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ISIS as Revolutionary State

New Twist on an Old Story

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa, June, 2014. Stringer / Reuters

To many who have witnessed 
its brutal tactics and religious extremism, the Islamic State, or ISIS, seems uniquely baffling and unusually dangerous. According to its leaders’ own statements, the group wants to eliminate infidels, impose sharia worldwide, and hasten the arrival of the Mahdi. ISIS' foot soldiers have pursued these goals with astonishing cruelty. Yet unlike the original al Qaeda, which showed little interest in controlling territory, ISIS has also sought to build the rudiments of a genuine state in the territory it controls. It has established clear lines of authority, tax and educational systems, and a sophisticated propaganda operation. It may call itself a “caliphate” and reject the current state-based international system, but a territorial state is what its leaders are running. As Jürgen Todenhöfer, a German journalist who visited territory in Iraq and Syria controlled by ISIS, said in 2014, “We have to understand that ISIS is

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