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Center for Middle East Studies


Center for Middle East Studies

ISIS & Radicalization

There is perhaps no greater threat to stability, security, and development in the Middle East & North Africa than the so-called "Islamic State," known colloquially both as ISIS (Islamic State of Iraq & al-Sham) and ISIL (Islamic State of Iraq & the Levant). Controlling a territory roughly the size of Great Britain and wreaking havoc in Syria, Iraq, and Iraqi Kurdistan, the terrorist organization qua "caliphate" that emerged from the remnants of Al-Qaeda in Iraq in 2013 continues to spread its hateful ideology and barbarism around the region and the globe. To better understand the success ISIS has enjoyed--in both military conquest and international recruiting--we have compiled what we believe to be a comprehensive collection of the best writing on the subject to date.

Background Multimedia

Middle East Research and Information Project

"What is ISIS?"

BBC Interactive Video
"The Rise of ISIS"

New York Times
"The Evolution of ISIS"

"What to Expect in the Conflict Against ISIS in 2015"

Martin Chulov - The Guardian
"ISIS: The Inside Story"

Hannah Fairfield, Tim Wallace & Derek Watkins - New York Times
"How ISIS Expands"

Reuters Graphics
"Fighting Islamic State"

Jon Laurence & Olivia Bolton
"The Rise of the Islamic State -- How the Jihadi Group Conquered Territory in Iraq & Syria in 90 Seconds"

Agence France Presse
"Sunni & Shiite Muslims"

Chris Amico & Evan Wexler
"Who Runs the Islamic State?"

William McCants
"Profile of Abu Bakr Al-Baghdadi"

Aron Lund
"Who Are the Soldiers of the Islamic State?"

Charles Lister
"Profiling the Islamic State"

Swati Sharma
"Map: How the Flow of Foreign Fighters to Iraq and Syria has Surged Since October"

Ross Douthat
"In Defense of Islam"

Abu Ibrahim al-Raqqawi
"Inside the Islamic State 'Capital': No End in Sight to Its Grim Rule"

Rania Abouzeid
"The Jihad Next Door: The Syrian Roots of Iraq's Newest Civil War"

Cole Bunzel & William McCants
"How Does ISIS Approach Islamic Scripture"

Liz Sly
"The Hidden Hand Behind the Islamic State's Militants? Saddam Hussein's"

Christopher Reuter
"The Terror Strategist: Secret Files Reveal the Structure of Islamic State"

Lawrence Rubin
"Why the Islamic State Won't Become A Normal State"

Tim Arango
"ISIS Transforming into Functioning State that uses Terror as a Tool"

Pankaj Mishra
"How to Think About the Islamic State"

Cameron Glenn
"The ISIS Primer"

Loulouwa Al-Rachid and Matthieu Rey
"The Origins of the Islamic State"


Abdel Bari Atwan
Islamic State: The Digital Caliphate (book review)

Patrick Cockburn
The Rise of Islamic State: ISIS and the New Sunni Revolution (Verso, 2015)

Loretta Napoleoni
The Islamist Phoenix: The Islamic State and the Redrawing of the Middle East (Seven Stories Press, 2014)

Jessica Stern & J.M. Berger
ISIS: The State of Terror (Ecco, 2015)

Michael Weiss & Hassan Hassan
ISIS: Inside the Army of Terror (Regan Arts, 2015)

Muhammad Idrees Ahmad
"ISIS: Managers of Savagery" (book review)

The Economist 
"Rolling Into Town: How the Rise of Islamic State is Changing History in the Middle East" (book review)

Phyllis Bennis
"Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror" 

How to defeat isis

Phillip Weiss
"Obama's ISIS Czar Says We Can't Defeat Extremism Without Resolving Palestinian Issue"

Maha Yahya
"Viewpoint: How to Defeat ISIS"

Eli Berman & Jacob N. Shapiro
"Why ISIL Will Fail On Its Own"

Thomas Juneau
"Containing the Islamic State"

Frederic C. Hof
"A Syria-First Strategy for Defeating ISIS"

David Ignatius
"How ISIS Spread in the Middle East"

The Wall Street Journal
"Muslims Must Combat the Extremist Cancer"

London School of Economics
ISIL, JAN and the War Economy in Syria

London School of Economics
Countering the Logic of the War Economy in Syria; Evidence From 3 Local Areas

how isis operates and survives

Dr. Omar Ashour
"Viewpoint: How Islamic State is Managing to Survive"

Carole Nakhle
"ISIL Sells Its Oil, But Who Is Buying It?"

Sarah Birke
"How ISIS Rules"

Aaron Y. Zelin
"The Islamic State's Model"

Hassan Hassan
"The Secret World of ISIS Training Camps: Ruled by Sacred Texts and the Sword"

Quinn Mecham
"How Much of a State is the Islamic State?"

