Most scholarship and journalism about the Islamic State fail to grasp the true meanings of the group’s unorthodox relationship to space and time. The group’s orientation to territory and temporality is different from normative Western models both tactically and the ideologically. That is, the Islamic State, when operating at its ideal capacity, traverses time and space. It is both any-where and every-when. This means that the way we approach the group might benefit from a kind of reorientation. The Islamic State is not just a nation-state-building enterprise and it is not a guerilla terror group. Instead, it sometimes one, sometimes the other, and sometimes both. It is more diffuse, nimble, and protean—by nature and design—than conventional modern nation-states. Our models need to account for these differences. One way to re-think and re-conceive the Islamic State is to use models that are either outside of or at least in opposition to Western frames. This essay does that by pairing the Islamic State with two conceptual forerunners: the Mongol Hordes of the Thirteenth Century and the revolutionary Khmer Rouge regime that seized power in Cambodia in 1975.
Published in Volume 10, Issue 65