Graeme Wood at The Atlantic has posted a powerful, comprehensive introduction to ISIS which reviews the nascent movement’s recent history, stated goals, and current status. It is highly recommended for anyone with even casual interest, and especially to those concerned we may we well be in the middle of a real war here shortly. The short cliff-note version is that ISIS is a real brand of fundamentalist Islam working to bring ancient values, from over a thousand years ago, in to all aspects of their modern culture culminating in a war of civilizations. The final battle — or one of the final battles — will occur near a Syrian town near the Turkish border, where Jesus Christ himself will ride to the rescue of the good Islamic guys and join the fight against the evil might of vast Roman armies:
What ISIS really wants — There is a temptation to rehearse this observation—that jihadists are modern secular people, with modern political concerns, wearing medieval religious disguise—and make it fit the Islamic State. In fact, much of what the group does looks nonsensical except in light of a sincere, carefully considered commitment to returning civilization to a seventh-century legal environment, and ultimately to bringing about the apocalypse.
The most-articulate spokesmen for that position are the Islamic State’s officials and supporters themselves. They refer derisively to “moderns.” In conversation, they insist that they will not—cannot—waver from governing precepts that were embedded in Islam by the Prophet Muhammad and his earliest followers. They often speak in codes and allusions that sound odd or old-fashioned to non-Muslims, but refer to specific traditions and texts of early Islam.
Note that those videos we keep seeing are not like when we were kids, they’re not something inadvertently caught in frame by a terrified photo-journalist in a foreign war zone. They are slickly produced Youtube features ready to slot into social media, purely intended to produce a known effect: piss off the west and thus goad us into action, and recruit Jihads in the Middle East to meet us in battle. The strategy may be working. A new poll now finds a small uptick in US support for a ground war and larger, growing frustration with events in the region.