Uprising of ISIS: How the Jihadist Group Became a Household Name

The recent uprising of ISIS can be attributed to its focus on fear propaganda and implementation of technology to both recruit members and disperse threats to the public.

  • ISIS fighters fixed potholes, organized soup kitchens for those who had lost their homes, and secured round-the-clock electricity. In so doing, ISIS exhibits some understanding that in the twenty-first century, new nations cannot be built by terror and violence alone. To succeed, they require popular consensus.
    Photo courtesy Seven Stories Press
  • International terror expert Loretta Napoleoni confronts the Islamic State's contradictions head-on in her timely and thoroughly researched book, "The Islamist Phoenix."
    Cover courtesy Seven Stories Press

In The Islamist Phoenix (Seven Stories Press, 2014), the first major book to be published about ISIS, Loretta Napoleoni painstakingly documents how, growing out of more conventional terrorist organizations and networks, the Islamic State (as the group is currently known) has rocketed to the forefront of the global jihadist movement, achieving unparalleled successes in nation-building and rekindling their long-dormant dream of resurrecting the original Caliphate in a twenty-first century incarnation. The following excerpt from the introduction touches on the group’s use of “propaganda of fear” and technology to advance its mission.

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For the first time since World War I, an armed organization is redesigning the map of the Middle East drawn by the French and the British. Waging a war of conquest, the Islamic State (IS), formerly known as the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (al Sham), ISIL or ISIS, is erasing the borders that the Sykes-Picot Accord established in 1916. Today the black and gold flag of IS flies across a territory larger than the United Kingdom or Texas, from the Mediterranean shores of Syria well into the heart of Iraq, the Sunni tribal area. Since late June 2014, this region has been known as the Islamic Caliphate, a designation that had previously ceased to exist with the dissolution of the Ottoman Empire at the hands of Ataturk in 1924.

In the Islamic State, as in al Qaeda before it, many Western observers see an anachronistic organization that seeks to turn back the clock. Indeed Syrian and Iraqi refugees have described its rule as indistinguishable from that of the Taliban regime. Posters forbid smoking and the use of cameras; women are not allowed to travel without a male relative; they must be covered up and cannot wear trousers in public. At the same time, the Islamic State seems engaged in a sort of religious cleansing through aggressive proselytization. Residents of its territory who do not flee must adopt its radical Salafist creed or face execution.

Since his ascent to the global stage, IS leader and Caliph Abu Bakr al Baghdadi has drawn comparisons to al Qaeda’s Mullah Omar. Ironically, these comparisons may well have led Western intelligence to underestimate him and his organization’s strength. Despite its seemingly medieval approach to legality and social control, to deem the IS essentially backward would be mistaken. While the world of the Taliban was limited to Koranic schools and knowledge based upon the writings of the Prophet, globalization and modern technology have been the incubator of the Islamic State.

What distinguishes this organization from all other armed groups that predate it—including those active during the Cold War—and what accounts for its enormous successes is its modernity and pragmatism. Its leadership shows an unparalleled grasp of the limitations facing contemporary powers in a globalized and multipolar world. For example, IS sensed, before most others had, that joint foreign intervention of the sort that occurred in Libya and Iraq would not be possible in Syria. Against this backdrop, the Islamic State’s leadership has successfully exploited to its own advantage, and almost unobserved, the Syrian conflict—a contemporary version of the traditional war-by-proxy with plenty of sponsors and armed groups. Seeking a regime change in Syria, the Kuwaitis, Qataris, and Saudis have been willing to bankroll a plethora of armed organizations, of which IS is only one. However, instead of fighting its sponsors’ war by proxy, the Islamic State has used their money to establish its own territorial strongholds in financially strategic regions, like the rich oilfields of Eastern Syria. No previous Middle Eastern armed organization has been able to promote itself as the region’s new ruler using the money of its rich Gulf sponsors.

2/27/2015 11:07:11 AM

A sentence found in the last paragraph shows us the way to stop Islamic State as well as all of the "revealed"/hearsay religions and their calls for religious violence. The sentence is "Islam is premised on the mystery of the return of the Prophet." This Islamic belief is void of reason. Mohammed is dead and dead people do not return. Just like Jesus is dead and is not going to return. If Muslims, and all religious people, could recognize that God gave us innate reason and not religion, they would abandon their man-made religion for what The Supreme Intelligence/God gave them: reason. This would put an end to religious violence. As Thomas Paine wrote in The Age of Reason, The Complete Edition, we need a revolution in religion based on our innate God-given reason and Deism. This will make a much better, more progress producing and more peaceful world. Progress! Bob Johnson www.deism.com

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