chapter  1
22 Pages

Fluid concepts and understandings redefined

States, porous borders and transnational militant actors in Syria
WithJoseph P. Helou

This chapter seeks to investigate the relationship between the competing forces of the Syrian state, radical Islamist groups and foreign military intervention in contributing to areas of limited statehood, which, in turn, redefine the conventional understanding of Westphalian sovereignty as evinced by the Syrian Civil War. It reveals that the narratives and ideas of groups such as the Islamic State of Iraq and Sham and Jabhat Al-Nusra describe an ideal type of citizen and state that not only oppose Westphalian understandings but also violate the sanctity of borders, territoriality, government authority in policy-making and extension of control over the population. It explains how ISIS’ state-building project failed due to the group’s insufficient command of resources; faulty legislative framework and distorted practices; failure to influence the part of the population under their control; and lack of recognition, which were all factors obliging these groups to share sovereignty with the Syrian state and foreign powers. It also highlights the role of foreign intervention in achieving the end goal of ISIS collapse, thereby resulting in areas of limited statehood as several foreign players, such as the USA, Russia, Iran and Turkey, adopted strategies that bypassed Syrian state authority. This chapter concludes that while Syrian state forces coupled with foreign support were able to reverse the gains and uproot the infrastructure of Islamist groups from many parts of Syrian territory, the multitude of foreign powers in Syria will most likely play a pervasive role in Syrian politics for many years to come.