we have a right to dissent -Or is there a high price for trying
to change things?
11 December 2014 Last updated at 00:45
Viewpoint: Christmas is not for trivialising war
The UK may be busy commemorating the Christmas Truce of 1914, when soldiers on the WW1 front line briefly made friends with the enemy, but few Germans have heard of it - and most would be startled to see it dramatised in a TV ad, writes Sebastian Borger of Berliner Zeitung.
Whatever else their experience of living in Britain, most Germans here share one thing: an astonishment at the extent to which military traditions have survived in modern British society - and, at least to my mind, go more or less unchallenged. The military top brass is regularly seen and heard on the media. Retired generals and admirals have seats in the House of Lords and take an active part in public debate. That would be completely unthinkable in Germany.
Don't get me wrong - I think there are very good aspects to a healthy respect for the armed forces. The British people seem to have an instinctive understanding for the truism that even today there are situations when an armed and determined aggressor needs to be confronted not just with warning words but with force if necessary. That truism has largely disappeared from German discourse, as has respect for the armed forces. I see that as a mistake.
On the other hand, I find that a lot of the necessarily bloody work that soldiers do is often being trivialised. The constant talk of "heroes" and "sacrifices" is alien to me. It cheapens the concept.
The latest example of the trivialisation of war is Sainsbury's re-enactment of the famous Christmas truce of 1914 - famous, that is, in Britain. Few Germans have heard of it, let alone spent much time thinking about it. Whereas here we have endless newspaper columns, a moment of remembrance at Premiership football stadiums, a number of memorial matches, culminating in a visit by a Bundeswehr team to Aldershot next week to play a British army 11. And, of course, the Sainsbury's advertisement "Christmas is for sharing", made in partnership with the Royal British Legion.
Christmas supermarket adverts used to show a paper-hatted extended family, lashings of mince pies, copious tinsel, and an inordinately large turkey. But this year's Sainsbury's offering rewinds 100 years to dramatise the Christmas truce of 1914, writes Tom de Castella.
No other part of this year's WW1 commemoration has puzzled me more.
I am at a loss to explain to my German readers how the foremost lobby group for service personnel in Britain could have approved of a supermarket's attempt to enlist the story of brave, indeed heroic soldiers for the profane task of selling more turkeys and puddings.
What we get, is a sanitised, terribly sentimental version of what happened in a number of places along the Western front: British, French and German soldiers decided to give World War One a break. Initially they were fulfilling a grim task - to bury their comrades whose bodies had been lying in no man's land, some for weeks or months. But then the gesture of respect for each other's dead developed into something more. For a day or two, in some places even well into the New Year, the men in uniform sang carols, met between the trenches, exchanged gifts and even played football. One source actually reports a match result - it was 3-2 to Germany, apparently.
Undoubtedly, there is a great story to be told, and historians like Stanley Weintraub, American author of Silent Night, have done it in great detail. Ordinary soldiers plucked up the courage to go against their superiors' orders, a gesture of defiance in a miniature class war. On the German side the truce exposed regional differences. Most of the regiments taking part in the truce were from Saxony and Bavaria, proud regions uneasy about the Prussian domination of Germany. What united them with their adversaries on the other side was a working class view of the world, with "football as its religion", as Weintraub puts it.
There seems to have been a realistic view that the truce wouldn't hold much beyond Christmas. In his book The Small Peace in the Great War (Der kleine Frieden im grossen Krieg) the German author Michael Juergs describes soldiers from both sides secretly taking a good look at their opponents' positions, so as to be better able to kill them once the lull in the fighting was over. A British general, Walter Congreve VC, heard about the fraternisation but declined the invitation to have a look himself. "I thought they might not be able to resist a general," he wrote in a letter to his wife. In other words, he saw a realistic chance of being taken prisoner, or worse.
A Christmas kick-about?
iWonder: What really happened in the Christmas truce of 1914?
Clearly, the people involved were a lot less sentimental than those now idealising the war, from a distance of 100 years - or indeed attempting to identify their brand with it. Sainsbury's customers can buy a retro chocolate bar similar to the one in the film that the British Tommy, Jim, gives to his German pal, Otto. All proceeds go to the Royal British Legion.
