Labeling ISIS simply a terrorist organization or an apocalyptic sect of fanatics does very little in terms both of explaining and of confronting the phenomenon. What – among other things – lies at the basis of its emergence, behind and through its acts of brutality, is a different vision of international community, one hostile to that which the vast majority of states and international organizations share.
ISIS is neither the first religious, fundamentalist organization, nor the first heavily armed organization, encompassing acts of terror in furtherance of its goals. It is, however, the first entity which from a non-state status has been de facto upgraded at a statehood status, possessing for an already significant period of time, territory, population, as well as exercising commercial activities and state authorities. In addition, the so-called Islamic State, meaning the de facto state that shares parts of Syria and Iraq, doesn’t wage a campaign of terror simply to harass its enemies and discourage their fight against it. It actively seeks a wider confrontation so that it can gradually expand its authority and eventually materialize an ecumenical goal of an alternative international integration under its material and ideological domination.
In this sense it is the first entity combining some type of statehood with an alternative goal concerning what the international community should be, rejecting the most fundamental Enlightenment principles. This combination differentiates the Islamic State both from other theocratic states such as Saudi Arabia, which don’t advance a different model of international community, as well as from organizations such as Al Qaeda, which remain de jure and de facto non-state actors. Ιn addition, the Taliban regime of Afghanistan did not seek further expansion, and in this sense it was rather alienated than actively hostile and antagonistic to the international community. The international community is challenged by an outcast, possessing part of its territory and attempting to build an antagonistic and hostile international community, contradictory to the core principles which are enshrined in the UN Charter.
The magnitude of this challenge might not have yet reached the scale of an imminent, global disaster concerning the existence and prevalence of the international community but still is significant. On the one hand, the Islamic State seems capable of taking advantage of the fragmentation among the major powers of the contemporary world, exploiting divergent regional interests, propagandizing its goals and finding followers, evolving into a key player in terms of re-shaping borders and regimes throughout the Middle East, committing attacks in various parts of the world, of possibly possessing weapons of mass destruction, and provoking the strengthening of Islamophobic voices. On the other hand, the active and profound promotion on its behalf of genocide, slavery, torture, raping, trafficking, antiquities smuggling and destruction, mass violations of human rights necessitate the elimination of the Islamic State by the international community. It is in this sense, that the Islamic State is in existential terms the enemy of the international community, both fighting against its most valuable and fundamental principles and promoting an antagonistic version of international community.
In any type of community, the emergence of such an actor, acting in such ways and with such goals would lead to the declaration of some type of public emergency. After all, the war waged by the Islamic State, even though the latter does not constitute a legally recognized state, fulfills all the criteria of the UN Charter in relation to the existence of serious breaches of international peace and security by a de facto state-entity: violations of territorial integrity and political independence of several states, mass and grave atrocities, racism, illegal threat and use of force. Therefore it seems only natural to ring the alarm of an international public emergency against such a threat.
But what does public emergency actually mean in the framework of the international community and against the Islamic State in particular? First, it should be a public emergency of the community as such and not of some of its actors. (In the second case, not only the declaration of emergencies might be proven inefficient but even further could lead to further fractures within the international community.) Second, it should be an emergency within a constitutional normative framework (within the framework of the UN Charter). Third, the organs of the international community – the UN Security Council or UN General Assembly – should declare the international emergency.
Fourth and most significantly though, what should an international public emergency foresee? A widely shared view identifies the emergency with restrictions on human or political rights. My view is the exact opposite: the declaration of an international public emergency in response to the Islamic State emergence should materialize an effective and (as much as possible) democratic version of the responsibility to protect doctrine. This would include the use of force against the Islamic State by a coalition of states with respect to Syrian and Iraqi self-determination and central authorities, whether we like them or not; a political plan for reconciliation, democratization, and stabilization, primarily but not solely for the two states, with respect for all minorities, to which all of the international community will be committed under the aegis of the UN Security Council or UN General Assembly; the isolation of all states or actors which do not support such an international plan; and a significant plan for the reconstruction of the war-torn societies, again primarily but not solely of the two states, with respect to the economic self-determination of the people. In other words, the international public emergency should be nothing more than the most concrete commitment to the rule of law and the unification of the international community actors around it.
Of course, it is not easy to combine the delicate legal standards required for such action with the need for immediate and efficient political action, but it is the only way. Otherwise, either the bending of international law in the name of public emergencies declared by different states, or the actual tolerance to the existence of the Islamic State will gradually erode the foundations of the international community, intensify the fractures within it, and deprive our international community from its global perspective and influence, making it a lesser and more unstable community.
Featured image: Vintage world map on Rock. (c) CollinsChin via iStock.