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Rational atrocities and state formation: a game theoretic approach to the case of ISIS

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Written by Dina Mansour-Ille

Since Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi announced in April 2013 the formation of the new Islamic polity, the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS), it has slowly become the epitome of terror. Certain acts of violence and atrocities committed by ISIS create the impression that it is acting out of blind, destructive religious fanaticism. In contrast, this article argues that this perception is media-driven speculation. Instead of being religious zealots, ordering the purposeless killing of infidels, ISIS’ actions are governed by a strong rationale and a clear aim, namely the creation of a state; one that extends beyond the traditional constitutive elements of statehood. In particular, ISIS’ rationality serves the purpose of consolidating an Islamic State in the Middle Eastern region, and beyond, under a caliphate with a claim to universal governance and jurisdiction. This article illustrates the mechanisms which ISIS uses to achieve its aim of establishing an extended state, and elaborates on the impact of actions and policies against ISIS on the basis of an evolutionary game theoretic model.

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Sebastian Ille and Dina Mansour-Ille