ISIS Lost the War. Now It’s Dangerous.
A Q&A with ISIS expert Graeme Wood on how the terrorist group is going global and why its self-styled caliph has reappeared.
By Tobin Harshaw
What does a caliph do when he loses his caliphate? Crawl out from under his rock, apparently. Last week, the Islamic State released a video of its evanescent leader, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, for the first time in five years, in which he warned of “the vengeance that awaits the crusaders and their henchmen.” (I’m probably only the latter, but one can always aspire.) Coming on the heels of the horrific bombings of Christian churches in Sri Lanka, for which ISIS has taken credit, there’s no doubt that losing their geographical foothold in Syria and Iraq was no death blow to the insurgents or their murderous interpretation of Islam.
To understand what to expect from ISIS 2.0, I had a chat with someone who knows as much as anybody about ISIS 1.0, Graeme Wood, author of “The Way of the Strangers: Encounters with the Islamic State.” Wood, who is also a staff writer at the Atlantic and a lecturer in political science at Yale, has spent years talking to ISIS recruits and their families about what, exactly, is so enticing about becoming cannon fodder for a group that has raped and pillaged its way across the Middle East. Here’s a lightly edited excerpt of our conversation: