The Islamic State: Terrorists or Millenarian Mass Movement?

  • Lieutenant Colonel Edward R. Sullivan

The Islamic State (IS) should be understood as an Islamist millenarian mass movement possessing broad anti-western appeal. Possessing an ideology distinct from Al-Qaeda, for more than a decade they have deliberately and methodically worked to arrive at their present situation. They ground their message in solid theological roots, utilizing, among other writings, the Salafist ideology of Sayyid Qutb. Their ideology is one of revolution in which Islam is on par with communism and capitalism as a basis of societal organization. The clarity of their utopian social message of equality and brotherhood contrasts sharply with the chaos and cultural confusion of globalization, making IS attractive to those already susceptible to radicalization in and out of the Islamic world. Highly capable in their media enterprises, IS nonetheless remains vulnerable to rogue messages released in its name that run counter to the image it is trying to cultivate. Countering its ideology is more problematic than countering its organization and requires increased international effort. A failure to act now leaves the Arab and Islamic heartland in the hands of a methodical and capable cult-like organization whose continued existence directly threatens the entire Middle East and North Africa.