We Don’t Understand ISIS

The August 13 issue of the New York Review of Books carried a detailed review of a number of scholarly books that try to explain ISIS.

According to the editors, the unnamed author “has wide experience in the Middle East and was formerly an official of a NATO country. We respect the writer’s reasons for anonymity.”

This is his conclusion:

“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. None of our analysts, soldiers, diplomats, intelligence officers, politicians, or journalists has yet produced an explanation rich enough ­– even in hindsight – to have predicted the movement’s rise.

“We hide this from ourselves with theories and concepts that do not bear deep examination. And we will not remedy this simply through the accumulation of more facts. It is not clear whether our culture can ever develop sufficient knowledge, rigor, imagination, and humility to grasp the phenomenon of ISIS. But for now, we should admit that we are not only horrified but baffled.”


One response to “We Don’t Understand ISIS

  1. There are limits to ‘understanding’. I can describe and name psychopathy. But I don’t understand it, except that it’s a way of being that goes beyond what I can imagine. Various groups that feed on hate (or at least that’s the way it appears to me – the way I ‘understand’ it) are able to behave in ways that most people seem unable to imagine.
    I suppose you can understand why people might want to join ISIS. But, as the article explains, that doesn’t explain ISIS itself.
    So, maybe this time, we just have to destroy something we don’t understand. And that’s ok.