I've gone from trying to understand one group of extremists to another, in The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State. But this group is just as hard to understand.
ISIS is one crazy animal, taking such a hard-line religious stance that it kills those even with similar religious views. The leaders are probably using religion to further their goals of achieving power by picking and choosing which Islamic prophecies to uphold and which to ignore; basically, they appear to be rationalizing their own decisions.
But what's baffling is how many in the rank and file have bought the propaganda being sold to them. They believe the apocalypse is near and that some saviour's return is imminent. This region has been in wars for long stretches of time; I can't imagine what level of exceptionalism is being perceived when they think the end of days is *now* of all times. Furthermore, it's one thing to believe in God personally, but quite another to be so certain that there not only is a God, but that you know exactly what He wants, giving you license to kill those who don't agree.
What's also interesting is how ISIS went against the wishes of Bin Laden and Al-Qaeda. Bin Laden wanted to build an Islamic state through consensus with other Muslims, whereas ISIS does it by ruling through fear. Opportunities for all sorts of groups were created by the much anticipated American withdrawal from Iraq. I suppose it makes sense that those willing to commit the most unscrupulous violence will find their way to the top when there is a power vacuum, by terrorizing everybody else in a way no one else will.
The book does a good job of outlining where ISIS came from, and the hypocrisy within it, but I would have liked to know more of the how. There's little mention of how ISIS has managed to become so well-funded relative to its peer terrorist groups. (More efficient oil theft/marketing?) It's also hard to follow the principal characters as they often change their names (to match those of prophecies) and get replaced (i.e. killed by America) quickly. Overall, I recommend the book to those looking to understand this troubled group.