'ISIS: The State of Terror' review

22 Apr 2015


ISIS has now spent enough time in the Western public’s conscience for it to have sparked the inevitable wave of books discussing its origins, rise and future prospects. Although often mixed in quality, “ISIS: Inside The State of Terror” by Jessica Stern and J. M. Berger was one of the better ones.


Starting with the group’s roots and profiling its founder, Abu Musab al Zarqawi, before his ascendancy to infamy in post-US invasion Iraq, Stern and Berger track its progress and eventual split from Al Qaeda into an independent organisation. The schism between the two groups is carefully and sensitively examined, while finding a healthy balance between the Syrian and Iraqi elements of their struggle against each other. ISIS’ takfiri tendencies are also discussed in good detail.


Other chapters are dedicated to the elements of ISIS’ work that have attracted the most attention in the West: its enlistment of large numbers of foreign fighters, extensive use of social media and western attempts to counter the group’s online efforts. Rather than simply describing ISIS’ use of Twitter, Stern and Berger present the reader with tweets from group members and supporters – in their entirety. There is also an excellent appendix which explains the main differences between Sunni and Shia Islam, Islamic concepts such as the Caliphate and Jihad, Wahhabism and Salafism and how they have promoted terrorism.

While very readable and not too long, the only improvement I could suggest would have been the inclusion of maps delineating the progress of the Syrian Civil War and ISIS’ growing areas of control. Having said that though, Stern and Berger have made a valuable contribution to the discourse surrounding ISIS and I highly recommend their new book, which is equally accessible to both the academic and more casual reader with an interest in Middle Eastern affairs.


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