This is not a personally reflective book on how ISIS came to be, but more a factual one, as reported by a "western" journalist. With that in the bag,This is not a personally reflective book on how ISIS came to be, but more a factual one, as reported by a "western" journalist. With that in the bag, I think the book is notable for its critique directed towards the USA and other countries as well, and makes valid points.
Rami Khouri, noted journalist with deep insight into ISIS, calls them a Salafist takfiri extremist group. Salafist refers to a muslim who wants to go back to the old, literal way of Islam, takfiri refers to a Sunni way of pointing out apostasy where they see it, and extremist as in, yeah, being extreme. And that's what ISIS is. I define this to point out that ISIS is neither a common-day group nor one that has been welcomed much, anywhere; one could compare ISIS with the German terrorist group named RAF: while some people liked them just because they were against oppressors, most people firmly denounced them following their bombings, et cetera.
Abu Musab al-Zarqawi is by many considered to be the modern father of ISIS, active before ISIS - also known as IS, ISIL and Daesh -started. Was he a mastermind to begin with? People that I usually speak with neither know much of ISIS nor more of them other than their extreme videos that they have heard of. Here's a quote on Zarqawi from the book:
Such hallmarks, like the voice on the audio recording, unmistakably belonged to Zarqawi, a man the Mukhabarat knew exceptionally well. He was, at the time of the bombing, the head of a particularly vicious terrorist network called al-Qaeda in Iraq. But the Jordanians had known him back in the days when he was Ahmad the hoodlum, a high school dropout with a reputation as a heavy drinker and a brawler. They had watched him wander off to Afghanistan in the late 1980s to fight the communists, then return as a battle-hardened religious fanatic. After a first try at terrorism, he had vanished into one of Jordan’s darkest prisons. This time he emerged as a battle-hardened religious fanatic who also happened to excel as a leader of men.
ISIS is, naturally, not alone in this sense. For example, Putin is a former cocaine addict and Obama is - by US definitions - one of the most fervent terrorist leaders of all time, as his drone-driven global assassination program is, by far, the world's greatest terrorist campaign.
The book does well with examining differences between ISIS and other groups, for example al-Qaeda:
Osama bin Laden had sought to liberate Muslim nations gradually from corrupting Western influences so they could someday unify as a single Islamic theocracy, or caliphate. Zarqawi, by contrast, insisted that he would create his caliphate immediately—right now. He would seek to usher in God’s kingdom on Earth through acts of unthinkable savagery, believing, correctly, that theatrical displays of extreme violence would attract the most hardened jihadists to his cause and frighten everyone else into submission.
It's interesting to see how the book handles Obama's (and previous American presidents') views on ISIS and other terrorist organisations, as the USA deems Saudi Arabia to be one of their closest allies. "During previous visits, President Obama had declined Jordan’s requests for laser-guided munitions and other advanced hardware that could take out ISIS’s trucks and tanks." Also, on how Obama met with the ruler of Jordan: "Inside the Oval Office, Obama offered condolences to the pilot’s family and thanked the king for Jordan’s contributions to the military campaign against ISIS. The administration was doing all it could to be supportive, the president assured the monarch. “No, sir, you are not,” Abdullah said, firmly."
The book basically treats the spawning of ISIS quite well, I think. Most international scholars agree that ISIS came about through the so-called anti-terrorist campaigns, notably the US-led invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, and also recognise them as terror-generating campaigns at the same time. As Janine di Giovanni notes in her excellent 2016 book named "The Morning They Came for Us: Dispatches From Syria", the way the "allied" forces have left places like Syria, Afghanistan and Iraq merely strengthens the extremist groups that are against the allied, which makes for a perfect growing ground for them.
Before the foundation of ISIS, however, Zarqawi built his own vicious army based on little else than hate and principles, wanting to build a caliphate at once, not seldom resulting in tragicomedy:
Their efforts at jihad in Jordan had been anything but glorious. The leaders of Maqdisi’s small band had been arrested before they could carry out their first operation, a planned attack on an Israeli border post. The other groups’ targets had consisted of small-time symbols of Western corruption, from liquor stores to video shops and pornographic movie houses. One of the early attempts at a bombing had been a spectacular failure: A member of the group had volunteered to plant explosives inside a local adult cinema called the Salwa. After a few minutes in the theater, the would-be assailant had become so engrossed in the film that he forgot about his bomb. As he sat, glued to the screen, the device detonated under his feet. No patrons were hurt, but the bomber lost both his legs. Six years later, the double-amputee was among Sabha’s charges at al-Jafr Prison. The doctor had noticed him on his first visit, propped up on his bunk, his pant legs neatly pinned at the knee.
I think the book suffers some due to it being quite black-and-white, and to me, it seems the author hasn't performed any in-depth interviews with people. There are a bunch of detailed descriptions on what goes down in quite a few of the infamous ISIS execution videos, and only where famous western (mainly American) persons are featured.
