Book Review: The Essential Guide to the ISIS Threat

Amir HafiziWednesday, April 1, 2015
(Pic by Hussein Shaharuddin/TMR)

This is the definitive book on Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) so far. Written by Harvard lecturer on terrorism Jessica Stern and non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution JM Berger, there is currently no other single book that tracks how ISIS came to be and how the terror group/state is now.

The book expertly focuses on the timelines and events that led to ISIS as well as the people within the organisation — Abu Musab Al Zarqawi, Al Maqdisi, Jihadi Joe, the countless people joining and killing in the name of ISIS as well as the female sex slaves.

ISIS: The State of Terror delves into the ideology behind ISIS to explain its mass appeal among even modern Muslims raised and living in liberal capitalist countries.

The book also explores the justifications ISIS presents in order to behead prisoners and take non-Muslim women as sex slaves, even underaged ones.

It is easy to get lost in the stark reality or the gory details of ISIS’ many violent endeavours, but Stern and Berger manage to adopt a professional viewpoint in presenting the facts in this extremely well-researched book.

ISIS is shown as the extremist to the extremists — they were a bit too crazy even for Al Qaeda — and how they appeal to current and future generations of Muslims who must desperately believe in their own self-importance.

There is even a nice little statistic about the percentage of Muslims who believe they will witness the end of days within their lifetime.

Malaysia comes in at fourth place with 62% of Muslims here believing that. We come in after Afghanistan, Iraq and Tunisia. This is a worrying statistic as ISIS makes its way across continental Asia towards this region.

There is hardly any judgmental or pedantic observations in this tome, though the book sometimes does try to get into the mind of the terrorists. Here’s an excerpt on the closest thing the book has on an opinion: Fundamentalists see religious texts as inerrant guides to life. But even for those who see scripture as the literal word of God, the people who read it and interpret it are human and fallible, a concept fundamentalists are often unable to conceptualise as it applies to themselves, although they happily apply it to others.

The book does not get Islam wrong. Stern and Berger demonstrate their understanding of the subject matter and even of the characters inside fundamentalist groups. This is not the first book either of them have written on terrorism or religion.

They also get endorsement from noted scholar and historian Reza Aslan, his quote prominently displayed on the cover of this book.

All in all, a very well-researched book. A serious in-depth look into ISIS that doesn’t feel as if it’s just another Western “liberal” propaganda. A must read, especially for those living in Muslim countries whether you’re a Muslim or not.

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