Maybe the money will be used to help some of the injured soldiers who came back from Britain's latest foreign war? A very different, quite brilliant film, Kajaki, describes their plight. We learn a lot about the demeanour, behaviour and everyday language of ordinary soldiers, and grasp the esprit de corps that every good army needs and promotes - the unquestioning willingness to help and, if necessary, die for your mate. It is deeply moving. Yet, there is an utter futility to the incident at the heart of the film, in September 2006, which cost one man his life and five others at least one limb.
It reminded me of a visit to Wootton Bassett in November 2009, when the town still hosted the solemn repatriations of service people killed in Afghanistan. The ceremony for the victims was a wonderfully dignified occasion. But I was puzzled by all the civilians who kept saying to me: "This has got nothing to do with politics." Oh yes, it does, I was tempted to say. The crowds were honouring the fallen and giving comfort to their relatives. At the same time, not questioning the reason why these men had died meant tacit support for a war that, according to opinion polls even then, a majority of the British people wanted to end as soon as possible. When combat troops finally withdrew this autumn, the death toll stood at 453. Thousands remain alive with deep wounds, both visible and invisible. This is the reality of war. The syrupy slogan "Christmas is for sharing" doesn't even come close.
Sebastian Borger is the London correspondent for Berliner Zeitung.
2 October 2014 Last updated at 05:02
Hong Kong protests: Did China go back on its promises?
The young demonstrators occupying four areas of Hong Kong frequently chant "Give me real universal suffrage" in rousing unison.
Wearing black T-shirts and yellow ribbons, the symbols of the city's democracy movement, they have taken to the streets in response to a decision by the senior Chinese leadership to set out clear limits on who can run for the position of chief executive, Hong Kong's top leader, in 2017.
The rules make it virtually impossible for anyone not trusted by the Chinese government to stand for election.
As a result, the protesters accuse Beijing of reneging on decades of vows to give Hong Kong people genuine democracy.
But although there is widespread anger that Beijing may have violated the spirit of the agreements it has made, there is intense debate over whether it has violated the letter of the law.'No right to nominate'
Alan Hoo, a top barrister and expert on the Basic Law, the city constitution, told BBC News that China had not broken any promises.
"I think that its position is grossly misunderstood," he says. "Firstly, it's not a promise. It is a legal obligation, a constitutional obligation that they put in the Basic Law."
Mr Hoo, chairman of the Basic Law Institute and a well-known pro-Beijing figure in Hong Kong, is referring to Article 45 of the Basic Law, which refers specifically to one person, one vote.
"The ultimate aim is the selection of the chief executive by universal suffrage upon nomination by a broadly representative nominating committee in accordance with democratic procedures," it says.
It is Beijing's conservative interpretation of that line that has brought tens of thousands of protesters onto the streets.
According to the rules announced at the end of August by the Standing Committee of China's parliament, candidates for chief executive must gain the support of a majority of a nominating committee.
There can be only two to three candidates.
CY Leung, the current chief executive, has further clarified that the nominating committee will be modelled on the existing election committee - composed of members largely loyal to Beijing - that selected him in 2012.
"The people on the streets are asking for the right to nominate," says Mr Hoo. "Universal suffrage, under the international covenant, means that there are express rights to elect or be elected. There is no express right to nominate."
This argument is disputed by those, including the former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, who accuse the Chinese government of refusing to live up to its commitments by hiding behind flexible legal language.
Years before the then British colony was returned to China in 1997, a number of senior Chinese leaders had assured the Hong Kong public that one person, one vote would be in its future.
In a comment in the official People's Daily newspaper in March 1993, Lu Ping, then the director of the Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, said: "How Hong Kong develops its democracy in the future is entirely within the autonomy of Hong Kong."
And in a letter written in May 1984, then Premier Zhao Ziyang promised university students in Hong Kong that protecting the people's democratic rights was a basic principle of the government.
He assured them that there would, someday, be democratic rule in Hong Kong.
But just five years later, Mr Zhao, a relatively liberal-minded leader, would be punished for siding with the student demonstrators on Tiananmen Square, spending the rest of his life under house arrest.
