Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Living under the Threat of Violence

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Living under the Threat of Violence

Article excerpt

Unbeatable? This extremist group has little to offer in times of peace, says Christina Hellmich

ISIS: A History

By Fawaz A. Gerges

Princeton University Press 384pp, £19.95

ISBN 9780691170008 and 9781400880362 (e-book)

Published 27 April 2016

Islamic State (also known as Isis, Isil or by its Arabic abbreviation Da'esh) has stunned the world with its savagery, destructiveness and military successes. Within less than 36 months, it rose from relative marginalisation to taking the lead of the global jihadist movement, controlling a swathe of territory in Iraq and Syria roughly the size of the UK, and an army estimated to number more than 30,000 combatants. What explains its startling rise, and what does the future hold?

ISIS: A History traces the journey of the group from inception and consolidation in Iraq to the military surge that allowed it to settle and expand in Syria and beyond, in a structured, highly readable manner. Gerges is clear, and it is here that the book excels, that Isis cannot be explained in isolation but must be examined in the larger sociopolitical context in which it emerged. The starting point for the discussion is the positioning of Isis as an extension of al-Qaeda in Iraq (AQI), itself the result of the US-led invasion of the country in 2003. A detailed examination of the post-Saddam political establishment and its incapacity to foster national identity demonstrates the rapid growth of intercommunal distrust and a deepening of the Sunni-Shia divide. Beyond Iraq, particular attention is paid to the breakdown of state institutions in Syria, its descent into full-blown war and the consequences of the Arab Spring in neighbouring countries to shed light on the conditions that fuel Isis.

With slim prospects for meaningful change in the circumstances that enabled the spectacular surge of Isis, is the group here to stay? …

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