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Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Plague on ISIS's House?

There are many scenarios under which the Islamic State (ISIS) defeats itself. We usually focus on the political ones, but recent rumblings out of Syria and Iraq point to the possibility of a medical meltdown.

When terrorists and bubonic plague are mentioned in the same sentence, it's usually in a scary story about the still-unrealized threat of biological attacks. But when I read Liz Sly's story a couple weeks ago about undrinkable water and garbage piling up in the streets in Mosul and Raqqa, I began to wonder whether ISIS and the people living under its cruel regime are more likely to be the victims of a virulent disease than the perpetrators of one.

Since then, there have been dubious reports of ebola breaking out in ISIS territories and much more credible reports of the return of such legacy diseases as polio and scabies. The conditions in Mosul and Raqqa are rife with the possibility of disease, and the plague has never truly been eradicated.

While the arrival of plague in ISIS territories would have a certain biblical flair and might be the undoing of the so-called caliphate, the victims would extend far beyond ISIS's architects of atrocities to the people who are simply unfortunate enough to live there or who live in adjacent areas.

Full-scale outbreaks of plague in the past have also been associated with widespread social breakdown. The question of post-ISIS Iraq and Syria already haunts us. But things could very well get worse.

Pre-order J.M. Berger's book with Jessica Stern, ISIS: The State of Terror. Berger's previous book, Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, is available now. For more by J.M. Berger, click here


Views expressed on INTELWIRE are those of the author alone.



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INTELWIRE is a web site edited by J.M. Berger. a researcher, analyst and consultant covering extremism, with a special focus on extremist activities in the U.S. and extremist use of social media. He is a non-resident fellow with the Brookings Institution, Project on U.S. Relations with the Islamic World, and author of the critically acclaimed Jihad Joe: Americans Who Go to War in the Name of Islam, the only definitive history of the U.S. jihadist movement, and co-author of ISIS: The State of Terror with Jessica Stern.


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