How Legitimate is the Daesh (ISIS)?

I am sure most of you are familiar with “ISIS”, which is the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria. What about the term “Daesh”?

According to many news sources, “Daesh is an acronym for the Arabic phrase al-Dawla al-Islamiya al-Iraq al-Sham (The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant)”. But that is the same as ISIL or ISIS isn’t it? Well, yes and no. Yes, because obviously, it translates into ISIL. No, because it has another meaning attached to it. In Arabic, the word ‘Daesh’ is close to the word ‘Daas’ – meaning to trample or crush something underfoot. Hence, citizens of ISIS will be severely punished if anybody is found to be using the term ‘Daesh’ as it is a derogatory word. It will be seen as being disloyal and challenging the Islamic Government.

Hence, some world leaders are attempting to challenge the legitimacy of the Islamic State by starting to call them Daesh instead of ISIS. Here is an example of UK Prime Minister David Cameron encouraging the usage of the word ‘Daesh’. At this moment, no one truly knows how much it affects the Islamic State. They could well go ‘MEH!’ because they simply cannot be bothered with childish name calling games – I remember giving ridiculous nicknames to friends in primary school. One can say that it is a tiny protest or condemnation against the Islamic State. Another reason for wanting to change the name could be that by using the word ‘ISIS’, it seems to give them legitimacy or recognising the sovereignty of these extremists (which is what the whole world wants to avoid). Technically, ISIS is not a state. A state can be defined as having a legitimate government that is capable of running the country and managing its citizens.

Well, so how legitimate are they?

ISIS Structure

I took this picture from CNN here. The article has very detailed information on how each council (or ministry) functions or coordinate with one another. I will not go too much into that. But from the pictures solely, one could easily tell that there is definitely a system or way of governance with clear job distinction and reporting structure. They have governors and ministries (or council) like many countries in the world have. So, does this automatically imply that ISIS is a legitimate government? In order to answer this question, we can explore the term ‘sovereignty’.

Sovereign can be simply defined by two characteristics. The first and main characteristic is the idea that the state itself should not be subject to another superior authority. For example, Scotland is not a sovereign state for it is subject to the United Kingdom. The second characteristic is the idea that the state constitutes the supreme authority within a given jurisdiction. Even though Scotland has a certain autonomy in governance, the UK manages major policies, such as defence and healthcare, much like between a federal government and a federal state. ISIS fulfils the first criteria but does not seem to perfectly fulfil the second one. They have supreme authority over the land they govern within a jurisdiction but certainly not recognised by the international society. As the world grow to become more complex and interconnected, sovereignty cannot be seen as a dichotomy but rather on a continuum. In other words, instead of simply evaluating if a state is a sovereign state or not, we should think about if some states are more sovereign than another. Stephen Krasner, an American scholar, attempts to divide sovereignty into four components in determining how sovereign a state actually is. The four components are vatellian sovereignty, interdependence sovereignty, international legal sovereignty and domestic sovereignty.

Vatellian sovereignty, or sometimes referred to Westphalian sovereignty, is the state’s ability to own domestic political structure. Interdependence sovereignty refers to the state control of goods, ideas and people across their borders. International legal sovereignty describes the recognition by other states in the international society with regards to its sovereignty claims. This also includes the ability to enter legally binding treaties or agreements.Lastly, domestic sovereignty is the state’s ability to control the population and territory which it claims jurisdiction.

It seems that ISIS claims a high degree of all of the component except for international legal sovereignty. As elaborated in the earlier part of this article, ISIS has a strong established political structure. Furthermore, it has tight border controls which regulate the goods and people that pass through it every day. The fact that ISIS strongly resents Western influence and tries very hard to keep it out of their territory also means it is less dependent, claiming a high degree of interdependence sovereignty. ISIS is also able to control the population with its military which induces fear and command obedience. Despite all of the above, ISIS is strongly condemned by the international society and will never be recognised as a sovereign state.

Having fulfilled three out of four criteria of a sovereign state, this does not mean that the ISIS can be considered as a sovereign state. It seems that recognition by other sovereign states is the major determinant of a sovereign state’s legitimacy. This is the same case for Taiwan where it is able to fulfil all components of sovereignty except for international legal sovereignty. The fact that it is not recognised by the international society today makes it not a legitimate sovereign state.

To conclude, no matter how legitimate ISIS may appear to be, as long as the international community refuse to accept and recognise them, it will never be a sovereign state. The day ISIS is recognised as a sovereign state will be after Taiwan gets recognised, which simply means it is impossible. Hence, this is why world leaders constantly condemn ISIS actions because any form of tolerance could be seen as a small approval in recognising them. It is certainly unimaginable if ISIS claims full sovereignty for it could wage wars and enter formal alliances with other sovereign states. Certainly undesirable.