Thursday, November 24, 2016

ISIS Exposed by Erick Stakelbeck (Book Review #62 of 2016)

ISIS Exposed: Beheadings, Slavery, and the Hellish Reality of Radical Islam

(I reviewed this book with a host of others examining Islam, Al Qaeda, and the rise of ISIS in the Middle East and this review should be read in the context of the other books. A list of many of the books is at the bottom of this post.)

Unlike other books on ISIS, this one focuses more on ISIS' effect or potential danger for the West rather than its origins, development, and operations. Basically, this book is warning Americans of the threat of Radical Islam and President Obama's foreign policy. The endorsements on the cover by various Fox News personalities tells you the audience.

Stakelbeck begins with a look at "Little Mogadishu" in Michigan, where many Somalis live and the Muslim call to prayer wakes up residents. Palestinian-American Imam Jabril preaches at a mosque in Dearborn, encouraging listeners (sometimes tacitly) to join ISIS fighters in Syria. (I'm reminded of Mohamedou Slahi's book where such a character would risk a drone strike from the US if he lived overseas, but is protected by the First Amendment here). Supposedly, many Americans who went to Syria to join the fight had connections to him via social media. The anti-defamation league is apparently tracking US fighters abroad and Stakelbeck tells stories of foreigners on US soil, illegal border crossings, and sociopath recruits for the jihadi cause in the US. He discusses the Islamic Society of America's ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and its funding of mosque construction, among other things.

Stakelbeck examines the ISIS caliphate and how the organization has eclipsed Hamas and Al Qaeda in terms of recruiting and operations. He repeats what info was publicly known about al-Baghdadi when the book went to print. He interviews an Iraqi-American who had his accounts hacked and was threatened by ISIS and accounts of interviews with survivors. He makes the claim that 15% of Muslims worldwide hold radical views. How one determines a way to poll that and determine "radical" is beyond me. He turns rather snarky about Obama and his Iraq policy, particularly the troop withdrawal. He seems to ignore more nuanced politics about the situation as described by people like Robert Gates in his memoir-- the Iraqi government pushed back on US troop immunity and the Obama administration didn't try as hard as it possibly could to convince them otherwise.

One aspect he examines is the diversity of Westerners joining ISIS' jihad in Syria. One group I found insteresting were the British women going to establish brothels filled with kidnapped Yezidis and Christians within the would-be caliphate. (I have found some news websites with this story circa 2014, but the reports don't seem to be heavily substantiated.) Stackelbeck predicts attacks in Europe from current residents and jihadis returning from Syria, particularly in Holland where there were openly pro-ISIS marches chanting "Death of Israel" in 2014. Mohammad Chaudry in England was collecting welfare while preaching jihad openly on the streets. I picked up this book shortly before the the world was shocked by large bombing in Amsterdam in 2016 by either ISIS or its sympathizers after a similar attack in France shortly beforehand and it felt like Stackelbeck had called it correctly. This aspect of ISIS has been largely untouched by the other books on my list, which focused almost solely on Iraq and Syria.

The author's criticisms of President Obama are more foreign policy complaints without recognizing the ideological and philosophical differences between West and East as well as the theological nuances of Salafists and ISIS' embrace of prophecies regarding Dabiq and the Mahdi. Stackelbeck works for a pro-Israel outfit and closes the book with questions about what the difference is between ISIS and Hamas in terms of their goals-- both want to see Israel wiped off the map. Why does the media treat one as horrific but the other with less scrutiny, asks the author? He asks why the Obama administration hasn't embraced Islamic reformers and why haven't other policymakers done enough to publicize dialogues between moderates. His solution to the problem is the same as that of Maajid Nawaz, Reza Aslan, and others who seem to anticipate a a reformation period. Where exactly are those public dialogues?

The book largely re-reports news stories, some of which may be foreign to people like myself who mainly read mainstream publications like The Atlantic and the New York Times. The book lacks for a deep philosophical, historical, or psychological thinking about ISIS and the Middle East or foreign policy. It lacks any thinking about the rise of ISIS in the context of the recent histories of Syria and Iraq. But thinking about how and why people in the West are influenced to leave lands of liberty to pursue death in a caliphate is worthwhile, so the book gets 2.5 stars.

Other Al Qaeda and ISIS-related books reviewed in 2016:
The Siege of Mecca - Yaroslav Trofimov (5 stars)
The Bin Ladens - Steve Coll  (4 stars)
Growing Up Bin Laden - Najwa and Omar Bin Laden (4.5 stars)
Guantanamo Diary - Mohamedou Ould Slahi (4.5 stars)
The Black Banners - Ali Soufan (5 stars)
Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS - Joby Warrick (4.5 stars)
Jihad Academy: The Rise of the Islamic State - Nicholas Henin (4.5 stars)
ISIS: The State of Terror - Jessica Stern and JM Berger (4 stars)
ISIS Exposed  - Erick Stakelbeck (2.5 stars)
The Rise of ISIS - Jay Sekulow and David French (1 star)

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