Caliphate here we come!
the isis caliphate: a viable project
Large-scale fighting raged in Iraq on Monday, following Sunday’s proclamation of an Islamic caliphateover large areas of Syria and Iraq by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS). The jihadist group declared its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi as leader of the new entity and its caliph, theoretically combining religious and state authority in the tradition of Muhammad’s early successors, across Iraq and Syria and beyond.
This development should not be dismissed as mere propaganda. For the first time since the abolition of the Ottoman Caliphate in the aftermath of the Great War, there is a substantial state-like entity presuming to revive the mantle of Sunni Islamic universalism.
First of all, it is worth examining what exactly makes a state a “state.” Traditional international law postulates the possession of population, of territory, and the existence of a government which exercises effective control over that population and territory. To put it more technically, a state exists if it enjoys the monopoly of coercive mechanisms within its domain.
Some authors also postulate the prevalent loyalty of the population to the government, but recent legal practice does not support the assertion. In April 1992 the U.S. recognized “Bosnia and Herzegovina” in its Yugoslav federal boundaries, although its nominal government – led by the dedicated jihadist Alija Izetbegovic – commanded the loyalty of only two-fifths of its citizens who happened to be Muslims, and controlled at most a third of the territory. On the other hand, unrecognized state entities such as Transnistria, Abkazia, Northern Cyprus, South Ossetia and Nagorno-Karabakh (like them or hate them) command their denizens’ overwhelming loyalty and exercise effectively undisputed control over their entire territory.
Finally, there are international jurists who cite the ability of the self-proclaimed state’s authority to engage in international discourse, but that is a moot point. The capacity to control a putative state’s territory and population almost invariably leads to such ability, regardless of the circumstances of that state’s inception: South Sudan is a recent case in point, and the creation of Israel in 1947 also comes to mind.