Much has been written about the rise and expansion of the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) or ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq and Syria) – hereinafter referred to interchangeably as ISIL and ISIS – since its emergence, and analyses are being published non-stop. The facile utilization of cultural interpretations to explain such phenomena, connecting the development of ISIL with Arab-Islamic culture, is common. There have been widespread attempts by some racist self-proclaimed Arab nationalists, based on ‘orientalist’ concepts, to connect it to ‘Bedouin culture’. All these analyses have neglected the existence of many other factors that contributed to the development of this group, the least significant of which was the cultural factor. Recognizing the difference between the causes of the emergence and existence of ISIS in Arab political arenas, and its practices – of which the latter can be explained by its ideological formation – is essential. This article focuses on two particular aspects that characterize ISIL: its success in annexing large geographical areas inside Iraq and Syria; and the colossal level of violence the group exercises against its enemies, and against unarmed, innocent people, far exceeding that of other armed groups in the region on many levels. It also addresses two key factors that help shed light on what instigated the emergence, expansion and even ability of this group to attract cadres and supporters from within and beyond the Arab countries.

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