It’s possible you’ve heard the word “caliphate” in the reporting on ISIS to date. Basically, it’s the idea of an enormous Islamic state that encompasses all Muslims worldwide. However, as Vox points out, the sectarian forces of ISIS aren’t counting Shia Muslims in that equation, only Sunnis. ISIS’ desire (and apparent strategy) is to overthrow the existing governments of unstable, heavily Muslim nations and establish their own theocratic state in its place. The leader of this new caliphate would be the leader of ISIS, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who claims he’s the ”caliph.”
To be clear, interpretations of caliphate aren’t limited to the sort of bloodthirsty vision ISIS seems to have. As detailed in journalist Khaled Diab’s excellent op-ed in The New York Times, the era of the Abbasid caliphate (from 750 to 1258 A.D.) was a time of relative diversity, plus dramatic advances in science and mathematics.
SO, WHY THE NAME CHANGE?
There are lesser strategic goals that ISIS has staked out along the way to forming their concept of caliphate, however. The execution of James Foley was, by their own claim, a response to President Obama’s authorization of U.S. airstrikes against ISIS near the strategic Mosul Dam — a response which didn’t halt the bombings, as President Obama authorized further strikes last week. But controlling territory and infrastructure like the dam is really just means to an end for ISIS. More stability means more recruitment, and more opportunity to conquer new lands, spreading their sphere of influence further and further.
MUSLIMS AREN’T EXEMPT FROM THE VIOLENCE
As for what their shorter-term political goals are, however, ISIS seems dedicated to stoking conflict with the U.S. — it’s feared that they could turn attention to launching attacks both at America and Europe. This possibility has heightened tensions within the U.K. and U.S., and was echoed by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah Saturday.
So, basically: ISIS’ ultimate plan is to take over responsibility for, and control of, the whole world’s Muslim population — by force if need be. And of course, that force has been in constant supply — stories of ISIS’ grisly campaign throughout Iraq and Syria are consistently harrowing.