It happened again last night. It seems as if I cannot escape the question even on a quiet Saturday evening. While comparing notes with several authors, one of them asked me a question that I have encountered many times in recent weeks. ‘Why did you decide to write about ISIS?’ I chose this as the topic for my fifth book and have never regretted it
An author – or for that matter a journalist – decides to write on a specific topic for a host of reasons, but they generally come down to a strong belief in the relevance of the topic. The reasons often include a desire to ‘set the record straight’ if the individual believes that the story needs clearer chronicling. And I certainly see that as the case here.
Put simply, the topic has become so compelling and shows no sign of going away soon. ISIS looms so large that it has become synonymous with terrorism, when in fact, a general tally shows approximately 150 terrorist groups around the globe. And that count really only takes in the more-or-less organized groups. But ISIS has become so pervasive that it has come to define terrorism. In Nigeria the terrorist group Boko Haram clearly sees ISIS as a model and has in fact pledged its allegiance to ISIS. (ISIS accepted.) With the help of a Nigerian journalist I managed to demonstrate this aspect of ISIS’ power.
ISIS has become so powerful that at time of writing leaders of over 22 countries’ world leaders have concluded their anti-ISIS summit in Paris. France. Whether the summit will lead to more effective actions will become apparent in the weeks and months to come. Other summits have taken place including an earlier gathering of Muslim leaders in Mecca. Political and religious leaders from around the globe have become worried enough to drop matters of state on very short notice to cross the globe for a conference.
ISIS represents such a threat that the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom and other countries have become involved when for both political and historical reasons they would have preferred to stay out of the conflict. Irrespective of one’s political views one can reasonably conclude that American President Barack Obama decided that he had no other choice but to become involved, especially after his prized drone strategy in Yemen clearly fell apart with the onslaught of the Houthi rebels. Obama would have preferred to stick with bombing via drones but the limited effectiveness of that option had come clear.
In fact, ISIS in many ways has re-defined terrorism in a way that we might not have imagined several years earlier. At the same time, it has operated so brutally that intelligence officials refer to Genghis Khan, evoking the 13th century conqueror. (I believe that the metaphor certainly works but only to a point.)
ISIS resonates in some kind of indefinable way that thousands of foreign fighters who could have otherwise stayed in the relative safety of their home countries travel to join the group, often taking circuitous routes. It also resonates with some individuals – dare I call them unbalanced individuals -=- who commit acts of terrorism and use ISIS as a cover for both real-time terrorism and cyber-terrorism.
In one example, an otherwise unconnected charitable organization in California had its web site hacked by one or more such individuals who inserted a screen proclaiming ‘i love isis’, lower case letters and all. It appears unlikely that the genuine ISIS fighters would have taken the time to do this.
When I had gotten about half-way through the manuscript someone remarked ‘Look at that the hours you spend on this … there are lots of easier things to write about …’. That remark completely misses the reasons why authors and journalists do what they do. Authors — and journalists — and many — myself included — work as both — often tackle a project clearly knowing that the direct compensation will not – as I am fond of telling my friends – ‘…pay for the condo on the Riviera…’
In the next post I will explain some of those reasons
First published in Global Finance Magazine
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