Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS by Joby Warrick

My extended essay students are writing papers on terrorism and I know little on the subject. This book gives excellent background knowledge on the rise of modern terrorism in the Middle East. When Saddam Hussein's reign ended in Iraq, it created unique opportunities for terrorists. Through various misfortunes and missteps by the Western governments, the beginning of modern terrorism took root in Iraq with the brilliant strategist and thug, leader Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, who took advantage of opportunities that began in Jordan. This book dramatically unfolds the complexities of tribal cultures, interpretations of Islam, and differences among clans that gave rise to terrorism in the form of the Islamic State of Iraq, later ISIS, and its relationship to the Muslim Brotherhood, al-Qaeda and the al-Nusra Front. 

The engrossing narrative is depressing and fascinating as it reveals the desire for ISIS to establish an Islamic state led by a caliph. The first  caliphs, viewed as descendants of the Prophet Mohammad, ruled from Damascus and Bagdad. The Ottoman caliphate replaced them in Istanbul expanding the Islamic Empire. The Turkish conquerors allowed the Sharif of Mecca or a Hashemite Emir (descendant of the Prophet Mohammad) to control Holy sites in Mecca for hundreds of years. Jordan's King Hussein's great-grandfather, Emir, teamed with Britain and Western Allies to successfully drive out the collapsing Turkish empire in 1916, and create an independent Arab-Islamic nation called, the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. Enemies of the new state were the nomadic Ikhwan tribesmen who invaded Jordan in the 1920's and Palestinian militants that attacked in the 1960's. The latter militants were driven out into Syria and Libya. Eighteen times King Hussein's enemies tried to assassinate him. The Jordan intelligence community worked to contain militant threats and the government worked with moderate Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood to maintain stability in the country and keep extremists at bay. 

When King Hussein died of natural causes, his son came to power in 1999 and allowed the tradition of granting amnesty to political and nonviolent criminals in prison. The practice ensured loyalty from those in Parliment such as moderate Islamists like the Muslim Brotherhood. It was under these circumstances that Jordan released Zarqawi and other extremists taking advantage of Abdullah, the inexperienced new king. Zarqawi interpreted jihad in a whole new way and introduced Internet violence, brilliantly exploiting tribal differences between Sunnis, Shiites, and other tribes. While he had initial support, his brutality against innocent people eventually isolated him. 
The book reveals Jordan's secret service and how it worked differently than US intelligence being more effective because of its cultural understandings and connections. As an expat, I've made so many cultural mistakes by filtering the world through my culture's perspective. The US showed an arrogance due to not listening to those that new tribal cultures better than them. The few voices that tried to be heard and had wise advice were ignored by those in power. This book is a good reminder of qualities that make a wise leader and how difficult it is to make decisions in complex situations. Another part of the book shows how the US and Arab prisons that held extremists actually helped unite different terrorist groups in the quest for a caliphate by bringing them all together in one location. 

When  ISIS leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared a caliphate in Mosul, Iraq, it conquered the second largest city. ISIS raided Mosul's government treasuries giving the rebels millions of dollars to fund their operations of expanding to other territories. The rebels had superior technology with more machine guns and explosives as compared to Iraq's army allowing for a quick downfall of Mosul. Their leader, Baghdadi, is a religious scholar who declared himself caliph. The Muslim world questions this claim as his violence is even more extreme than Zarqawi's. The partnerships formed by Arab and Western governments to fight ISIS shows that most Muslim's do not recognize ISIS.  While I'm just a newbie on this topic, this is a great start to gaining some knowledge and understanding on the issue. 

5 Smileys

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