Emily Lau, chairwoman of the city's Democratic Party, believes those previous promises should still be honoured.
She says universal suffrage should mean voters be given a choice of candidates from different political persuasions.
North Korea and Iran also have one person, one vote, she says, but a sharply restricted list of candidates.
"Are we going to be like Iran or North Korea?" she asks. "No, we are Hong Kong. We want to go by international standards and give voters a genuine choice."
The demonstrators say that, for the crowds to recede, the Hong Kong and Chinese governments must listen to the voices of the people.
They argue that the general public are, at heart, pragmatic people who understand they are ultimately Chinese citizens.
Ms Lau adds: "Whoever is elected by the Hong Kong people to be chief executive, I am quite sure that person would love China and love Hong Kong and would be able to defend the interest of the Hong Kong people and would also be able to work with Beijing.
"Such people exist. Just give us some space, so that they can be nominated. And allow the people to elect."
Hong Kong democracy timeline
- 1997: UK gives Hong Kong back to China under a 1984 agreement giving it "a high degree of autonomy" for 50 years
- 2004: China says it must approve any changes to Hong Kong's election laws
- June-July 2014: Pro-democracy activists hold an unofficial referendum on political reform. Both sides hold large rallies
- 31 August 2014: China says it will allow direct elections in 2017 but will pre-approve candidates
- 22 September 2014: Student groups launch a week-long boycott of classes
- 28 September 2014: Occupy Central and student protests join forces and take over central Hong Kong
- 2017: Direct elections for chief executive due to take place
- 2047: Expiry of current agreements
Q&A: Hong Kong's democracy controversy
10 December 2014 Last updated at 14:49
Hong Kong protest camps: Who is still on the streets?
Hong Kong is bracing itself for a major operation to clear the largest of the pro-democracy protest camps that have been paralysing parts of the city centre for more than two months.
Thousands of police are expected to be deployed on Thursday morning to begin taking down the barricades in the Admiralty district and the authorities are warning protesters that they face "resolute action" if they resist.
Protester numbers have dwindled from their peak but - on the night before the end game begins - who are those that remain?Uncle Chan, 68
Before he retired, the 68-year-old worked in Hong Kong's garment industry. He has become a stalwart of the protest camp in the city's Admiralty district. He came out on to the streets on 29 September, the day after seeing students being pepper-sprayed and charged by police. It was a moment that galvanised many into supporting the movement.
On the eve of the anticipated clearance, Uncle Chan is still hard at work, repairing a set of wooden steps which allows protesters to cross over the central reservation - from the eastbound to the westbound section of the occupied highway.
"I don't care if this is the last day or the last minute," he says. "I'll be here as long as they need me."
Does he think it has all been worth it? "China's Communist Party is very powerful," he says. "But at least we have sent a message about our appetite and desire for democracy."
And he adds: "They've tolerated us for this long not because they wanted to, you know, but because the world has been watching."Doug Lee, 20
Doug Lee, a 20-year-old musician, has been sleeping in a tent at the main protest site since it all began. The movement has been largely peaceful but there have been sporadic outbreaks of violence. Doug is a veteran of pretty much all of them.
"The police attack us," he tells me. "We wear goggles but they're no defence against the batons."
And Thursday, when they come to tear down his tent? "We will stand back and try not to get hurt," he says. "But we won't run away either."
"The Chinese government keeps lying and lying and lying," he says. "We don't want to live under their control. We want to have our own system."
Does he think that Hong Kong will ever have the kind of democracy he's fighting for?
"I believe so, but it will take a long time," he says. "Maybe my children will get full democracy. If not, then my children's children."Ms Leung
Ms Leung, who doesn't want to give her first name, is a retired supermarket sales-assistant. She's been coming to the main protest site every day.
She says she will go back home to sleep tonight but only because the student leaders say they prefer elderly people to leave in case of trouble when the clearance begins.
She is the mother of two grown-up sons and says part of her motivation is seeing how hard her children have to strive to make a living in Hong Kong.
"I'm here because I want to support the young people in their quest for universal suffrage," she says.
