Posts Tagged Syria

book review: ISIS: The State of Terror


ISIS: The State of Terror By Jessica Stern and J.M. Berger.
Ecco| March 2015| 385 pages |$34.99| ISBN: 978-0-06-239554-2

rating: 3.5/5*

“Terrorism is psychological warfare. Its most immediate goals are to bolster the morale of its supporters and demoralize and frighten its victims and their sympathizers. For the audience, the radius of fear dwarfs that of injury and death. Terrorists also aim to make us overreact in fear. While they don’t always get what they want, terrorists often succeed at two vital goals: spreading fear and provoking negative policies.”

Are you confused between Sunni and Shi’a branches of Islam? “Though the comparison is imperfect for a number of reasons, it can be helpful to think of Shi’a Islam as being analogous to Roman Catholicism and Sunni Islam as being analogous to Protestantism.” ISIS is anti-Sunni Muslim. Do you understand the appeal of ISIS for many radical Muslims? Are you confused by a caliphate? Do you want to know why Al Queda distanced itself from ISIS? For one reason, Osama bin Laden studied business in college while former ISIS leader Abu Musab al Zarqawi dropped out of school in the ninth grade. Zarqawi “a Jordanian thug-turned-terrorist brought a particularly brutal and sectarian approach to his understanding of jihad.” Current ISIS leader Abu Omar al Baghdadi holds a doctorate in Islamic culture and Shariah law. Do you wonder how ISIS recruits, particularly Westerners? What can the United States and other Western nations do to stop or suppress ISIS? The authors suggest: “Rather than trying to displace ISIS with an external force, we should consider efforts to cut off its ability to move fighters, propaganda, and money in and out of the regions it controls, weakening its ability to use brute force and extreme violence to keep the local population in check.”

Author Jessica Stern lectures on terrorism at Harvard University. She is a member of the Hoover Institution Task Force on National Security and Law and served on the Clinton administration’s National Security Council staff. She wrote Denial: A Memoir in Terror, Terror in the Name of God, Why Religious Militants Kill and The Ultimate Terrorists. Author J.M. Berger is a nonresident fellow with the Brookings Institution and wrote Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam.

This exhaustively researched and expertly written book chronicles the beginning of ISIS, what its followers and members believe and its messages and plans. This detailed account should enlighten those confused by the terrorist group. I wish there’d been a bit more on how ISIS recruits using Twitter. That chapter disappointed me. I wanted to know how and why Westerners are drawn to such a brutal group. I wanted interviews or information on more Westerners in ISIS or formally in ISIS. That’s what fell short for me. Despite majoring in Political Science in college, ISIS and other Islamic and religious terrorist organizations perplex me. This book helped me to understand a bit more.

Some highlights:

–“Bin Laden and his early followers were mostly members of an intellectual, educated elite, while Zarqawi was a barely educated ruffian with an attitude.” [pg. 16]

–“The Sunni and Shi’a branches of Islam had split soon after the death of Muhammad over the issue of who should succeed the Prophet of Islam as leader of the Muslims, or caliph. Sunnis believe that the caliph can be chosen by Muslim authorities. Shi’ites believe that the caliph must be a direct descendant of the Prophet through his son-in-law and cousin Ali.” [pg. 19]

–“Jihadists who get out of U.S. detention develop a kind of aura when reintegrated into their home communities . . . making it easier for them to recruit others, or to symbolize defiance against a Western power.” [pg. 36]

–ISIS is well-funded. “Most agreed its cash reserves ran into the hundreds of milions of dollars, perhaps even a billion, and by November, some estimated it was generating $1 million to $3 million per day . . .” [pg. 46] Most of ISIS’s revenue came from taxing local populations, looting, sale of antiquities and oil smuggling.

–The coalition to fight ISIS in Syria includes: United States, France, Australia, Canada, Germany, the Netherlands and Bahrain, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, Turkey, Qatar and the United Arab Emirates—all Sunni-majority countries.

–17, 000 foreign fighters have traveled to Syria and Iraq to join jihadi groups. Supporters of ISIS span the globe and include those in the United States, Canada, Europe, Australia, India, Afghanistan and Pakistan. [pg. 200]

–“Western returnees have been horrified by what they saw in the Islamic State and appear to have little interest in attacking their home countries, at least for now.” [pg. 201]

–ISIS is obsessed and driven by the end of days. Over 50% of Muslims believe in this end time/ Day of Judgment. Mostly in Afghanistan, Iraq, Tunisia and Malaysia. “Why is ISIS’s obsession with the end of the world so important for us to understand? For one thing, violent apocalyptic groups tend to see themselves as participating in a cosmic war between good and evil, in which ordinary moral rules do not apply.” [pg. 224]

–review by Amy Steele

FTC Disclosure: I received this book for review from Ecco.

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The Sandcastle Girls: book review

The Sandcastle Girls by Chris Bohjalian. Publisher: Doubleday (July 2012). Fiction. Hardcover. 299 pages. ISBN: 978-385534796.

Does our past influence our future? How much does our ancestry affect who we are today? Certainly the past changes the future but to what extent? How many people know about the Armenian genocide in 1915 where a million and half Armenians where massacred by the Turks because they weren’t Muslim but were Christian? Did it change what happened merely thirty years later to the Jews in the Holocaust or to the Serbs in Yugoslavia or to those in Darfur? Of course stories need to be told and we must remember every atrocity.

Author Chris Bohjalian quite effectively writes about topics such as midwives, domestic abuse, rape, homeopathy, transgender issues and homelessness. One of my favorite novels of Bohjalian’s is about WWI, The Skeleton Feast. In The Sandcastle Girls, Bohjalian shifts again to historical fiction and painstakingly magnifies a horrific period of bloodshed when the Turks gathered Armenians for mass exodus from Turkey to Syria to die to be executed or left to die in the desert while England and the United States basically looked the other way from what they viewed as a civil war that would resolve itself.

The novel shifts between present day Bronxville, New York and Aleppo, Syria in 1915. In New York, a 44-year-old novelist researches a photograph, taken during the genocide that may or may not be her Armenian relative. For much of her adult life her father’s shared little of his Armenian heritage with her, particularly the stories of her grandparents that maybe she should know. The present day description of Armenian culture? Fantastic. I live in Boston and have lived in Watertown where many [“at least seven thousand”] Armenians live and where the Armenian Library and Museum of America is located.

In Syria, there’s Elizabeth Endicott, a recent Mount Holyoke graduate and volunteer with Boston-based Friends of Armenia. She, along with her doctor father will be delivering aid and comfort to the refugees from the Armenian genocide. She meets two refugees and takes them into her care for the duration of her stay—a young woman and a little girl. With depth and heartfelt clarity, through Nevart and Hatoun, readers can envision this unimaginable atrocity via their distinctive lenses.

Elizabeth also meets Armen, an Armenian engineer who lost his wife and young daughter. Both see unbelievable suffering, cruelty and misery. It strengthens their bond. The pair change and grow through their shared and individual experiences. Motivated both by her desire to help and in a feeling that she’s truly contributing something, Elizabeth stays behind when her father returns to Boston. The wealthy Boston Brahmin and Armen fall in love while writing letters when he leaves to join the British army in Egypt.

This is a bold work of historical fiction with memorable characters, meticulous details and a story with a credible twist. Bohjalian describes bitter circumstances in the orphanages, the camps and in the hospital. Many scenes with vulgar, inhumane soldiers will make you cringe. It’s war. It’s a massacre. It’s not pretty. It’s one of those little talked about secret histories. The Sandcastle Girls is a potent novel that may change your outlook on humanity.

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