CRF Blog

Isis and what it means to be modern

by Bill Hayes

In Isis and what it means to be modern for BBC News Magazine, John Gray argues that although ISIS portrays itself as returning to medieval ways, it actually is quite modern.

When you see the leader of Isis, Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi, in Mosul announcing the creation of a caliphate — an Islamic state ruled by a religious leader — it’s easy to think that what you’re watching is a march back into the past. The horrifying savagery with which the jihadist organisation treats anyone that stands in its way seems to come from a bygone era. The fact that Isis — the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant, which has now changed its name to the Islamic State — claims that it wants to restore an early type of Islam, leads many of us to see it as trying to bring about a reversion to mediaeval values.

To my mind, this gives too much credence to the way Isis views itself. There’s actually little in common between the horribly repressive regime it has established in parts of Iraq and Syria and the subtle Islamic states of mediaeval times, which in Spain, for example, exercised a degree of tolerance at a time when the rest of Europe was wracked by persecution. Destroying ancient shrines and mosques, Isis is trying to eradicate every trace of Islamic tradition. It’s probably even more oppressive than the Taliban were in Afghanistan. In power, Isis resembles a 20th Century totalitarian state more than any type of traditional rule.

Surprising as it may sound, Isis is in many respects thoroughly modern. Like al-Qaeda before them, these jihadists have organised themselves as a highly efficient company. [more]