What will she miss most when it's all gone? "I will miss these days when we fight together and I will miss all the friends I've made here."
She's trying to hold back the tears now. "I'm a local Hong Kongese, born and raised, and I'm really touched by the spirit of these protests. I cried when I thought about having to leave here."
And she adds: "I've seen bloodshed but I hope there won't be any tomorrow."Liona Li, 19
Liona Li is a 19-year-old university student studying social science. She's been sleeping out at the campsite since 10 October and has been there on the frontlines when violence has flared.
"I've seen it all," she tells me. "Tear gas, pepper spray, truncheons. One time I was hit by tear gas and couldn't see anything. I was at the front and had to be pulled away by a friend."
What will she do when the police come tomorrow morning? "It's a very difficult question," she says. "I don't know whether to stay and get arrested or not. I will know, I guess, when the time comes."
She says she will also miss the spirit of the protest camp, which now resembles a giant festival site in the midst of Hong Kong's skyscrapers. "It's a warm place. People share," she says.
Has it all been in vain? "The fight is not over," she replies, "only the occupation".
"Next year the Hong Kong legislature will pass the political reform bill and we will have more protests. And I will carry on. I will join the Hong Kong Federation of Students in helping to rally public opinion."Roger Tsang, 65
Roger Tsang is 65 years old and a retired, well, everything really. He's been a fireman, an entrepreneur, a taxi driver and a minibus driver. He's been coming to the protest site every day, for 70 days.
Why? "I'm here for democracy, for justice, for universal suffrage, for ideals and for morality," he tells me.
He will also return home to sleep tonight and is unsure if he'll make it back to see the end because the authorities plan to close the subway station.
But he, like everyone else I've spoken to, is sure the end will come. There may be some symbolic resistance but few expect it to do much other than delay the inevitable.
"Our movement will not be finished," Roger tells me.
"We can find another way. Actually, it's not a good thing to have been camping here for so long. If they clear us out tomorrow we'll find another way to get our voice across."
10 December 2014 Last updated at 21:57
Palestinian minister dies at West Bank protest
A Palestinian minister has died after a confrontation with Israeli troops at a protest in the West Bank.
Palestinian medics told the BBC Ziad Abu Ein had died from complications related to tear gas exposure.
But several witnesses said the minister had been hit and shoved by soldiers. One said he had been hit in the chest by a tear-gas canister fired by them.
Israel's Defence Minister Moshe Yaalon expressed regret for the minister's death in a statement.
The Israeli military (IDF) said it was investigating the incidents surrounding Mr Ein's death.
Israeli and Jordanian experts would attend a post-mortem examination, the IDF said. It has also proposed setting up a joint team with the Palestinians to investigate Mr Abu Ein's death.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for an investigation into the death and urged "all sides to exercise maximum restraint and avoid escalation".
Following the incident dozens of Palestinians reportedly gathered at the scene, near the village of Turmusaya, setting fire to tyres and throwing stones at security forces.
Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas held a Palestine Liberation Organisation (PLO) meeting in Ramallah following news of the death of the minister, whom he called a "martyr".Confiscation protest
Mr Abu Ein, a minister without portfolio, was among dozens of foreign and Palestinian activists taking part in a protest against land confiscations.
They had planned to plant olive tree saplings on a patch of land near the Jewish settlement of Shiloh, which Palestinians believe has been earmarked for annexation by Israel.
In the course of the protest, they came into confrontation with a group of about 15 Israeli soldiers.
Leading Palestinian activist Mahmoud Aloul, who was also at the protest, told the Associated Press news agency the soldiers had fired tear gas and had beaten some of the activists with rifle butts.
At one point, Mr Abu Ein was hit by a tear gas canister, Mr Aloul said.
A Reuters photographer said he had seen Mr Abu Ein being struck by a hand on the neck during an altercation with two soldiers.
An AFP news agency photographer said the minister had been hit in the chest.
Photos of the incident showed Mr Abu Ein lying unconscious before he was taken away in an ambulance. He died before reaching hospital in the nearby city of Ramallah.
There are reports he had a health condition that may have contributed to his death.
The BBC's Kevin Connolly in Jerusalem says Palestinians are likely to see the exact cause of death as a secondary issue, and it will serve to sharpen tensions.
