’s military and political operations in Ramadi and Fallujah.

The last two articles speak to the question of whether containment is a viable alternative strategy against IS. Jamie Hansen-Lewis and Jacob Shapiro evaluates the long-term sustainability of the IS economy, while Clint Watts evaluates and pros and cons of a strict containment approach.

The final item in this issue is a comprehensive bibliography of IS compiled by Judith Tinnes. We are confident that these contributions will be of interest and use to scholars and policymakers seeking to understand the Islamic State.