Will McCants

Director of Brookings Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World & Author of The ISIS Apocalypse

THIS CHAT HAPPENED ON October 01, 2015

Discussion

Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
I’m Will McCants, director of the Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World at the Brookings Institution, and author of The ISIS Apocalypse: The History, Strategy, and Doomsday Vision of the Islamic State.
Erik Torenberg@eriktorenberg · Former Product Hunt
What's the one question you would ask yourself if you were us asking the questions?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@eriktorenberg Is this really about Islam? Unfortunately, my time is up so you'll have to read the book to get the answer to the question!
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
Will! Thanks for being here. Myths and misunderstandings about Islam, ISIS, and the Middle East run rampant in the United States—and are often perpetuated by American media. What myths/misunderstandings do you think are most pervasive and harmful in America about the Middle East and ISIS?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@melissajoykong Thanks for having me! The US media portrays ISIS as masters of social media recruitment. They're good at it to be sure but they're not geniuses. Their success at drawing eyeballs to their propaganda has less to do with their social media savvy and more to do with their success on the battlefield and their willingness to video graphic scenes of violence.
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@melissajoykong The media also portrays ISIS as unstoppable. They're not. ISIS has benefited tremendously from being second or third on their neighbors' list of priorities (with the exception of Jordan).
Erik van Mechelen@decision_ · Essayist and fiction writer
Thank you for your work and writing: as you researched and wrote, which critical feedback did you receive from other scholars and thinkers that gave you most pause? How did you respond to these questions?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@decision_ Michael O'Hanlon at Brookings encouraged me to provide clear policy recommendations. The historian in me always cringes at requests like that but the think tanker in me has learned to do it. It's tough given how complicated the situation is.
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@decision_ Many of the scholars who read the manuscript also pushed me to be precise about ISIS's apocalypticism, which has shifted over time. I was helped a lot by the voluminous propaganda ISIS has produced over the years.
Erik van Mechelen@decision_ · Essayist and fiction writer
@will_mccants @decision_ Which policy recommendation (if any) is most dependent on current conditions? Said another way, are there policy recommendations you would alter if certain things happened (foreseen or unforeseen)?
Erik van Mechelen@decision_ · Essayist and fiction writer
My father was in Erbil much of last year and this year. Just how tenuous is the situation there? What is the role of the Kurds going forward? (PS I just ordered your book! I'll let you know what I think and share with others eager to know more on this.) [And I agree the easy is often elusive.]
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@decision_ Thanks for buying the book! I don't know enough about Kurdish politics to answer your question about Erbil. The Kurds will be crucial in curbing ISIS advances but of course the US partnership with them is greatly complicated by recent Turkey's policy.
Olivier de Lyon@kokodezil
Hello Will!How do see Syria's future?thx
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@kokodezil Sadly, it looks very bleak. At this point, I think the best that could happen is a federal system of government in which the Kurdish and Arab Sunni tribal areas have a lot more autonomy. The worst is a country that is permanently split apart. Most people I talk to in DC think the latter is more likely than the former.
Erik van Mechelen@decision_ · Essayist and fiction writer
Since you've answered one of mine already please save for end if needed: what distinguishes your latest book from others on the topic?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@decision_ It covers ISIS's ideology in-depth and the organization's decade-long tension with al-Qaeda. I also have a background in early Islamic history that I was able to use to explain a lot of ISIS's propaganda. I relied heavily on Arabic sources for all of it.
Ryan Hoover@rrhoover · Founder, Product Hunt
Hi, Will! What was your process for writing the book? Anything you wished you did differently?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@rrhoover It was very fast! I started writing the book a year ago. It's a tough thing to do in the midst of an ongoing conflict when everything is changing so rapidly. I wish I had more time but then again I could take a decade to write a book on ISIS and not exhaust all the material or cover all the angles. I tried to answer the big questions that are on everyone's mind: what's the relationship between ISIS and Islam? How did they succeed? How will they be defeated? Why are they such monumental assholes?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
They'll elect a new guy. The trouble is they don't have anyone that combines all of Baghdadi's qualifications: lineage from the Prophet, skill at coalition building, tribal ties, and religious education.
Robel@rysolomon · Uni student
@will_mccants so would killing him have a significant impact on ISIS?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@rysolomon yes, ISIS will lose a leader with the rare combination of religious credentials and political acumen.
Miriam@mirjamfirst · homemaker
why would it be a bad thing if Syria's future be permanently split apart? isn't that often the result / solution of "civil-wars" ? (past, present, future; world-history etc)
