Book on ISIS/Daesh


The Arab Spring marked a change for the Middle East and North Africa and the many ethnicities found within the region. What started off in hope, led to a spread of ethno-centric conflicts, leaders seeking revenge and rise of extremism. In 2011, many analysts feared the backlash against the protests: foreign intervention; potential power vacuums; overthrown dictators seeking revenge or declaring war on their people; and corrupt elites retaking power through coups or alliances with other parties. It’s fair to say that all of this has happened.

 A major repercussion of the Arab Spring was the rise of Daesh. The latest book by the well-known journalist Patrick Cockburn, Chaos and Caliphate, explores the rise of Daesh from a perspective that goes back beyond 2011. In the form of personal accounts of his extensive reporting in the Middle East, especially Iraq, Cockburn has compiled them from the 1990s onwards, along with other journalistic and analytical accounts of events across the region to demonstrate how it has deteriorated. He emphasises the focus on his extensive experience in Iraq and explores the many factors that have brought the country to its knees, from UN sanctions which he claims have killed more civilians than the wars have, to Saddam’s dictatorship and the escalation of military violence.

The book is divided into five parts. The first covers the build-up to the Afghanistan war; the second and longest part looks at Iraq. The book then looks at the Taliban in Afghanistan from 2009-2012, the Arab Spring and the Syrian revolution, including life inside Daesh-held territory. Cockburn’s experiences bring a unique angle that humanises the narrative; it is neither overly academic nor politicised. His description of life under Daesh suggests why people have joined the extremist group and how people in Iraq and Syria were “radicalised”. He explains how it managed to grow and why people accepted it. Locals who joined Daesh but then escaped described to Cockburn the way in which they would knock on doors, introduce themselves as a group that wants to get rid of corruption and restore Islamic rule; they would ask residents if they needed anything and generally had a kind approach to lure them in. Many who joined Daesh in the beginning were naïve and had a romanticised perception of what an “Islamic” state would look like under Daesh because of their soft approach in the recruitment phase. He gives us accounts of people signed up to join the group and at what point they realised the realities of Daesh, along with their escape story.

On the down side, his coverage of the Arab Spring is less personal, too brief and misses some important detail. This struck me particularly when he writes about Yemen and jumps straight from the ousting of President Ali Abdullah Saleh and the killing of Anwar Al-Awlaki in 2011, to 2015 when the Saudi-led air strikes began.

Nevertheless, Chaos and Caliphate is an excellent book which looks at the region from a brilliantly unique angle. (Excerpted from

Patrick Cockburn, Chaos and Caliphate,
OR Books, 428 pages, ISBN-13:978-1-682190-28-9