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By Vikas Datta
Title: ISIS - Race to Armageddon; Author: Adil Rasheed; Publisher: Vij Books India; Pages: 170; Price:Rs.795

The Americans developed 'shock and awe' or a military doctrine based on use of overwhelming power and spectacular force displays to paralyze the enemy's perception of the battle and degrade and destroy their will to fight. Ironically, its most assiduous adherent seems to be a territory-capturing terrorist outfit that even seems to have left the Al Qaeda far behind and breaking out of the Middle East to leave a number of European, South Asian and African governments seriously concerned.

The IS, or ISIL, or Daesh came to widespread public attention for the first time in June 2014 when it declared a "caliphate" in the large expanse of Iraqi and Syrian territory it held. Since then, it has been in the news not only for its gruesome, gratuitous violence as it seeks to expand its territory and influence, but its barbarity in destroying ancient monuments, symbols of Western culture and modernity (apart from social media which it has taken to with gusto), its apocalyptic vision and goals and assault on the concept of nation state.

There have been various works since late last year in seeking to understand the outfit's genesis and motivations - mostly by Western analysts from Jay Sekulow and Jordan Sekulow's "Rise of ISIS: A Threat We Can't Ignore", Michael Weiss and Hassan Hassan's incisive "ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror", Patrick Cockburn's polemical "The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution", and Jessica Stern and J. M. Berger's "ISIS: The State of Terror".

With India also purportedly falling into ISIS' sights, it was time that Indians focussed on the threat. A pioneer in the effort is Rasheed, a senior research fellow at the United Services Institute (and earlier with the Abu Dhabi-based Emirates Center for Strategic Studies and Research), who offers a valuable distillation of available knowledge about the outfit.

Though he does not break much new ground in this work which brings together available information, the strength of Rasheed's work is in presenting the backdrop for the emergence of Al Qaeda and ISIS.

This, as he lucidly brings out, does not come from only the Islamist (not Islamic) tradition pioneered by Jamaat-e-Islami founder Maulana Maududi, or Muslim Brotherhood founder Hassan al Banna and ideologue Sayyid Qutb, but more particularly the jihadist tradition, which is not recent - dating back to the 13th-14th centuries when Syrian theologian Ibn Taimaiyyah held people could rise against their Islamic rulers if they were not found to be "sufficiently Islamic".

Other key reasons that Rasheed correctly cites are the failure of the secularism pan-Arabism, which increasingly transformed into near-tyranny, and some US follies after the invasion of Iraq, especially failure to make provisions for trained soldiers of Saddam Hussain's disbanded army and Baathist administrators who were left open to recruitment by any interested non-state party!

The remaining part of the book is devoted to discussing the ISIS structure and functioning, especially its eager adoption of 4G warfare (small, flexible, minimally-structured, usually non-state actors fighting states), its spread, the worry radicalisation of well-to-do youth in the Western world and elsewhere, the global response to ISIS, and how ISIS impinges on Southeast Asia and how India can counter any threat (though the recommendations seem pretty general).

But with the arrest of an ISIS propagandist from India's tech hub, some volunteers trying to go to Iraq/Syria join the outfit, its flags being seen in the troubled Kashmir Valley, it is time Indians understood ISIS in detail - and the present volume goes a long way towards this this purpose.

(Vikas Datta can be contacted at vikas.d@ians.in)


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