I am a little reluctant to post this, as it is really making the rounds, so I suspect anybody who is reading this has seen it already. But this article is really indispensable. It is the first thing I’ve read that helped me make any sense of ISIS and the mindset that would lead to the barbaric atrocities being committed. It also shows the need to have really in-depth knowledge and the ability to understand sometimes subtle nuances, most notably how trying to label them as not Muslim is not just incorrect, but actually probably not helpful. How in the world do enough people get this kind of background in order to have productive discussions about vital policy decisions? (I suppose I should be heartened that this article is getting so much attention, but I am fearful of the number of people who will not even bother, given the length. (tl;dr as they say).)
I would be interested in a longer discussion of how ISIS fits into an older and broader debate about the inherent value of modernity. Maybe it doesn’t, as it is apparently trying to replicate a society of a particular moment in history. But the brutality makes it hard (almost impossible for me, sometimes) to engage with their ideas at any level other than revulsion. (Similarly, the point that their religious fundamentalism requires them to reject any form of international cooperation or recognize the basic tenets of sovereignty on which the system is built could be interesting, but seems so beside the point right now.)
Contrast with this article from Slate. There’s nothing inherently wrong with it and it gives some useful information, but doesn’t do anything to help us put this data in any context.
(I can’t close without noting that the author of the Atlantic piece makes some grating word choices: “mujahideen chic” “a gentrifying area that one might call Dar al-Hipster;” etc. Ugh.)