How Cosmic War Ends

The Case of isis

In: Numen
Mark Juergensmeyer Sociology and Global Studies University of California Santa Barbara ca 93106

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Like many other extremist movements, the Islamic State (isis) is propelled by an image of engagement in a grand cosmic war. Under what conditions does cosmic war end? The case of isis gives several possible answers, though we have to take both internal and external perspectives into account. The internal conditions include a loss of divine sanctions, in-fighting, a sense of rising doubt about the mission of the movement, discredited leadership when the leader is seen as less than legitimate, and the availability of alternative opportunities when combatants see opportunities for their roles in a non-war state. External conditions for ending cosmic war are equally important. Responses by government authorities include the maintenance of strong limitations on the ability of a movement to become violent, providing ways for the accommodation and rehabilitation of troops and leaders involved in the defeated movement, and an attitude of respect and cultural acceptance for communities that may have supported the extremist movements. In Iraq and Syria, it remains to be seen how Sunni Arab culture and leadership will be treated in a post-isis society. Military liberation is only part of the process of reintegration of the Arab Sunni population into the political life of those countries. A full acceptance into the political process will also be required. Failing that, the spirit of cosmic war will in all probability continue, and the conditions will be ripe for a renewal of militant encounter in the future.

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