Currently, IS is more of a marauding horde than functioning state. IS operates more like the Vandals or the Ostrogoths of European history rather than any historic caliphate. Its “citizens” are self-described warriors (jihadists) killing men, capturing women and grabbing booty as they go. Many of its fighters are foreigners from Europe, North America or other Middle Eastern countries, rather than locals who are the core citizenry for anything that can legitimately be called a state.
Beyond effective use of social media for recruitment, there appears to be little of the governance that makes this state a true state. IS’s goal is clear: “purifying” Islam through eliminating competing religious ideologies, whether they are held by other Muslims, such as the Shi’a, or practitioners of other religions, such as the Yazidi and Christians.
All previous caliphates relied on a special class of bureaucrats to provide stability and statesmanship. Those were eunuchs, who were unable to impregnate the women sequestered in the palace. Eunuchs were without family and dependent upon the caliph for support.
The number of women and eunuchs in the central palace during the various caliphates could be quite large. The Caliph al-Muqtadi (908-932) presided over a palace that contained 4000 women, 7000 eunuch guards and menial labourers, plus 4000 eunuch bureaucrats to administer the realm.
As long as IS persists in beheading rather than castrating the males it captures, it has little hope of resurrecting a historic caliphate. Granted IS is already acquiring women, but it has no-one to guard them for the caliph and no infertile functionaries to enact the authority of the state.
While it has been less than a century since the fall of the Ottoman Empire, it is clear that a key concept for continuity with the great caliphates of the past has been lost. Simply stated, if the IS doesn’t build a deeply fortified city and start producing eunuch bureaucrats, it will never have the stability and endurance of historic caliphates. The best it can hope for is to be recognised as a 21st-century predatory horde.
It is an academic questions as to which is more barbaric: to behead (murder) or to castrate (mutilate). But of the two choices, if IS continues along its current path, it is likely to be remembered like the Vandals – that is, as murderous marauders who get brief mention in high school history classes.
There is no reason to believe that the state IS aims to develop will be less barbaric than its fighters’ current “jihad”. But al-Baghdadi will have to change how his followers process prisoners if he is sincere about getting his caliphate up and running.