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
The phenomenologists’ leading thinker, Edmund Husserl, provided a rallying cry, ‘To the things themselves!’ It meant: don’t waste time on the interpre
The phenomenologists’ leading thinker, Edmund Husserl, provided a rallying cry, ‘To the things themselves!’ It meant: don’t waste time on the interpretations that accrue upon things, and especially don’t waste time wondering whether the things are real. Just look at this that’s presenting itself to you, whatever this may be, and describe it as precisely as possible. Another phenomenologist, Martin Heidegger, added a different spin. Philosophers all through history have wasted their time on secondary questions, he said, while forgetting to ask the one that matters most, the question of Being. What is it for a thing to be? What does it mean to say that you yourself are? Until you ask this, he maintained, you will never get anywhere. Again, he recommended the phenomenological method: disregard intellectual clutter, pay attention to things and let them reveal themselves to you.
This book changes minds.
I first read Sarah Bakewell when somehow stumbling upon her "How To Live", a book about and around Michel de Montaigne; that book truly changed a lot in me, and made me delve into the facts on how humans are more alike and prone to sprawl within the mind than we may think we are.
Bakewell starts off much like in "How To Live": she's an excellent pointer-outer of interesting philosophical ideas, and she does this while using a sane, simple-to-understand language and style which goes a long way in explaining highly complex, and at times complicated, philosophical stuffs.
This book is inspiring and a labour of love and life, truly. Bakewell hasn't injected herself too much into it, as I feel some writers are prone to as they're keen to get inside their passions so much that they taint the work with their own experience. Instead, she writes succinctly and highly engaging about a plethora of stuffs.
So, what's this book about?
To begin with, it's about existentialism, what that is, and how it's been seen for a long time. Personally, I'd love to see more of existentialism today.
At the core of existentialism, to me, is freedom. What is freedom, really? Is it merely to have the ability to do what thou wilt, to rephrase Aldous Huxley? Well, not really, I say. If conditioned to speak and behave in certain ways, you need to think outside of your patterns in order to see what freedom really can be. From the book, in regards to Jean-Paul Sartre, one of the main existentialist philosophers of the 21st century:
In his novels, short stories and plays as well as in his philosophical treatises, he wrote about the physical sensations of the world and the structures and moods of human life. Above all, he wrote about one big subject: what it meant to be free. Freedom, for him, lay at the heart of all human experience, and this set humans apart from all other kinds of object. Other things merely sit in place, waiting to be pushed or pulled around. Even non-human animals mostly follow the instincts and behaviours that characterise their species, Sartre believed. But as a human being, I have no predefined nature at all. I create that nature through what I choose to do. Of course I may be influenced by my biology, or by aspects of my culture and personal background, but none of this adds up to a complete blueprint for producing me. I am always one step ahead of myself, making myself up as I go along.
"as I go along". Indeed.
Starting from where you are now, you choose. And in choosing, you also choose who you will be. If this sounds difficult and unnerving, it’s because it is.
Bakewell serves up information in steps, from early phenomenological thinkers up to ones that broke off with a lot of the early ones, also putting some history behind things. I mean, being and acting different in 2016 differs a lot from what went down in the mid-20th century. For example:
The institutions whose authority Sartre challenged in his writings and talks responded aggressively. The Catholic Church put Sartre’s entire works on its Index of Prohibited Books in 1948, from his great philosophical tome Being and Nothingness to his novels, plays and essays. They feared, rightly, that his talk of freedom might make people doubt their faith. Simone de Beauvoir’s even more provocative feminist treatise The Second Sex was also added to the list. One would expect political conservatives to dislike existentialism; more surprisingly, Marxists hated it too. Sartre is now often remembered as an apologist for Communist regimes, yet for a long time he was vilified by the party. After all, if people insisted on thinking of themselves as free individuals, how could there ever be a properly organised revolution? Marxists thought humanity was destined to move through determined stages towards socialist paradise; this left little room for the idea that each of us is personally responsible for what we do.
Also, these people lived as they taught, which is kind of the base for existentialism.
When Sartre was offered the Légion d’honneur for his Resistance activities in 1945, and the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1964, he rejected them both, citing a writer’s need to stay independent of interests and influences. Beauvoir rejected the Légion d’honneur in 1982 for the same reason. In 1949, François Mauriac put Sartre forward for election to the Académie française, but Sartre refused it.
Sartre’s experiences and quirks found their way even into his most serious philosophical treatises. This could make for strange results, given that his personal take on life ranged from bad mescaline flashbacks and a series of embarrassing situations with lovers and friends to bizarre obsessions with trees, viscous liquids, octopuses and crustaceans. But it all made sense according to the principle first announced by Raymond Aron that day in the Bec-de-Gaz: you can make philosophy out of this cocktail. The topic of philosophy is whatever you experience, as you experience it.
