Understanding ISIS: Myths and Realities

A member loyal to the Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (ISIL) waves an ISIL flag in Raqqa June 29, 2014. REUTERS/Stringer

The Islamic State, also known as ISIS or ISIL, has emerged out of the power vacuum created by the Syria civil war. In a very short period of time the group has captured and held territory in both Syria and Iraq, which consequently gave rise to an international military coalition to stop the group. Western countries and Arab states appear to be united and see the group as a threat to international peace and security.

But it is not just national governments that are taking notice. ISIS has shocked the world and has become a household name because it films its atrocities and posts them online thanks to social media platforms such as Twitter and YouTube. Journalist and aid workers are reluctant to travel to the parts of Syria and Iraq where the group is in control, for fear of being taken hostage.

What do we really know about ISIS?

OpenCanada.org and the Montreal Institute for Genocide and Human Rights Studies at Concordia University have partnered for the creation of this series, Understanding ISIS: myths and realities, to provide followers of international affairs in Canada and beyond with several pieces designed to shed light on the group.

Numerous scholars and experts have come together to help us understand how this group operates and to help us think about what impact ISIS is having in the Middle East and the wider world.

Throughout this week, we will be publishing essays that reflect on some of the myths and realities that shape our understanding ISIS — from the consequences on those fleeing its wrath, to ISIS’ use of social media, to the truth about female fighters and whether this crisis truly warrants the call for Responsibility to Protect.

In the series


The dangerous myth of the female victim-fighter

Though their role within ISIS may differ, women’s motives for joining the group are just as diverse as men’s.

The Islamic State and the case for Responsibility to Protect

Do not let feelings toward past invasions in the Middle East deter us from protecting Syrians and Iraqis.
ISIS militants

Why the Islamic State actually stinks at social media

The conventional wisdom is that ISIS has managed to become so successful largely because of its social media prowess. The conventional wisdom is wrong.

ISIS, by the numbers

How many fighters? How many countries fighting ISIS? How many refugees?

Aiding ISIS victims: ‘We need access, not more funds’

Veteran humanitarian worker François Audet discusses the dilemmas ISIS has created for crisis-response operations.

How to win the battle against the ISIS propaganda machine

The online world is a crucial battleground.

On humanitarian efforts: Defeating ISIS is not the end

The widespread displacement ISIS has caused will have consequences for years to come.