Yesterday flags stood at half mast to mark the 150th anniversary of the death of Abraham Lincoln. It was, to borrow the man’s own phrase, altogether fitting and proper that we should do this in recognition of our greatest president and his tragic end.
America’s conversation about race has, like all of our public conversations, come to consist largely of a running commentary on viral spectacles. Recent weeks have been rife with them—the Oklahoma University SAE video chant and the dreadful scene of the double shooting of police in Ferguson; the awesome images of a sitting and a former president crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on the anniversary of Bloody Sunday, heading a massive multiracial and multigenerational crowd; the face of University of Virginia student Martese Johnson, bloodied by Alcohol Board of Control officers.
With an authorization looming in Congress for our ongoing war against the so-called Islamic State, a muddled conversation has sprung up about the group’s relationship to mainstream Islam, its relationship to American and European policy in the region, and the military and political measures needed to counter it. Graeme Wood interviewed scholars and activists to shed light on what ISIS is trying to accomplish and why. His resulting story—a long tour through the theology, history, and practice of this particularly brutal offshoot of Salafist Islam—is alarming, not least to Wood himself.