An embedded war and terrorism reporter reveals wrenching, in-the-trenches stories of “retribution and atonement” by people on all sides of the struggle against the Islamic State group.
As Atlantic staff writer Giglio—who previously served as an Istanbul-based foreign correspondent for Newsweek and BuzzFeed—observed firsthand, Iraqi forces declaring victory against the IS caliphate in summer 2017 “brought urban destruction reminiscent of World War II.” In his debut book, the author begins before he traveled to the region, during the Arab Spring of 2011, when the young Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, made his crushingly disappointing speech that essentially set his authoritarian course. In that speech, writes Giglio, “he threatened the protestors and any Syrian who supported them.” The author arrived in Turkey in July 2012 and observed the crisis of refugees fleeing Syria as the civil war erupted. His intimate conversations record people trapped in the brutalization of war. For example, there is young Egyptian journalist Shawkan, who was rounded up with Giglio during street protests in Cairo. Unlike the American journalist, who was quickly released, Shawkan remained in prison over the next five years and suffered torture, becoming “pale and haggard, fading like a memory.” Giglio watched as IS emerged, full of young, idealistic members who were ruthless in their agenda of fear, which included attacks on the Kurds, the massacre of Yazidis, and beheadings of Western captives. This stream of atrocities “shocked governments around the world into action.” The author notes that if IS had not embarked on this erratic swing, the caliphate might have lasted. Through his interviews, Giglio offers a good sense of the underground oil economy fueling IS and the pillaging of Syria. Throughout, he reflects the great human complexity of this story, which also included terrorist attacks in Europe. The glossary of terms at the beginning of the book is helpful.
Forthright account by an invested journalist unafraid to ask key questions about the many ramifications of the conflict.