Warrick on Understanding ISIS

News  /  by Jacob Wu '19  /  April 14, 2017

Courtesy of The Lawrenceville School

On Monday evening, Lawrenceville students gathered in the Heely Room for a lecture on the rise of the Islamic State by Joby Warrick. His speech touched on the rise of the Islamic State (ISIS) and the threat posed by the terrorist organization, which was the subject of his Pulitzer-Prize winning book, “Black Flags: The Rise of ISIS.”

Warrick began with remarks on the two central points of his talk. Citing a personal anecdote where his family was nearly killed by a narrowly-averted nuclear accident as an example of an existential threat, he stressed his first premise, that “ISIS is not an existential threat […] because terrorists can’t change the way of life unless we let them.” The second point Warrick emphasized was the need to understand “what motivates [and] drives ISIS” before being able to defeat it.

While Warrick discussed his journalistic background and the writing process to some extent, he focused his lecture around a number of individuals relevant to ISIS, including its founder, current leader, and a number of terrorist attackers. Warrick described the evolution of ISIS through the stories of these individuals, including how the tumultuous political climate and sectarian tensions contributed to the organization’s rise.

Warrick also explained how ISIS pioneered a form of “intimate terrorism,” using social media to circulate violent videos and draw attention to the cause. According to Warrick, by actively fostering the perception that the United States and other Western nations were “at war with Islam,” ISIS was effectively forcing moderate Muslims to choose sides.

During a subsequent Q&A section, Warrick addressed student questions on topics like the role of foreign involvement in the Middle East, the future of the region, and the similarities between ISIS and other terrorist organizations. Warrick also mentioned the need to consider multiple perspectives, including talking “to all sides” and attempting to “empathize,” citing his experiences interviewing ISIS fighters.

Post Graduate Dan Chivers ’17 said, “What’s really interesting [about Warrick’s book] is the nuance of how […] U.S. intervention [...has] been largely negative [at times]. ISIS isn’t just promoting Islam but rather driving a wedge between Westerners and Muslims.”

Melissa Batz ’17 said, “Coming to lectures and getting to meet authors of Pulitzer-Prize books and famous journalists is really cool.”

Warrick was born in Goldsboro, North Carolina and received his B.A. from Temple University. He has worked for “The Washington Post” since 1996, where he writes on issues relating to the Middle East. For his reporting, he has received two Pulitzer Prizes, one for General Nonfiction in 1996 and one for Public Service in 2016.