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Middle East and Africa

How many competitors for a caliphate without frontiers

Salafism and violence. The ideal of an Islamic State divides the Jihadist movement in Syria. On the one hand, there are those who do not hesitate to use any kind of violence, even against Muslims, in order to establish such a State as soon as possible; on the other, there are those who believe that winning popular support is a priority.

For jihadis, the transnational community of Sunni Muslims who combine an exclusionary Islamic theology, known as Salafism, with rejectionist politics – the three-year-old war in Syria has so far been a mixed blessing. On the one hand the jihadi movement, or Jihadi-Salafism (al-salafiyya al-jihâdiyya), has benefited tremendously from the Syrian war. Jihadis have successfully opened a new front in the Arab Islamic heartlands, conquered new territories, and attracted thousands of new recruits, both Syrian and foreign. On the other hand their progress has been marred by political and ideological division, in some cases violent confrontation, and the infighting seems to spell lasting disunity for the movement.

 

 

The source of this disharmony is the so-called Islamic State of Iraq and Sham, a political grouping that claims, with all seriousness, to be an independent sovereign state in western Iraq and northern Syria. Until April 2013, when it announced its expansion into Syria, it was known as the Islamic State of Iraq, and few took it seriously. In the words of one jihadi author, until recently the Islamic State was ‘a mere joke’. Yet over the last year the joke transformed into a political ‘tsunami’, stunning those who had dismissed it as a ‘paper emirate’.[1]

 

 

Indeed, it is the Islamic State’s once derided claim to statehood that now forms the most significant point of contention in the highly divided jihadi movement. The division runs between those jihadis who accept and promote the Islamic State’s claim to statehood and those who reject it, regarding the Islamic State as merely one jihadi group among others. What makes the matter of statehood so controversial is that the Islamic State’s leadership has expansionary designs, posing as the core of a reborn caliphate.

 

 

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[1] Cf. ‘Abd Allâh Bin ‘Abd al-Rahmân al-Shinqîtî, Utsûnâmî al-dawla al-Islâmiyya fî-l-‘Irâq wa-l-Shâm, http://alplatformmedia.com/vb/showthread.php?t=34558.

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