Eline Gordts
"How ISIS Makes $3 Million A Day"

Al Jazeera
" Enemy of Enemies: The Rise of ISIL"

Benjamin Dueholm
"The Allure of ISIS Resembles That of Tolkein"

David Kirkpatrick
"ISIS’ Harsh Brand of Islam Is Rooted in Saudi Creed of Wahhabism"

Ed Husain
"ISIS Atrocities Started with Saudi Support for Salafi Hate"

Alistair Cooke
"You Can't Understand ISIS if You Don't Know the History of Wahhabism in Saudi Arabia"

Emile Nakhleh
"Opinion: The Islamic State's Ideology is Grounded in Saudi Education"

Karen Armstrong
"Wahhabism to ISIS: How Saudi Arabia Exported the Main Source of Global Terrorism"

Madawi Al-Rashid
"The Shared History of Saudi Arabia and ISIS"

Fintan O'Toole
"Time to Lift the Veil on Saudi Arabia's Hijacking of Islam"

Mohamed Daadaoui
"Wahhabism is Islam's Greatest Threat"

Mary Atkinson & Rori Donaghy
"Crime and Punishment: Islamic State vs Saudi Arabia"

Lorenzo Kamel
"Why we Hate Our Reflections: Saudi Arabia and the Islamic State"

ISIS & the syrian civil war

Eric Schmitt & Somini Sengupta
"Thousands Enter Syria to Join ISIS Despite Global Efforts"

Zack Beauchamp
"Myth: ISIS is a Syrian rebel group"

Simon Speakman Cordall
"How Syria’s Assad Helped Forge ISIS

Rania Abouzeid
"The Jihad Next Door: The Syrian roots of Iraq’s newest civil war"

Alex Rowell
"Blame Assad first for ISIS’ rise: The regime has abetted Sunni extremists to influence Western public opinion"

Interview with Charles Lister
"The rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria—and what can be done to stop it"

Maria  Abi-Habib
"Assad Policies Aided Rise of Islamic State"

Danny Postel
"ISIS: Views From Syrian Activists and Intellectuals"

Hassan Hassan
"ISIS Has Reached New Depths of Depravity, But There is a Brutal Logic Behind It"

Marc Lynch
"Contesting the Caliphate"

isis & radicalization

Where ISIS Has Directed and Inspired Attacks Around the World

Ben Quinn
"ISIS 'Not My Cup of Tea' Says British Woman Who Went to Join"

William Mccants
"How ISIL Out-Terrorized Bin Laden"

Peter R Neumann
"Defectors: ISIS is Killing Muslims, Not Protecting Them"

Katrin Bennhold
"Jihad and Girl Power: How ISIS Lured 3 London Girls"

Don Winslow
"What ISIS Learned From the Cartels"

Rakmini Callimachi
"ISIS and the Lonely American"

Carnegie Endowment for International Peace
"Special Report: Radicalism on the Rise"

Nader Hashemi
"Understanding the Drivers of Radicalization in Syria"

Jason Burke
"Islamist Fighters Drawn from Half the World's Countries, Says UN"

Graham E. Fuller
"Yes, It Is Islamic Extremism--But Why?"

Barbara F. Walter
"Why Extremism Thrives in the Middle East Today"

Andrew Higgins & Melissa Eddy
"Anger of Suspect in Danish Killings is Seen as Only Loosely Tied to Islam"

Loretta Bass
"What Motivates European Youth to Join ISIS?"

Mehdi Hasan
"What the Jihadists Who Bought 'Islam for Dummies' on Amazon Tell Us about Radicalisation"

Michael Muhammad Knight
"I Understand Why Westerners are Joining Jihadi Movements like ISIS. I Was Almost One of Them"

James Densley
"ISIS: The Street Gang on Steroids"

Cahal Milmo
"ISIS Video Calls on British Muslims to Join in Jihad as 'Cure for Depression'"

Suraj Lakhani
"The Route to Radicalization: What Makes Young British Muslims Want to Go to Syria?"

Tim Arango & Eric Schmitt
"How US Actions in Iraq Fueled Rise of a Rebel: Baghdadi of ISIS Pushes an Islamist Crusade"

Doug Saunders
"When Troubled Young Men Turn to Terror, is It Ideology or Pathology?"

Shadi Hamid
"The Roots of the Islamic State's Appeal"

Rafia Zakaria
"Behind the Barbarism: Misreading Online Militant Magazines"

Reza Aslan
Interview on CCTV America discussing why Westerners join ISIS

Jayne Huckerby
"When Women Become Terrorists"

Laurie Goodstein
"U.S. Muslims Take on ISIS' Recruiting Machine"

Nimmi Gowrinathan & Zachariah Mampilly
"Pushed and Pulled: What is the Lure for Western Women to Join ISIS?"

Patrick Cockburn
"Life Under ISIS: Why I Deserted the 'Islamic State' Rather than Take Part in Executions, Beheadings and Rape"

Holly Yan
"How is ISIS Luring Westerners?"

