Aleppo and ISIS’s State Ambitions: World Heritage on the Territorial Horizon (June 10, 2015)

An interesting piece on the territorial aspects of ISIS. I’ve been thinking a bit about this question, of a shift from ‘terrorist’ strategies to ‘territorial’ ones in relation to Boko Haram, and at a talk at Harvard in 2014 drew some parallels with ISIS/Islamic State. As yet I’ve not developed these further, but the Boko Haram article is available here and a short piece which hints at the parallels is here.


As others have noted, perhaps the most striking thing about the rise of ISIS (aka the Islamic State) is that it is fundamentally motivated by territorial, rather than merely terrorist ambitions. While Islamist groups such as Al-Qaeda have, as Stuart Elden has shown in his indispensable Terror and Territory: The Spatial Extent of Sovereignty,  always demonstrated sophisticated territorial strategies in linking specific operations with a larger thematics of an aggressive Caliphate (see especially chapter two), the Islamic State is remarkable in being singularly devoted to explicit state-construction in a militarily expanding zone. ISIS seems to me to be combining the expansive energies of conquest that we normally associate with empire with the efforts to stabilize and legitimize a territory that we associate with nation-building.

ISIS’s original name, as I have discussed here before,  strikingly reveals its territorial ambitions by localizing its proto-state in a space that defies the boundaries of…

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