There are quotes from high-ranking American military officers, but severely lacking of interviews with people on the ground, notably civilians who have lived through it all.
Still, the style of writing is simple and allows for a not-too-gung-ho run-through of events.
How did Zarqawi gain global notoriety? The US gave it to him:
The world’s introduction to Abu Musab al-Zarqawi came on February 5, 2003, in the sixty-first minute of Colin Powell’s speech to the UN Security Council making the case for war against Iraq. It began with a declarative sentence that, like many others in the seventy-five-minute presentation, was technically true but widely off the mark. “Iraq today harbors a deadly terrorist network headed by Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, an associate and collaborator of Osama bin Laden and his al-Qaeda lieutenants,” Powell began, just before Zarqawi’s bearded image appeared on a large screen behind the council’s circular table. Nada Bakos, watching on a TV monitor at work, heard the line and cringed. Yes, Zarqawi lived in the remote mountains of northeastern Iraq—in an area off limits to Iraq’s military. To suggest that Saddam Hussein was providing sanctuary to him was contrary to everything that Bakos, the Zarqawi expert, knew to be true. It was like claiming that America’s twenty-second president, Grover Cleveland, had “harbored” Geronimo, the famed Apache chieftain of the frontier West who attacked settlers and Blue Coats from his base along the U.S.-Mexican border.
“Iraqi officials protest that they are not aware of the whereabouts of Zarqawi or of any of his associates,” Powell said. “Again, these protests are not credible. We know of Zarqawi’s activities in Baghdad.” The assertions were coming faster than Bakos could mentally counter them. It was becoming painful. This was not how intelligence analysis was supposed to work. When Cheney had made similar claims on Sunday talk shows, Bakos often found herself yelling at the television screen, as though she were contesting a referee’s blown call in a football game. Now Powell, like Cheney, was “asserting to the public as fact something that we found to be anything but,” she later said. Ultimately, the speech would tarnish Powell’s reputation and further undermine the credibility of the Bush administration with key allies, particularly after claims that Iraq harbored weapons of mass destruction turned out to be false.
It was one of the great ironies of the age, Abu Hanieh said. In deciding to use the unsung Zarqawi as an excuse for launching a new front in the war against terrorism, the White House had managed to launch the career of one of the century’s great terrorists.
There's a good bit in the book on how come the USA took quite some time to act, when George W. Bush was in charge:
“There was a firestorm,” recalled Richer, who retired from the agency in 2005. “The CIA is saying that an insurgency is developing, and now the White House is pissed off.” In effect, he said, two versions of reality were colliding in Iraq: the one witnessed by the agency’s spies, and another that sought to reinforce the message communicated so dramatically by Bush in May on the deck of the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln. “The problem for the White House,” Richer said, “was that the president had just landed on a ship to say that we had won.”
The situation on the CIA and military side of things, for the Americans, was dire:
If Abu Musab al-Zarqawi could have dictated a U.S. strategy for Iraq that suited his own designs for building a terrorist network, he could hardly have come up with one that surpassed what the Americans themselves put in place over the spring and summer of 2003. Countless articles and books have documented the Bush administration’s missteps, from the refusal to halt massive looting after the invasion to the wholesale dismantling of the Iraqi military and security structure by Bremer’s CPA. But no Americans appreciated the magnitude of the blunders more than the intelligence officers and U.S. diplomats in Iraq who were watching Zarqawi’s organization gain momentum. Years later, CIA officials who were brought into the final planning for the March 2003 invasion expressed astonishment at the lack of forethought on how the country would be managed after Saddam Hussein’s deposal. Junior officers were pressed into service at the eleventh hour to draft papers on possible risks U.S. soldiers could face in attempting to preserve order in occupied Iraq. But by then it was already too late to affect the outcome. “Right before the invasion, I asked the Pentagon, ‘Is anyone writing policy on force protection?’ The answer was no, so I said I’d do it,” said one former CIA analyst who was enlisted to help. “I was doing military analysis because they had literally no one doing it on the inside.”
There's remarkable information describing how takfiri took over places and tried to apply their way of life:
Shopkeepers who tried to stay open found themselves subjected to arbitrary and occasionally bizarre regulations. In some neighborhoods, grocers were threatened with punishment if they displayed cucumbers and tomatoes in the same stall. The jihadists maintained that the vegetables resembled male and female body parts and should not be permitted to mingle.