Sartre read Kierkegaard, and was fascinated by his contrarian spirit and by his rebellion against the grand philosophical systems of the past. He also borrowed Kierkegaard’s specific use of the word ‘existence’ to denote the human way of being, in which we mould ourselves by making ‘either/or’ choices at every step. Sartre agreed with him that this constant choosing brings a pervasive anxiety, not unlike the vertigo that comes from looking over a cliff. It is not the fear of falling so much as the fear that you can’t trust yourself not to throw yourself off. Your head spins; you want to cling to something, to tie yourself down — but you can’t secure yourself so easily against the dangers that come with being free. ‘Anxiety is the dizziness of freedom’, wrote Kierkegaard. Our whole lives are lived on the edge of that precipice, in his view and also in Sartre’s.
Bakewell also inserts a lot of what made the philosophers human, by which I mean that she's made their personalities and non-philosophical choices show and blossom, hence making - I think - them seem more human than just a few oldies on a text book:
Philosophical conversations between thinkers who had invested so much of themselves in their work often became emotional, and sometimes downright argumentative. Their intellectual battles form a long chain of belligerence that connects the existentialist story end to end. In Germany, Martin Heidegger turned against his former mentor Edmund Husserl, but later Heidegger’s friends and colleagues turned their backs on him. In France, Gabriel Marcel attacked Jean-Paul Sartre, Sartre fell out with Albert Camus, Camus fell out with Merleau-Ponty, Merleau-Ponty fell out with Sartre, and the Hungarian intellectual Arthur Koestler fell out with everyone and punched Camus in the street. When the philosophical giants of each nation, Sartre and Heidegger, finally met in 1953, it went badly and they spoke mockingly of each other ever after. Other relationships were extraordinarily close, however. The most intimate was that between Sartre and Beauvoir, who read each other’s work and discussed their ideas almost every day. Beauvoir and Merleau-Ponty had also been friends since their teenage years, and Sartre and Beauvoir were charmed by Camus when they first met him.
Theories are not only affected by history - perhaps most notably World War II - but also the inner workings of the philosophers, naturally. Bakewell does beauteous work in showing how theories and personalities intertwine and work out, perhaps best in her biographing the lives of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre, as they lived, worked and loved for more than half a century.
It was also an extremely long relationship, lasting from 1929 to Sartre’s death in 1980. For fifty years, it was a philosophical demonstration of existentialism in practice, defined by the two principles of freedom and companionship. Lest this sound too earnest, their shared memories, observations and jokes bound them together just as in any long marriage. A typical joke began soon after they met: visiting the zoo, they watched an enormously fat and tragic-looking sea elephant which sighed and raised its eyes to heaven as if in supplication while the keeper stuffed its mouth with fish. From then on, every time Sartre looked glum, Beauvoir would remind him of the sea elephant. He would roll up his eyes and heave comical sighs, and they would both feel better.
Also, Heidegger, the philosophical giant, is very much on display, not at least how he embraced nazism, how this circled his beliefs and philosophy, and what one could make of it. Bakewell doesn't avoid clear-cut analyses of that.
A little part of what makes this book mind-blowing, to me, is how minds are explored, and thought processes are dissected, in - to me - unusual ways. It's utterly refreshing to read about; here's a bit about Simone de Beauvoir:
She had a kind of genius for being amazed by the world and by herself; all her life she remained a virtuoso marveller at things. As she said in her memoirs, this was the origin of fiction-writing: it began at those times when ‘reality should no longer be taken for granted’. [...] Of all the things Beauvoir wondered at, one thing amazed her more than any other: the immensity of her own ignorance. She loved to conclude, after early debates with Sartre, ‘I’m no longer sure what I think, nor whether I can be said to think at all.’ She apparently sought out men who were brilliant enough to make her feel at a loss in this way — and there were few to be found.
To quote popular western culture: boom.
There's also Albert Camus in the book, as a nice cadence.
The journalist and short-story writer Albert Camus, who had come to the city from his home in Algeria, holed himself up in a room and listened to the street sounds outside his window, wondering why he was there. ‘Foreign, admit that I find everything strange and foreign’, he wrote in his notebook in March 1940. ‘No future’, he added in an undated note. Yet he did not let this mood stop him from working on literary projects: a novel, L’étranger (The Stranger or The Outsider), a long essay, The Myth of Sisyphus, and a play, Caligula. He called these his ‘three absurds’, because they all dealt with the meaninglessness or absurdity of human existence, a theme that seemed to come naturally during this time.
Also, there's Merleau-Ponty:
Merleau-Ponty arguably left the most lasting intellectual legacy of all, not least in his direct influence on the modern discipline of ‘embodied cognition’, which studies consciousness as a holistic social and sensory phenomenon rather than as a sequence of abstract processes. Merleau-Ponty gave philosophy a new direction by taking its peripheral areas of study — the body, perception, childhood, sociality — and bringing them into the central position that they occupy in real life. If I had to choose an intellectual hero in this story, it would be Merleau-Ponty, the happy philosopher of things as they are.
Every philosopher's great works are examined, as are the impacts. Bakewell does a great job at this, without involving her own ego, it seems to me. It's a very easy read, despite the mind-blowing contents. Yet again, yeah, I use the term "mind-blowing", but to me that's what's up!
All in all, this book is grand, epic and pretentious - in the very best sense of the word! I've bought this, and I will cherish having it with "How To Live". I recommend this to all....more