Over the past three decades, Prof. Vladimir Chukov, a fluent Arabic speaker, has been exploring the Middle East problems including religious radicalism and terrorism. His latest book entitled “DAESH, a (Non)-Islamic state” reflects, first and foremost, the perceptions and the evaluation of a researcher whose country is located in the immediate vicinity of the Syrian and Iraqi territories that have been occupied by the terrorist organization. It has been the author’s objective in this 400 page book based mostly on Arab sources, to outline the main reasons behind the rise of this proto-government formation, as well as to highlight the various factors that have contributed to it. While searching for comprehensive answers to his questions, the author has managed to penetrate deeply into the very composition of the local societies – both into the confessional and the tribal aspect, as well as into the component elements of this quasi-government entity that has been set up by the terrorist organization. The book traces back the development of DAESH in terms of the evolutionary relation between the initial mafia gang, the local powerful militias, and the proto-government formation.
The research is conducted on several levels and each level employs more than one methodological approach. It is only logical that the chronological approach is supposed to attach some logic and clarity to the perception of the complex and often contradictory empirical information. At the same time, it is the SWOT analysis that helps it penetrate deeply into the labyrinth of Salafism as a pan-Islamic tendency and, more particularly, into the specificity of its Iraqi variety. The book schematizes the parameters of the anger experienced by the Syrian and Iraqi Sunnis. It also advances the thesis that the centuries-long dream of the Middle East Sunni Arabs to set up a state by the name of Sunnistan, which will be a successor to the Ottoman Empire, has been the driving force behind the permanent dissatisfaction of the adherents of this confession and all possible factions that have been opposing it. Particularly important are the typical characteristics of the Syrian shiitization policy (which has been different under Hafez al-Assad and Bashar al-Assad) that has long been feeding the dissatisfaction of the indigenous Sunnis. In addition, confessionalism is the instrument that has been defining the policy of the two former colonial powers, Great Britain and France, aimed at showing favoritism towards the local minority in order to be able to govern more easily the entire society. This has left a serious imprint upon the formation of the statehood in Syria and Iraq especially after the negotiation of the Sykes–Picot Agreement in 1906. Later on, this agreement turned into a prerequisite for the formation of one of the main components of the statehood in the Middle East, i.e. the formation of the individual nations.
Secondly, this book is really a dissection of the development processes within the terrorist organization which incorporate the most relevant details, such as the tribalistic, social, and regional genesis, the military experience, along with the legacy of the former Saddam army, the pretensions to having Sharia legitimacy, and the domestic structure of governance combining the medieval traditions and today’ challenges. The principal idea is that the ISIS military success has been mostly due to this organization’s ability to win over a large number of Saddam Hussein’s military men who are now seeking revenge, well motivated and much better financed. We could even say that the processes involving the formation of the terrorist organization are fairly interesting as the military have been trying to attract the theologians rather than vice versa. This demonstrates the main difference with Al Qaeda. Because ISIS is both a military and political project, while Al Qaeda is primarily a religious one.
An important aspect of this study involves the highlighting of the so called ISIS-2, meaning the satellite Islamist militias. In actual fact, these militias have not been fighting formally by flying the black flags of the “caliphate”; however, their modus operandi transforms them on the battlefield into a significant ISIS ally. An important element of this analysis focuses on the examination of the individual component elements of the proto-government foundation, as well as of the system via which they actually function on the basis of the armed forces, the police, the prison system, the judiciary, education, and the economy. The imaginary statist matrix that was worked out by the Islamist theorists as early as the beginning of the 21st century, is personified, to a certain extent, by the so called “caliphate” which was proclaimed in July, 2014, in Mosul. This matrix specifies the differences between the European and the Islamic interpretation of “a state” and “a law”. In actual fact, this study has made an attempt to adhere to the principles of the European perception of the political system, namely the selection and the characteristic features of the three component elements of this system: the institutional, the legislative, and the functional component. This makes the European interpretation of the complex empirical information much easier.
Thirdly, an important component element of this study is the search for Sharia legitimacy of the large-scale public discussion provoked by the theologians about the ISIS status, about its “caliph” and the “caliphate” in general. The book provides detailed personal information not only about the terrorist leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, but also about the blackmailing that ISIS has been using to make the Saudi preachers side with it. Particularly important is the dissection made of the works of the ISIS ideologists – Hilmi Hisham and Abu Muslim al-Masri. The study has also examined the treatises of the former “Chief Mufti” and ISIS apologist, Turki al-Bin’ali, and offers a description of the ideological precedent that happened in Egypt in the 1980s when Shawki al-Sheikh takfiri group set up in the town of Faiyum a prototype organization for ISIS. The ISIS conceptual image was later made even more prominent as a result of its collision with the Muslim Brothers Society, which contributed to the negation of the Brothers’ doctrine and practices. The study also highlights the attitude of a number of influential institutions, circles, and ideological schools towards al-Baghdadi’s organization, including the attitude of some influential institutions, such as the Al-Azhar University, the Turkish Diyanet, the Baghdad University, etc. The analysis made in the theological section of the book focuses on the differences with the rest of the Islamist factions (particularly with the more significant ones, such as Ahrar al-Sham and Jaish al-Islam) and, in particular, on the dogmatic differences with the Al-Nusra Front. This analysis outlines very clearly the social, tribal, and regional differences between the individual layers of Islamist radicalism.
The ISIS relations with the external world are an important aspect of the overall analysis made of the organization. The study puts particular emphasis on the ISIS relations with the countries of the region, first and foremost, with the leading Sunni states, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and Turkey. The role and the significance of the primary antagonists including the Kurdish militias, Iran, and Hezbollah, have also been given their due attention. The analysis highlights the Balkan dimensions of the ISIS influence projected mainly onto the post-Yugoslav space. However, the ISIS relationships with the US, the EU, and Russia can be said to have been the leading component element of the relations of this organization with the external world. Each and every such relationship has been perceived and analyzed from a critical perspective thus sharing the assertion that the international community bears responsibility for the rise of this Islamist Frankenstein on the international arena.
The book entitled „DAESH, a (Non)-Islamic state” is, in fact, the interpretation of a European scholar who has tried to convert into a language understandable to the ordinary people an enormous amount of information about a terrorist organization whose major foreign policy is targeted at Europe and the European peoples. The study advances the proposition that, by adhering to the principles of cooperation and coordination between the partners within an anti-terrorist coalition set up in the broadest possible format for the purpose of fighting the ISIS terrorists, each and every national state or national government should formulate a vision of its own and map up a specific plan in order to be able to fight this evil. Because, ISIS, the author argues, could be defeated only on the basis of a new political alternative that could win the hearts and minds of the Middle East people.