Condemning "the brutal assault" on Mr Abu Ein, Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas promised to take unspecified measures and declared three days of mourning.
A Palestinian official told AFP that the session discussed the suspension of security co-operation with Israel, but the decision on whether to take action was deferred until Friday.
US Secretary of State John Kerry is to meet Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Italy on Sunday to discuss recent developments and security issues in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, the state department announced.
Mr Abu Ein once received the death sentence, commuted to life imprisonment, from a court in Israel for a 1979 bombing that killed two Israeli teenagers.
He was released in 1985 as part of a prisoner exchange that saw the release of three Israeli soldiers captured in Lebanon.
10 December 2014 Last updated at 23:56
Nicaraguans protest against canal plans
Thousands of people have marched through the streets of Nicaragua's capital, Managua, to protest against a canal project that will link the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans.
The demonstrators said their land was being taken away to make room for the planned $50bn (£31bn) project.
The waterway will be 278km (172 miles) long and will be deeper and wider than the Panama Canal.
Work is due to start this month and be completed in five years.
The protesters waved flags and chanted anti-government slogans. Most had come from villages along the planned canal route.
Government officials said in November that the canal would have a minimal impact on the environment and that it would create 50,000 jobs in one of Central America's poorest countries.
But protests along the canal route have increased in recent weeks with thousands of people concerned that their property would be appropriated without proper compensation.
The project is expected to include two ports, an airport, a resort and an economic zone for electricity and other companies.
There have been questions raised about the finances underpinning the project and allegations that Wang Jing, the Chinese businessman behind the plan, lacks experience in developing and financing big infrastructure projects.
11 December 2014 Last updated at 02:17
Greenpeace sorry for Nazca lines stunt in Peru
Greenpeace has apologised for any "moral offence" it has caused, after a publicity stunt on the ancient Nazca lines in Peru.
Activists from the organisation placed a banner next to a figure of a hummingbird, carved more than 1,500 years ago.
They were hoping to increase pressure on UN negotiators currently meeting in Lima.
The Peruvian government said it would prosecute the activists who took part.
The ancient depictions of animals, including a monkey and a hummingbird that are etched into the arid plain of Southern Peru are a vital part of the county's heritage.
Visits to the site are closely supervised - ministers and presidents have to seek special permission and special footwear to tread on the fragile ground where the 1,500 year old lines are cut.
Earlier this week 20 Greenpeace activists from seven countries unfurled a protest banner very close to the location of the lines.'Slap in the face'
"With our message from the Nazca lines, we expect politicians to understand the legacy we need to leave for future generations," said one of the activists, Mauro Fernandez, on a video produced by the organisation.
"It is not a legacy of climate crisis."
Unfortunately, according to the Peruvian authorities, the legacy of the stunt was damage to the ancient site.
They say the green group entered a strictly prohibited area and left footprints. The government is asking for the identities of those involved and threatening prosecution and six years in prison for the offenders.
"It's a true slap in the face at everything Peruvians consider sacred,'' Deputy Culture Minister Luis Jaime Castillo said, speaking to news agencies.
Greenpeace have now issued a fulsome apology, saying they are deeply concerned about any "moral offence" and stating that they will speak to the authorities and explain what really happened.
"The peaceful protest by Greenpeace in the area of the Nazca lines was to demonstrate the impacts of climate change and honour the historical legacy of this town who learned to live with the environment without affecting it," said Greenpeace legal advisor Henry Carhuatocto.
A statement released by the group said: "Without reservation Greenpeace apologises to the people of Peru for the offence caused... We are deeply sorry for this.
"We fully understand that this looks bad. Rather than relay an urgent message of hope and possibility to the leaders gathering at the Lima UN climate talks, we came across as careless and crass.
"We have now met with the Peruvian culture ministry responsible for the site to offer an apology. We welcome any independent review of the consequences of our activity. We will co-operate fully with any investigation."
The statement went on to say that Greenpeace is willing to face "fair and reasonable consequences" for its actions and that its International Executive Director Kumi Naidoo will travel to Lima this week personally to apologise for the offence caused.