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@mirjamfirst It's not necessarily bad if the political settlement is agreeable to all. But it can also be a recipe for continuing conflict (eg Sudan).
Emily Hodgins@ems_hodge · Operations @ Product Hunt
Hi Will, In your opinion, how have ISIS managed to take so much power?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@ems_hodge The political context favored ISIS's formula for insurgency and governing. Damascus and Baghdad were more concerned about preserving their power closer to their capitals than they were about defeat ISIS. ISIS capitalized this by focusing on state building. Its brutality made it effective and its apocalyptic recruitment pitch enabled it to gather a lot of foreign fighters. In contrast, other groups tried to work together to overthrow existing governments, which made them less effective and attracted the ire of those governments. They also didn't appeal to the apocalypse to recruit foreigners.
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
There's no easy solution to the very complex issues that have and continue to lead to warfare and death in the Middle East. (1) What do you think is at the heart of the ceaseless tumult (e.g. religious ideology, desire for power, etc.)? (2) Is there any hope for peace in the Middle East in the next 100 years?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
Most of the countries in the Middle East are authoritarian and economically stagnant. It's a recipe for constant crisis and struggle over resources. There's also no clear "adversary" to align with or against, unlike in Europe (vs Rusia) or Asia (vs China). That leads to constantly shifting alliances. There are some bright spots like Tunisia and Morocco that the United States needs to do everything in its power to help remain bright spots.
Anne Peckham@annepeckham
Will - so what's the next book going to be? What's the follow-on to The ISIS Apocalypse?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@annepeckham I'd loved to finish my book on the Qur'an's history but current history always keeps interrupting. Perhaps something on the politics of ultraconservative Islam. But I'm open to suggestions!
Miriam@mirjamfirst · homemaker
I think your article / take on 'The countercultural appeal of ISIS in the West - my thoughts on ISIS recruitment of Western Muslim youth" makes sense, and from that perspective how long would you think that 'countercultural appeal' will take? a decade, probably a generation ? give or take, 2 decades? Thank you for your knowledge btw!
Melissa Joy Kong@melissajoykong · Content, Product Hunt
What's been the most challenging lesson you've learned over the course of your career—about yourself and about the human condition?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@melissajoykong Everyone has a rational reason for doing what they do, even if I dislike the reasons. I despise ISIS's goals and methods but I can understand why its leaders do what they do. They are not insane.
Tariq Ahmad@tqahmad81
What has been the degree of interaction/control/ between ISIS and it's various franchises outside the Syria/Iraq region (Libya, Yemen, Afghanistan etc...)? How easy has it been for ISIS to be able to export it's military strategy and tactics in other parts of the world---and how effective has it been?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@tqahmad81 It's hard to know from the outside. We can see that the franchises get help with their propaganda. There are also isolated reports of personnel and material moving from ISIS to the franchises. But only the intelligence community knows what's really going on. In general, ISIS has demonstrated a model for waging war and recruiting that is catching on and spreading to Muslim-majority countries where there's instability.
Olivier de Lyon@kokodezil
Which group outside ISIS is the most brutal?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@kokodezil Boko Haram. And naturally, it joined ISIS.
Kristof Bernaert@ssstofff · WordPress Full-Stack Web Architect - UX
@will_mccants I would like to put in differently, bluntly. Quite normal after getting attacked and toppled regimes by the West (USA, USSR) since a century you have now something like ISIS using a last (fake) argument like religion to do whatever as they're doing right now. Or is this too simple?
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
@ssstofff I don't follow your point. Are you saying Muslim militants have used religion over the last century to try to come to power?
raqqah12345@raqqah12345
@will_mccants @ssstofff I understood him to mean that IS is an natural and inevitable result of Western intervention in the ME to topple regimes. Muslims have used religion as a tool to gain political power ever since Muhammad because there is no division of religion/politics in Islam. And IS use of religion is not 'fake', as the questioner tried to imply.
Kristof Bernaert@ssstofff · WordPress Full-Stack Web Architect - UX
@will_mccants I try to suppose religion is now used as last instrument by hyper frustrated people that lost any common sense (after being the puppet of the western for oil interests) to justify (in their eyes) what they're doing now. There's just nothing to lose anymore for them. Let's go nuts to take what we can take.
Kristof Bernaert@ssstofff · WordPress Full-Stack Web Architect - UX
@raqqah12345 @ssstofff indeed, as religion is always used in the past by any other existing belief to justify what they do (with it).
Will McCants@will_mccants · Fellow, The Brookings Institution
Thanks for the great exchange everyone. And thanks to Product Hunt for hosting. I'm off!
Jacqueline von Tesmar@jacqvon · Community at Product Hunt ⚡️
Thank you for being here @will_mccants for our LIVE Chat. It's been a pleasure hearing your insights. 👏
Miriam@mirjamfirst · homemaker
@will_mccants thank you !