This list of articles about ISIS/Daesh is not intended as a primer, exactly; a Google search for just such an introduction brings up a range of useful or authoritative results on terminology, history, foreign policy, etc. on the first page.
Rather, the criteria for this list was that the articles developed compelling but also (importantly) less than immediately obvious questions about the conflict – asking questions that might seem, at first, to be just a bit below the threshold of relevance, or just beyond the level of comfortable, moderate credibility.
- The Mystery of ISIS: I liked how the central contention of the piece is that the frames we have most often tended to apply to the phenomenon are proving to be simply inadequate. Quote: ‘I have often been tempted to argue that we simply need more and better information. But that is to underestimate the alien and bewildering nature of this phenomenon. To take only one example, five years ago not even the most austere Salafi theorists advocated the reintroduction of slavery; but ISIS has in fact imposed it. Nothing since the triumph of the Vandals in Roman North Africa has seemed so sudden, incomprehensible, and difficult to reverse as the rise of ISIS.’
- Decoding Daesh: Edward Said’s Orientalism is a text I am used to seeing misapplied, but this piece does it properly, pointing out how the ‘anglophone media’ has so often gotten the story about the name ‘Daesh’ wrong. It also corrects that deficit with a clear explanation.
- Will politicians finally admit that the Paris attacks had something to do with Islam?: A contentious case to make, but one that succeeds if only because the author invites us to consider things beyond the tired dichotomy between reg’lar folks and fanatical ‘extremists’. It is interesting, for example, to consider that the accepted category of ‘extremist’ is relevant first for a Western audience; what about for the actual Muslims that Western politicians seem to alternately laud and revile?
- Terrorism has come about in assimilationist France and also in multicultural Britain. Why is that?: Admittedly an article that simplifies some real differences; to quote a friend, ‘both countries are more similar than this article suggests. France has been engaging with Muslims more as a specific group with specific needs and Britain in 2012 has started putting in more policies that promote “Britishness”‘. However, I think it does find a relevant and obvious dilemma, or at least an axis from which one could attempt to approach the situation.
- Russian Special Forces: Has ISIS Met Its Fear Merchant Match?: Starting from the observation about how ISIS exploits a real asymmetry (cultural, perhaps economic), that of being a ‘fear merchant’ relying on a kind of intimidatory bluff, the article imagines the sort of opponent that would not be vulnerable to that tactic.
This is a developing list. Suggestions are very welcome!