11 December 2014 Last updated at 02:18
Is IS on an inevitable path to destruction?-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
It was Voltaire who said that the Holy Roman Empire was neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.
Some would say the same of Islamic State (IS) - that it is neither Islamic, nor a state.
I suspect that is unhelpful sophistry, which disguises the scale of the challenge to the West.
One of IS main slogans is: "Remaining and expanding." For those who would rather it contracted and faded, figuring out its nature should be a priority.
At the moment, the West seems deeply uncertain about what to do.
Back in August, US President Barack Obama declared that "we have no strategy yet" to deal with IS.
Later he ordered air strikes against IS in Iraq and Syria.
So, he now has a policy. It is not clear that it amounts to a strategy.Troops on the ground
On the World this Weekend, I spoke to the former four-star general Jack Keane, who was instrumental in the "surge" that beat down the Sunni insurgency after the invasion of Iraq.
He told me: "The strategy is likely to fail. We need to put advisers on the ground with the [Iraqi] troops who are going to fight. Air-ground controllers as well.
"We have to increase their air power to support them - apache helicopters."
I put it to him that was worrying language that would remind everyone of "mission creep" and Vietnam.
He said: "It needs to have mission creep - a lot of mission creep to be frank.
"I mean the issue is - do you want to destroy and defeat it, or do you want to lose? We are on a path to failure."
A few days after that conversation, the US announced 1,500 more advisers would be sent to Iraq, on top of the 3,000 already heading there.
At both, there was general agreement that IS could not be defeated by military force alone.
That is why understanding its ideology is important.
The question of whether IS is Islamic is controversial.
It is understandable why the vast majority of Muslims who have rejected this brand of extremism want to say it is un-Islamic.
It is equally obvious why politicians in the West want to agree with them, to draw a very clear distinction between murderous fanatics and the religion of law-abiding millions.
But it is a bit like saying the Inquisition or those Protestants who burnt Catholics at the stake (or vice versa) were not Christian.
For theologians, this may make sense. "Would Jesus want this?" might be their question.
But for the rest of us it is claptrap - these killers were not motivated by Buddhism, or Marxism or vegetarianism, but by their own interpretation of Christianity.
So with IS - it is the current apex of a century or more trend towards ever more violent jihadist movements with deep religious and historical roots.
Over the years, not only has the brutality of such movements grown, but their definition of legitimate targets has also ballooned.
From warily deciding that conspicuously secular rulers of Muslim populations could be overthrown by violence, it has grown to include terrorist attacks on security forces, to any servants of the state, to any citizen who doesn't oppose their own rulers, and now to any Muslim anywhere who doesn't join the struggle.End of times
Some argue that the West, perhaps understandably obsessed by the threat of another 9/11 and the fight against al-Qaeda, has misinterpreted the nature of IS, which is motivated by sectarian hatred of Shias and a desire to dominate the region.
Author Ahmed Rashid says: "The first thing we need to recognise is that IS is not waging a war against the West."
He adds: "Arab regimes need to come together far more than they have done if they are to convince their populations that the extremism carried out by IS in the name of Sunni Islam is destroying the traditional, tolerant Islam that most Arabs have always believed in."
The analysis may be spot on, but it also highlights a huge problem.
The very origins of IS make it much more difficult for the biggest players in the region to act decisively - or indeed want to do so.
In a brilliant piece, Karen Armstrong argues the violent, intolerant 18th Century Wahabism that gave rise to IS also created Saudi Arabia - down to the tactics of beheading enemies and treating women and children as legitimate targets.
There are those who argue that ideology is even more fundamental to understanding the actions of IS because it is motivated by an "end of times" narrative and is acting to bring about "malahim" - the equivalent of Armageddon.
Certainly their glossy, high-production value, lyrical magazine is called "Dabiq" after a Syrian town where prophesies predict that the final battle will be fought: "The hour will not be established until the Romans land at al-A'maq or Dabiq."
IS clearly identify the Americans with 'the dogs of Rome" - the modern imperialists - and some argue that the obscenity of the beheading of hostages is designed deliberately to lure the US into a ground fight to establish the conditions for the prophecy to be fulfilled.
