Scott Cotte forges a middle way between Graeme Wood’s article What ISIS Really Wants and Islamic State’s secular characteristics. Find it published in Studies in Conflict & Terrorism

Thanks to Assaf Moghadam for posting link on twitter:


“In his influential and provocative article on “What ISIS Really Wants”, published in The Atlantic in March 2015, Graeme Wood argued that “the Islamic state is Islamic. Very Islamic.” He also sought to challenge what he diagnosed as a “western bias” among academics and policy makers toward religious ideology, whereby religious doctrines or beliefs are relegated to the status of epiphenomena rather than taken seriously as causal properties in their own right. Wood’s article sparked a wider – and still ongoing – debate over the relationship between Islam and jihadist violence. For one side in this debate, ISIS is inexplicable without reference to Islamic scripture; indeed, some commentators and politicians have even argued that it represents the “true” face of Islam; for the other side, ISIS is a hideous distortion of Islam’s “true” teachings, and is inexplicable without reference to the wider political circumstances in which it emerged and to which it is a response. This article attempts to forge a middle way between these two polarized viewpoints by arguing that any comprehensive account of ISIS must recognize both its secular and theological bases. More specifically, and drawing on the work of the intellectual historian Quentin Skinner, it argues that Wood’s critics, in their understandable but misplaced eagerness to detach Islam from jihadist violence, fail to accord proper causal weight to the legitimizing role of revolutionary Islamic ideas – and the innovating ideologists who develop these – in the commission of this violence.”