Tuesday, August 13, 2019

ISIS - a resistance to neoliberal hegemony

Photo by Thierry Ehrmann
The West runs the world - and has since the 1970s. Neoliberal policies coming out of America and the UK have become mainstream and have influenced many other societies around the world. These dominant players in the global arena have intruded into Middle Eastern societies - to much of the locals’ disliking - in order to ‘democratise’ them; in other words, pulling them into a web of capitalism and democracy. Globalisation has created a new world order with the West at the forefront of expansion while leaving less developed countries uprooted and isolated. While some accepted this fact, others did not and planned to revolt against these money-driven westerners and their corrupt neoliberal values. Specifically after the US’ 2003 invasion of Iraq, a blossoming Islamic State (ISIS) would team up with Bin Laden’s Al Qaeda in the Iraq Insurgency against corrupt Muslim leaders and Western Ideals. This blog post links globalisation to the rise of ISIS by first examining neoliberalism and its effects on different classes and their association with another, outlines the beginnings of the organisation and discusses how it rivals the neoliberal global order.

Neoliberalism and its effects

Neoliberal globalisation has improved wealth - however it has been unevenly distributed throughout countries. Globalisation has given rise to the capitalist or transnational managerial class in charge of large oversea corporations. These upper-class elites have benefited from the free - market and a new range of business opportunities. Unfortunately, with every alpha, there is a beta. Developing countries like Syria became tied to the west through oil agreements with the US and UK (Syria Balance of Trade). This has created large wealth disparities that have led to unrest within Muslim societies. Like many of the populist movements we see today, people are unhappy with the conditions that globalisation has put them in. In addition to the unevenness of capitalism, there have also been intrusions of western culture.

America has been enchanted with this sentiment of “American Exceptionalism” (Rees and Aldrich, 2005), essentially positing America in the centre of the world and demands for everyone else to adopt democracy and liberal values. If there is resistance, it has the ‘obligation’ known as ‘global governance’ (Stephen, 2011), i.e. to impose state-building means to maintain global peace. This has led to the creation of a growing anti-western sentiment that embodies itself in the form of ISIS.

Beginnings of ISIS

The radical organisation was founded in 1999 by Jordanian jihadist Abu Musab al-Zarqawi (Zelin, 2014) in the hope of annihilating western influence from Muslim society and establishing Islam as the sole religion in a new caliphate. In 2006 the newest leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi begun to shift ISIS’ focuses towards territorial gain in pursuit of becoming a caliphate, as he believed anyone in Syria fell under ISIS’ sovereign will and had to abide by its interpretations of God’s law. This also included ridding Muslim countries of leaders who are believed to be influenced by western ideals or are a danger to muslim society - ISIS would join the rebellion against Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in 2011. It believed that he, like most other Muslim leaders, is corrupt, irreligious and heavily influenced by the west.


ISIS sought to rival the globalised neoliberal structure by imposing its own Jacobian society with a Salafi Jihadist ideology. Salafism comes from the 19th century Egyptian anti-western movement, entailing isolation from anything non-muslim, while jihadism is the belief that Muslims have an individual obligation to defend Islam. Ironically, as an anti-globalisation and anti-western group ISIS has relied heavily on global platforms such as social media as a way to recruit and mobilize their terror through online videos of beheadings. This further demonstrates the fact that ISIS’ evolution has been heavily influenced by globalisation and western developments.

A recent operation by the Syrian Democratic Forces has been successful in driving out ISIS from its final territorial stronghold in Baghouz (BBC, 2019; The Guardian, 2019) however that does not mean the rebellion is defeated. I believe this battle of ideologies can never guarantee one victor, even with neoliberalism being so dominant within the global order it is also difficult to launch a countermeasure on ISIS. It is more than just an organisation, it embodies a feeling of passion towards a certain cause - no matter how hard America tries to drill in liberal values, as long as there is some hope for an overthrow of the hegemon, ISIS will continue to fight for a world caliphate. Jihadism as an ideology, and with globalisation accommodating the fast spread of its values, has hindered the capacity to pinpoint where the next uprising will be. Anyone can re-ignite the anti-western movement, and with these terrorist organisations being able to adapt to the changing technologies, it has proven to be a challenge to defeat it completely.

In Sum

ISIS has been able to spread its wings through globalised media channels - similarly to how neoliberal values have been filtered through traditional and religious societies. As a (modern) anti-modern terrorist organisation, ISIS has created a new meaning for terrorism by positing its own way of life with its own values in order to fight the seeping liberal values of the west.

Sophia Gaine

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