Last evening I went to a talk by Jessica Stern at the Concord MA bookshop. She and J. M. Berger have a new book titled ISIS: The State of Terror. I bought a copy which she signed. Upwards of 50 people were there.
Jessica Stern grew up in Concord MA. She lectures at Harvard, has authored four books of which three are on Mideast terrorism, is an associate at the Hoover Institution, and advises the US State Department on what to do about terrorism.
She described how today’s ISIS was already present in Iraq 10 years ago, beheading people and filming it, but all of it done very crudely at the time. The precursor was run by a common street criminal who became a “born again” pure Muslim. Bin Laden couldn’t tolerate him at first.
She said the US State Department, middle-aged and with good intentions, hasn’t a clue about how to use social media to counteract ISIS’s highly skilled use of media; young knowledgeable people need to be enlisted for that. Further, the word needs to get back out about what ISIS is really like – for example, recruited “jihadi wives” are actually shuttled from man to man, not wed to one jihadi. She said that ISIS is very much like identity Christianity.
She said proactively (i.e. not in answer to anyone’s question) that she agrees with Graeme Wood in the Atlantic Monthly – “What ISIS Really Wants” – about pretty much everything except whether ISIS is truly Islamic. She said, though not using these exact words, that they use criminal methods to build and hold power, and drape their deeds in medieval Islam to make them seem legitimate and help attract fighters. She said that the leaders of ISIS are “complete hypocrites”. Two examples: killing gays as infidels, but using homosexual rape as entry hazing for new recruits; and having sex with 9-year-old girl slaves because that enables them not to violate Islam by having sex with adult non-slaves – apparently Islam countenances sex with slaves of any age.
She will soon make recommendations to the US about what to do regarding ISIS. It appeared from her talk last evening that she’d opt for containment without on-the-ground military engagement, and not opt for what she called the “humanitarian hawk” approach, which led to removing Khaddafi on grounds of improving the Libyans’ lot, but with the result only of plunging Libya into utter chaos, far worse now than when Khaddafi was in power.
I asked Jessica during the Q&A follow-on who is arming ISIS and selling them ammunition; she said they don’t have to buy them, they just steal them and seize them from the US-equipped Iraqis. I countered that those resources are finite, and couldn’t the world get together and stop further arms and ammo from going to ISIS? She acknowledged that, yes, in principle the world could, and we could also put sanctions on nations buying oil from ISIS.