The Origins of ISIS: Ideology, Tactics and Perception in the Middle East
Simon Mabon and Stephen Royle’s The Origins of ISIS aims for an accessible account of the history of instability in Iraq and the Middle East as a whole. It’s a history astutely observed by the authors, but when they examine the recent emergence of ISIS, hurrying to overview a still-evolving situation, Mr. Mabon and Mr. Royle occasionally gloss over some details important to the story — information about the Sykes-Picot Agreement, which imposed geographical borders on the Middle East, is initially shunted into an endnote rather than discussed in the main text, and some of the major players are introduced by their last names alone, without enough context for the uninitiated reader.
The main point of analysis — insightful, but returned to again and again, to the point of redundancy — is that the fractured sovereignty of the Iraqi state following the 2003 American-led invasion allowed peripheral actors, ISIS among them, to seize power. Interesting too is the authors’ discussion of the inherent challenge state-building poses in the Middle East, where a variety of ethnic and religious groups clash with the legacy of Sykes-Picot. The authors successfully argue that crucial to fighting ISIS is understanding where the group came from.
Simon Mabon • Stephen Royle