After a while, most muslims from the Islamic world came together to denounce the takfiris:
It was the first time scholars and religious leaders from across the Islamic world had come together to denounce takfiri ideology collectively, in a consensus statement considered legally binding for observant Muslims. No one expected an immediate halt to the bloodshed in Iraq, and, indeed, the killings continued as before. Yet Abdullah, reflecting on the effort afterward, said there had been no choice but to speak out. Even though Zarqawi might be fighting Americans and Shiites, his chief targets were ultimately the minds of young Muslims he hoped to win to his cause. Each bombing shown on the nightly news, each grotesque video uploaded to the Internet, brought Zarqawi closer to his goal. And until now, the rest of the Muslim world had offered nothing substantial in reply. “The ability of a few extremists to influence perceptions through acts of barbarity places greater responsibility on the moderates, of all religions, to speak up,” the king said. “If the majority remains silent, the extremists will dominate the debate.”
The book naturally reaches beyond Zarqawi, and into the formation of ISIS, into 2015. The author thinks that the collapse of Syria sparked the resurgence of the takfiris that formed ISIS:
The group was nearly broke. It had lost its sanctuary and freedom of movement, so essential for communication, training, and resupply. And it was selling an ideology that the Muslim world seemed no longer to care for. Five years after Zarqawi’s death, the Islamic State of Iraq had become the thing that terrorist organizations fear even more than their own annihilation. It had become irrelevant.
The jihadists’ new chief, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, was a man of soaring ambitions, but in late 2011, well into his second year as leader, his boasts were as empty as the group’s coffers. The Islamic State of Iraq lacked resources, fighters, and sanctuary. And, perhaps most critically, it lacked a cause—a single big idea with which it could rally its depleted forces and draw other Muslims into the fold. Soon, within the chaos of revolutionary Syria, it would find all four.
On April 9, 2013, Baghdadi posted a twenty-one-minute audio message on Islamist Web sites, announcing a major corporate restructuring. Officially banished, Baghdadi said, was the group known as the al-Nusra Front. In its place was a newly merged organization that Baghdadi called the Islamic State of Iraq and al-Sham. The latter word, roughly synonymous with the English term “Levant,” referred to the lands of the eastern Mediterranean, from southern Turkey through present-day Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, and Israel. English-speakers would know the new organization as ISIL, or ISIS.
Even though Baghdadi obviously learned from many of the mistakes made by Zarqawi, what squelched support for ISIS to a large extent - notably when al-Quaeda denounced them in 2014 - he did not learn that while extreme violence lures some people to their fray, it repels most.
All in all, this book is well-written and a good way to learn of ISIS. It's bloody, but then, this is to be expected when dealing with ISIS on any level....more
Detta är en bok som är baserad på verkliga händelser. Trots det har jag oerhört svårt att kunna säga att det finns något märkbart av värde i den, vilkDetta är en bok som är baserad på verkliga händelser. Trots det har jag oerhört svårt att kunna säga att det finns något märkbart av värde i den, vilket tar emot: Haag saknar verkligen en naturlig och en inövad förmåga att skriva, vilket färgar av sig på allt. Ännu värre är att hon, mitt i sina sorgebeskrivningar, slänger ur sig floskler och ord som faktiskt bara beskriver händelser, men som egentligen inte frammanar riktig empati.
Det är oerhört orättvist, men jämför den här boken med någon annan misärbok som har att göra med otrohet och sorg, exempelvis Bodil Malmstens "Det här är hjärtat", som verkligen behandlar sorg. Med ett par meningar lyckas Malmsten dela läsarens hjärta och få vem som helst att fatta att det handlar om en beskrivning från hjärtat, från hjärnan och som verkligen blir stor konst till sist.
Jag kräver verkligen inte stor konst av Haag, men jag hade inga som helst förväntningar när jag började läsa boken. Den är däremot fylld av floskler, en sidoberättelse om att resa till Sveriges norra delar och en flamsighet som totalt förstör alla möjligheter boken har till att beröra. Dessutom är all dialog och alla situationsbeskrivningar förpestade av en oförmåga att berätta vad karaktärerna upplever och känner, och i stället ytligheter som borde beröra, men som inte gör det.
I pocketupplagan spenderas hela fem sidor på slutet till "Pressröster". Där skriver Jens Liljestrand från Expressen att detta är "Lena Andersson för chicklit-publiken", vilket är att totalt förkasta alla som läser "chicklit", Lena Anderssons oerhört välskrivna och innehållsrika böcker (samt hennes läsare) och att lyckas recensera något lika väl som Haag skriver.
Alla som någonsin har upplevt otrohet och/eller sorg känner igen sig något i den här boken, men det betyder verkligen inte att en upplever det med Haag.
Läs Malmsten, Andersson, Michel de Montaigne...vad som helst förutom detta, som borde ha varit en fackla, som hade kunnat vara ett ljus i mörkret, men faktiskt bara är som att hitta en fjärrkontroll som en försöker använda om och om igen, innan en upptäcker att batterierna inte bara är slut, utan har läckt sönder hela apparaturen....more