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The Islamic State in Context: A Postcolonial Approach to Understanding of its Emergence in Iraq and Syria Open Access


Other title
Orientalism in reverse
The Islamic State
Anglo-American Invasion of Iraq
The Syrian Proxy War
Type of item
Degree grantor
University of Alberta
Author or creator
Abdulhamid, Nafisa
Supervisor and department
Mahdavi, Mojtaba (Political Science)
Examining committee member and department
Aitken, Rob (Political Science)
App, Roger (Political Science)
Mahdavi, Mojtaba (Political Science)
Department of Political Science

Date accepted
Graduation date
2017-11:Fall 2017
Master of Arts
Degree level
The Islamic State (IS) is a militant Salafi-jihadist organization that remains adamant about dismantling the Iraqi-Syrian border and restoring an Islamic caliphate. The organization’s significant territorial conquests and its brutality, in the form of beheadings, crucifications, and suicide bombings, continues to give rise to predominately Orientalist and cultural essentialist explanations about its origins and nature. These Orientalist discourses emphasize “innate” cultural aspects of Muslim-majority communities that created favorable environments for the emergence of IS in the Middle East. My research asserts that an overemphasis on culture, tradition and religion fails to capture the complex and multidimensional nature of both IS and the Middle East. This Master’s thesis therefore challenges the broad range of conventional Orientalist and neo-Orientalist arguments about IS, and instead, undertakes a critical historical and postcolonial approach to answer the following question: why did the political conditions of Iraq after 2003 foster an environment favorable for the rapid and ambitious rise of the Islamic State? The thesis consults primary and secondary sources, including personal collections, official sources, transcripts and videos, from IS, scholars, observers, and governmental and nongovernmental organizations. It uses critical historical and archival research to locate, interpret, and analyze the rise of IS and the current violence in the Middle East. This is done in the context of the 2003 Anglo-American invasion of Iraq and its post-invasion policies, the violent suppression of the 2011 uprising in Syria and the transformation of the violence into a full-blown civil/proxy war, and the spread of militant Wahhabism and Salafism, which continues to inform IS’ ideological foundation. The findings defy ahistorical and apolitical explanations of IS and reveal the enduring impacts of great power politics in the region, thereby providing a compelling and critical postcolonial analysis of the emergence of IS first in Iraq and then in Syria.
This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for the purpose of private, scholarly or scientific research. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.
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