Empire of Fear: Zooming in on the Islamic State

It’s hardly cheerful reading, but I suppose it’s the week for it. BBC correspondent Andrew Hosken, who has worked in the Middle East and North Africa, pulls together what is known about the Islamic State in Empire of Fear (Oneworld). 

He goes back to the training camp for jihadis, established in Afghanistan in 1999 by the al-Queda-linked Jordanian Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, the seed of the Islamic State, and forward to the chances, today, of the declared caliphate being destroyed by its enemies. The Islamic State’s present leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, “rightly regards al-Zarqawi as the true founding father of Islamic State”, writes Hosken. 

More is known about al-Zarqawi than about al-Baghdadi at this point.  Al-Zarqawi laid the plans. Hosken details his seven-step agenda, which he divulged to a reporter in 1996 but which wasn’t published for 10 years. From “The Awakening”, scheduled for 2000-2003, to the “Declaration of the Caliphate” in 2013-2016, it forecasts pretty well what happened. What lies ahead, according to al-Zarqawi’s plan, is “Total Confrontation” from 2016 onwards, with the “Definitive Victory” looming in about 2020. 

Al-Zarqawi turned out to be such a bloodthirsty killer, murdering fellow Muslims as well as “aspostates” and Westerners (“They are easy prey, God be praised,” he wrote), that even al-Qaeda rejected him eventually. But by then his organisation had grown, changed its name a few times, enticed allies from all over the Muslim world, and was on the way to declaring the caliphate. 

The “management of savagery” was, and is, an effective tool.  Hosken details all these developments, as well as the internal wars between jihadist factions in Syria and elsewhere, cataloguing a tide of horrors as he goes. It may be unpleasant to read, but this is what we need to know if such terror is to be stopped.

Author Shaun de Waal
Shaun De Waal

Shaun de Waal has worked at the Mail & Guardian since 1989. He was literary editor from 1991 to 2006 and chief film critic for 15 years. He is now editor-at-large. Recent publications include Exposure: Queer Fiction, 25 Years of the Mail & Guardian and Not the Movie of the Week.


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