Friday, 29 July 2016

ISIS: The State of Terror - Jessica Stern and JM Berger

Title: ISIS: The State of Terror
Author: Jessica Stern and JM Berger
ISBN: 978-0-00-812096-2
Publisher: William Collins Books
Year: 2015
Pages: 398
Photos/Maps: 0

There are many books available on the market that describe the history, doctrine and methodology of ISIS; so many so that it is often difficult to see where they provide as unique perspective. In the case of this book, they have focused a significant portion of their analysis upon the use by ISIS of electronic messaging and operational style. They do provide context through a look at the history of ISIS and their operational methodology; however, the areas that were particularly educational centred upon the use of technology, operational doctrine and their explanation of Islamic theology. They have also provided, at the end of each chapter, recommendations to counter the issues addressed in that chapter.

The initial portion of the book, in a similar vein to other publications, reviews the rise and fall of Al-Qaeda, the opportunism and motivation for the creation of ISIS and its noteworthy ability to adapt and morph to best take advantage of the environment within which it finds itself. Following this, the authors address the attraction of ISIS to the foreign Islamic element as well as the formalization of its message. These sections are well written and engaging; however, they do not provide ‘new’ information but do present it a very readable and easily understood manner.

As indicated earlier, the strength of the book follows with its study of ISIS’s method of its use of the electronic medium in order to facilitate the promulgation of its message. Of particular note, is the challenge that arises in the West between the message of ISIS, the medium of Twitter (as an example with its open rules of content) and free speech. The authors present a fascinating study of this debate and how it was played back and forth between companies and governments. This question has been exploited phenomenally well by ISIS and has set a standard for future terrorist ‘PR’ campaigns.

Additionally, the authors look at the philosophy of shock and terror used by ISIS as a means of conquest and control. To the West, it appears to be counter-productive to terrorize the population into submission. Nevertheless, as the authors point out, this has been a very effective method used repeatedly throughout history in order to smooth the process of conquest and indoctrination. This approach also entices those radical foreign elements who see this approach as a means of ‘robust’ Islamic response to perceived Western aggression.

The production value of this book is satisfactory. The authors have provided copious notes and source material. The book is very well written in a style that opens the subject up to a wide audience. Their unique focus highlights the capacity for ISIS to adjust their style and doctrine in order to take advantage of modern techniques and technologies while concurrently adopting traditional conquest methods that shock a world long past using these ‘modus operandi’. A book very well worth reading.

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