Rafia Zakaria
"ISIL's Feminine Mystique"

Rivka Azoulay
"Islamic State Franchising: Tribes, Transnational Jihadi Networks and Generational Shifts"

Jane Miller
"Jihadis Invade London"

Mary Anne Weaver
"Her Majesty's Jihadists"

Timothy Peace
"Who Becomes a Terrorist, and Why?"

The Debate over Islam & "What ISIS Really Wants"

Graeme Wood
"What ISIS Really Wants"

Mehdi Hasan
"How Islamic is the Islamic State?"

Graeme Wood & Mehdi Hassan Debate (MSNBC)
"Does ISIS have Any Religious Legitimacy?"

Tom Holland
"We Must Not Deny the Religious Roots of Islamic State"

Jack Jenkins
"What The Atlantic Gets Dangerously Wrong About ISIS and Islam"

Caner K. Dagli
"The Phony Islam of ISIS"

J.M. Berger
"Enough about Islam: Why Religion is Not the Most Useful Way to Understand ISIS"

Daniel Haqiqatjou & Yasir Qadhi
"What is 'Islamic'? A Muslim Response to ISIS and The Atlantic"

Murtaza Hussain
"The Atlantic Ignores Muslim Intellectuals, Defines 'True Islam' as ISIS"

ISIS & Middle east politics

Waleed Hazbun
"A History of Insecurity: From the Arab Uprisings to ISIS"

Shahram Akbarzadeh
"Iran and Daesh: The Case of a Reluctant Shia Power"

Nussaibah Younis
A Cross-Sectarian Vision for Defeating the Islamic State in Iraq

Lina Khatib
The Islamic State's Strategy: Lasting and Expanding

Joas Wagemakers
"Jihadi-Salafi Views of the Islamic State"

Amnesty International
"A Deadly Spiral of Sectarian Violence - A Year On from the IS Onslaught on Iraq"

BBC Special Report
"Inside Mosul: What's Life Like under the Islamic State?"

Ibrahim Al-Marashi
"Why the Caliphate Survives"

Khalil Al-Anani
"The ISIS-ification of Islamist Politics"

Marc Lynch
"Islamism in the ISIS Age

Fawaz Gerges
"ISIS and the Third Wave of Jihadism"

Hassan Hassan
"How ISIS Rose to Power by Filling the Void Created by Political and Religious Chaos"

"ISIS: A Portrait of the Menace That is Sweeping My Homeland"

"ISIS Exploits Tribal Fault Lines to Control Its Territory"

Fareed Zakaria
"ISIS has grown because of the collapse of moderate institutions and groups throughout the Middle East"

Frederic Wehrey
"Gulf Participation in the Anti-ISIS Coalition: Limitation & Costs"

Ben Hubbard
"Strikes against ISIS in Syria Draw Mixed Reactions in the Middle East"

Jim Muir
"Radical Realignments & New Regional Order Needed to Combat ISIS Threat"

Douglas H. Garrison
"ISIS, Fear & Authoritarianism in North Africa"

Nussaibah Younis
"Counterinsurgency Requires More than Guns: Refocusing on the Political Strategy to Defeat IS in Iraq"

Carlyle Murphy
"Saudi Arabia Tries to Keep the Islamic State from Recruiting Its Youth"

Ahmed Rashid
"The Enemy's Enemy: How Arab States Have Turned to Al-Qaida"

isis & international politics

Emil Aslan Souleimanov, Katarina Petrtylova
"Russia's Policy to the Islamic State"

Shreeya Sinha
"Obama's Evolution on ISIS"

Sarah Leah Whitson
"Why the Fight Against ISIS is Failing"

Charles Tripp
"IS: The Rentier Caliphate with No New Ideas"

Benjamin Sugg & Naureen Chowdhurry Fink
"A Tale of Two Jihads: Comparing the al-Qaeda and ISIS Narratives"

Robin Wright
"U.N. Report: Islamic State Has Buried Children Alive

Danny Postel
"Should We Oppose the Intervention Against ISIS?"

Ahmed Rashid
"ISIS: What the US Doesn't Understand"

Graeme Wood
"What ISIS’s Leader Really Wants"

"The Three Types of People Who Fight for ISIS"

Rami Khouri
"Which antidote to the Islamic State & the mass desperation and hysteria that it represents?"

Carol Morello & Anne Gearan
"Around World, Mixed Reactions to US-Leg Airstrikes in Syria"

Vijay Prashad
"The Pendulum of the Islamic State"

"The Metastasis of the Islamic State"

"The Geopolitics of the Islamic State"

John Esposito, Julien Barnes-Dacey & Ahmed Meiloud
"How has the Islamic State been Able to Expand and What Can Stop It?"

John Esposito
"The Challenges in Defeating ISIS"

Robert A. Pape, Kevin Ruby & Vincent Bauer
"Hammer and Anvil: How to Defeat ISIS"

Tim Lister
"ISIS: What it Will Take to Beat Terror Group"

Kenneth Roth
"The Abdication of Moral Responsibility"

Wayne White
"The Growing Danger of Mission Creep against the Islamic State"

Aron Lund
"The Islamic State is Losing, But No One is Winning"