The Story of the Caliphate: Understanding the Islamic State through Narrative Analysis

Constance Quinlan


In the summer of 2014, the Islamic State catapulted into the international spotlight with its gruesome execution videos and savvy use of social media. Ever since, the United States and its allies have struggled to clearly articulate both the nature of the threat posed by the Islamic State and a coherent strategy for managing it. The author argues that the United States can do neither effectively without first understanding the Islamic State's strategic narrative. First, this paper describes the evolution of the Islamic State. Second, it defines strategic narrative in the context of doctrine, literary narrative, and propaganda, along with methods of interpretation. Third, this paper presents a theme-based content analysis of the Islamic State's official magazine, Dabiq, arguing that it advances the Islamic State’s strategic narrative by promoting the following five themes: Islamic legitimacy, statehood, belonging, righteousness, and engagement. Finally, this paper concludes by summarizing the Islamic State's strategic narrative and offering insights as to how an understanding of it could influence US policy and strategy.


ISIS; ISIL; DAESH; Islamic State; Dabiq; caliphate; strategic narrative; propaganda; narrative analysis; Iraq; Syria;

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