“Inside Isis: The first Western journalist ever given access to the Islamic State”

Jürgen Todenhöfer, 74, is a renowned German journalist and publicist who travelled through Turkey to Mosul, the largest city occupied by Isis, after months of negotiations with the group’s leaders.

He plans to publish a summary of his “10 days in the Islamic State” on Monday, but in interviews with German-language media outlets has revealed his first impressions of what life is like under Isis.

For those of us viewing these developments from a great distance, it’s a confusing time.

On the one hand, the battle over Kobane seems stalemated. It’s being progressively destroyed but neither the Kurds nor the IS have yet been able to gain a clear upper hand. Given this was a target of choice for the IS, just now that looks a little like a defeat.

On the other, they seem to be consolidating their hold on vast tracts of Iraq and Syria. And, if Todenhöfer is to be believed, viewed by many as saviours or liberators.

Once within Isis territory, Todenhöfer said his strongest impression was “that Isis is much stronger than we think here”. He said it now has “dimensions larger than the UK”, and is supported by “an almost ecstatic enthusiasm that I have never encountered in any other warzone”.

“Each day, hundreds of willing fighters arrive from all over the world,” he told tz. “For me it is incomprehensible.”

Ultimately, its “success” will probably rest more on its administrative capabilities than its military prowess. If it can consolidate military gains and turn conquered territory into a comparatively safe, supportive hinterland, almost anything becomes possible. If it can’t, in time the whole thing will probably unravel.

via Inside Isis: The first Western journalist ever given access to the ‘Islamic State’ Jurgen Todenhofer has just returned – and this is what he discovered –  The Independent

Update: CNN interview with Todenhöfer.

(h/t FB Ali)


19 thoughts on ““Inside Isis: The first Western journalist ever given access to the Islamic State”

  1. Hi John,

    Looks fascinating. I’ll get back to you once I’ve read it.

    Good question. I’m probably the wrong guy to ask having happily isolated myself out here in the bush. I wonder though, are we more neurotic than the rest of the west? Yeats’ “Second Coming” (cliche though it’s become) seems uncomfortably apt (especially the “passionate intensity”).

    What are your thoughts?

    P.S. Vietnam for a month sounds delightful, you lucky devil.

  2. Hi Ingolf
    Think his meditation in a time of civil war is perhaps more apt:

    We had fed the heart on fantasies,
    The heart’s grown brutal from the fare,
    More substance in our enmities
    Than in our love; O honey-bees,
    Come build in the empty house of the stare.

    re are we more neurotic than the rest of the West, really do not know.

    From memory in don Quixote , A innkeeper reassures his wife that the don will be able to pay for lodging because ‘ only rich people can afford to be completely mad'[ and survive for a reasonable length of time]’

  3. A fine stanza. Thanks.

    And yes (usually) to the last point. Trouble is, when hearts have been fed on fantasies for long enough, survival slips down the hierarchy of needs, as we’re seeing all too often.

    • Yes!
      My first Melbourne art agent was George Mora, he and his wife somehow survived the holocaust in the french underground.
      They arrived in Melbourne in 1950, he once(over a very good lunch) said to me of Australia in 1950: “the food was basic, the coffee was ‘terrible’, but on the other-hand, there was lots of food, the people were very friendly, and nobody was trying to kill us.

    • Yeats was , I think, referencing Swifts trope for wisdom the : honey bee that ranges widely, harms no one, and brings us “Honey and Wax” – “sweetness and light”.
      It is only a ‘opinion’, but I really believe that one of the root causes is a education system has been much better at turning out narrow-focus technocrats, for far to long, than it is at teaching wide ranging wisdom.

      Most weeks I pray that the spirit of, wisdom courage and above all love , is with us and also with you. Peace be with you.

      • And you John.

        Sweetness and light. Yes. Thank God it can still at times be found in private life.

        I think you’re right about the technocratic focus; it’s probably both cause and consequence in an unhappy cycle.

        “Empty house of the stare”. Very evocative.

  4. I could have sworn I got back to you after reading that article . . . obviously not.

    Anyway, what surprised me most was their focus on the “end days” and eagerness to bring it on. How true that is, I obviously don’t know but nothing else seemed particularly jarring so perhaps it is.

    This brief article about Wood’s article may be worth your time.


  5. Will read it.
    Am trying to remember the name of the historical novel about the assassin cult, from memory it was by somebody who was, in their day job, some sort of Islamic world academic.
    But Hatbugger and hovel me, I can not remember.

    • Will have to read the original Atlantic piece more carefully, I did not get the impression that the author thought that ISIS was in a deterministic sense, inevitable.

      • Nor did I.

        As this article says, “understanding ISIS’ religious motivations [. . .] is important if for no other reason than to understand how the group sees itself and its actions.” Religion, however, is obviously only a part of the whole. It seems to me Haykel’s quote towards the end of this latest article is a sensible summary:

        “I see ISIS as a symptom of a much deeper structural set of problems in the Sunni Arab world,” he said. “[It has] to do with politics. With education, and the lack thereof. With authoritarianism. With foreign intervention. With the curse of oil … I think that even if ISIS were to disappear, the underlying causes that produce ISIS would not disappear. And those would have to be addressed with decades of policy and reforms and changes — not just by the west, but also by Arab societies as well.”

    • John, just read Ross Douthat’s “In Defence of Islam”. It’s a relatively concise, intelligent, large spirited attempt to bring some perspective to ISIS’ religiosity and its relation to Islam more generally.


      “But much of what we think of as Muslim fundamentalism seems to be linked 1) to Islamic civilization’s unhappy encounters with Western imperialism and liberal modernity, and 2) to a kind of modernity-influenced Islamic reformation that already happened (here this Atlantic essay from last year by Shadi Hamid makes essential reading), that democratized religious interpretation and undercut an older clerical-theological consensus, and that in so doing opened doors for the kind of theological autodidacts currently running the Islamic State.”

      P.S. I’m (somewhat) ashamed to admit I haven’t read VS Naipaul.

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