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ISIS’ global impact told by former Petaluman in new book


After growing up in Petaluma and eventually graduating from the University of California Los Angeles, Brian Fishman moved to Washington, D.C. in search of a job on Sept. 10, 2001. The next day, his first morning in the capital, was a day that changed the lives of all Americans and a day that altered the course of Fishman’s life.

“Everything I’ve done after that has been defined by that moment,” he said of the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

Fishman is the author of a new book, “The Master Plan: ISIS, Al Qaeda, and the Jihadi Strategy for Final Victory,” from which he will read excerpts on Friday at 7 p.m. at Copperfield’s Books in Petaluma. Not a long drive for the author who now lives in Sebastopol.

The book explores the story of ISIS’ complex, largely hidden and often misconstrued past. As a counterterrorism research fellow with the International Security Program at New America and the former research director at the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point, Fishman has closely studied the organization and evolution of ISIS for 10 years, before writing his book.

Now, let’s explore some of the findings and message of Fishman’s book.

Q. It is commonly known, but talk about the U.S.’s contribution to the creation of ISIS?

A. “IS would not exist if the U.S. hadn’t invaded in 2003,” the author said of the U.S’s war in Iraq. “The U.S.’ withdrawal from Iraq also contributed to the rise of the IS, although no political faction is blameless. We all have a certain level of responsibility.”

This is an important lesson, Fishman said, especially in the very politicized time the U.S. finds itself, to not blame certain parties, but to look forward collaboratively, not in a partisan way.

Q. Looking back, why was the threat of ISIS not established earlier?

A. “ISIS was largely lumped under the Al Qaeda framework, which prevented the recognition of its unique risk,” Fishman said.

The terrorist group, which officially refers to itself as the Islamic State, was by many, including the U.S. National Security Agency and the media, not given consideration as an extensive threat throughout the early stages of its evolution.

This, Fishman said, was due in part to inaccurate and over generalized language surrounding the group’s existence and terrorism as a whole, leading to the misunderstanding of the nature of its threat.

“This is a warning to be very, very careful and accurate in the way we talk about national security threats and terrorism in general,” he said.

Q. Tell us something you want people to know about ISIS, that may not be commonly understood.

A. “I want people to understand that this problem didn’t come out of nowhere and that it will take a long time to resolve,” he said. “It’s not going to go away quickly.”

The U.S.’ involvement is key to the elimination of ISIS, Fishman said, not just military pressure, but development assistance and working productively with people displaced by ISIS.

This topic is more relevant than ever with President Trump’s executive order signed in January, which bans immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States including Syria, where ISIS continues to have a stronghold.

The question, Fishman said, shouldn’t be who is going to come into the U.S., but instead what can be done to alleviate the issue that has created millions of refugees.

The ban is “inadvertently punishing victims of ISIS,” Fishman said, and he feels that a broad-brush policy does more harm than good.

At Copperfield’s Books on Friday, one of many of Fishman’s stops on his international book tour, he wants to spur a conversation grounded in facts about ISIS and from his book, a debate in domestic politics about what the U.S. is willing to invest in winning the fight against ISIS and helping those whose lives are endangered by the violent group.

(Contact Alex Madison at alex.madison@arguscourier.com.)