While this is an interesting theory, it is perhaps too alluring - there is more support for it in the tabloid press that among reputable scholars.Deliberately divisive
But there is no doubt that the IS deliberately cultivates a sense of a world approaching an apocalyptic clash where, as former US President George W Bush said, you are either with us, or against us.
It is possible that in its deliberately divisive, aggressive challenge to any Muslim not willing to actively support it, IS is sowing the seeds of its own destruction.
But it is also part of its appeal to disaffected radicals in the West and elsewhere.
Its ambition, is to rule the whole world. But is it more than a terrorist organisation with grandiose ambition?
IS controls large parts of Iraq and Syria, probably amounting to an area roughly the size of Great Britain.
The self-anointed caliph Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi runs a bureaucracy headed by an eight-man cabinet, including six provincial governors.
Aman Jawad al-Tamimi, who works for the US-based Middle East Forum, has no doubt it is "a state and has to be treated as such".
"That doesn't mean giving it recognition, but they have all the trappings of a state in how they run localities," he says.
"You can identify departments of government across IS-controlled areas.
"Health departments, real estate, Sharia committees, public service committees - all the trappings of a state, however poor it might be in reality."
To many it may seem that that this terrorist organisation claiming to be a new country exploded on the scene almost out of nowhere - to claim an area straddling two countries. Known by a confusing plethora of names - ISI, ISIS, ISIL Islamic state in Iraq, and Islamic State.Very different movement
It certainly evolved out of a conventional terrorist outfit - a Sunni group formed by Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi in Afghanistan in 1999.
After the American invasion, they fled to Iraq - and, in 2004, pledged allegiance to Osama Bin Laden and became known as al-Qaeda in Iraq, developing a reputation of sectarian brutality towards the Shia minority - Zarqawi called them the "lurking snake, the crafty and malicious scorpion".
He was killed in 2006, but the group expanded into Syria, and, in June this year, declared the borders of the Middle East, established after World War One, were redundant. They were in charge. They were the new caliphate.
This statehood is the result of a distinct ambition that makes IS very different to recent terrorist movements.
Al-Qaeda is organised in a cell structure and is funded largely by donations.
IS sees itself as the rightful ruler of all Muslims. It earns money from kidnappings, looting, but above all oil.
Eckart Woertz, from the Barcelona Centre for International Affairs, has made a study of their resources.
He says: "Oil is important for IS, but it is not that much in the scheme of things.
"Before the onset of bombardments, it was earning about $2m a day in oil sales - that is nothing if you want to rule over a territory of eight million people."Uncertain future
And Mr Woertz has a prediction.
"It will disintegrate. I would guess next year. It lacks the economic base that is necessary to a state."
It is a vital distinction - very rich for a terrorist organisation, poor for a state.
Although there are reports that IS is supported because it can provide medical services, and pay its people, others cast doubt on this.
When IS takes over, women are forced to wear the burka, cigarettes are burnt, music banned, even crayons are taken from children as school art classes are banned. Religious opponents are beheaded, even crucified.
But it is striking, and perhaps a little alarming, that, for some, it is the deprivations of everyday life that chafe more than the lurid horrors.
Residents of Mosul - who we obviously can't name - have written diaries for the BBC, and what struck me was the mundane nature of their complaints.
One talked of the disappearance of the mobile phone network - they were "in a complete void like we have gone back to the dark ages".
"Some blame the government in Bagdad others on IS. Either way the city is lost."
Another wrote of the rising price of gas for cooking: "I was really shocked before the Islamic State took control, it was barely $7 (£4), but with the Islamic State it just kept on rising."
It was $60, then later that day $100. He decided to buy his family lunch from a restaurant instead. It was closed.
"I was told the owner couldn't afford the ever rising cost of gas canisters so he had to shut the whole place down. He had to make 13 men redundant.
"That's 13 families who can no longer afford bread. All for the price of a gas canister. We are tired of this situation, there is no clean water, gas or fuel to cook our food. How can we continue living under this caliphate?"Western policy failure
While IS claims to be re-establishing the caliphate abolished by Kemal Ataturk in 1924, some see it as an heir to an alternative tradition.
