Holger Mölder (Tallinn University of Technology, Estonia) “The Narrative of Islamic State and the Lemmas of Middle Eastern Security Environment”


The emergence of the Islamic State (IS) in the Middle Eastern regional security environment had a significant impact on the global international system. The creation narrative of the Islamic State is based on the legacy of the (Islamic) Caliphate established in the 7th century. The Islamic State considers itself as the true successor of the Caliphate that was abandoned in 1925 when Hussein bin Ali, the Mecca Sharif, renounced his title after the Nejd invasion to Hejas and the latter was incorporated into the domain of Saudi dynasty of Nejd, which soon developed into Saudi Arabia. The Sunni tradition has been non-hierarchical as it does not draw clear lineages to the legacy of Prophet Muhammad and any representative of Islamic community (Ummah) can pretend to the throne of Caliph.

The Islamic State is a new type of international actor, which shows neither a traditional model of modern state nor a typical terrorist network with restricted political goals. Based on the historical narrative of the Caliphate, it claims authority over the entire Islamic world, and through its affiliated organizations, IS controls territories in the Middle East and North Africa. The emergence of a new type of actor makes the political situation in the Middle East more complicated. The Islamic State carries out several functions by which it can be described as an independent territorial unit – a state, which makes it different from many other terrorist or extremist networks which do not aim to change the existing system of nation-states in the region. However, the Islamic State does not follow the norms of the international system, and any other state will hardly ever recognize them as a part of international system capable of any kind of relations other than war. Also, the ambition of the Islamic State is to spread to the territories of other states and to change the political landscape of the region.

After the Second World War the development of Middle-Eastern political environment was similar to processes in Europe in the 19th century. The rise of secular Arab nationalism and trends of Arab unification were political processes that characterized the period. The Cold War system started with the Arab and Israeli confrontation, where the former intended to attract the Soviet Union and the latter leaned with the United States, which became a major ally of Israel. The big change occurred in 1979, when the religious Islamic identity gradually started to replace the national identity in the Arab societies. Two major events supported this trend: First the Islamic revolution of Iran, which promoted the Shia consolidation, and the Afghanistan war, which fostered the Sunni consolidation. A credible solution for the Israel-Palestine dispute is still missing. Despite the prosperous start in the 1990s, the Oslo Peace Process finds itself in a stalemate, which has also strengthened the positions of Islamic extremists

The involvement of the international community in the crisis in the Middle East even fostered the whole process of identity transition. The current spread of Islamic extremism is not so much the result of Western-Islamic civilizational enmity but rather the outcome of local ethnic and religious rivalries in which external powers intervened. There are several ongoing strategic games in the region involving Israel, Turkey, Iran, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and all are interested in the status of regional power. Russia, the United States, France, the United Kingdom, and other external powers have also intervened in the crisis by supporting different parties of the conflict, which makes finding a roadmap to peace extremely difficult. Therefore, the Middle Eastern security environment contains several unsolved lemmas that make it possible for the Islamic State to claim its legacy.