[ by Charles Cameron — hey, I recommend Stern’s earlier Terror in the Name of God and JM’s Jihad Joe, too ]
Jessica Stern & JM Berger have a very clever title for their book — which is one of many things I didn’t get to address in my Pragati review, because there’s really a great deal to be said about IS and about the book. Let’s take a look at that title:
ISIS: State of Terror is a triple pun really, since their book is about:
the specifically “state building” aspect of the Islamic State as a caliphal movement expansive across geography and concerned with hospitals, roads, policing, and how tight your jeans are
the state of mind we call terror, which can be understood either positively as mentioned in the Qur’anic account of the battle of Badr or negatively as the attempt to persuade by selective brutality and its generalized implications
an overview of IS that’s essentially a “State of the Union” style summation of where we are, how we got there and where to proceed
For some reason I am seeing in threes today, a trait shared by Trinitarians of course, but also by CS Peirce and George Boole.
Okay. The Islamic State really “exists” on three braided levels:
as a military and political entity with peronnel, materiel, logistics, strategic aims, victories, losses — largely stuff that can be viewed by satellite or televised, largely physical, quantifiable, though with its own mental drivers — and in this sense the Baathist military minds are the force-multipliers
as a digital and virtual entity with “cool” computer graphics, net-savvy virality, a Naji-derived approach to war as public relations and so forth. Here, the graphics, video and net mavens are the force multipliers. And if anyone is still in doubt as to whether “virtual reality” is real, please note that IS’ virtual reality brings real human bodies half way around the world to their deaths.
and as a religious and eschatological entity with its own central “Dabiq” hadith — and an appeal to all the hope frustrated by all the world’s perceived injustices, taking (i) the adventurous, rebellious spirit with its naive idealism (ii) via net connectivity and virtuoso virality (iii) through and past the milpol driver and its practicalities into (iv) the enhanced divine sanction of the Great Final War of Good (brutally) ascendant over Evil. Ironic, I know, but substantially true, and there’s a sort of Moebius twist in there that brings Good to mean Evil and Evil to mean Good — Goorge Orwell would have grimly understood.
My point here being that to understand IS we need both “physical” and “metaphysical” eyes, and a healthy dose of online virtual savvy too. And that’s why Jessica Stern & JM Berger‘s book is an invaluable guide: it looks closely into all three realms.
Interestingly enough, to me at least, I see my focus on Islamist apocalyptic has gone through three phases, each one having its own cluster of traditions / ahadith:
I began with Hamas and the Gharqad Tree traditions
I moved on to Al-Qaida and the traditions about the black banners from Khorasan, and
with the Islamic State came Dabiq the magazine and the Dabiq traditions.
On the horizon, still, the traditions about the Ghazwa-e-Hind. Keep your eyes peeled.