Author: Harith Bin Ramli, University of London

How the political crises of the modern Muslim world created the climate for Islamic State

This article was originally published in The Conversation on the 2nd of March 2016.

How do we account for forces and events that paved the way for the emergence of Islamic State? The Conversation’s series on the jihadist group’s origins tries to address this question by looking at the interplay of historical and social forces that led to its advent.

In the penultimate article of the series, Harith Bin Ramli traces the Muslim world’s growing disaffection with its rulers through the 20th century and how it created the climate for both the genesis of Islamic State and its continuing success in recruiting followers.


Islamic State (IS) declared its re-establishment of the caliphate on June 29, 2014, almost exactly 100 years after the heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated. Ferdinand’s death set off a series of events that would lead to the first world war and the fall of three great multinational world empires: Austro-Hungary (1867-1918), Russian (1721-1917) and the Ottoman Sultanate (1299-1922).

That IS’s leadership chose to declare its caliphate so close to the anniversary of Ferdinand’s assassination may not entirely be a coincidence. In a sense, the two events are connected.

Ferdinand’s assassination and the events that it brought about (culminating in the 1919 Treaty of Versailles) symbolised the final triumph of a new idea of sovereignty. This modern conception was based on the popular will of a nation, rather than on noble lineage.

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The heir to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Archduke Franz Ferdinand, was assassinated on June 28, 1914. Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons

In declaring the resurrection of a medieval political institution almost exactly 100 years later, IS was announcing its explicit rejection of the modern international system based on that very idea of sovereignty.

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