Chaos & Caliphat: Jihadis and the West in the Struggle for the Middle East. By Patrick Cockburn.
From 2001 to the present day, Patrick Cockburn’s reporting from the conflicts that have roiled the Middle East and beyond has been peerless. Filing stories untrammeled by preconceptions but drawing on extensive first-hand experience of the region and a deep knowledge of its history, Cockburn’s ability to make the correct call in the midst of often complex crises has been remarkable in its consistency. Thus he anticipated the unsustainability of the Western invasions in Afghanistan and Iraq, the likelihood that rebels in Libya would end up fighting each other, and the spilling over of the Sunni rebellion in Syria into neighboring Iraq. Perhaps most strikingly, he reported on the emergence of ISIS as a major force before even government intelligence agencies were aware of the threat it posed, leading the judges of the British Journalism Awards to wonder “whether the Government should consider pensioning off the whole of MI6 and hire Patrick Cockburn instead.”
Presented in compelling diary form, this substantial volume draws together a careful selection of Cockburn’s writings from the frontlines of the conflicts in Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya and Syria, interspersed with thoughtful analyses and contemporary, original reflection. What emerges is the fine grain and nuance of an unfolding tragedy in which, in contrast to the often facile proclamations of politicians and much of the media: “These are not black-and-white situations, good guys against bad, vile tyrant against a risen people like a scene out of Les Miserables. It is astonishing and depressing to see Western governments … committing their countries to wars without recognizing this basic fact.”
The conflicts being fueled by such misunderstandings are today spilling over to cities in the West, provoking a backlash that learns little from recent history and is likely only to make things worse. In this fervid situation, the measured, erudite work of a journalist like Patrick Cockburn becomes simply indispensable.