"Created under wartime conditions, and operating in a constant atmosphere of internal and external pressure, these states have been unstable and never fully functional.
"Forming a state makes Islamists vulnerable. While jihadist networks or guerrilla groups are difficult to fight, a state, which can be invaded, is far easier to confront."
Many inside and outside the region would argue IS is a direct result of a string of Western policies - starting with the British and French carve up of he Ottoman Empire, right through to American invasion of Iraq, and the subsequent removal of anyone who had anything to do with the old regime, which sharpened Sunni resentment.
President Obama's reaction to this, withdrawal from Iraq and hesitation over Syria are an understandable reaction to the perception of an imperial America imposing its will on the world but allowed a space for IS to grow.
If the West is the part of the problem, it probably isn't the solution either.
But countering the ideology and the territorial ambition of IS might require a military resolve and political will from surrounding states that isn't immediately apparent.
10 December 2014 Last updated at 06:58
China media: CIA report
State media criticise the US over its "human rights record" after a report revealed that the CIA used "brutal" interrogation techniques on al-Qaeda suspects.
According to a US Senate report, the CIA carried out "brutal" interrogations of al-Qaeda suspects in the years after the 9/11 attacks on the US.
The summary of the report, compiled by Democrats on the Senate Intelligence Committee, said the CIA had misled Americans about what it was doing.
Several Chinese media outlets are following developments closely. Sina web portal and the Shanghai's Dongfang Satellite TV have highlighted the extent of the CIA's "brutality".
State-run Xinhua News Agency criticises the US over the report.
"America is neither a suitable role model nor a qualified judge on human rights issues in other countries, as it pertains to be. Yet, despite this, people rarely hear the US talking about its own problems, preferring to be vocal on the issues it sees in other countries, including China," says the news agency.
"Perhaps the US government should clean up its own backyard first and respect the rights of other countries to resolve their issues by themselves," it adds.
The news agency's Chinese website is running a dedicated special page on the report. Most reports on the page are critical of Washington's treatment of prisoners.
"'Guardian of Human Rights', how long more can the US pretend?," says the title of the page.
The page includes an excerpt from Ta Kung Pao, a pro-Beijing Hong Kong paper, criticising Washington's hypocrisy.
"The report will be powerful evidence that will totally unveil the ugly human rights mask of the US and will serve a heavy blow to its credibility and international image," the excerpt reads.'Immoral behaviour'
Meanwhile, some papers shine a spotlight on the "post-Occupy Central era" after a Hong Kong court ordered the clearance of the protest camp.
The Global Times' Chinese edition urges the students to respect the law and end the movement peacefully.
The editorial foresees that Hong Kong will soon enter into the "post-Occupy Central era" to "reconstruct politics and the rule of law".
"The Hong Kong society will now see the power and determination of the central government. But society is likely to be divided - some may trust Beijing more, while others may further distance themselves from the mainland," predicts the daily.
Elsewhere, China's anti-graft watchdog has invited overseas whistle-blowers to help arrest corrupt officials.
The Central Commission for Discipline Inspection has set up a website to help Chinese citizens report officials who stash illegal money abroad.
"Credible reports on clues of party members and public officials who have fled or transferred suspected corruption proceeds abroad are encouraged," says the watchdog,
"Specialised staff will be designated to handle the reports in a timely manner and the rights of whistle-blowers will be protected in accordance with law," it adds.
And finally, state media outlets remind officials that the rules of the Communist Party are "stricter than the national law" and warn against any "immoral behaviour".
"The Communist Party of China's (CPC) rules are more strict than the national law… The ruling CPC orders all members to be strict with themselves as they are 'vanguard of the Chinese nation'," the Xinhua News Agency says.
Zhou Yongkang, one the most senior party members, was arrested and expelled from the party last week.
He was accused of "committing adultery with a number of women and traded his power for sex and money", the news agency reports.
"Immoral behaviour, such as adultery, will lead to warnings and punishment for party members… Adultery is not considered a crime in China, but it is increasingly common in disciplinary punishment within the party," it adds.
BBC Monitoring reports and analyses news from TV, radio, web and print media around the world.